A Spirit Featured Life - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Spirit Featured Life

Two.  That’s all you really need to make a comparison.  Just Two.  If the two were identical, a comparison might be difficult.  But when two are nearly opposite, a comparison shows the difference. The literature teacher often asks students to do a character study.  Choose two characters.  Students are taught to make a Venn diagram or a double bubble.  Compare and contrast the teacher says.  Look at the two.  Are they similar?  Are they different? Students dutifully fill in the chart, comparing the two. 

Then comes the harder part – the analysis.  The why.  Why are they different?  Which one do you prefer?  Is one better than the other?  Is this an opinion or a judgement? Which one are you?  Which one do you want to be?  Drako Malfoy or Harry Potter?  Bella Swan or Edward Cullen?  Romeo or Juliet?  What features draw you to them?  And as in most literary characters, except those of the simplest fairy tales, the characters feature a mixture of emotions, morals, and traits.  Gripping story lines feature these characters wrestling through their identity and position as the narrative progresses – finding themselves along the way – often realizing that they are no stranger to each other.
In our text today, we see two composite charactersThat’s all you really need to make a comparison.  Just two.  If the two were identical, a comparison might be difficult.  But when the two are nearly opposite, a comparison shows the difference. 

Stand with me if you are able as we read from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, written in the waning days of the 6th decade.  We will begin at Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2. As you read, begin to picture the two characters which he so carefully compares and contrasts?  What are their features?  What makes them different?
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Opposites.  Paul makes it easy on us.  He literally defines the two characters by showing their opposites.  While there are times that Paul’s writing is deep and meaty – this is not necessarily one of the them.  Opposites are learned at a young age.  Let’s try it.  If I said Up – you would say “DOWN.”  If I said Right, you would say “LEFT.”  If I say Forward, you would say “BACKWARD.”
By using opposites, Paul quickly establishes two characters.  One is a person marked by Spiritual features and is acceptable to God.  This is contrasted with one who is the epitome of despicable me – but not nearly as warm and fuzzy without the minions.
Paul is simply comparing what he often terms the New man with the old man.  This passage is part of ancient catechesis, ancient instruction into how a moral person, baptized in the image of Christ should live differently in society than those who are not.  Paul sets himself up as a prime example, who even in his religious background still lived the life of the corruptible man.  He was the one filled with rage and anger at the stoning of the martyr Stephen.  He was the one who had once set out to arrest and steal the livelihood of devout early Christians, he was the one that spoke words of damnation towards others, tearing them apart.  Until he encountered the Spirit in a dynamic encounter on the road to Damascus.  For Paul, his old man was so bad, he abandoned the old name of Saul to adopt a new calling, a new name, a new character.  Marked by the Spirit, he became an imitator of Christ.
If there was one thing Paul had learned in his now 30-year relationship with his Savior, there are times when the old man, the old character comes calling.  Knocking at the door, asking to come in. It is this that creates Paul’s motivation for this passage.  He is not necessarily addressing any major issue in the Ephesian church apart from that which is universal to all.  But his message comes out clear in verse 30 – do not grieve the Holy Spirit.  Do not return to the ways of old.  Do not throw away your baptism.  Do not forget that you have been sealed for redemption.  Do not let what you are taught in your youth evade you now.
Paul knew about sorrow.  Paul knew about grief.  Paul knew about pain.  He knew about estrangement and hardship and tough times.  And while this church was one that he planted, he realized it was not his legacy that kept it alive – but that of the Holy Spirit.  By assigning an emotion to a person of the Godhead, he creates a sympathetic character – giving us insight into the deep, deep love that God has for us.  There are those who point to this verse to show that God can be angered and is mad at people when they fail to live up to their own expectations.  That could not be further from the truth.  Grief may have anger as a stage – but that is never focused on the deceased, but towards the circumstances of the loss.  This grief is explicitly characterized in the following verses as one that has no malice, but instead is tenderhearted, full of forgiveness, steeped in love and reflective of the trinitarian Godhead as a whole.
So, on this day of Pentecost, seven weeks after Easter, where church history records its inception of the gift of the Holy Spirit, resplendent in tongues, wind, and fire – we are confronted with the person of the Spirit as one who can offer us features that reflect the purpose of creation.
As Paul would write elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 12-14 – The moving’s of the Spirit are welcome and needed for the church and its members to operate and function successfully in the advance of the Christian gospel.  Yet the center of that teaching is not focused on the more emphatic aspects of Pentecostal worship – but around the development of love as a central core tenant of our character.  The love chapter, as 1 Corinthians 13 is often called – is not just a passage for weddings – but an example for life.  This message is reiterated in the last verse of the text that we read today.  We are to be imitators of Christ and walk in love.
So, what are some characteristics of this love soaked, Spirit featured life?  It’s time for us to do the double bubble, the compare and contrast.  Who has a life marked by the Holy Spirit?
Paul answers this with four vignettes.  Four episodes of contradicting behaviors.

A Holy Spirit Featured Life is marked by those who Imitate Christ by promoting the Truth
Truth telling is an art that seems to be quickly disappearing in our society.  What is truth?  Is truth even knowable any more.  The answer is yes.  Truth is still found in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  Truth is still knowable based upon the Word of God.
In an era of fake news, scamming emails, elaborate lies, and at times even media distortions, it becomes difficult to see what Truth is.  But the unchanging truth remains the same.  The heart of truth lies at the doorstep of each individual person.  We choose to live our lives either in truthful relationships with one another or stuck in in a web of increasing deceit.  Deceit springs from our old nature.  It is not a mark of the Holy Spirit.  Proverbs 12:22 reminds us that lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.  Lies destroy relationships and injure families.  Dishonest business practices may lead to temporary gains, but often result in bankruptcy. 
Acts 5 relates a story of the early church – not many days after the days of Pentecost.  The church has been described as a community of truthfulness, sharing with one another, taking care of the widows and orphans as the scripture demanded of them.  One couple, Ananias and Sapphira decide to sell some property and gift it towards the relief fund.  As you may recall, they opted to hold some of the sales proceeds back and only give a little bit.  The end result – both end up struck dead by the Holy Spirit.  A quick reading of this passage might lead someone to conclude that the moral of this story is that you are supposed to give everything to a seemingly greedy church.  But that’s the wrong take away.  The issue is never on how much one gives.  The gift was done voluntarily.  If God blesses you and you give a portion away – that’s counted as a win-win.  But what was the sin that so grievously offended God and the church?  It was the deception.  It was both saying in a vow before God and their community that they were giving everything they had.  They were trapped in a lie and refused to leave it.  This lie went to the heart of the relationships.  This lie was based in greed and in their desire to appear holier and more generous than anyone else.  This lie went to the heart of their attitude towards the very ones they were supposed to be helping.  You cannot remain a member of the new community when the relationship is based on a lie.
Yet there is hope.  Because the reality is, as Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us – the heart is deceitfully wicked – who can know it?  The reality is as humans, we are prone to sin.  Yet by the power of the Holy Spirit and the pricking of our conscience we do not need to remain in it.  Forgiveness is available.
We don’t have to go much further than the first testament story of Joseph and his brothers.  The whole story is premised on avoiding the truth.  Joseph’s brothers lie to his parents, they lie to the slave trades, and decades later, they lie to Pharaoh’s officials.  When Joseph reveals that he holds their lives in his hands, he gives them an opportunity to repent.  This is where the character of redemption shines through.  Although he had the option to let them dies, His life had been marked by the Spirit of God and his goal was to promote the truth, restore the broken relationships, and help his family.
Isn’t that what we all really want?  To live in peaceful relationships with each other?  Then adopt the new nature, imitate Christ, and promote Truth in your life.

A Holy Spirit Featured Life is marked by those who Imitate Christ by exercising Compassion
What is compassion?  Its entering into the journey of another – hurting where they hurt, sharing in their grief, providing them with the support and resources so they can endure their current trial.  Compassion is grounded in another focused love.  Compassion presses a reset button at the end of each day, wiping away the perceived offenses, giving the benefit of doubt to another, understanding that at times another’s actions are not grounded in reality but are lashed out in pain.  Compassion is an action verb stemming from an attitude.
Paul writes about compassion and contrasts it with its opposite – which is rage.  He does this by looking at the root emotion behind both compassion and rage – the emotion of anger.
We all get angry – for all kinds of reasons.  Anger is an emotion.  It is as natural of a human emotion as joy, sorrow, surprise, and disgust.  Emotions are neutral.  The real question is what do you do with that anger?  What actions are taken?  Towards whom are they directed?
In verse 26 of our passage, Paul makes it clear – he quotes Psalm 4:4 – Be angry and sin not.  The message Translation puts it into contemporary terms.  “Go ahead and be angry… just don’t use it for revenge.”
It’s OK to be angry.  It’s OK to be upset with discrimination, and unfairness, and deceit.  It’s OK to be angry at your husband when he doesn’t do the dishes, or your child when they forget to take out the trash.  It’s OK to be angry at dysfunctional government or a business that overcharges you, or the car that cuts you off while driving on the Turnpike.
But what do you do with that anger?  Do you allow it to fester into bitterness and build into rage?  Because rage is not a mark of the Holy Spirit.  Rage launches into a tirade against a family member, Rage cusses out a neighbor, Rage flips off the car beside you, Rage attempts to destroy and seek out ways to lower the other person down a notch.  Rage attempts revenge.  Unfortunately, the rage cycle creates chains of dysfunctional behavior – chains that end up trapping you.
How do you break that chain?  By exercising compassion.  In Matthew 5:41, Jesus said if you are forced to carry a soldier’s cloak for 1 mile, offer to do it two.  During that era, a soldier could conscript a bystander into temporary labor – require them to be their beast of burden for a short distance so they could rest.  It was a constant reminder of the military oppression they were under.  Refusal to do so meant certain punishment.  Anger at the unfairness of life would have been a common theme.  Jesus never said don’t get angry about it.  What he did say is to show compassion and work twice as hard.  In so doing – it breaks the cycle, it can lead to the restoration of relationships.  The action item in a moment of anger should never be revenge – but focused on compassion and restoration.  That is not the natural human response.  It must be learned by imitating Christ.

A Holy Spirit Featured Life is marked by those who Imitate Christ by sharing Generosity
Paul launches into this third point by talking about thieves and the value of work.  The real crime of stealing is not an offense against the victim – although it still is.  Anyone who has walked out to their car to see a busted window and their tools and computer gone understands this.  When I saw that my garage had been broken into and emptied out of all its tools – I wasn’t feeling so happy!  But the true crime is against those who truly have nothing and need it.
Paul writes a lot about work.  He    as a tentmaker, supporting himself in his bi-vocational mission.  He never asked for more than he was willing to give himself.  He understood that in the ordered economy set by God, that work was not just a way to provide subsistence living for yourself, or even a way to build up storehouses for yourself – it was a way that one could be intimately involved in the ongoing stewardship of the community and the world.
Stewardship is all about taking care of others.  And in order to take care of others and to show generosity to others, one must engage in work to the point that they are able.  The value of work is not based alone in the salary of the job – but in the contribution, it has to others in the community.
Paul makes clear that the reason who people should work is so that they can in turn be generous to others.  Paul also distinguishes between gainful employment and work.  Not everyone can be gainfully employed – retirement, disability, children come to mind.  But everyone can work.  Everyone can contribute something.  I know people of this congregation who do not receive pay, but they faithfully volunteer at a food pantry or local nursing home, or with kids, or with another charity. That too is work and contributes to the entire community.  That too is generosity.
A thief then, does not just steal items or food – they steal generosity.  Those who may be penniless but who have time yet decline to offer their insight and gifting’s to the community are just as guilty of stealing as the person who commits a bank heist.
Paul writes often that everyone in the church community has a purpose and a place in the body of Christ.  Everyone has an opportunity to engage their gifting to benefit others.  Even the widow gave her mite to contribute to the needs of those less fortunate than her.  Don’t limit your generosity to the offering plate of this church – but be generous in your dealings with people all around you.  This is a mark of the Spirit featured life.

A Holy Spirit Featured Life is marked by those who Imitate Christ by initiating Respect
The final characteristic that Paul highlights is respect.  Over the years, I’ve seen teachers during the first few days of class lead their students in a discussion of what manners and values they want in their classroom.  Often times, respect is one of the first words uttered.  I can still hear the now deceased standup comedian Rodney Dangerfield saying – “I can’t get no Respect”
When pressed to define respect, the students eventually realize it is a catch all for all the civility that is needed for a classroom to operate.  Allowing others to talk, being considerate, sharing, not putting others down.  By the end of the time, they realize that respect is something that is constructive and lifts all parties up.
And that’s the major difference between respect - a mark of the Holy Spirit life and its contrasting character – slander.  One lifts up and the other tears down.  One searches for the good while the other gossips about the negative.  One is considerate, the other hopes to bring ruin.
Where generosity focused on work from the hands, respect focuses on work from the mouth.  We find this same theme in the letter the apostle James wrote.  In the 3rd chapter, he speaks of taming the tongue.  Words do matter.  Words build up or they tear down.  Words can make it or break it.  It is the bullying with words that cause more damage to student’s self-identity than the occasional shove in the hallway. 
There is a reason that the Bible says to pray for your enemies.  Prayer is composed of words.  When you pray for those you cannot stand, eventually those words create an attitude that will foster respect.  It may not alleviate all the pains and the trials – but it will take away any self-inflicted misery.  We’ve all been wronged by people and their actions.  We can’t help that.  But what we can do is determine how we will conduct our life going forward.  The person marked by the transformation of the Spirit learns how to step forward in the middle of injustice and speak what little positive there may be into the situation.
Do Truth, Compassion, Generosity and Respect come naturally over lying, rage, theft and slander?  No, of course not.  And in our own power as limited creatures, we would never be able to achieve that.  But that is the message of Christ, the power of redemption, the importance of community.  Together we can strive towards these goals.  Will we be perfect all the time?  Probably not.  But by His grace and mercy we can try.
Remember this Today.

The unified life of the Spirit is founded on forgiveness, practiced in positive behavior and balanced in love.
If our desire is to be marked by God and unified by the Spirit, if our desire is to seek out the positive character and not dwell in the negative -- than we must learn to practice all things in love – because Christ forgave us.  For Paul, this is what it all comes down to.  We might not be feeling the motivation from those around us to pursue this path.  So, don’t do it for them.  Do it because Christ first loved you.
Do you desire to walk in the fulness of the Spirit Featured Pentecostal life? or in the emptiness of pain?  These are two paths.  Just two.   If the two were identical, a comparison might be difficult.  But when the two are nearly opposite, a comparison shows the difference.  So, walk in love.

Shall we pray.