Pastor Bud Christensen is one of my heroes in the pastor biz. He was the Director of Nebraska Synod prison ministries when I served in Lincoln. He touched the lives of hundreds of men during his decade of service there. One of the slogans he gave his guys was, “What you feed grows.” It was wise counsel then, and it’s wise counsel now. What you feed grows. That’s the main thought for today.
We’ve come to another “therefore” in the Letter to the Ephesians. Here we have a summary of the way of life Paul is describing, the way of life that is worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Are we heavy enough believers? We are by the power of the Spirit within us! So get it together, Paul says. It’s time to put on our grown-up clothes.We are called to imitate the kindness of God rather than the brutality of the world.
What you feed grows. It helps to know what this life looks like. Let me illustrate. It was one of those “grandpa” things. We were giving our granddaughter a desk for her birthday. Of course, some assembly was required. The instructions could just as well have been written in Babylonian as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of them. “Let me see the box,” I said in frustration. On the carton was a picture of the desk, fully assembled. Fortunately, it was at just the right angle for the insight I needed. After that, the desk went together in minutes and all was well.
It’s good to see what we’re supposed to be doing before we do it. We get just such a picture here at the beginning of Ephesians five. After some pretty specific instructions in the second half of chapter four, we get more of the big picture at the launch of this chapter. In fact, we get the biggest picture of all. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” Paul writes. Look to God’s kindness and love for the picture of how to live your life in the Messiah. If you want more detail, then live as the Messiah loved us and gave himself up for us. That is a pleasing offering to God.
It’s important to catch the “therefores” in Paul’s letters. And it’s imperative to notice the “buts” as well. The fact that this line probably made you giggle is a support of Paul’s argument here. What you feed grows
Our thinking, language, even our jokes can fill us up with darkness where there should be light. Edmund Gwenn played the character of Santa Claus in the movie, Miracle on 34th Street. George Seaton visited Gwenn, whom he called Teddy, while Gwenn was on his death bed.
“All this must be terribly difficult for you, Teddy,” Seaton said. Gwenn smiled. “Not nearly as difficult as playing comedy,” he answered cheerfully. It’s from that exchange that we get the quip, “Dying is easy. It’s comedy that’s hard.”
Most humor these days bounces between stupid and mean. It wasn’t much different in Paul’s time. The language in his world was obscene, silly and vulgar. Words were used to tear down, not to build up. What you feed grows
Talk that turns women into sex objects encourages a culture of harassment and abuse. Talk that uses racial or ethnic or sexual stereotypes encourages a culture of prejudice and bigotry. Talk that demeans the disabled encourages a culture of cruelty. Talk that reduces humans to animals encourages a culture of genocide. Talk that reduces people to commodities encourages a culture of trafficking and slavery. Talk that threatens war increases the likelihood of war.
This is the native language of darkness. There’s no place for such talk among grown-up followers of the Messiah. It’s not that we are opposed to fun and laughter in the church. Were you here for Holy Humor Sunday? We have fun pretty much every Sunday here in one way or another. What you feed grows.
The pastor here has even been known to tell a joke or two. For example, a man always fell asleep in church because the preacher was so long-winded. The pastor gave one of the deacons a stick to hit the man over the head every time he fell asleep. Once the man dozed off, the deacon tapped him on the head and woke him up.
A few minutes later, he starting dozing again. This time the deacon hit him a little harder, again waking him up, but only temporarily. When he fell asleep the third time, the deacon hit him so hard he knocked him out of the pew and onto the floor. The church member was heard to say, “Hit me again; I can still hear him preaching!” If any of you requires that service, please raise your hands so the ushers can help you.
In fact, we are called to be wide awake Messiah followers. We use our language “to live for the praise of God’s glory.” We are to be conscious of our words as well as our actions. Paul quotes a hymn verse that early Christians used in their worship. Maybe he gave them an “ear worm” to remind them of the best way to use language.
What you feed grows. Worship is a way to feed the best in us. “Be filled with the Spirit,” Paul concludes, “as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves…” We are dedicating additional hymnals today so we can do just that. We are picking out some of our favorite hymns today. We have been chanting the appointed psalms this summer. In addition I hope at various times during the week you get a piece of liturgy or a hymn in your head. We do our best to fill your heads and hearts with light and life. Our call is to use the power of words for the power of love.
Next week we begin to tackle the most contested parts of Ephesians—words on wives, children and slaves. Stay tuned! Let’s pray…