Summary: Ordinary Proper 14 - St. Paul draws a contrast between the follower of God and the person who doesn’t know of his love in Christ. He encourages us to guard our identity in Christ by illustrating what life in Christ "looks like".
Recently I was remembering the very first sermon that I preached. It was in the mid 70s at a Baptist Church. I was a young sailor recently married. My new bride had been raised in a Baptist church and I was a freshly catechized Lutheran. We tried the local Lutheran Church – but it was not an easy place to find fellowship. But when we visited Princess Ann Baptist Church, immediately Pastor George Baker put me to work teaching the Sunday School youth and leading the youth group. When the pastor asked me to preach, I was flattered – but to be honest with you, I didn’t have a clue about preparing a sermon.
The very first illustration I used was one that I made up. It was about these little red wooden sticks. They lived in a bucket of red paint. All day long, they swam and they swam in the red paint. Then, one day, a friend invited them to go swimming in the paint can next door. The little red sticks were excited to try something different, so they all jumped in with both feet. But, lo and behold, the paint can they jumped into was blue, so now they were little blue sticks. They lost their identity. Corny, huh?
In the scripture lesson for today from Ephesians, Paul drives home the point that believers look different from people that don’t know God. Our text for today describes three different ways to engage the world: First, how the person separated from God engages life. Secondly, how the Christian is to aspire to engage life. And finally, how Jesus engaged life.
Let’s look at how life apart from God looks: [Read text 4.17-19; Fill in the blank: Life Apart from God.] When people are separated from God, it is very difficult to relate to the things that God values. Paul describes this as a “futility of thinking or a darkened understanding” that keeps people separated from God. Maybe the easiest way to see this is to consider a person who is inebriated – dead drunk. As a Navy Chief Petty Officer, I had to stand a watch named Officer of the Deck. I was stationed at a training command with lots of young sailors. On the base, there was a night club. It closed at 2 AM and the Officer of the Deck had the job of being present – as a deterrent – at the parking lot of that club as the boisterous crowd poured out at closing time. Normally, everything went OK. But every now and again, some young buck would come out of the nightclub thinking he could take on the world. When this happened, there was almost never anything you could do to get the young sailor to see reason. His mind was simply too clouded because of the night’s partying. Three out of four times the Shore Patrol would have to be called and the young buck would have to spend a night in the brig. That sort of complete inability to see things God’s way is how God describes people caught in up in the world.
When our minds are in that place, there is no way to see God’s light. There is a complete break from God. We become ignorant of what God is like. In fact, we rebel against the Kingdom of God. Our hearts become hard to the things of God – they simply don’t make sense. And once sensitivity to the things of God is gone, you may as well chunk it. The soul is in danger as we seek more and more the things of the world and less and less the things of God. [Point people to the outline about what happens after sensitivity to the things of God is lost: 1) give themselves to sensuality; 2) indulge impurity, 3) lust for more.]
Paul also describes the way that believers should aspire to relate to the world. [Read text 4.20-32; Fill in the blank: “Life in Christ”; point out the outline.] The essence of the message is that Christians are to live in fundamentally different ways from people who do not know God. The life of the believer is based on the truth of Jesus Christ. We come into relationship with God through Christ and in this, God does away with the old self and then we are made new. There are several ways that the Bible describes this: buried with Christ and raised to new life. Transformed – or “morphed” (metamorfósis) – like a caterpillar (oruga) turns into a butterfly. In Christ, all things become new!
But what does this look like? To help us see this, God speaks in practical terms. He tells us: “avoid this – this is of the world; and then He tells us, to instead do that – which is of the Kingdom of God.” He actually describes what life in Christ looks like.