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Critical Presence

Sermon - 8/16/09
April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Ephesians 4:21-5:2

Reconciliation is a major theme in the Pauline letter of Ephesians.  Dan’s sermon last week introduced us to a new humanity, a new unity that Paul declares to Ephesians for all who come to know Christ – uncircumcised and circumcised.  The notion that once you come to know Christ, to understand Christ, then Christ calls us together, destroying the barrier that once divided us.  Dan gave us some examples - And more than that we are connected, we are in fact built together as a holy temple.  Parts of one body, pieces of a house.  And the beautiful illustrations by Paul in the life of Jesus and by Bishop Tutu in the life of Amy Beal that the temple of remembrance and the legacy left by these two in particular (and I’m positive there are others) is not, like in the Roman world, a physical temple but in the lives of those transformed by those individuals.  In the living on in the way they did.  Critically aware of the transformation they are led to act in the name of Christ, in the way of Amy Beal, working together for justice, equality, liberty, giving voice to those previously silenced, forgiving freely and peacefully. 

These stories give me goose bumps.  I get tearful, hopeful for a world like that – for a future and a today like that.  That is a life I want to have, want to know, that as a people we are a beautiful work of art, a temple, the brightest flowers, beautiful, natural, that our very living and working together gives a goose bump feeling.  I want to build that global community. 

This morning I want to back up and stay a moment in the place of transformation.  The process – the place where you, a s a piece of prime real estate, meets with the realities of construction and permits and we are made aware of the distance between one another.  The place where the people of Ephesians were.  Where all humanity is really as we grow into this idea of a global community.   

21For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

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. 29Let 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. 30And 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, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

1Therefore 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.


Originally I went with only the lectionary passage, which begins at v. 25 but I thought that starting at 21 gives more context and this notion of taking off the old self and putting on the new self is a interesting notion.  Because reconciliation, transformation is not as simple as this sounds, whether its making peace with oneself, or making 2 enemies peaceful and collaborative.  

In that action of taking off the old self and putting on the new self.  Not an act of simply changing clothes – cause as we all know if it were that simple we’d just take off the old self, leave it dirty, on the floor, for the person who does laundry, and put on the new self and go out!  (Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about…that has got to be a universal thing) It’s more like darning socks, patching jeans – we have but this one body and this one life – can’t get a new body if you’ve abused the heck out of this one – you’ve got to mend this one and keep going.

The new humanity we have for one another – is not new people – not new souls – the holy temple we make together is not new materials from new trees not new marble, and unused stones…these are recycled materials!

The work of reconciliation – those divided parts of our country trying to live in a democracy together,– any two nations coming together in peace talks – union in it’s nature requires the act of reconciliation.  Acts of reconciliation, is like a remodeling.  It is’ going to require examination because I’ve learned in life just because I walk away from conflict, trauma, whatever, and leave it behind doesn’t mean it’s gone – it’s just waiting for the next opportunity to make itself known. In the building metaphor reconciliation is going to mean you’ll tear down the old parts, uncover the foundation, move things around, get down to the core in order to build it back together.  A transformation is going to occur. And the thing about using recycled materials is that you must examine the materials – maybe they need to be used in unique ways, that hazardous materials need to be disposed of, the building may need extra support, specific needs to be useful again.   

SO see the new self is in fact in partnership with the old self – anyone who has experienced the need for such self-transformation knows it takes a vital, crucial partnership – attentiveness to the exact need – and it takes time – and education, and prayer, and faith. Creating a global community requires a critical presence with one another – partnership at the point of deepest need.   

The transformation that the Pauline voice speaks of in this text is no different to the Ephesians.  Part of what makes these NT letters difficult to understand is that Paul speaks to the place of need in that community and doesn’t have to directly refer to them – everyone in Ephesus knows what he’s talking about – but we are left out. 

Even the transformation that Paul himself experienced in the road to Damascus story did not mean he left “Saul” on the road, but carried him with him into his new life as Paul, and he probably had to re-live those old self moments often as he met friends on the road, as he told his story over and over again to the new towns.   There’s a big secret that many speculate upon in Pails’ life – was he gay, was he ill, I could speculate that he could be grieving his previous lifestyle, where he participated in the stoning of Stephen, persecuted many because of faith, used his voice to cause others pain.   

I want to say at this moment:

We have, as a church, agreed that our vision for the future of this church is a future in communion with other faith, other communities in need, be that local, regional, and global.  Building a global community through the message of peace and love and forgiveness, the way of Christ, is a beautiful heaven on earth.  Becoming that global community is harder work because we have to confront many fears (evangelism, power), ask ourselves hard questions (why am I doing this?  What do I hope the outcome is? What exactly do I believe?) Take risks, work through history (and past pains) When we think Christians reaching out in a global sense we think of Bibles used as weapons, converting first, and feeding second – teaching old pictures of god – a closed minded God. 

In order for us then to participate (on an individual level, on a communal level) we must come to terms with the past, sort out what Paul, what Jesus himself understood the sacrifice to be, what God calls us to do when we are together, what we are needing to mend in order to be present to the needs of these days, the people of this global community. Because until we do I think we will find moving together as a body will be difficult.

One of the old pictures, old stories we face as Christians is in some inherited ideas of what it means to be a believer – what it means to follow Christ.  One is the idea of sacrifice and what it means for Jesus to have given himself as a sacrifice (for us) to God.  Two, that in order for a global community to exist that all must come to know and accept Christ.

There are two small groups in the church that are learning about this and more.  The Truthseekers (Borg/Crossan) and the Spiritual Formation group (Brock)–and I visited the truthseekers this week and this idea of substitutionary sacrifice, came up - this notion when we read in the NT of Jesus’ sacrifice, his crucifixion, that God required compensation for all the disobedience and sin in the world and that Jesus was that compensation – he died for us.

And it’s right here in Ephesians – this language again:

Just as Christ loved us and gave himself as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Sacrifice in this sense does not mean in place of – but so that we might live.  The idea of in place of did not even exist in Paul’s time, or in the time that this letter to Ephesus was written.  It didn’t really exist until around the 11th century.  The empty cross was the symbol of significance for the first centuries of Christianity because it was about resurrection, transformation, life after death.  Jesus on the cross began to hold significance around the 8-9th century, time of Charlemagne because of the amount of suffering the people of those times were encountering – new people, new experiences - Jesus on the cross began to hold more significance – that one might endure the way that he had.  It was after this significant change in symbol that theology of sacrifice began to change.  Anselm of Canterbury wrote a treatise in 1097 that explored the idea of substitutionary sacrifice for the first time.  And it is his logic that Christianity still carries with it. 

Now here we are, new people, new experiences, in need of reusing these stories and reinterpreting their meaning for us. 

And go back to another image we have of Christian global community: that old school missionaries were told they were to convert first, feed second.  That conversion was necessary to receive services.  And we just aren’t willing to do that.  We take the scripture “when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink, when I was naked you gave me clothing” – we take that to heart.  And that when we do share our faith, what would we share?  That Jesus died for us because we were so rotten, so terrible, so sinful that he died in our place so that we wouldn’t have to face all that.  Well, Jesus did die, and I still have to face my past, face my own places of manipulation, or failure, or cruelty. So what do I do with that? It feels like an actual weight when carrying your Bible to a friend’s house.  When we know that the message is liberating. 

And the second piece – that all must come to know Christ?  Even Paul accepted that not all would walk in “the way” and he spoke to Corinth community about how marriages could still work, how communities could still function with believers and non-believers.  That we are called to understand one another, bear with one another.

Paul’s letters, Anslem’s logic, Rita Nakashima Brocks books may not be our voice but

But here we are now, a new people, new experiences and we– we are being called to examine these beliefs, find our meaning, recycle them and use the Bible for transformation through peace.  find our place in the calling to the new humanity. 

Critical Presence is a revelation – seeing the cross as an opportunity to transcend old stories, old histories, inherited theology, and find new meaning that you are empowered to share, you are happy about professing as your faith.  When Paul saw the cross he saw the saving act of God – the resurrection – and knew that he too could have a second chance – that all could find a way to live.

Building a global community of peace, reconciliation, critical presence is challenging work, yes. 

And this is the same work of all the ministries of this church – how we collaborate together here, in this place, will tell us a great deal about how we will weather the work ahead of us out there. It lies in Partnership – the old and the new-  at the point of deepest need is what critical presence means. This is how God is present with us.  What God teaches us to be in the life of Jesus.

We don’t just encourage a once over, literal reading.  Christian Ed for this church is no equipped solely with a bible and a mile – its at least 2-3 books if not a group, a buddy, a classroom, library, a field trip, etc.  Why would we assume that our mission experience to a new place, for people we’ve never met would be any different?  We wouldn’t. 

Do you believe that God calls you to Commit yourself to share life, resources, and needs?

Share exciting new ways to sing the song of faith? To engage in dialogue, witness, common cause with other faiths and movements toward peace, justice, and integrity of creation?

Those are the guiding principles of the Global Ministries of the Disciples of Christ and the Untied Church of Christ.  A new story is being composed now, in this time, for this humanity. 

Let me close with the final 2 versus of Chapter 5 in Ephesians through the translation of Eugene Peterson in what we call the Message:

Take on a new way of life – a God – fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you.  Keep company wit him and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.  Love like that.

Blessed Be.


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