SCRIPTURE READING Letter to the Ephesians 4:22-5:2
22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
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 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.
MESSAGE: “Ephesians Check List”
I first moved to Rochester in 1976, 41 years ago. First, I lived near Culver Road, then near Park Avenue, and later just off of Monroe Avenue. Whenever I go into the city I run into old friends from time to time, people that I may not have seen for ten or twenty years. Sifting through their old memories when they see me, a light clicks on and they vaguely remember that I’ve been serving as a pastor. “Hey Jim”, they ask, “are you still doing that God stuff?” I’m not entirely sure what they mean by “God stuff”, are they trying to show respect or is it some kind of put-down?
“God stuff”. How about you? Are you still doing that “God stuff”? Let’s try to define it. What do you think “God stuff” means? It could have a negative meaning, that Christians are preachy, hypocritical, stuck-up, power-hungry people. Or it could mean that Christians are people who genuinely enjoy helping others, are sincere about demonstrating love, and are willing to take risks in Jesus Christ to change the world.
“God stuff”. I guess I can be preachy at times. Just ask my son about that! Hypocritcal? More than I’d like to admit. Stuck-up? I hope not, but I’m sure that you’ll tell me if I am. Power-hungry? I like to think that I’m more interested in empowering others, but maybe you have some truth to tell me about that, too. On the positive side, I do genuinely enjoy helping others. Just ask Jordan and Kara who watched me happily distributing hundreds of honeydew melons at the Foodlink Mobile Food Pantry with them at the Morganville church this week (Jordan was pushing pasta and Kara was all about vegetables!). All three of us handed out lots of food to lots of people. Jordan even helped some people carry their food to their cars. I’m always trying to be more loving, I hope you’ve noticed, and I hope I’m willing to take some big risks with Jesus to change the world.
How about you? Let’s see how each of you are doing with this “God stuff”. Today we’re going to go through a check list (see below) that I derived from our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians.
You don’t need a pencil and no one will know your responses, unless you’re willing to share them. Let’s get started then. Let’s see how you’re doing with “God stuff”.
 Have you ever “put away your former life”? I think we know what this means, it’s about transformation, about turning over a new leaf, about making a new start. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians – who may or may not have been Paul – thinks this is very important. Being a Christian is not just acquiring new information, or going through the motions, it’s about becoming a new person. Are you a new person because of your faith in Jesus? Is this something you feel? Is this something others can see in you? Has it involved making a conscious decision to change? Maybe you want to put away your former life because you’ve reached a dead end with your old self? Do you want to put away your former life because a judge in court is telling you to do so or face jail time? Do you want to put away your former life because your spouse or partner is telling you that you better … or else? Is putting away your former life something you only need to do once? Or does it need to happen many times? In case you didn’t know we have an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in our Dining Room every Wednesday night at 7:30 PM. Here’s a group dedicated to putting away the former life every week. Sometimes it takes dozens, even hundreds of attempts to get it right. Upstairs, how are we doing with that? Has anyone here put away their former life?
 Have you ever clothed yourself with a new self? This is similar to the first question, but it gets me thinking of how we are quick to change our outer appearance, and much slower to change what’s inside. Have you ever changed your look? Your hairstyle? One time early in college I decided to do a radical change in my appearance – I began to part my hair on the right, no longer on the left. Did I gain influence, happiness, or lots of love interest? Not really, but I thought I would, so maybe it had more to do with answer (e) – confidence! But our culture is saturated with attempts to change our external appearance while leaving the inside untouched. Tweaking Facebook profiles, new fashions, cosmetics and tattoos, for example. How should you clothe your new self?
 Told any lies lately? We live in a culture that is based on falsehood on steroids. Just consider sports. Cyclists, baseball players, runners, use illegal enhancements and then deny it. I used to be a baseball fan, but now I barely pay attention to it. There’s been too much falsehood and not enough truth for me to get any joy from it anymore. Once caught, these athletes then claim they had to do it because everyone else was doing it. My Mom always had a ready comment with this kind of reasoning, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff would you jump, too?” How often do you not tell the truth, or bend it, or spin it? Can we even trust one another to answer that question honestly? Whenever I’m tempted to bend the facts, I hear an old song by Eric Clapton echo in the back of my mind, “Tell the Truth”. What helps you tell the truth?
 Do you ever get angry? I don’t like being angry. I end up saying things that don’t help. Do you ever get angry? I did, for sure, on Wednesday, when I first heard about the two TV people being shot and killed during a live broadcast. Sometimes I think I’m not getting angry enough. More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history. American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries. OK, that’s what makes me angry. What makes you angry? What do you do with that anger? Start hitting people, start making threats, or channeling it into something useful. I try to find something useful, this week I wrote letters to all of my legislators about it
 Ever steal anything? When was the last time? Of all the things on this checklist, this is the one I’m most sure about. No stealing by me. But then someone suggested to me that in shopping at a store that underpays or mistreats its workers to give me a low price, am I not stealing? It’s something to think about, and maybe I have a lot further to go than I had thought.
 OK, how about “evil talk”, is that something that you do? There are lots of ways to engage in evil talk. First, there are those four-letter words that everyone knows. What good are they to anyone? But I bet that a lot of you use them. And then there are put-downs and name-calling. Do these words and phrases really help? They create division and more anger. How about racist or sexist expressions? Are you guilty for using these kinds of phrases? I hope not. To a large extent I think racism and sexism are systemic, structural problems, but it sure doesn’t help when we use demeaning language about anyone. Are we so insecure that we have to demean others in order to feel better about ourselves? Don’t use those words, get some counseling!
 Recently a music group that I’ve enjoyed since I was 18 retired after a 50 year run. In the final concert, at the end of the show, before he left the stage, the drummer, Mickey Hart, tried to sum up the purpose and impact of those fifty years and everything they’ve learned, “Please be kind”. I like that. There are denominations, doctrines, theologies, interpretations of all kinds circulating throughout our fragmented Christian world, but it all comes down to being kind. How would you know how kind you are? Is it the donations you make, the time you give to others, the hand that you offer, or the hugs you give? I love the idea that there are countless ways to be kind, and I’m not kind enough yet. I need all of the help God can offer.
 Finally, have you ever experienced forgiveness? I’m not asking if you have forgiven anyone, though I think it’s a great thing to do, too, but have ever been forgiven? And who was it that forgave you?
 Now let’s review the scoring:
I’m glad that we’re in this together!
Ephesians 4:22-5:2 Check List
- Have you ever “put away your former life”?
(a) Never (b) Once (c) Twice (d) Too many times to count
(e) After I got caught (f) When I got married
- Have you ever “clothed” yourself with a “new self”?
(a) I frequently “tweak” my Facebook profile
(b) I once started a new wardrobe from scratch – lots of shopping!
(c) I’ve made at least one serious attempt to lose weight.
(d) It’s all about make-up and accessories!
(e) It has to do with finding confidence and purpose.
- How often do you engage in falsehood?
(a) Never (b) Rarely (c) Only for good reasons (d) Frequently
(e) Especially when I have to answer questions like this
- Do you ever get angry?
(a) Never (b) Rarely (c) Sometimes (d) Yes, explosively
(e) Yes, but I don’t let it linger (f) How dare you ask me that!
- When was the last time you stole something?
(a) This morning (b) In the last year (c) Not since I was a child
- What is “evil talk”; and do you use it?
(a) Any of those four letter words; and only when I lose my cool.
(b) Put-downs, name-calling, slander; for people who deserve it.
(c) Doubting or denying Jesus; when I feel low and discouraged.
(d) Racist, sexist, ageist language; I hope not!
- Are you kind?
(a) Rarely (b) Only when I have to be (c) Always to the poor
(d) Young children, yes! Putzes, no! (e) Yes, but I carry a big stick!
(f) It’s not what I do; it’s who I am. (g) Others are kind in return.
- Have you ever been forgiven? By whom?
(a) A parent or sibling (b) A co-worker (c) A friend
(d) A stranger (d) An enemy (e) God
Scoring: (1) These questions made me realize … how much I need to improve (1 pt), how much I over-estimate my progress (5 pts), how much God has to offer me (100 pts). (2) These questions made me wonder … if am I the one at fault? (1 pt), if our culture/society is what needs to change? (5 pts), if spiritual transformation is far more radical than I ever imagined? (100 pts)