Rules for the New Life
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves 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. Let 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
~ Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NRSV)
I wonder, do any of you like to play games? Maybe board games, or card games, or lawn games? What kinds of games do you like to play? How do you know how to play? How did you learn how to play? Usually, to play a game, you need to know the rules. It’s important to know the rules, right? And it’s important to understand how to play the game. I mean, if you’re playing kickball, you need to know to kick the ball and run. Or if you are playing concentration, you need to find the cards that match. It’s understanding what you are supposed to do and how you are supposed to do it that makes the game fair for everyone. Not only is it fair, but it helps to make sure that no one gets hurt or left out.
Now if we were playing “go fish,” and I get to start with ten cards in my hand and you only got two, would that be fair? No. Or if we were playing baseball and I had a bat and a glove, but you didn’t have either, would that be fair? No, because you wouldn’t be able to hit or catch the ball. Right? Sometimes we make up our own rules to games. Have you ever done that? And that’s okay, as long as everyone that is playing understands what the rules are.
Now in life, there are lots of rules: traffic rules, classroom rules, safety rules, written and unwritten rules – which can get pretty confusing! And I’m sure that you have experienced some people in life who follow the rules closely and others who don’t.
Now I’m not standing here today to tell you that you are good if you follow the rules and bad if you don’t, because I want us to try to look at rules a little differently today. For the most part, rules are guidelines that help us to safely and respectfully live and learn and work and play and worship together as a community.
Here at the church, we are often reminded to use our walking feet and our inside voices. We are reminded that our church building is old and that it needs to be treated gently like we would treat our grandmother. We are also reminded to treat our neighbors with love, respecting their space, their time, their efforts, and most importantly their opinions, because we all think, and process and believe a little differently, and that is what makes this such an amazing community.
Now though those are all rules in some way shape or form, I think that rather than looking at them as black and white or right and wrong, we should simply strive to do our best to follow them so that they will encourage us to do good rather than threatening us and judging us if we don’t conform.
Here in the church, we don’t have a list of rules hanging on the wall that tells us to use our walking feet and our inside voices. Nowhere is there a sign that says, “Treat your neighbors with love, respecting their space, their time, their efforts, and their opinions.” Because what we strive to do here in the church is to teach others by our own example. What that means is we try our best to use walking feet and inside voices and to treat the people around us kindly. Because we say a lot more with our actions than with our words.
I wonder how many of you have ever played “follow the leader?” When you play “follow the leader,” you imitate or act just like the person that is chosen as the leader, right? If they jump, you jump. If they smile, you smile. If they clap you clap. Well, in today’s scripture reading, we hear from the book of Ephesians which was actually a book of collected letters. The letters were written to a church in Ephesus. It’s called the book of Ephesians because the Ephesians were the people who lived in Ephesus. The letters told them about all the things that Jesus did so that they could do their best to imitate Jesus. Because when we imitate Jesus and act like Jesus, we follow him; and as Christians, that’s what we are called to do.
In the letter, there is a story about Jesus teaching the people to be imitators of God. He said that if we want to be like God, we need to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving with each other. Can anyone think of ways that we can be kind, tenderhearted or forgiving with others? That’s right!
And the truth is, the more we do things like that, the easier it becomes because we start to train our brains and our bodies to act with love.
Now in today’s scripture reading, we heard lots of rules. Rules about speaking the truth and not letting the sun go down on our anger. Rules about working honestly so that we have something to share with the needy. And not saying bad things, but only saying things that build others up. Well, I don’t know about you folks, but some days I find it more a little difficult to do some of those things. But the good news is we don’t need to be perfect. We simply need to try our best.
Think about it, how many of you have ever ridden a bicycle? The very first time you try to ride a two-wheel bike without training wheels, you usually fall, don’t you? It takes practice to learn how to balance and how to ride it. But if you try again every day, before you know it, you can ride without even thinking about it!
Well, it’s the same way with what Jesus taught us today. We’re not going to be perfect right away. But if each day we try our best, and each morning we start with just one of those actions, it will make a big difference in our lives.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. And if all three seem overwhelming, just start with one and work your way up. And don’t forget to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving with yourself as well, because some days are tougher than others. But it’s amazing how quickly we can learn to live lives of faith, following Jesus and imitating God, when we put our worries of perfection aside and simply follow our hearts. Sharing the love of God in all that we say and do.
My friends, May it be so, thanks be to God. Amen!