Sermon from 22nd Aug 2021 (Pentecost 13)

Ephesians 6:10-20 (EHV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can stand against the schemes of the Devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to take a stand on the evil day and, after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness fastened in place, 15 and with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace tied to your feet like sandals. 16 At all times hold up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. 17 Also take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 At every opportunity, pray in the Spirit with every kind of prayer and petition. Stay alert for the same reason, always persevering in your intercession for all the saints. 19 Pray for me also, that when I open my mouth a message will be given to me that boldly reveals the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may speak about it boldly, as it is necessary for me to speak.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that no matter what comes our way, we may be able to stand firm in our faith as we clothe ourselves with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Living in this fallen world is hard. Living in this fallen world while trying to live out our faith in Jesus Christ is even harder.

There’s so much brokenness and pain and heartache and struggle that we might feel we live in a constant battlefield where the ultimate victims are our love, our innocence, our trust, our peace, and our hope.

In response to the pain and suffering we experience on the battlefield of life as a result of each other’s hands and mouths, we may be tempted to protect ourselves from further pain by either attacking those around us or by isolating ourselves from them.

Sometimes we do this by seeking to inflict pain upon others by exaggerating the truth or telling lies so the other person gets in trouble. Sometimes we protect our heart from further pain by avoiding people or places which might hurt us again. Sometimes we seek to force our own version of peace on others by insisting on our own way. Sometimes we use others as our shield by telling them about our pain, hoping they’ll defend us. Sometimes we dwell on the pain that’s been inflicted on us so that we find it hard to love or trust again.

In this way we surround ourselves with our own version of protective armour as we tell lies, hesitate to open ourselves to love, manipulate others to get our own way, use others as our shield, and dwell on the evil done to us.

The result is that marriages fail. Families divide and separate. No-one wants to serve or place themselves in a position to get criticised. Pastors resign. People leave the church. Congregations divide or diminish as people despair of such loveless Christian witness. We’re not just forced into isolation by government decrees, but we isolate ourselves to become an easy and unsupported target by the evil one!

As Christians we forget who our true enemy is who seeks to divide us. And it’s not you or me.

We fight against the devil who is a most diabolical adversary. He slanders and deceives us so successfully that we’re tempted to see each other, and even God as our enemy. Instead of guarding ourselves against him, we guard ourselves against each other.

Not only this, but we’ve got this inborn virus of sin which affects everything we think and say and do. While sin is also our enemy, this isn’t the enemy we guard ourselves against. Instead of being angry at the sin, we’re often angry with the person who did the sinning. As a result, we see each other as enemies, and we’re tempted to attack or separate ourselves from each other, despite the fact we actually need each other.

Martin Luther, when explaining what we’re praying for when we ask God to lead us not into temptation, says:

‘We ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.’ Small Catechism, 6th Petition

And this exposes the true target of the devil and our sin: our trust in God.

Now, you might wonder what our faith in God has to do with the way we treat each other. But consider this: When you’ve been hurt by fellow Christians, when you’ve been betrayed by them, when you’ve seen them acting as hypocrites, or when you’ve experienced abuse from them, have you ever been tempted to withdraw from the church community? When you withdraw from the community of faith, do you realise you become an easier target for false belief, despair, bitterness and hopelessness?

You see, while you seek to stay away from fellow Christians who hurt you, you may also stay away from being fed in your faith. Even though the people of God will continually disappoint you, you need them, and they need you. God created us to live in community and, despite all the attacks of evil, we’re still commanded to love God and love our neighbour.

So, what are we to do as a result of experiencing these wrestles with the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh? How are we to respond?

Well, St Paul has already described various responses in his letter which are unfitting for Christians, such as lies, deception, anger, stealing, corrupt talk, bitterness, slander, and so on. Those are all weapons used by the devil to divide us and are never welcome in the body of Christ. Instead, we’re to build up, encourage and forgive each other.

Similarly, we’re not to fight back. We’re not the champions who are to do the fighting. Instead, St Paul clearly says several times in today’s text, we’re ordered to…stand.

Now, in any battle, standing still is an invitation for disaster, unless of course you’re properly protected.

In this case, St Paul describes the armour we’re to put on which will protect and defend us. This is because for us fights the valiant One, our victor Jesus Christ. After all, it’s not our battle – it’s his!

He’s the Champion who has overcome death. He’s the Victor who’s overcome the devil. He’s the mighty One who’s overcome the world. He’s the One who died for the forgiveness of our sin. We’re to faithfully stand and let him do all the fighting.

But, what are these divine protective items you’re to wear?

Well, firstly you’re to stand with a belt of truth around your waist. When you remember Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, it’s like you have a belt of Christ guarding you with his truth. You’re secure in the truth of his humanity and his sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins. When troubled by sins, even sins involving your waist or what’s below it, the truth of Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing will stop you from wavering in your faith in his mercy and compassion.

Secondly, you stand wearing a breastplate of righteousness, guarding your most sensitive and vital of organs – your heart. Since you can’t live the right way or even live in a relationship with God the right way, you’re given Christ’s own righteousness. In this sense, whenever the deceiver accuses you and reminds you of every sin you’ve ever committed in such a way you doubt whether God could ever truly forgive you, you’re to remember that whenever God looks at your heart, it’s been covered over by Christ’s own righteousness.

Thirdly, you stand with the Gospel of peace tied firmly to your feet. The foundation on which you stand in faith is the Gospel. You stand in the peace of God knowing Christ died for the forgiveness of all your sins. As you stand in God’s peace, you’re also ready to proclaim the Gospel of undeserved forgiveness and cleansing to those around you. In this way, instead of engaging in war, you engage in peace!

Fourthly, you stand behind a shield of faith, and in this case it’s a shield which guards you from your eyes to your knees. Now you could argue this is your own faith or trust in God which guards and protects you from the devil’s darts of deception and lies, but it’s more likely to be the faith which has been handed to you which protects you. This is the faith of the church we confess in our Creeds.

Since this shield isn’t attached to you, it’s not just an individual trust (which usually wavers between faith and non-belief), but a corporate trust. This means, when your faith is wavering, you might need the person next to you to hold before you the shield of faith.

This is the reason Martin Luther recalled, and was comforted by, his recitation of the Apostle’s Creed every morning and every night. He shielded himself, not with his own personal faith, but with the historic and enduring faith of the whole catholic and apostolic Church who stood alongside him.

Fifthly, you stand wearing the helmet of salvation. You stand knowing you’re saved by Christ. He is your Champion and your Saviour. Keeping this truth in mind, your thoughts are protected from straying from the truth into despair. Instead of dwelling on evil, you remember that everything won on the cross by Jesus is given to you as a free and undeserving gift through faith. You keep remembering forgiveness is yours, Christ’s cleansing and holiness is yours, peace is yours, and eternal life is yours.

Sixthly, you stand with a sword of the Spirit, but the type of sword St Paul talks about here isn’t a huge sword like the knights of old used to swing. Instead, it’s a short stabbing sword, perhaps only the length of a foot-long ruler. Now, most swordsmen know you can’t fight with that! But that’s the point!

You’re not to fight, but you’re to stand! This stabbing sword was only used when the attacker was so close a long sword would be ineffective and unwieldy. In this case, this short sword is the Word of God.

Remember when Jesus himself was being tempted by the devil in the wilderness? What was his weapon of choice against the wiles of the devil? The Word of God!

Although the devil himself also used, or rather, misused, the Word of God (after all, the devil is a more expert theologian than you are), Jesus was able to defeat him with his own Word first given through the prophets. As Luther sings in ‘A Mighty Fortress’, one little word can fell the devil. Just one Word of God is needed to send the devil scurrying for cover.

Although many neglect the Word of God, you’re to read the Word of God, learn it, meditate on it, understand it, and speak it. The Word of God is an essential piece in the armour of God, so don’t leave it gathering dust in your homes!

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the whole armour of God is Jesus Christ himself.

Your waist is surrounded by the truth of Christ. Your heart is covered by the righteousness of Christ. Your feet are founded on the peace of Christ. Your whole being is shielded by Christ who stands before you, beside you and behind you. Your mind is to dwell on Christ. Your defence against the devil is the Word of Christ. You put on, and stand in, Christ!

Lastly, while standing encased and guarded in the whole armour of God, which is the armour of Christ, you pray.

In this case you don’t just pray for yourselves, but you for each other. Pray for the person next to you. Pray for those under attack. Pray for pastors, for missionaries, and for teachers who are on the spiritual front lines. Pray for governments, and for those in authority. Pray for your children and grandchildren. Pray for those who are sick or dying. Pray for those drowning in despair or depression. Pray for those who have sinned, but also for those who have been sinned against. Pray for your enemies. Pray for those who don’t come with you to church. Pray patiently and persistently, never giving up or tiring.

While we might forget what or who the true enemy is who seeks to separate us from God, we’re to stand firm in faith, clothing ourselves with Christ with a constant prayer on our lips.

Living in this fallen world while trying live out our faith in God is hard, but continue to stand firm in faith, wrapped in, and guarded by, your Lord Jesus Christ.

Stand and witness your Champion, Jesus Christ, as he fights for you, dies for you, and lives eternally for you. Then, wrapped in the armour of God, you’re to look forward to standing with Jesus himself in heaven with all the other soldiers of the Cross who have endured the war. Until that time, may…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 15th Aug 2021 (Pentecost 12)

Ephesians 5:15-21 (EHV)

15 Consider carefully, then, how you walk, not as unwise people, but as wise people. 16 Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk on wine, which causes you to lose control. Instead, be filled with the Spirit 19 by speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (singing and making music with your hearts to the Lord), 20 by always giving thanks for everything to God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 and by submitting to one another in reverence for Christ.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may live as wise people who gladly proclaim thankfulness for your grace to us through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let’s start with the good news:

God has chosen you before the foundations of the world were laid. He’s adopted you as his dearly loved children to be holy and blameless. He did this by sending his own beloved Son into this world to suffer and die for you and me so that through the shedding of his innocent blood we might be forgiven.

By his grace he joined us to our Lord Jesus Christ so that we might be one in him – being washed with the one baptism, receiving the one Spirit, and having one faith together with all the holy people of God.

He did all this without any of us deserving this gift. None of this is as a result of our own good works so that no one may boast in anything or anyone except Jesus Christ. We receive the fullness of all God’s awesome heavenly and eternal gifts by faith. We’re all at peace with God and have access to God the Father through our faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the good news!

But what difference does it make? Does this good news affect how you live at home, at work, on the farm, down the street, or at church?

Well, St Paul believes it has a huge impact and he’s been sharing what this means for your life throughout his letter. It means we live differently than everyone else who don’t believe this good news. Not because this earns us any more brownie points with God, but simply because the amazing grace of God changes us from being focussed on ourselves to being focussed on those around us.

You see, God didn’t save you or me just for your own benefit.

Now, of course he saved you because he loves you, and he saved me because he loves me, but he also loves our neighbours whether they know or trust in God or not.

This means he didn’t save you to be alone in your salvation or righteousness. He didn’t save you in order that you might rule those around you in pride or arrogance because you think you’re better than all the other sinners in the world.

He saved you so that you would serve as God’s instrument of blessing in a world darkened by selfishness, arrogance, and deception. He saved you so that you would become his willing and obedient servant who loves and gives and forgives and serves all those you’re tempted to look down on and criticise. God wants to bless everyone, and he’s chosen you to be his ambassador of grace and blessing and forgiveness to them.

This means if you’re going to be a blessing to them, you won’t blindly follow the crowd of this world in its smug self-righteousness, but you’ll you seek out the truth of your own sinfulness and idolatry so that you may repent.

Instead of lying to serve yourself, you’ll speak the truth in love so those who listen will be the ones who benefit.

Instead of being greedy to gain things for yourself, you’re content with what God has given you.

Instead of stealing or taking what’s not yours, you work and serve and share with one another.

Instead of putting people down, you build up and encourage each other.

Instead of being angry or letting unwholesome talk coming out of your mouth, you’re kind, tender-hearted and forgiving.

Instead of coveting other things or other people, you’re thankful for all the things and people God has already blessed you with.

If you truly believe the awesome generosity and grace of God toward you, your life changes, and it should be noticeable. People will know and experience grace and peace and forgiveness and encouragement and hope from you because you’re an instrument of God’s grace.

This is because you live as wise people who want to continue learning from the grace and mercy of God. Of course, if they don’t experience this from you, it could be you’re not living as wise people wanting to learn from God how to live as his holy child.

And this is where we often get into trouble.

You see, from the very beginning God, in his infinite wisdom, defined what was wise. He declared what was good and what was very good. He declared what was not good and what was forbidden.

But the first humans, who had only experienced the goodness of God, wanted to define good and evil for themselves. They succumbed to temptation and wanted to be autonomous from God. Even though they were already made in God’s image, they wanted to be like God.

Now, we might be tempted to criticise them thinking we wouldn’t do such a thing, but every generation of humanity continued this pattern of independence and autonomy from God, and it continues among us today.

A simple test to see if you do this yourself is to consider if you’ve become frustrated or angry with someone and to consider why you became frustrated or angry.

Now, it could have been for a very good reason. Perhaps they acted unjustly. But it could be because they disagreed with you, misunderstood you, didn’t listen to you, didn’t do what you wanted them to do, threatened you or your reputation, or hurt you.

Did you get frustrated or angry because you reckon you’re more intelligent, wiser or more knowledgeable than they are? Have you judged them as incorrect because they didn’t agree with your own definitions of good and evil? Is it because you wish to punish them because they challenging you and your authority?

Because we’re not getting our own way our insecurities, greed, pride and selfishness tempt us to lie, hide, deny, manipulate and put down. We try to raise ourselves and our own position above other people by putting them down. We try to bend people to our own will through manipulation and coercion.

We seek to judge and punish each other because we’ve decided for ourselves what’s good and evil. We’ve decided we’re the one everyone needs to listen to and obey. We’re the ones people need to answer to, and we decide the way they should be punished. And what makes this even more evil is we might believe that by doing so we’re actually fulfilling the will of the Lord!

In response, St Paul invites us to understand what the true will of God is and gain wisdom in doing so. As a response to gaining understanding and growing in spiritual maturity, we’ll walk in the ways of wisdom.

This is because Paul knows true wisdom comes from God, from knowing who he is, what he does for us, and how he wants us to be obedient and live under his rule. But there’s also a twist to how we receive this wisdom.

In the first reading for today we hear lady wisdom’s invitation to gain spiritual maturity and wisdom by eating and drinking what she’s prepared. She’s prepared bread and wine for us to chew on and swallow, and somehow, by doing so, we gain spiritual maturity and insight from God’s wisdom. As a result of what we receive into our own being, we walk in the light of this wisdom and live differently to everyone else.

If we were to read a little further, we would read in Proverbs 9:10 that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’, and that ‘the knowledge of the Lord is insight for us’. We learn to fear the Lord and gain insight through trusting his words to us. We learn wisdom by trusting his definitions of good and evil. As we trust his word, it enters our being and affects how we live.

Similarly, in the Gospel reading we hear another invitation to eat and drink, this time from Jesus himself. But the temptation here is to limit the meaning of what Jesus said.

You see, we hear the invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood so that we may have life in us. Since we believe the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper is his true body and blood, we might think this is what Jesus is referring to.

However, if we read more of John’s gospel account, we discover that whenever we hear a reference to the ‘flesh’ of Jesus, it’s referring to his humanity, after all, John 1:14 reads that the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us’.

The truth we need to ‘swallow’ here is the truth Jesus, the man who walked on earth among his people, born of Mary, is also God in human flesh. God himself became human in order to save humanity. This is often too hard for people to believe, but for those who do believe, he’s given the right to be children of God who receive the gift of life eternal in his kingdom.

In the same way, the other truth we need to ‘swallow’ is the truth Jesus (who is God in human flesh) had to suffer and die for us. He had to shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. This is also too hard for many to believe that we actually needed God to die for us, but those who believe Jesus died for them for the forgiveness of sins receive what he promises: forgiveness, life and salvation.

Therefore, true wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord and gaining insight from God’s definitions of good and evil, which include the necessity that God himself would become human in the form of Jesus in order that he should suffer and die for us for the forgiveness of all our sins.

The connection with Holy Communion is that we receive the benefits of his humanity and death through his chosen means of grace by trusting his words as we eat and drink his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

This is the true wisdom of God we need to ‘swallow’ and accept into the centre of our being which changes us from the inside out and affects how we live.

God tells us what is true, what is good, what is evil, and how to live. Those who trust him gain wisdom and insight which affects how we live, which is why we don’t live like everyone else.

We live as gracious people. We love each other, including our enemies, because God first loved us. We forgive each other, including our enemies, because we’ve been forgiven by God. We serve each other, including our enemies, because God chose you and me to be a blessing to those around us.

This is because God chose you before the foundations of the world were laid. He’s adopted you as his dearly loved children to be holy and blameless and wise. He did this by sending his own beloved Son into this world as a human being to suffer and die for you and me so that through the shedding of his innocent blood we might be forgiven.

By his grace he joined us to our Lord Jesus Christ so that we might be one in him – being washed with the one baptism, receiving the one Spirit, and having one faith together with all the holy people of God.

He did all this without any of us deserving this gift. None of this is as a result of our own good works so that no one may boast in anything or anyone except Jesus Christ. We receive the fullness of all God’s awesome heavenly and eternal gifts by faith.

We declare the praises of God through our songs and hymns and as we share the gospel of our Lord and walk in his wise and gracious ways. This is because we’re all at peace with God and have access to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 8th Aug 2021 (Pentecost 11)

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (EHV) 

25 Therefore, after you put away lying, let each of you speak truthfully with your neighbor, because we are all members of one body. 26 “Be angry, yet do not sin.” Ps 4:4 Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. 27 Do not give the Devil an opportunity. 28 Let the one who has been stealing steal no longer. Instead, let him work hard doing what is good with his own hands, so that he has something to share with a person who is in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come from your mouths. Say only what is beneficial when there is a need to build up others, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice. 32 Instead, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us.

5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God as his dearly loved children. And walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we might be imitators of God in our thinking, speaking and actions, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let’s see if you recognise this scenario:

You got dirty working in the garden or the shed. Your clothes and hands are filthy. You’re about to step into the house and someone yells out “You’re not coming in here like that! Take those dirty things off!”

So you strip off your dirty clothes and tip-toe your way to the laundry or bathroom so you can clean up. Then, once you’re clean, you’re allowed to enter the rest of the house.

Even though it’s a hassle, you don’t really want your dirt and grime to rub off on your clean things, because if they got dirty as well, there’d be so much more to clean! After all, you know the basic truth that clean things will never spoil dirty things, but dirty things will always spoil clean things.

In a similar way, there are certain words which are never welcome in the house of God. These words will always spoil, threaten, or divide a Christian community.

The problem is that, unlike the dirt and mud and oil which is so easy to see on our clothes and bodies, these unwelcome words aren’t so easy to see coming. The bitter and untruthful words creep into our midst by remaining dormant in our hearts, waiting for the opportunity to do their worst damage.

While some might say our eyes are a window into our souls, I believe our tongues become the slipway for what’s been dammed up in our hearts. Once we let out through our tongues what’s been hiding in our heart we can end up with a great and disastrous mess among the holy people of God!

Perhaps to explain what I mean, let’s think of an example.

Let’s say someone said or did something which hurt you. Perhaps they misunderstood you, told a joke which offended you, didn’t properly listen to what you said, said something you disagreed with, or neglected to do what you expected them to do for you. Whatever it was, it disappointed you and made you angry.

Now, it’s not always a sin to be angry. Even God got angry! We can be angry at injustice, unfairness and unloving actions. Sometimes it’s right to be angry, but many times our anger is self-centred because we figure people have to be punished for making us angry. Therefore, being angry may not be a sin, but it’s what you do with your anger which makes the difference.

So, thinking about what this person said or did which made you angry, what do you do about it?

Well, maybe you’ll let them have it! You’ll yell at them, put them down, call them names, or tell them off! It’s possible this still won’t have the result you expect or desire, so you’ll tell other people about what this person did or said, or at least share what you think they meant by it.

In most cases, your tongue will be your weapon of choice. You’ll say anything you need to say, including exaggerating truths or deceiving with lies, in order to win the argument, put them back in their place, convince everyone else how you’ve been victimised, punish them for their wicked ways, or get your own way.

In this case, your anger has turned into sin. Your mouth has exposed your sinful heart and mind. The hate and unforgiveness and frustration which has been dammed up in your heart comes gushing out the slipway of your tongue.

So, instead of making things better, your tongue has most likely made things worse. Now there’s more than one angry person in the house! Relationships are strained or broken, and everyone’s fuming or slamming doors or running away or yelling or crying.

I suppose the other alternative is to keep quiet and make out nothing happened. You don’t want to make a scene, cause further offence, or make things worse, so instead you say nothing.  You choose not to speak to that person and remove your friendship from them. In this case, your tongue is still your weapon, but this time silence is the way you wield it. That silent treatment is also a powerful weapon of the tongue which, when used to punish or manipulate, harms relationships.

But what happens within you as you deliver your sentence of silence? What happens within you as you express your anger through your tirade of temper?

Well, you’ll probably dwell on your anger and the injustice done to you. Inside you’ll be fuming, and your anger might turn into resentment or hate. Because you feel they need to be punished, you’ll withhold forgiveness and hold a grudge.

It could be you’ll be tempted to tell everyone else about what they’ve done. You want people around you to support your anger and agree with your outburst. You may want people to affirm your own sense of righteousness and justify your sinful response.

On the other hand, you might not want everyone to know you’re holding a grudge, so you’ll pretend everything is fine, trying to live a lie in order to ‘keep the peace’ which really doesn’t exist within you. Because you’re not really at peace, it doesn’t take much for the next outburst to slip out the tongue the next time someone pushes those buttons.

This is because, as you hide your anger or pretend it doesn’t exist, it goes underground and festers. You turn into a pressure-cooker. One commentator said: “Those who keep their anger in a crock-pot are only inviting the devil to dinner”.

The bubbling anger, when turned inwards, often turns into anxiety or depression because it eats away at your self-worth and your self-esteem. And yes, the devil loves to play with the filth you keep in your heart and keeps flinging it at you to remind you of the crimes committed against you and harass you with any guilt or shame you feel for your own part.

Because we often use our tongues to lie, tell dirty jokes, abuse, put down and unfairly criticise, St Paul says to us Christians, “Don’t bring those dirty things in here! Take those dirty things off!”

Now, we might think the problem is with our tongues. If only we could control our tongues and know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. But that’s not the problem here.

Our tongues only reveal what’s already hiding in our hearts. The problem therefore is our selfish and self-centred hearts which always want to make everything about ‘me’! Because I’m the one who everyone has to obey and answer to, I’m going to judge and punish people with my tongue!

So, what’s the answer?

Well, the antidote for angry and selfish hearts is the truth of God’s Word.

On one hand we’re reminded of the truth that we’re too often selfish and self-centred. We’re often frustrated because we’re not getting our own way and want everyone to be punished for it. Our hearts have become full of deception and hate and resentment and they desire to hurt those made in God’s image and punish those for whom Christ has already died. Our hearts and tongues reveal how much we’re rebelling against God’s laws of love and compassion. Hearing the truth of our sinful state drives us to ask God for a new heart which will imitate God’s love.

We’re also reminded of the truth it’s not all about me. It’s about the body of Christ. It’s about the other person who has been made in the image of God. It’s about the other person who might be wallowing in despair and frustration who needs to be built up and encouraged. It’s about not giving the devil a foothold through words which tear down, cripple and destroy.

Then, as a powerful cleaning agent, God washes us with more truth – the truth of the Gospel.

So, the truth is this:

God forgives your sin. You’re forgiven for your angry tirades. You’re forgiven for your abuse of others. You’re forgiven for your brooding silence. You’re forgiven for neglecting to love and encourage. You’re forgiven for using your tongue to tell dirty jokes. You’re forgiven for your gossip and unwholesome talk. You’re forgiven for putting others down.

Don’t let the truth of the gospel stop at your ears. Let the truth of God’s undeserving and gracious forgiveness enter your ears, leak into your minds, and trickle down into your hearts.

Jesus died to pay for your sin, including the sins of your tongue, mind and heart. Through baptism you’ve become children of God; members of the one body who have been made holy by the washing of the holy name of God. You are part of the one body of Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

To give you further assurance that your sins are forgiven and to build up your faith, he invites you to receive the holy body and blood of Jesus; and guess where you put it…on your tongues! As Jesus’ body and blood enters your mouth and cleans your tongue of sin, let those forgiving words repeat in your mind, and enter your heart: ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin’.

But then what?

As you go from here to your homes, your work, or your places of leisure, how are you to live as children of the Truth? How will God’s forgiveness help you next time you’re angry?

Well, the challenge isn’t ‘don’t get angry’, but rather, ‘don’t sin when you’re angry’.

But how on earth do you do that?

Well, knowing how often lies go with anger to turn it into sin, truth may be a good place to start. You’re encouraged to speak the truth in love, but you speak it as gently and as winsomely as possible. Don’t use truth to hurt, manipulate or to exact revenge, but use truth to heal and build up.

Instead of speaking words which destroy or harm, use words which edify or build up. With the Holy Spirit’s help, use your tongues to encourage, to speak compassionately, and even to forgive.

Perhaps, even before you open your mouth, consider: “Is what I’m about to say going to build up this person or build up the body of Christ?” If not, perhaps you may need to reconsider what you’re about to say and how you’re going to say it.

Despite the fact your tongues can be your most dangerous weapon, it can also be the most powerful and effective tool for the Gospel. God has given us the most precious, holy, and expensive gift of all time and space – the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus Christ. We imitate God when we pass on this good news out of love for each other.

In this way, imagine your home, your workplace, and even this congregation being a place where people are no longer put down or attacked or manipulated or gossiped about, but rather this is where people feel built up, loved, appreciated, and forgiven. Instead of lies, anger and abuse coming out your mouths, let the love of God spill out your mouths instead!

So, by all means, let God wash those dirty tongues, minds and hearts, and in the place where anger and resentment once dwelt, put on the forgiveness and peace of Jesus Christ.

Don’t let the devil and his lies control your tongue, but let God use your tongue to speak the truth – the truth which builds up, encourages, and above all, announces the powerful and effective truth of forgiveness to those around you through the death of Jesus Christ. In this way, may…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your tongues, hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 1st Aug 2021 (Pentecost 10)

Ephesians 4:1-16 (EHV)

1 As a prisoner in the Lord, therefore, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love.

Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in the one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all.

But to each one of us grace was given, according to the measure of the gift from Christ. That is why it says, “When he ascended on high, he took captivity captive and gave gifts to his people.” Ps 68:18 Now what does it mean when it says “he ascended,” other than that he also had descended to the lower parts, namely, the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things. 11 He himself gave the apostles, as well as the prophets, as well as the evangelists, as well as the pastors and teachers, 12 for the purpose of training the saints for the work of serving, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13 This is to continue until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, resulting in a mature man with a stature reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 The goal is that we would no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, when people use tricks and invent clever ways to lead us astray. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we would in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body, being joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows in accordance with Christ’s activity when he measured out each individual part. He causes the growth of the body so that it builds itself up in love.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace established for us by your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Many people want to be ‘number one’!

We see this in the Olympic Games as the athletes strive for the number one position which is rewarded with gold (and a lot of media coverage). We see people competing for the number one position in various sports, business profiteering, advertising, accumulation of wealth, space exploration (or exploitation), politics, and Tik Tok videos. Many want to be the first, the fastest, the best, the richest, the most important, and the most memorable.

It should also come as no surprise that many people will also want to look out for ‘number one’!

Each of us look for ways to be noticed, valued, loved, appreciated, and included. We want to feel good about ourselves and we want others to feel good about us as well. We often want our own opinions to be agreed to. We want to win arguments because we think we know best. We want our own version of the truth to be everyone else’s version of the truth. We want others to fight for our rights and innocence. We want others to do what we say. So much so, that today an individual’s rights and expectations often seem more important than a community’s rights and expectations.

But when St Paul uses the number ‘one’, he uses it in such a radically different way which challenges our natural desires to be ‘number one’ or to look out for ‘number one’.

You see, if we’re to think about ‘number one’ at all, it’s in the context that there is only one Christ and one body. We’ve all been joined to Christ’s body through baptism into our one Lord and granted one faith through the power of the one Spirit. There is only one hope of salvation. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism. There is only one God and Father of all. If we’re concerned about the number one, this is a list of all the ‘ones’ we should be most concerned about. Everything else, including ourselves, is secondary.

This oneness is the reality of our Christian faith, and we are one whether we like it or not. We don’t make this reality, but it’s given to us. We didn’t bring this into being by a series of meetings or by a common inspiration, but it’s given to us by God, and we, as recipients of this unifying gift, should be eager to maintain this unity in order to receive the blessings and benefits of our common inheritance.

The typical human problem is that this isn’t the ‘number one’ that we want to maintain. We’re often too busy wanting to either be ‘number one’ or look out for ‘number one’. As naturally self-centred people, we want to get our own way, push our own version of truth, justify our own form of righteousness, manipulate people to satisfy our own demands, and win people to our own side of the argument, which always threatens our unity.

We often think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. We’re the ones who have it right and haven’t done anything wrong. They’re the ones who are trouble-makers, the ones who have to admit their mistakes, and who have to make up for what they’ve done.

When we think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, we’re no longer thinking about ‘one’. We’re thinking we’re ‘two’ which seeks to deny the reality of what God has given us.

Now, when we act or think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, we don’t actually change the oneness of faith, hope, baptism, or of our Lord. We can’t change that. You and I can’t change the reality of God. You and I can’t divide or separate what God has joined together.

But when we act or think in these ways of ‘us’ and ‘them’, or when we prioritise our own desires over against other people’s, we show we’re in rebellion with God. We bear witness that we don’t want to be an active part of his unity of faith and hope and life. Instead of bearing witness to the oneness we have in God, we bear witness we want to be the ‘number one’ whom everyone should bow down to and obey and agree with. By rebelling against the oneness we have in God, we set ourselves up in opposition to God.

In this way, when we have divisions among us and rebel against living the faith-filled reconciled life of oneness and unity with each other, we show we have a problem with God’s word, God’s ways, and God’s timing.

Of course, this isn’t what God desires for us. He doesn’t want us to be rebellious and divisive. He wants us to grow in maturity of faith within his unified grace-filled and Christ-centred community.

You see, in order for us to be part of his divine community, Jesus came down into our world in human flesh. Our majestic and powerful God lowered himself to become human in order to save humanity. Crucified for the forgiveness of all our sins and raised again in order to grant eternal life through faith, he ascended into heaven so that all those who are joined to him belong where he belongs. He did this so that we would be joined with him through the one faith to our one Lord by the power of the one Spirit and purified into one baptism so we all have the one hope of forgiveness and everlasting life.

But, knowing we’ll be deceived by the ways of the world and their deceptive words, and tempted to rebel against the unity which is given to us, he sent us chosen people to equip us and help us mature in our faith.

He sends us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in order to teach us how to live in the unity of faith and live out the ministry which has been given to us.

One of the important things we’re taught by his chosen servants is how to speak the truth in love, but this is often misunderstood and misused within the church.

The context of this statement isn’t about winning an argument or forcing people to agree with us. It’s not used in such a way to convince someone else about what they’ve done wrong which has hurt someone.

Instead, it’s used in the context of witnessing to the truth of Jesus Christ (who is the way, the truth and the life). It’s used in the context of maintaining the unity we have through faith in Jesus. It’s used in the context of being constantly taught the true teaching of the church (by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) and with the hope of living out our love for one another so that we remain united in Christ.

Therefore, speaking the truth in love is not about being ‘number one’ by winning arguments, or about looking out for ‘number one’ by attacking and criticising others in our attempts to defend or justify ourselves. Speaking the truth in love also hasn’t got anything to do with seeking justice through vindication or attempting to punish others for the wrong they’ve done.

Speaking the truth in love is always about bearing witness to the forgiveness and life Jesus offers us through faith, since he is the truth we want to speak in love. Speaking the truth in love is having true concern and love for each other because we want all people to grow in their faith and remain united with Jesus Christ.

This is why St Paul is eagerly encouraging you to live out the maturity of your faith by living with certain faithful mature characteristics.

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’, but will live in humility, understanding their place within the body of Christ.

A humble person doesn’t put themselves, their own wants, or their own agendas first, but is always content with the privilege of serving others. A humble person is more concerned about the welfare of other people than their own. They’re always courteous and considerate toward others. They readily waive their own rights for the sake of the common good without regard for their own pride, reputation or advancement.

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’ but will live with meekness and consideration. They won’t be overly impressed by themselves, but will always consider other people and their needs, knowing a gentle word can have more lasting and healthy effect than a harsh word.

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’ but will live patiently. This patience includes the willingness and endurance needed to bear up under provocation and trouble because they trust God’s ways and timing. They’ll be long-tempered rather than short-tempered. They’ll willingly suffer with, and for, the other person in order to win them over

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’ but will endure troublesome people. They’ll seek to tolerate, understand, and respect each other’s uniqueness, weaknesses, and faults. This doesn’t mean they’ll ignore another person’s sin or agree with their lies or deceptions, but they’ll give the other person time and space to grapple with the word of God in their lives, look for opportunities to share the good news of the gospel with them, and patiently witness through words and actions what it means to live in the unity of faith.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s not about you being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’. It’s all about Jesus Christ! He is the true ‘number One’ we should be most concerned about and looking to. He is the one Lord. He is the one who we’re baptized into. He is the body we’ve been joined to. Together with the Father he sends the one Spirit so we may all believe and mature as one in faith.

The unity of the church is a reflection of God’s gift of reconciliation in Christ, which his gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers should constantly remind us. According to one dictionary, to be reconciled is to bring two or more people back into a friendly relationship with each other after a dispute or estrangement. Reconciliation then is the constant gospel-focused ministry of the church to live out the oneness we’ve been given by Christ. Anything else is rebellion against this gift

The Church proclaims the truth in love that through Christ we’re reconciled with God the Father. Where once we were separated from him, through Christ’s forgiveness and salvation, we’re now at peace with God and can enjoy unhindered access to him. Through trusting him, we’re one with God the Father.

Through Christ and his reconciling forgiveness we maintain and celebrate the oneness we have with God and each other, for there truly is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

And it’s through him that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.