“Be Kind to One Another”
Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2, August 12th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words of scripture from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, chapter four, verse twenty-five thru chapter five verse two.”
Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
“Having heard this ancient writing with our ears, let us now open our hearts to these words of instruction from the Apostle Paul, as we seek their meaning for us in the Twenty-First Century.”
“Be Kind to One Another”
Kindness is an action in which one shows consideration, or thoughtfulness and possibly helpfulness to another. The action of kind-heartedness often is done with compassion and is frequently offered when a moment of charity is needed for the good of someone other than yourself. Sympathy is an act of kindness and is commonly used when consoling and comforting someone over their loss of a loved one. One of our beloved members of our fellowship, Louise Richards, shares with me about kindness, virtually, every time I visit her. She shares how when she was a child, a long time ago, her grandmother would tell her to be kind to others and they will be kind to you. Be kind to one another, what a wonderful message and she has carried it with her since she was a child! I searched high and low for an idea of how to talk about today’s scripture lesson from the writings of the Apostle Paul, yet, I find myself resonating on this simple phrase given to me by Louise, which was passed on to her early in her childhood from her grandmother. She has also shared with me how the plight of slavery is part of her heritage, yet front and center in her cherished memories is this sermonette surrounding being kind to one another!
Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, to the Ephesians who were struggling to be a viable church in that region of the world, contains this same message. In verse thirty-two Paul clearly states: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you!” /Ephesians 4:32b/ As we have studied Paul’s words over these recent weeks, we have learned how he has instructed those early Christians, that they must recognize all whom have confessed a relationship with Christ and thus have been baptized with the Living and Holy Spirt, of Christ, of God our Creator; thereby being in true and unrestricted fellowship with them. In today’s lesson Paul speaks of all the emotions and triggers that keep people from honoring their sisters and brothers in the faith, and in so doing have blocked themselves from the ability to be kindhearted and thereby preventing them from imitating the example of Christ in their lives. Which, Paul clearly believes we are meant to do if we are to be followers of Christ.
People come to me wanting to know how we can build up our declining and aging congregation. Every pastor I know understands the depth of this question. It is a question deserving an answer. There are as many answers as there are communities of faithful Christians meeting together this morning throughout the world! The current Pope since 2013, Pope Francis, serving and leading the largest group of Christians, speaks of the simple values of ministry, all the time, and has literally, rocked the Roman Catholic Church with the power of his simplicity! Perhaps, it is said by many, this is because of his Jesuit background. Which is a religious order which takes a vow of poverty and they are known for their reverence. His methodology for leading his vast congregation is to go back to the simple teachings of Christ, which is to keep it simple. Love God and your neighbor as yourself by imitating the man Jesus and follow his teachings. To many his methodologies are a new beginning. At the same time there are those that feel strongly he has taken them the wrong direction, wanting to go back to the old rigidness of their church, reinforcing the conservative ‘hard lines’ of Roman Catholic doctrine. You perhaps can see the struggles which pastors throughout the world face when someone asks: “how do we strengthen our church”, yet not wanting their pastor to try anything new.
The Apostle Paul was the lead pastor of these young churches, like this church in Ephesus, to whom he has written his letter and now we look to for guidance. In the case of the Ephesians, there must have been signs that members of their fellowship were still doing things the old way and not the new open hearted and charitable ways of Christ Jesus. Consider his chastisement about not being truthful with each other, or being angry towards others, or in Paul’s own words: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” /Ephesians 4:32a/ Clearly, this must have been a problem, or he would not be dwelling on it like he is! In this scenario the message is clear: “remove and discard all these negative and unproductive pagan ways!” Paul is clearly telling this small church, your nonreligious secular ways do not work in the church, not if we want to build it up in a model supported by the example and teachings of Jesus! Sounds clear enough doesn’t it? But, let’s be honest here, letting go of old biases and habits is much harder than just snapping one’s fingers and presto everything is new!
Many of us have tried to make changes in our lives along this long and winding path of life. Some of us have indeed made real and substantial progress too! But, it is never easy. Simple, maybe, easy, no! I tried an experiment with the congregation I was serving up in Middletown New York. First let me say this was an older, historic church, which was founded when a group of blue-collar workers wanted a new church, away from the white-collar bosses’ church, which was established when the railroad first came to that community. They picked a spot on the top of a hill overlooking the entire community! Built it out of volcanic rock that was laying around in people’s back yards. The building is a one of a kind and historic. They also had a Three Manual Skinner Organ, with thirty stops, and five thousand pipes, many of which were wooden. They had this organ imported and installed! During the fifties and sixties their church flourished and was packed to capacity every Sunday! By the time I got there in 1997 the average attendance was thirty-three. Now, the experiment I tried, a few years after I arrived, (and we had built attendance up into the seventies) was to ask people to sit in different pews, taking a different seat on Sunday morning. Most everyone was willing to get up and move during that one service. But, by the next week ninety percent had gone back to their previous places! It is easy to say we are open to new ideas, yet, seldom do we find it easy to change our thinking about that old more ‘comfortable’ way.
The discussion which Paul has presented to us today, is a lot more serious then our unwillingness to sit in a different chair or in a different location within the sanctuary on Sundays. It is about how we treat others, how we treat each other. This carries real consequences and can actually cause harm and bad feelings with the relationships of people we interact with in all areas of our lives. What if we held each other accountable for being untruthful with each other? What if we started being mindful of how hurtful anger can be in our lives. Paul tells us it is ok to get angry yet says we ought not to let the sun go down before we do something with it! He is clearly suggesting that we must do something with our anger. Gestalt therapy had not been developed at the time of Jesus, so a more personal approach is needed. Consequently, like Gestalt therapy suggests, we need to take responsibility for our lives. We must put the here and now of our lives into context. We need to take a moment and consider why we are angry, what caused it and what part do we as individuals need to take responsibility for. If someone or something outside of our selves caused this disruption we need to pause and consider why they may have said or done what they did. There are anger management classes available for people who struggle with getting their anger under control. Why? Because it is recognized by modern professionals that anger is an emotion that we need to take responsibility for rather than blame people, places and things for our emotional wellbeing.
Uncontrolled and unresolved anger can and does, lead to a disconnection with God and God’s Spirit. Paul uses a number of different ways to discuss this. Bitterness and wrath are kissing cousins to resentments and anger! All of these emotions lead to pointing a finger at something or someone outside of our control. In the pointing we are putting blame on someone or something outside of ourselves. Paul wasn’t buying into this line of thinking. Apparently, he understood that when we point one finger at anyone or anything, three are pointing back at our self! Try it! Point your finger at me… right now! Now, as you do so, look at your hand. You will see three fingers pointing back at you! Stop pointing your fingers at that which is outside you! You and me, we need to look inside ourselves to resolve our conflicts. When I slipped on the sidewalk in front of a hotel, it wasn’t so much the fault of the sidewalk or the rain. It was my rush and carelessness to get to my car that was the cause. You over react to some constructive feedback about something you are doing. You take offense and get a resentment which unresolved… leads to anger. Stop a moment, step back and consider your context. You skipped lunch, you are feeling light headed and are already regretting doing so and are behind in your tasks at hand. This is what caused you to wrongly take offense to what was meant to be, simple feedback, to assist your efforts on a project which you are currently working on. Yes, we always need to review ourselves first… before giving in to these negative emotions.
The simple phrase that Louise has now passed on to all of us, is simple and basic. Be kind to others, and they will be kind to you. Jesus said: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” /Ephesians 4: 26/ Kindness begins when we stop assuming the other person is what is causing our present discomfort. Transference is a common problem which most of us are guilty of now and then and some of us more frequently than not. This means we blame others for our lack of proper sleep or our poor eating habits. Kindness is good nourishment for everyone. This is not just for us Christians. Yet, as children of God, followers of the teachings of Jesus, it would be well if we followed this ancient, yet simple advice. Paul was saying these words out of kindness. The Apostle Paul, transformed and called by Christ, truly believed that Jesus was all about love and kindness. “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. /Ephesians 5: 1-2/”