Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
August 9, 2015
“Living in Community”
“Hear now these words from Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 25 thru 32, and continuing on into chapter 5, verses 1 and 2. We ask God to bless our hearing of these ancient and holy words.”
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.
1 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.
“Let us allow our hearts to be opened to the meaning of this text in our lives this day.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Lois and I want to thank you, all of you, for making our vacation possible. It was a real treat! After two days on our cruise ship, out of Seattle, we sailed into Glacier Bay and docked at the Alaskan capital: Juneau. We got off the ship and boarded a bus with other like-minded passengers from Northern Caribbean’s ship named the “Jewel of the Seas”. The young man driving the van gave us a lot of local interest information as we journeyed for about twenty to twenty-five minutes toward our destination, The Mendenhall Glacier. We did not realize we had picked absolutely the best tour ever! At one point, our tour guide and bus driver stopped speaking in the middle of a sentence to announce: “Around the next corner go ahead and respond to the sight before you.” He was so right! Our little community of tourist joined together in the biggest ‘Ah’ and ‘Oh’ and “Wows’ as we beheld this magnificent creation of Mother Nature. And as we got closer it only got more and more breathe taking!
Hundreds of pictures were taken during the next few minutes as everyone on the bus was so mesmerized by the vastness of the glacier. It wasn’t until later, when we sat through an informative movie at the visitor’s center and heard a ranger give a live presentation about the making of a glacier that we began to grasp the fullness of what we were witnessing. We were told the ice we were viewing was two hundred years old and that the glacier we were seeing runs eighty miles back weaving over and between the vast mountain range we were gazing at.
Some of the group took the forty five minute walk down to the waterfalls next to the glacier. Many of us however, just studied and scrutinized what we saw from the hill where the main visitor center stood. We learned that in many areas the glacier ice was a thousand feet deep. The blue coloring was the product of two hundred years of compressing and packed snow fall, forcing the oxygen out of the snow! It was, it is rather a river of ice. The lake we saw was a product of the melting process of the glacier as the summer sun causes pieces of the glacier to break and fall. The ranger told us the process of melting has increased dramatically in recent history due to ‘global warming.” It was hard to let go and board the bus when the time came. But ultimately, the cold temperatures in the fifties and the light but cold rain caused most of us to give in and board the shelter of the bus.
Each day as we and our fellow travelers saw more and more of the vastness and beauty of Alaska you could feel the shift as we became more and more of a floating village, a virtual community for eight days, experiencing many of the same things. Was it a perfect cruise? Well yes, in that we all made it back. Was it flawless? No. There is no such thing. Yet, there were many highs and a few lows. Different experiences depending on which ‘off-share’ activity or outing you chose. That first day in Alaska our daughter and her two adult children went ‘zip lining’ while Lois and I saw our first glacier. Others went for a helicopter ride and walked on top of the glacier. Others went to see how gold was panned and gave it a try. We got a taste of king crab legs in Skagway Alaska, our next stop. Wow, were they big and delicious. I barely noticed the rain and cold air! As we all came together again on the ship we all showed the same signs of excitement.
On the third morning the ship took us, at early light, directly in front of a glacier. From deck eleven hundreds of us stood wrapped up in our warmest clothing and hats, standing in a light cold rain to see ‘face to face’ the wall of a glacier. I was mesmerized and so were those around me. We all took hundreds of pictures. The sound of a chunk of the glacier wall falling into the water, then the splash. Wow! Virtually no one stopped looking until the ship pulled away and the sight fell behind a protruding high cliff and then our eyes began to view the cascading waterfalls for miles and miles as we maneuvered out of the bay.
When we arrived in British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada we went whale watching. Two hump back whales and a few dozen seals later we re-boarded the ship. The next two nights, folks all enjoyed the splendor of the ship together in various ways. We indeed, had become a community. Some of us were tired, others danced into the night, while still others went to the show or had a late meal. On the last night we all had to pack and prepare to go home, or at least get off the ship the next morning. We said good-bye to the community we had come to know on our trip. That last morning, Lois and I, our daughter Nanci and our grandchildren Courtney and Nick traveled together; back into Seattle where our adventure had first begun. Then we boarded the first of two flights and twenty four hours later woke up in a hotel in Orlando. What a trip, what a vacation!
We all live in some sort of a community or another. This, our church, represents one such community; a community of faith; a Christ centered Christian fellowship. Our scripture lesson this morning tells us, encourages us to “live in love” as we journey together. “Be kind to one another” is a central theme of this discussion. We are also encouraged to always speak the truth to our neighbors, be they sitting next to you today or on the other side of the sanctuary. We are firmly reminded that “we are members of one another.” This simply means that as we live in community we are dependent on one another, in some way, thus we ought to live in harmony, as “we are one,” we are a community!
No, we don’t always find perfect harmony along the way. No, everything didn’t go exactly the way we anticipated on our vacation. Not everyone who comes to church finds peace and serenity in their relationships. Neither do the millions of vacationers that pack our highways and fly and cruise from here to there find vacations, or life, to always be happy, joyous and free! Church leaders and communities seek to make their churches a place where all can find the peace and comfort of God’s presence. Yet, there is always those that can’t find peace no matter the setting. Standing next to the glacier I observed a teenager with her back to the glacier scowling at her dad, clearly wanting to go do something different. Churches are similar in that not everyone truly comes looking for the grace and love of God to enter their lives. It has been rhetorically asked: “Is it really possible to all get along?” /Roy M. Terry IV/ The answer is no, at least not all the time.
Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm reminds us that “The letter to the Ephesians insists that we are members of the same body, and therefore we have a responsibility toward one another. And that applies as much to the way we speak to and about one another as to any other facet of life.” The problem with vacations and the problem with churches is quite evident. You see, people bring themselves and their wrong ideas and their misguided attitudes with them. That is the heart of the problem. There in is the challenge to activity directors aboard a cruise ship, and our worship leaders, Christian Education leaders and Music Directors as-well-as pastors, they all face this, all the time! It is virtually impossible to please everyone and ‘definitely’ impossible to do so all the time! Some people just are ‘unbearable’ to deal with; making it impossible to ever please them!
Our scripture speaks to us of anger and falsehood. Verse 29 speaks clearly to us today. “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.” Robert C. Roberts well known in the field of psychology puts it this way. “We must admit that the condemnation ingredient in anger always involves an (imagined and misleading) self-perception. But sometimes illusions are an inevitable part of our human situation and ones that we get around not by (eliminating) them but by compensating for them.”
Verse 32 speaks to us with the wisdom of the ages. Our writer tells us to: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Therefore, my fellow travelers, whether you be traveling to Alaska or to the pool in your gated community or the public beaches of our coastline: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” /verse 31/ In simple language learn to play nice if you ever expect to learn how to live in community! Falsehood and anger belong in your therapy sessions or in private consultation with your spiritual advisor or counselor!
This community strives to ‘not entertain’ but rather to ‘instruct’ in the ways of God and teach and inspire the teachings of Jesus; we come together ‘to worship God first and foremost!’ This is not a cruise ship with promises of king crab legs or magnificent glaciers. This is a house of devotion and spiritual healing and inspiration. Shortly, we shall come together at the table; the table where Jesus first blessed the meal that the Disciples ate and shared with him. Let us come together in the spirit of love and forgiveness, willing to go forward without malice or falsehood in our hearts.
William Loader a professor at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia shares this thought with us. “The Spirit wants to bear the fruits of love in you and through you. Fundamental to all of this is forgiveness. It means giving, not holding oneself back and holding something against people. Let it go, embrace them; God embraced us.” In the spirit of these words let us allow the Living Spirit of God to cleanse our hearts and our minds this day; that we may go forward living in community, sharing all things with one another.