08/12/2018


Rev. Paul Seebeck
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
August 12, 2018

Rules for Life
Ephesians 4: 25 -32
Before we read this passage from Ephesians some background —that might be helpful as you here these so called “Rules for New Life.”

British New Testament scholar Ralph P. Martin writes, “What we’re getting in this passage is direction for life — not directions.”

Because for Paul everything begins with the resurrection of Christ, what he’s really getting at is,
“People of God become in reality, what in your baptism your professed to be.”

OR, you have been baptized into, Christ’s life, Christ’s death, and Christ’s resurrection.   Live accordingly!

All the while, communicating God’s grace.

Ephesians 4 beginning with verse 25:  
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.

28Thieves 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. 2

9Let 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. 3

0And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.

31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

5Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

We belong to God
I read something this week in Presbyterians Today about baptism — “how it is the anti-separation policy.”

This took some of the edge off of my anger — and what I thought this sermon would be about. Speaking the truth, putting away lies, and giving you permission to be angry.  Plenty to be angry isn’t there?

  • At immigration policies that separate children from mothers/fathers at the border.
  • At the lies told by our president/others, ‘fake news world’ sowing division/confusion.

For some — even ‘Christians’— the lies become the “truth” they believe. Others aren’t sure what “truth” is, or what to believe in.

It seems with all the wars — divisions — around the world that the anti-Christ spirit reigns.
Are you with me?

Yet as members of God’s family we know better.  For we know a different spirit.  That “we belong body and soul, to God.” “That nothing — and no one can separate us from God’s love in Christ.”

This is the spirit we have been baptized into. And Paul wants us to grasp this — so that our emotions, beliefs and behaviors are kitted together — so that we can live, in unity, rather than divided in ourselves and with each other.

How many of you have seen, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

This documentary is based on the life of Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers.

Mr. Rogers helped children and adults navigate the trauma of daily life on his children’s television show.

In one of the more poignant parts of the movie, Rogers testified before a senate subcommittee — that was considering cutting funding to PBS.

Listen to this song he wrote about — “that good feeling of control which children (don’t all of us) need to know is there.”

“What do you with the mad you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong — and nothing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag — or see how fast you go?

 It’s great to be able to stop, when you plan the thing that’s wrong, and be able to do something else instead.

 And think this though, I can stop when I want to, I can stop when I wish, can stop-stop-stop anytime, and what a good feeling — to feel like this.

And know that feeling is really mine, there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can.”

Remarkable isn’t it?

To see and hear a person living out their baptism?

Committed to the spirit that is anti-separation/division.

Knitting what’s inside of us — our emotions, our beliefs and our behavior — into a direction for living.

As one secular film critic said, “you don’t a strong nostalgic connection to Mr. Roger’s show to feel genuinely moved by the man’s essential goodness — all the more so because it is such a contrast with today’s public discourse.

Being in Christ, Paul suggests entails new patterns, of living

  • Love of truth
  • Honest purpose in daily work, with concern for others
  • Sincere speech

For we are no longer just belong to ourselves,
We are God’s‚ for we have been sealed — marked by the spirit in our baptism.

I came across a story, I wrote years ago, entitled Not Your Father’s Baptism. In Chicago for the summer on a religion reporting fellowship at Northwestern’s Medill school of journalism, my assignment was to visit a Catholic Church that had experienced the renewal of the Holy Spirit.

At every entry point into the sanctuary were baptismal fonts.  There was no way in to worship — without walking through the water.

On that day I had the good fortune of witnessing a baby, being baptized.

The priest took the child from the parents.

Holding and walking with this precious gift.

And then, after slipping the child, out of its robe, the priest dipped the child down into the waters

In the name of the Father…. In and out of the water,

In the name of the Son…. And in the name of the Holy Spirit.

In those moments it appeared to me — in my imagination — that each time the baby came up out of the water, there was light and delight, as if the child was playing with God.

I said this to the mother, who was weeping each time she saw her came out of the water.  She laughed saying “Here, I thought he was just playing in the water.”

“Then why were you crying?” I still remember the look on her face.

Her words:
I remember I was playing with him, in our bathtub, when the phone rang.
Turn on the TV — planes have just flown into the towers.

Crying out to God, “what have I done, bringing a child into this world?”

Seeing my child in the water today, I felt at peace, for the first time, in a long while.

Then I asked the father the same question.

Why were you crying when you received your child back from the priest — now in white robe with water dripping all over your brand-new suit?

“I was baptized as a child, in Protestant church, but I had no memory of water.
Until now — with the water of my son’s baptism, dripping all over me.”

Powerful isn’t it, if we only could remember our baptism — and allow it to unify our emotions, our belief and our behavior.

I asked Presbyterian Mission Agency colleague, Barry Ensign George about baptism this week. Telling him I wanted a refresher course on our Reformed perspective of baptism.

He answered with a story of his baptism, in a Presbyterian congregation in Rainer Beach, Washington.

“Nothing about it was right,” he says. “It’s what my grandparents wanted, even though they, like my parents didn’t have a strong connection to the church — or to the people taking the vows.

Yet he holds on to his baptismal certificate as reminder.

Even if they were unable to live into the promise of baptism, from my life experience, I know that other members of the body of Christ, were living into them for them — for me — on my behalf.

As a testimony to God’s grace.

And now another song from Mr. Rogers.
Sometimes people are good, and they do just what they should,
but the very same people who are good sometimes
are the very same people who are bad sometimes.
It’s funny, but it’s true.
It’s the same, isn’t it for me…
Isn’t it the same for you?

Public theologian, and Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz Weber — was asked recently by a seminary student what she did personally, to get closer to God.

Before she knew it, seh blurted out, ‘What? That sounds like a horrible idea to me.’”

Why?

Because her spirituality “is most active,” she says, “in the moments when she realizes that God may have gotten something beautiful from her, in spite of the fact that she’s a () – well you can fill in the blank.

  • “When she’s unable to judge the sin of someone else —because her own crap gets too much in the way”
  • “When she has to bear witness to another person’s suffering, despite her desire to be alone”
  • “When she’s forgiven, even when she doesn’t deserve it”

“Be kind to one another,” Paul writes, “tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 

Presbyterian crooner, 99-year-old Carl Webb in Greensboro, North Carolina was featured recently on NBC Nightly news.

His claim to fame?  Over the last 18-years, he’s sung Happy Birthday.  By his estimate he’s made at least 35,000 happy birthday calls— to the 2,000 people in his congregation at Westminster Presbyterian Church — and even to strangers who want on his list.

Webb told me this week that it’s his way of staying connect to church (his ministry) — and that he plans to sing until he can’t breathe anymore.

He loves to express the idea “that God’s love reaches the highest star and lowest hill.”

“I’ve been in church all my life — surrounded by that spirit,” he says.

Sharing that sprit, God’s love, with other people, is his main focus.

So, I ask him, about something his daughter, said.

“You’ve never met a stranger? You just love people?”

“Paul, I’ve never seen you, or met you,” he says. “But I love you, because of God’s love for us.”

“If we turn our lives over, God guides us on some beautiful paths.”

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[c] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Imitators of God — we are needed.

The spirit of our baptism (which is anti-separation and anti-division) lives here

In all of us together.

In each of us.

For we belong to God — who longs to put our emotions, our beliefs, and our behaviors together, as blessing to us and our world which God desperately loves.

Amen.