An instructor in a dog-training workshop in Salt Lake City noted that the owner could test a dog’s disposition. If the owner will fall down and pretend to be hurt, a dog with a bad temper will tend to bite him. But a good dog will show concern and may lick the fallen owner’s face.
Susan Matice attended the class and then decided to test her two dogs. While eating pizza one evening in her living room, she suddenly stood up, clutched her heart, screamed and fell to the floor. She observed her dogs through her mostly closed eye lids. Her two dogs looked at her, looked at each other, then raced to the coffee table to eat the pizza. Not bad-tempered dogs, not necessarily good tempered dogs, but dogs who were mostly interested in food.
Or perhaps you have heard of the mother who was preparing pancakes for her two young sons. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother, sensing a ‘teaching’ moment said, “If Jesus were here, he would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.” There was a pause while the two boys considered this and then the older one said, “Okay, Michael, you can be Jesus.”
In our Scripture readings today we heard the section from Ephesians chapter 4. It is truly a remarkable passage. It is remarkable and at least at first glance, impossible. “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors. Did you know that according to researchers by the age of 4 human beings have mastered the art of lying and it simply gets worse from there. According to a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts 60% of adults cannot have a 10 minute conversation without saying some sort of lie. In general people lie about things that aren’t important, little things that we think will make look us better or more likeable. Of course there are those who lie about things that do really matter. According to one estimate 40 % of people lie on their resumes. And that’s bad for prospective employers but one has to be even more careful on the dating sites. According to a study by Scientific American 90% of the people looking for a date online lie on their profile, women tend to lie about their weight and men tend to use their profile to convince potential partners that they are taller, richer, or better educated than they really are. Yet St. Paul tells us to put away falsehood!
And he tells us to be angry but do not sin. What does that mean? In other words being angry in and of itself is not a sin. Anger is simply an emotion. But in the emotional state of anger it is far easier to commit certain types of sin than at other times. For example it is easier to say something hurtful when you are angry. It is harder to control your physical actions when you are angry. We are told to watch it; be careful when we are angry. We are told not to hang on to our anger; let it go because the harboring of anger, holding onto it and staying angry about something gives a place in our spirits to the devil. The evil one loves it when we stay angry about something because this anger turns into bitterness which is a poison.
Thieves must give up stealing; instead they need to work honestly and make an honest salary. This admonition was not geared to the slaves—they didn’t earn salaries. It was not geared to the rich; they already had lots of money. It was geared to the poor, to those people who would be tempted to steal to make ends meet. Paul says to work not only so you do not have to steal to make ends meet, but to work in order to help other people who are poor and need help. He wants one’s focus, one’s rationale for working to change completely. Instead of thinking of one’s own needs, one begins to look at other’s needs.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths. Literally the word translated as evil is the word for rancid or rotten. The idea is of food gone bad, but not only bad but stinking and rotting. Words that tear down others, words that malign others are not just bad words, not just evil, but they are rotten words, rancid words, stinking words. These sorts of words although they do not physically assault our nostrils they affect our and others’ spirits and souls. We are told to say words that will build others up. We are to use words that will strengthen and encourage those around us. Our words are to smell good spiritually.
How can regular people do these things? You see, it is not only dogs and children who have a hard time being good; we do too!
In our gospel lesson the people are complaining that Jesus had said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph—we know his dad and mom. How can he say I have come down from heaven?’ Jesus answers them and says, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by my Father who sent me and I will raise that person up on the last day.”
This whole business of being able to live like the way Paul has described is dependent upon how we have been drawn to Jesus. Paul alludes to this in the last verse of our Ephesians passage. “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live or walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is the same verse we hear every Sunday as our offertory verse. This is to be the motivation for why we give! And maybe it is even how we are able to give. We are drawn to Jesus; we are drawn to God when we begin to get a glimpse of how much God loves us. Jesus said when I am lifted up, that is, when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw all men to me. People are drawn to Jesus because they get an understanding of God’s love. And it is through that being drawn to Jesus that we are reborn as God’s children. We become children of God, children of love. It is only through the power of God’s love in our lives that we are able to live like Paul has outlined in the Ephesians passage. It is only as we begin to see ourselves as God sees us and accept ourselves as God loves and accepts us that we lose the need to lie and tell falsehoods to make ourselves look better to others. It is only when the power of God’s love in our lives that we are able to overcome our anger and irritation at others and it is through His love that we are able instead to be kind, patient and forgiving. It is only through God’s love and concern for others that those are financially strapped are able to give for the needs of others. And it is only through the power of God’s love that we are able to put a cork in our mouths and not say rotten and stinking things about others.
You see that is the gospel! We are drawn to Jesus, not by wrath and condemnation, but by love, God’s love. God draws us by His love for us. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” And that is how we can live lives that would be otherwise impossible. This is how we offer the first pancake to our brother. We are able to new lives through the power of God’s great love for us. So today during Holy Communion let us pray that God will help us to see and understand more and more his love for us so that we can, so that we want to live lives like St. Paul has described. Amen