Shared Vision

August 9, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 11th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 14 
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

(Epistle text is provided at the bottom of this post)

“Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This was the last verse of today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Does it sound familiar? With a few minor changes, this is the phrase both Ceci and I use each Sunday as the Offertory Sentence – though you probably don’t recognize it so much as a lead-in to the Offertory, as a confirmation that the announcements have come to an end!

At face value, this verse seems like an odd invitation to the offertory. It isn’t as “in your face” as Bishop Wright’s recitation from 2 Corinthians:  “Let each of you give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7) When you hear that, you know it’s time to pull out your wallet… albeit cheerfully!

IMG_1379Yet I contend that to Walk in love; to Live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself [fully and completely], as an offering to God – this is asking even more from us. Giving all of ourselves as an offering to God is the ultimate act of stewardship – giving not only that which comes from our purse, but giving our whole selves; a fragrant offering – a sweet gift – to God.

And, although the letter is said to be written to the Ephesians, biblical scholars believe that unlike the letters to the church in Corinth, in Thessalonica, in Galatia, and so on, to whom Paul wrote to address particular situations in those communities – twitterby contrast, this letter to the Ephesians is believed to have been more like a “circular” – a public letter to be shared more broadly. In modern day terms, it was Paul’s Blog-post meant to be Shared and Tweeted to our friends.

The letter begins with the promise of ‘chosen-ness’. Chosen-ness is no longer reserved for only those who had been circumcised – the Jews, but includes the uncircumcised – the Gentiles. This was a big deal! These groups didn’t mix – the rules of their traditions said so! Now, the blendedness of ALL is an underpinning of a new way of moving forward in Christ. Jesus came to break down the barriers that divide us and to share God’s message and God’s love with all people.

While this sounds good on paper, it isn’t that easy to live into – we see evidence of that all around us still today. We like to stick with what’s familiar. We like to think that Jesus was an Episcopalian because it’s familiar to us. And while the Episcopal church is often the melting-pot, of sorts, for couples that may have grown up in different Christian traditions, these traditions at least held the Triune God in common. This wasn’t the case for Jews and Gentiles – their whole understanding of God, or gods, was different – so blending would be more difficult. In much the same way, we find it difficult to blend across cultures, even today.

We each have a context for how we see the world. Our upbringing and our experiences in life create the lens through which we see the world. When we encounter someone with a different context (which is actually everyone we meet), their lens is different than ours. Even my identical twin sister’s lens is different than mine. For me to try to see the world through the lens of another takes work. But, like prescription glasses, the closer their context is to mine, the less strain it is when I put on their world-view glasses.

The problem comes when I try to see the world through the world-view glasses of someone whose context is starkly different than my own. No matter how hard I try, it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be able to see clearly through their world-view glasses. My willingness to try is a good start, but I delude myself if I think I can see as they do. And claiming that I can, just because I want to, isn’t helpful – like trying to drive a car with someone else’s glasses on – it’s not a good idea. And even when we do allow ourselves to put on the world-view glasses of those who are different than us, we still can only see it through our own world-view lenses.

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So, to live into God’s intention for one humanity, no longer divided based on traditions and cultures of old, of which Paul’s letter speaks, BOTH the Jews and the Gentiles had to change. It wasn’t that one adopted the others customs. One was not subjected under the other. That wasn’t how it worked then, and can’t be how it works now. We ALL must become a new thing.

Continuing with the eyeglasses imagery, the blending into one humanity requires each and every world-view lens to be layered one on top of the other. To do it any other way, to remove any of the diverse and varied ways of being and seeing the world and seeing God, diminishes the whole. I’m not saying it’s easy. Far from it. But I believe that this is the work of bringing about God’s kingdom on earth.

The good news is that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us some tools, some guiding principles that will help us move in the right direction. It says:

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. (Eph 4:25)

I love that there is an assumption, a built in expectation, of connectedness – we are members of one another. To make that a reality, the verse touches on the necessity of being AUTHENTIC with one another. If we aren’t genuine from the outset, the whole blending thing is grounded in falsehood, which isn’t a good place to start.

487755_4858587475291_304552549_nWhen I was in high school, I attended and later was on staff for a Happening weekend. It’s a weekend for teens to come closer to Christ and to each other. As a part of the team, I gave the first talk of the weekend and it was about wearing Masks. It speaks to the reality that we all wear masks that show the world one thing, while inside, we are something different. We put on a false face – a face of confidence when we feel inadequate; of security when we are feeling vulnerable. We fear that if people see the real person inside of us that they won’t love us; they won’t accept us.

10873432_10204515133031072_9166279957729758321_oBut Paul’s letter is telling us that we must put away the falseness – be who we are, authentically with others. How can our neighbor trust us if we’re not being real with them? How can we build relationships with others, true relationships, if we aren’t willing to show them our whole selves?

God knows our whole selves, flaws and all, and loves us. God made us who we are, and we are good. And God made that other person, too – the one we struggle to get along with sometimes; the one we don’t understand. God made them. And THEY are also good.

Taking on our new self – in Christ – is to be who we are, and to allow others to be who they are. Not just to tolerate them, but to embrace them and their differences. They are coming from another life-context, and we can learn from them, instead of insisting they be like us.

When we are willing to speak truthfully, we can admit that we don’t understand why they are upset about this or that, or how and why they believe what they do. By simply acknowledging that our lenses are different from each other, and by allowing some space and time to learn more about the lens of others, we can begin to fuse these lenses together.

So, step one – be authentic and speak truth.

Next up, Paul says: Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.

Be angry? Really? That’s okay? Well, that’s what it says. But before you get too excited and start turning over tables and such, there ARE limits. But, even so, why might it be okay to be angry?

Well, for one thing, when we get angry about something it gives us an indication that it matters to us. When someone says or does something that hurts our feelings or is disrespectful, it makes us angry. And as much as we might want to lash back against them, even Unfriend them on FB, Paul’s letter says “be angry, but do not sin, and don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” So we need to move through our anger quickly and not let it fester. If someone has made you angry, go to them and address it. Help them see what they did through your lens, and try to see it from their lens, as well.

IMG_4825-cropAnother way that anger can bear fruit, is when we see something that isn’t right, an injustice that’s being done against others, for example, it can make us angry.  This kind of anger can actually be motivating. It can spark us to action. But, here again, there’s a difference between sparking us to action and setting fire to everything and everyone in sight.

When we have righteous anger, it’s important to get that anger in check. This is where non-violent activism took root. The anger isn’t gone, but it acts more like the pilot light on a stove, instead of a raging wildfire out of control. With God’s help, we can calibrate our anger to be directed for good. And the more we share the lenses of others, the more we can work to diminish the injustices that persist and, over time, we can diminish our anger, as well.

The third bit of direction given to us by Paul seems to echo the familiar passage from 1 Corinthians about love. It says:

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… Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ep 4:29, 31-32)

While all this detail gives us some specific do’s and don’ts of how to treat one another, for those who like to keep it really simple, just focus on one phrase: Be kind to one another. If we lead with a spirit of kindness, the rest will follow. When we are kind, we open ourselves up to others. We share ourselves and we make room for relationship.

  • Our authenticity,
  • our willingness to be vulnerable,
  • to speak truth to our neighbors,
  • to stand up for the sake of others,
  • to speak out against those things that continue to divide instead of unite us…
  • to be willing to do the work of fusing our lenses together;
  • to allow our collective selves to become a new thing – together.

This is how we live in love as Christ loved us. This is how we are stewards of the love God has given us. And in doing these things, we are giving our whole selves as a fragrant offering – a sweet gift to God, and to the world.

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Epistle Text:

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. 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. 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 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. (Ep 4:25-5:2)

2 Responses to “Shared Vision”

  1. Jim Greenwood said

    A beautiful shared vision. Thanks. wonderful as always. Hope all is going well or went well in Santa Fe. Have a good week.


    Dad >

  2. Thank you. The layering lens image is powerful. We are blessed with your gift.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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