A sermon based on Ephesians 4:30–5:2
Sunday, August 16th, 2015 – Pentecost 15B
Judah's shoes are sometimes hard to find. But it's not like it was with me when I was a kid—I'd take my shoes off somewhere in the house but could never find where that place was when it was time to leave. No. Jude is pretty responsible and usually takes his shoes off right by the door and leaves them there until it's time to leave the house.
But sometimes they're not where he left them. It's not gremlins that take them at night or a special elf. No. We all know who it is. It's Joel.
Joel is at a fun age. He wants to be just like his big brother. If he can, he'll wear the same shirt that Judah wears. He'll do whatever activity that Judah is doing. And it seems that one of his favorite things to do right now, is to puts on Jude's shoes and walk all over the house with them on.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And if that's true, and I believe there is some truth in that, then Joel really likes his big brother, Judah.
Well in our text for this morning, the Apostle Paul encourages us to flatter God in the sincerest way: We should imitate him. Imitate him in the way he shows love and compassion to everyone. Imitate him in the way he forgives, forgiving those who sin against us. Our text is from Ephesians 4:30–5:2…
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Now, literally the word, "compassionate" means that you are willing to suffer for someone else. "Com" means "with" and "passion" is the Latin word for suffering. So the word describes how one cares so much about another person that he or she will make great sacrifices to show that love; that the one showing compassion will even "take it on the chin" when the other person is rude to them.
When I think "compassion," I think of a woman I know who served her husband faithfully as his Alzheimer's worsened year after year. And I don't know if you were aware of this, but Alzheimer's doesn't just affect memory, but it greatly affects emotions. He recognized his wife still, but he no longer spoke tender, loving words to her. Instead he shouted at her, called her "devil woman," and heaped verbal abuse on her. And though she cried at home, when she was with him, she loved him and cared for him, and prayed for him and with him, and took the abuse.
That's compassion. And that's not easy to do, is it? To, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."
It's especially tough when someone's in your face, with abusive words accompanying the spittle that hits your cheek. It's hard to love another when that love seems totally undeserved! But that's exactly what God calls for us to do. To love those who don't deserve it.
So how well do you show compassion to those you know? Sadly we often show the least amount of compassion to those that we're closest to! And instead of mimicking God and forgiving the other person and showing undeserved love, we often mimic the other person and mirror their rudeness and return insult for insult, disrespect for disrespect, anger for anger. And in doing so, we really mimic satan as we make ourselves out to be more important than God, more deserving of respect than he. After all, we don't show him the love and respect that we are so quick to demand for ourselves.
And when we behave this way, even if we only think it and feel it while keeping a calm and cool exterior, we stink before God. Our attitudes make a stench before him that is more disgusting to a holy God than the offensive smell of fish guts rotting at the dump is to you and to me. It's a stench that reeks so badly that God cannot be near it. And he cannot let such a stink into his heaven any more than you would let a bin of fish waste into your bedroom.
Yes, we used to stink "to high heaven" as the expression goes. But here's what's so amazing about God's love: He loved us even when we reeked of our disgusting attitudes that made us out to be more important than anyone else, that made us out to be more important than God. Here's how much he loved us: "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Jesus lived a sinless life in every way. Every act of obedience to God was like a sweet smelling perfume, like your favorite cologne, or like the smell of your favorite meal in the oven or on the stove. That's what his obedience smelled like to the Father. And his death… Ah! What a pleasing aroma it was to God!
I bet the temple courts didn't usually smell very good. Just imagine the smell of all of those animals that were sacrificed every day. I bet they not only smelled like a barn on the outside, but when they were bled and gutted, the smell must have been even worse. Then add the smell of burning hair and flesh and not to mention sweaty priest. It must have been pretty gross. But to God, those scents all mingled into a fragrant smell—maybe something like a delicious barbecue to him. Not because he was going to eat the cattle or sheep, but because it pointed ahead to Jesus.
Likewise, I doubt Jesus smelled springtime fresh as he was dying on the cross. The smell of the tortured crucified mingled with the body odor of the soldiers must have attracted the flies. But to God, that day smelled like a rose garden! Even better! It was a fragrant offering—that sacrifice to God.
And as a result of Jesus sacrifice… "In Christ God forgave you."
You are forgiven of every sin—of every bitter attitude, of every moment of rage and anger, of any brawling, of your slander of another person or even of God. You are forgiven for every form of malice. You are perfect and sinless and holy because of that fragrant offering that Jesus made.
And in a sense, you are now branded. Still today ranchers will take a hot iron and burn the hair and flesh of the side of their cattle with a unique brand that marks that cow or sheep as their own. That's sort of what God has done for you. "You were sealed for the day of redemption," Paul says. Through faith in Jesus, God has marked each of you as belonging to him. He did that at your baptism or when you came to believe in him. You belong to him. And on Judgment Day, God will see that mark of faith and recognize that you belong to him. You will be redeemed and not condemned.
And more than cattle, God even calls us his "dearly loved children"! That is, he promises to be our Father and to care for us in every way! He will provide for our needs! He will protect us and our faith! He will come to the rescue from every problem one day soon.
And all of this is true only because, "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God," so that, "In Christ God forgave you."
So how do we respond? We long to flatter God and show our thanks to him. And the sincerest form of flattery? Imitation. "Be imitators of God, therefore…" Paul says, in view of all that he has done for you: in loving you and giving himself up for you as a sacrifice, in forgiving you every sin, in making you his dearly loved child. So now, we mimic God and act just like him.
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other…"
That's the flattery that God loves. You don't like it when someone flatters you with words alone then does the opposite of what you ask. You'd call that person "two-faced," "hypocritical," "a scoundrel." No the flattery we want is to have someone show us love in their actions as well as in their words. So too, God wants us to mimic his love that didn't just speak, but acted on our behalf, sacrificed himself, and that even when we were rude and downright rebellious to him.
And as difficult as it may sound, we can mimic God. You can, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." You can "take it on the chin" even when others are rude to you. How? In Christ. In Christ, we can forgive others. In Christ, we want to forgive others. In Christ, we can love others. In Christ, we want to love others. Empowered by the undeserved love he showed to us, we will show undeserved love to others.
And this isn't just something we do once or twice, forgiving for a big sin, then showing compassion through a single act. No! It's the very life that we live every day! "Be imitators of God… and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…" Jesus didn't just love us once and then was done with us, but he loves us and forgives us and cares for us every day. That's how we love others as we mimic God.
And if we all loved each other and forgave each other the same way that God has loved us in Christ, can you imagine how wonderful it would be?! Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your spouse as God showed to you. Imagine if your spouse loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your kids as God showed to you. Imagine if your kids loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your parents as God showed to you. Imagine if your parents loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your friends as God showed to you. Imagine if your friends loved you that way. Imagine if you were always showing the same sacrificial love to your coworkers as God showed to you. Imagine if your coworkers loved you that way. In short, it would be heaven on earth, wouldn't it?
Well, friends, we have the power to start loving our spouses, kids, parents, friends, and coworkers with the same love that God has showed to us. And as dearly loved children, we will mimic God as we do all we can to flatter him in thanks for the love and forgiveness he's given to us.