Saturday, October 29, 2016

Treasure Chests

This is a scary weekend.  Not just the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties.  (You do recognize that traditional Scots prayer, don’t you?  “From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties \ And things that go bump in the night, \ Good Lord, deliver us!”) But no, this isn’t a reference to the excesses of the observance of Halloween. Maybe next year.

This reference to the scary is a little more real, a little more close to home, my home anyway.  This is the weekend of the auction of all the stuff from the house in Tennessee where my mom and dad retreated to thirty six years ago.  The house sold a couple of weeks ago, and now this will clear out whatever is left that wouldn’t fit in dad’s new apartment in Frankfort, or in one of our homes.  The last few items were picked up by my brother who made the long trip down.  He delivered the things we are keeping last night (During the fifth inning of the third game of the World Series, when the Indians had the bases loaded and only one out!  Somehow the Cubs managed to get out of that inning.  Though they ended up losing, argghh) Which means that it all ends on Sunday.  A chapter has ended, a page has turned.  We are now in a new place.  Now the only tie back to that little county seat town in Tennessee will be a marble marker that bears my mom’s name.  And the memories of a life with both joy and heartache.  

I wrote here a few months ago that I felt unmoored at the death of my mother.  Cast adrift in a world not of my making.  And now here we are again.  Except what is contributing to this feeling of disconnect is not a person but stuff.  A house I never really liked, stuff I often didn’t understand the purpose of, old stuff and new stuff, well worn and unused stuff.  Just lots and lots of stuff.  “Isn’t anyone else sentimental?”  That was my sister’s question when were down there elbow deep in the piles of stuff, throwing a lot of it away, or giving it away to someone for whom it wouldn’t be sentimental, just useful.  We hoped.  Yeah, I thought, I am sentimental.  Very.  There were tears as we read old letters and looked at old photos.  Mom loved taking pictures.  Was terrible at it, but persistent.  We had piles of photos of people and places we didn’t know, would never know.  But it was just stuff.  It was just their stuff, their lives and somehow in that stuff they made a life.

Hank told a story.  One time when he was down visiting mom and dad, dad sent him to the house to get mom’s favorite shirt.  Dad took it home to wash and wanted it to put on mom.  So, Hank went to get it.  He found it but it was dirty, stained beyond washing, bearing the signs of mom’s inability to feed herself.  He wasn’t going to put his mother in such a shirt.  So he threw it away.  He got some other shirts and went back to the facility.  Dad said where’s the shirt?  He said I threw it away, dad, it was filthy.  Dad blew up.  It was her favorite shirt.   How dare he throw it away!  It was just a shirt.  A dirty shirt.  But it was her favorite.  Dad thought anyway.  Hard to tell, really.  But I understand the desire to make a connection of some sort, some indication that she was still she, still able to have a favorite anything.  We all want something to treasure.

Matthew 6:19-21 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

For all that Jesus seems bothered by stuff, he is in favor of treasures.  Did you notice?  It’s not, stay away from treasure, it’s bad for your health.  No, treasuring is ok.  It’s what we choose to treasure, that’s the issue.  There are some treasures that aren’t worth storing up.  Or piling up.  Or tucking into the attic so that when you dig it out you say with a sigh, what were we thinking keeping this?  The stuff around here just wears out, gets stained and unwearable, it rusts.  Rusts? What did they have that rusted in Jesus’ day?  Well, the word is “brosis” in Greek.  It often refers to food that gets eaten.  Consumed.  Used up.  Worn away until you don’t even recognize it any more.

No, apparently there is treasure and there is treasure.  Some treasure is worth treasuring, some just fit for the junk heap.  How do you know?  How can you tell the difference?  How do we know we are saving the right things?  Treasuring the right things?

Well, some say it is all about the tally sheet.  You’ve got to pile up a good score in heaven.  Every act of service is another star in your crown.  And our goal is to get lots of stars, lots of jewels.  Not, to be sure, to earn our place in heaven.  That comes by the grace of God.  No, this is about the furnishings.  A better mansion, plush carpets, bigger windows, more floors.  They’re building us a dwelling place out of the materials we send up from here.  Some say.
I’m not convinced, frankly.  Stuff is stuff.  It seems like if Jesus was against too much stuff here he would be against too much stuff there.  Don’t you think?  So, it doesn’t sound like the treasures Jesus wants us to treasure is more stuff, divine or otherwise.

What if our math is wrong.  What if it isn’t do this to get that?  What if the treasure isn’t the end product, the reward or the payment for our acts?  What if it is the act itself?  Not the result of our action but the action.  What if the treasure is not something we can hold in our hands but something we do with our hands?  

In other passages when Jesus shares this secret, he tells someone, the rich young man, “sell everything and give the money to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven.”  We think, we get something, when we get to heaven there will be something there because we’ve done this great thing.  Maybe not.  He says “do this and you will have.”  Go and sell and you will have your treasure.  In the selling and giving.  That’s the treasure.  That’s the gift.  That’s the blessing.  The doing.

Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.  Live your life in such a way that you know the blessing every day.  Live your life so that you are treasuring what lasts into eternity.  That’s what Jesus is trying to point out to us.  Some treasure is eaten away, and some treasure lasts and nothing in this world can take it away.  An act of kindness lives forever.  Love lived out lasts forever.  Goodness outlasts bitterness.  Joy endures while despair fades.  An act of generosity is treasured into eternity.

Yeah, it’s scary to cast off the stuff that defined a life, or seemed to anyway.  That is a loss to be sure.  But what cannot be lost are all the moments we’ve treasured together, the lives that we’ve lived, the experiences we’ve shared.  Even when we forget them, and I suspect we will, they will be ours in eternity.  When we meet we will remember and be remembered.  And what greater treasure can there be than that? 


Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Madness of Wanting

We had Max put down a couple weeks ago.  Max was the crazier of the crazy dogs.  I was convinced he heard voices in his head.  He was a mongrel of the most extreme kind, it looked like there were not dog things in the mix alongside the uncountable dog genetics.  Even the vet listed him on his official reports under breed as “white dog.”  He was a curious looking creature.  A rescue dog who’s previous life was almost too terrible to imagine, the little we knew of it.  But his last years were lived out in comfort and love.  He was a part of the family, in his unusual, mostly doggy way.  And we are diminished without him.  

Nick especially seems a little lost without his annoying little brother.  Many is the time when Nick had to snap at Max who was being a little rambunctious for no apparent reason, jumping on Nick when he was trying to nap, taunting and teasing, chasing the cat who dared to come into the dog space.  But now that he’s gone, Nick needs companionship, sitting on my lap with a sigh, he sleeps in the places Max used to sleep.  On the day La Donna and Rhys took Max to the vet for the final time, I came home from a church meeting and Nick was laying in the spot where Max’s cage used to be. 

Max’s final weeks were marked by a restlessness we couldn’t define.  He had trouble settling, was often up and down, lying asleep and then wanting out, wanting attention, wanting something that we couldn’t identify.  He didn’t seem to be in pain, just driven.  Just searching for a satisfaction that he couldn’t find here.  He loved going outside, on sunny days at least.  I thought he was solar powered and needed to recharge his battery by lying in the sun for hours at a time.  But now he would go out and wander, pace the fence line, hunt under the hedge around the deck.  Looking for something, wanting something he couldn’t articulate.  Something driving him even a little more crazy.  

Luke 15:11-32 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'

20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-- the best one-- and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

It was the madness of wanting that drove him to make his outrageous request.  Offensive request.  He said to his father, why aren’t you dead yet?  You’re value to me is in the stuff that will be mine one day, not in you.  If there was ever a son who needed slapped down, it is this one.  But he wasn’t slapped down.  He received what he asked for.  The father did what no father would do.  He broke the bank, broke tradition, broke open his wallet and took it out.  Took it all out.

The younger son, the prodigal, ran away as fast as his feet would take him.  Ran to satisfy the wanting.  Tried everything his fevered brain could think of.  But nothing slowed down the wanting.  Give him credit, he kept trying, kept searching, kept digging that hole deeper and deeper, until he had to look up to see rock bottom.  Give him credit, because he ran out of cash.  The wad his father handed over evaporated like drops of sweat on a hot sidewalk.  He watched them fade as he plodded along, the hunger as strong as ever, the wanting unabated, unsatisfied, still driving him on.  Until knee deep in pig slop, he came to himself.

The wanting changed.  He came to himself and the wanting was deeper, more real, within reach.  Instead of for the something indescribable it was for something he knew well.  Something he had experienced.  He came to himself and wanted what he had already had.  And threw away.  He knew he was no longer worthy of it.  But he took a risk and decided that even a taste of what he had was better than this.  He couldn’t have it all and he was content with that. He would take the punishment, suffer the indignity, because he was done with wanting.  So, he made the long journey back, leaving his madness behind.  

But a strange thing happened.  His father ran to meet him, gathered him up and treated him as though he was worthy.  As though he was a son.  As though he belonged.  And he was swept up into the party, welcomed home, where he had all he ever wanted.   End of story.

Not quite.  The brother, the one left behind.  Who chewed his frustration with his younger brother every day when he marched out to the field to work.  And his satisfaction in his work and his home and his family evaporated like drops of sweat on the hard packed dirt he struggled to turn over.  He stumbled back in that day, the day of transformation, feeling anything but transformed.  When he heard the news his face became even harder, bitter, like he had eaten a sour apple.  His father found him like that, spitting seeds and hatred and begged him to come in and celebrate.  But he refused and said “I’ve slaved for you all these years and you never gave me anything.”  Never.  Um, wait a minute.  Look again.  Verse twelve: “He divided his property between them.”  The older brother got his too.  Every day, it was his.  Everything was his, double his brother’s share because he was older.  But he never saw it.  Never claimed it.  He lived the party, that’s what his father told.  But his bitterness, his jealousy kept him from claiming it, from living it.  All he had was his wanting.  What we’ll never know, because Jesus didn’t tell us, was whether the older brother ever came to himself.

The younger brother needed near starvation to be able to leave his madness behind.  Let’s hope the older brother only needed almost losing his brother to move from wanting to generosity.  From turning inward to pouring outward.  Like the Father.  Our Father.  

Every life teaches us something.  Offers us something.  If only a chance to love more, to care more, to give more.  Rest in peace Max.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

I Just Can't Wait To Be King

“I’m gonna be a mighty king / so enemies beware.”  Remember this?  “I’m gonna be the mane event / like no king was before / I’m brushing up on looking down / I’m working on my roar.”  That little scamp Simba, a lion cub singing about the inevitable ascension to the throne as the king of the jungle.  “No one saying ‘Do this!’ / No one saying ‘Be there!’ / No one saying ‘See here!’ / Free to run around all day / Free to do it all my way.”  Who wouldn’t?  Who doesn’t want to be king?  To make all our own decisions, to rule to world?  

Well, me for one.  Maybe you too.  I’d rather be the kind of king where everyone else makes all the decisions!  I left out Zazu’s commentary on Simba’s aspirations.  That little hornbill just adds a dash of reality to the dream that we could do without.  Don’t you think?  We just want to be captains of our own fate, charters of our own course.  Right?

I went to see dad today, that’s why I’m late.  He told my sister that he was having some technical problems and felt cut off again.  Computer wasn’t working, cell phone stumped him.  He needed help.  So, I drove down today and put things right again.  There was nothing really wrong, just wasn’t working the way he thought it should.  And the answer to your question is, he’s fine.  Really, doing pretty well, adjusting to the setting ... somewhat.  Resigned anyway.  But what rankles him the most is that he isn’t in charge.  Of his schedule, of his decisions, of his choices, of his life.  And that doesn’t make him happy.  

Which is understandable.  We all want to be king.  Of our own kingdom, at least.  Of our own stuff.  That’s one of the reasons why stuff appeals.  It gives us the illusion of control.  Of being able to define our own existence.  Of having the power to shape the world to our design.  And if not this latest thing, then the next thing.  That gadget, the upgrade, the bells and whistles, will make it all happen.  

Pastor Tom Berlin calls that gravity.  That pull of the stuff in our lives.  We are launching our next series this week.  It’s our Stewardship Series at Aldersgate.  That time of year when we think about our commitment to the church.  An important and somewhat delicate time.  But stewardship is more than just meeting the church budget.  Always has been.  It’s a spiritual issue.  Jesus thought it was important.  The two things he talked most about were the Kingdom of God and money.  Funny that, given what we spend all our time debating.  But for Jesus the effect of money, of riches, of stuff is potentially so dangerous, so destructive, so antithetical to faith that he spent a lot of time warning us.  Pay attention, he says, to the gravity of wealth.

Matthew 19:16-22 Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" 17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." 18 He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 20 The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

He went away grieving.  The pull of the gravity of his stuff was too great.  He couldn’t break away.  He was offered a place in the pantheon of heroes we call apostles.  Come and follow me. He had an invitation to the greatest party on earth.  And the burden of what he owned made him walk away.  In Mark’s version of the story he includes a detail that Matthew left out.  Maybe insignificant in the greater scheme of things.  And yet, a nuance that we often overlook.  Mark says after the young man says “I’ve kept these commandments all my life” that Jesus looks at him and loves him.  Then he says there is one thing you lack, go and sell and follow me.  

He loves him.  That’s why he wants to help him.  That’s why the young man’s pain is important to Jesus.  Because he loved him.  What a difference that would make if we approached those who are lost, who are hurting, who are burdened by an unsustainable life with love and not judgement.  Or maybe it was that Jesus knew that the only thing that could overcome the gravity of the riches of this life is a force stronger, a greater pull.  Love redeems, love rescues, love wins.  He knew that.  He knows that.  He loved him.  Even though it didn’t seem to work.  The young man walked away, grieving.  The burden on his heart increased, instead of lightened.  He had the antidote, he had the prescription.  But the medicine was too bitter for him to swallow.

Good thing we know better, right?  Good thing we aren’t sucked in the ownership cycle.  The wanting of stuff.  We’re smarter than that.  Samsung is out five to eight (depending on who you read) billion dollars because of the failure of the Note 7.  A lot of people wanted one, no one needed one.  I enjoy my Samsung phone, and at times panic when I forget it, think I can’t live without it.  That little clutch in my chest I feel when I drop it is the effect of gravity.  The pull of something that shouldn’t matter all that much.  But no one can deny that we all feel the effect of the weight of our stuff.  I suspect I would have walked away from Jesus grieving if he had said the same thing to me.  Luckily he didn’t.

Or did he?  If you keep reading in Matthew’s Gospel the next few verses you’ll find the seriousness of the weight of wealth.  That’s where we get contortionist camels and impossible entrances.  That’s where we get the generosity of the Kingdom that clashes against the generosity of this world.  Here was want fair.  But there, in God’s Kingdom we get grace enough.  

Jesus wants us to have grace enough.  Enough to float free from all that encumbers us, all that weighs us down.  Jesus wants us to leave our kingdoms behind, leave behind the desire to be king of that kingdom and enter into His Kingdom, where we will know riches beyond imagining, where we will know grace enough.  

Zazu is right, you know.  Being king isn’t all that we imagine it would be.  Maybe it is better that we find a better King to follow than ourselves.  Maybe we need grace enough to be set free to follow.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Armored Submission

I have a wedding this weekend.  In fact I’m here right now in my office at church instead of at home writing this.  It means things are out of sorts.  Not in the right place.  And who knows whether I’ll get this done before I need to go and do the necessary.  But I thought I’d give it a try.  Trying to while away the time as I wait.  

Oddly enough, the couple didn’t choose Ephesians 5 as the scripture for the wedding.  To say that it is contentious is an understatement.  But to say it is misunderstood?  Well, there is argument about that too.  And it’s not so much the interpretation that is a struggle, it is the application.  How do we live out this text?  Should we live out this text?  Or ought we just consign it to the dustbin of history?  A necessarily forgotten relic of a different age.  What am I talking about?

Ephesians 5:21-33 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

Oh, right, you’re thinking, that one.  That submissive bit.  We don’t like that word.  We don’t like it in general, but when applied to marriage it just seems to lead to all kinds of ... well ... abuse.  We want our daughters to be strong, to stand up, to make their own way, not to just surrender themselves to some man just because he’s a man.  It’s just not right.  Or so we think.  It doesn’t sit well with us.  So we move on.  

We’re finishing the letter this week in worship.  If you’re just getting on board, we have been tackling large chunks of scripture week by week on Sunday mornings.  Four weeks to read through six chapters of this most impressive letter.  Last week we ready chapter four verse one through chapter five verse twenty.  So this week we jump into this final chapter and a half, chapter 5 verse twenty-one through to the end, chapter six verse twenty-four.  Which conveniently allows us to skip these uncomfortable verses here at the beginning.  By the time we’ve read through, we forgot they were there.  We get carried away by Paul’s rhetoric, we climb the heights again and find ourselves suiting up for the real battle.  Not against flesh and blood, not against limited understandings and ancient ways of living in community.  No we battle against something far bigger, something more evil.  Paul calls them rulers, authorities.  Then he says the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly places.  Oh my.  No wonder we need armor, we need protection from this evil that threatens to overwhelm us.  

Ephesians 6:11-17 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

We wrap up in the protection that God offers.  We hide behind God’s truth, our shared righteousness in Christ, we run to speak not of self but of the One who sends us, we hoist our faith to shield us from the consuming fires of living in a dangerous world, but we wear, on our heads, the crown of our lives, our salvation.  Our salvation.  Which is ... what exactly?  A ticket to a new world?  An admission into an exclusive club?  A get out of jail free card, a promise that everything that doesn’t make sense now will make sense someday?  What ... exactly?  

The helmet of salvation.  Wearing a helmet isn’t an easy thing.  Sometimes it limits vision.  Sometimes it feels like a weight.  It cramps one’s style, some say.  It looks silly for others, odd perhaps.  But it helps you know who you belong to.  There’s that logo on the side, the team mascot, the battalion you belong to, a sign and symbol that you belong to another.  You’ve submitted to another’s authority. 

Be subject to one another.  Why?  Because that’s how we learn to live.  By giving ourselves away. By loving.  We make a big deal out of the fact that Paul says women have to be subject to and men have to love.  Like it is something different.  But it isn’t.  Not really. To love is to be subject to.  To be subject to is to love.  Two sides of the same coin, and the model for it all is not us and our fleeting emotions that fade and scatter, but Christ.  Christ’s constancy, Christ’s care.  Love like Christ, Paul says to the husbands.  Love sacrificially, love by surrendering all, love by putting the object of your love first before self. Love like Christ.  And to the wives he says, be subject to the one who loves like Christ.  Give your all to that kind of loving, that kind of giving.  Give yourself to that sacrifice.  It’s not the love of any person that is worthy of that, but God’s love, Christ’s love as it is lived out in us.  Because we chose it.  We put on that helmet.  We lifted that shield, put on those shoes, strapped on that belt.   We’re polishing up the armor we wear over our hearts.  Making it shine so that when we look into it we see a reflection.  But it’s not our own face we see on that breastplate of righteousness, it’s His.  If we’re doing it right.  It might just be a glimpse, a momentary thing, here and then gone.  But when we subject ourselves to a love that comes from Christ, then the face we show is His face.  Armored submission.  It’s a high calling.  And a deep joy and fulfillment.  To have and to hold from this day forward.  Be subject to one another.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

A Life Worthy

I forgot to mention my absence last week.  If anyone noticed. I was away from Fort Wayne, participating in a consultation led by Discipleship Ministries out of Nashville, our denominational headquarters.  We met in Dallas at the seminary I graduated from back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (it seems to have changed since I was there), to investigate a program there designed to help preachers be better at their task of preaching.  We have been meeting for a year now, investigating other continuing education models, and asking the question what does it mean to be a good preacher in the church today?  In fact, the next task is to answer that question.  What is good preaching?  The United Methodist Church recently produced two documents presenting the theology and practice of the sacraments in our denomination.  The task of the consultation is to prepare a similar document for the “Sacrament of the Word” –  i.e. preaching. 

I drew the short straw.  Meaning I get to write the first draft, and then let everyone else pick it apart and start all over again.  Still, I’m excited about the prospect, though humbled by the task.  The idea that we can get everyone, or even most folks to agree on what constitutes good preaching, might seem impossible.  Yet it didn’t stop Paul.

OK, he wasn’t really answering that question.  He was dealing with a bigger picture.  Not what is good preaching.  But what is the Christian life?  What should it look like?  How will we recognize it?  How will we live it?  That’s what he was trying to answer in the Letter to the Ephesians.  

We’re in part two now.  We dove into part one, chapters one through three, and immersed ourselves in the outpouring of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.  We sat in wonder and awe as we considered all that God has done for us.  The gifting, the claiming, and the empowering that has been lavishly poured out on us.  It was almost more than we could comprehend.  Especially when we let the words just pour over us.  We didn’t stop to examine the detail of every nuance of language or thought.  We just splashed around in it.  Not because studying is unimportant or unnecessary.  That’s how we usually approach these scriptures.  But once in a while, it’s good to be overwhelmed.

But having jumped into that pool we now climb out to our usual question.  Now what?  Or perhaps, so what?  I mean all that’s great and everything, but what am I supposed to do with it?  What does it mean for me?  For us, the church and community of faith?  Now what?

Ephesians 4:1-8  I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people."

“Lead a life worthy of the calling.”  That’s how Paul starts part two.  And in so doing he reminds us of two very important things.  First of all, everything we do is a response.   This is why part two is part two and not part one.  We couldn’t start with chapter four ... even if we renamed it chapter one.  Because it only makes sense in light of what came before.  This call to live in certain ways only works if we understand that we aren’t doing it in order to receive the grace that comes from God.  It only becomes possible if we understand that we aren’t doing it to earn God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice, the gift called salvation.  It has to be this way.  All that we do as Christians, as followers comes only after we are set free to love.  

Which is the second thing he tells us.  Which might sound a lot like the first thing he tells us.  He being Paul, the writer of the letter to the Ephesians.  (Which I still cling to despite the voices that say it was someone else.  To them I say ... phooey. (I know, I shouldn’t use such esoteric theological jargon, but couldn’t help it.  Where was I?)) And that is the ability to live the life to which we are called comes from Christ and not from us.  Our natural state is one of limitation, one of captivity to our self-centered view of the world and our place in it.  But now we are free to be all that Christ calls us to be.  We are free to be humble and gentle and patient and loving, we are free to live in peace.  Because the captivity of our nature has been made captive in Christ.  

He then goes on for a chapter and half.  Well, I mean we are going to read a chapter and half about what that means.  Actually we are going to read three chapters, but take two weeks to do it.  For now read on to 5:20.  It gets ... messy ... after that.  We’ll tackle that next week.  But for now we read in  these verses a glimpse of the life we are called to live.  No, that we are set free to live.  Paul talks about what we can set aside, ways of living that might sound good, but really aren’t.  But he also talks about what we take up.  What we can fill our lives with, and it is all about engaging, connecting, relating to God and to our fellow followers and to those who as yet have not experienced a life of grace from God, have not yet claimed the gift that has already been given to them.  There is a joy in helping others find their gift, find the grace and forgiveness that is already theirs.  Much more joy than in condemnation and judgement.  Despite what many who claim to be following might think or say.  

But go and read.  Read from chapter four verse one all the way through to chapter five verse twenty.  And what you’ll find is that Paul comes back to the how.  How are we to live this life worthy of the calling.  And not a how as in six easy steps to a better life now, or four infallible principles of growing in your faith, or the magic prayer to prosperity and clear skin.  No, not that how.  But a how as in what mode, what attitude do we bring to our living a life worthy?  What does it feel like to be around us, to be with us?  

Ephesians 5:18-20 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We’re party people.  People of joy, of singing and celebration.  That’s the life worthy, not a drudgery of servile obedience and rigid purity, but one of connection and joy.  We are set free to live fully, to live alive every moment.  That’s the calling to which you have been called.  That’s a life worthy.