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Speaking the Truth in Love

  • October 28, 2018
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 28 October 2018 (Proper 25 Year B REV)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Ephesians 4.1-16; Psalm 126; Mark 10.46-52

Title:               Speaking The Truth In Love

Give us your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, O God, that we may have the power to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ our Lord. Amen.

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph 4.14-15).

Dear friends: are you ready to grow up into Christ and to learn how to speak the truth in love?

We’ve moved now into the second half of this Letter to the Ephesians. We’ve finished with the explanation of Paul’s good news message and now we come to the chapters dealing with practical application.

And, as always, a bit like a broken record, Paul’s focus is on the unity of the Church as the Body of Christ.

This point is driven home by that seven-fold declaration of oneness: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.

Many scholars see in this a reflection of the great Shema, that daily declaration of faith made by Jews all around the world for thousands of years. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

This is the same declaration of the oneness of God that was certainly prayed yesterday morning in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Before that angry man entered and began shouting and shooting.

Before we go any further, I want to read you a portion of a statement released last night by the Maine Council of Churches in response to this attack:

“Over the past [few] years, we have witnessed a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic  incidents and hate crimes, and [yesterday’s] shooting represents a horrifically predictable escalation along that despicable path as hate groups become more vocal, visible, and violent.  The [Maine Council of Churches] once again cautions against this growing and toxic culture of intolerance and bigotry that has infected our society.  We call on our leaders—religious, political, and cultural—to become agents and models of civility and compassion, upholding the dignity and rights of all people to live in peace. 

 And we call upon the faith communities of Maine to stand in solidarity against all forms of religious, political and cultural prejudice and hatred; to rededicate ourselves to bringing peace, justice and hope to our broken world and its suffering people; and to join with all people of good will in offering our love, support, and solidarity as we stand with and for our neighbors, near and far, who face hatred and discrimination.

[And] we encourage Maine’s churches and people of faith to reach out to the Jewish communities in our midst to express your compassion and commitment directly.” 

Where does this toxic culture of intolerance and bigotry that infects our society come from? Where do these people get these evil ideas in the first place?

Please remember this: every person is a disciple. Which means that you and I – and every other human being – we learn how to live, how to talk, and how to think from others.

No one is born with a hatred of Jews or a hatred of blacks or gays or anyone else!

All of these things are learned from others. From the words and actions of others. All of these are learned behaviors that are reinforced by a sick community of support.

I am willing to lump all of this nasty stew of bigotry and hatred and conspiracy thinking into those categories offered by our reading today: random winds of doctrine, people’s trickery and craftiness in deceitful scheming.

Now, by contrast, what is offered as the antidote to those forces that seek to lead us astray from the ways of God? Once again, amazingly, the solution offered is the Body of Christ.

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4.15).

My friends, God is building a new body for Christ. That’s what Paul says over and over again. Christ does not have a regular body any more in which he can continue his work of touching and healing the world.

A new vehicle is required. A new body. And ever since the days of Paul, God has been making this new Body out of random people like you and me. Really, it seems, out of anyone who is willing to play a part.

God takes other people’s hands to be the hands of Christ. And God takes other feet to the be the feet of Christ. And God takes our mouths to be the mouth of Christ.

Well, take is probably not the right word, because we have to agree to this process. But if we choose to participate, we are brought together by the Holy Spirit to lead a new life of being Christ to others and to the world.

And so the writer pleads with us: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4.1-2).

The word patience in Greek is makro-thumias, which literally means long-heated. Like a piece of metal that is placed into the furnace for a long time and is able to withstand all of that heat without becoming warped or twisted.

Makro-thumias is what God is shaping us into. Into those able to be with people who are difficult and challenging for a long period of time without becoming warped through anger or hatred or frustration. Into those who can take the heat without dishing it out.

Would you like a simple test to know how you are doing in this regard? To know whether or not you are growing stronger in patience and in the way of Christ?

Well then, just consider that simple yet majestic phrase: “speaking the truth in love.” And ask yourself, Am I speaking the truth in love? At the end of each day, reflect on what took place over the course of the day in light of this standard. Did I speak the truth in love?

There are two parts to this. Speaking the truth refers to the content of what we say. Speaking in love refers to the delivery of what we say. The WHAT and the HOW. And both are equally important.

Because, my friends, our goal is not to be nice and polite. It’s just not. This is one of the big problems with the church, if we are to be honest for a moment. Not really sure what to do or what to say, we end up just being polite. But that means we are most often afraid of actually speaking the truth.

Look, there are dark, sinister forces at work in society that are promoting this hatred and bigoty and violence. The web of lies and conspiracy theories that these groups spin is all around us. Of course, no one here is involved directly in any of this. I know that. And yet, surely all of us make contact with this web of darkness at some time or another.

Maybe we hear off-color jokes about certain groups of people, or we read some nasty comments on-line. Wherever we happen to make contact with this twisted and evil web of ideas, we need to stop being polite and learn how to speak the truth in love.

Because words matter. What we say matters. And HOW we say it matters.

Because God is putting us together to be the mouth of Christ, to speak the words of Christ. And sometimes that means being bold and courageous and standing up for the truth of God. Not with anger, but with clarity and intention and firmness.

So, what do you say? Are you ready to grow up into Christ, to claim your place in the Body of Christ and to learn how to speak the truth in love?

If so, I invite you to grab a Prayer Book close to you and turn to page 833.

On page 833, you will find the classic prayer for peace associated with St. Francis of Assisi. He did not write this prayer, but it most certainly captures his heart and his vision for what maturity in the Body of Christ looks like in practice.

Most of you know this well, but consider once again what it looks like to speak the words of Christ in the manner of Christ as we grow into maturity as the Body of Christ.

And let us re-dedicate ourselves to being Body of Christ in this broken and suffering world as we pray this prayer together.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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