I remember the first time I lied to my father and also, the second time. There are a lot of events, trips, moments, words, joys, and sorrows, which, over time have been lost to a poor memory and passing years, but I remember the lies I told to my dad. The first time, I was about 8 years old. We lived by a pond, a pond I wasn’t allowed to go near. One day, I defied my parents’ rule “to stay away from the pond” and, with my friends, ventured by the water’s edge. My dad came to look for me and when I hastily bolted out of the woods that surrounded the pond, my father caught up with me and said, “Ricki, did you go near the pond.” Without blinking an eye, I looked at him and said, “No dad, I didn’t.” But he knew and I knew too.
The second time I was 18, first year of college, home for the weekend and on a date. My date was old enough to bar hop but I wasn’t. The bars in those days weren’t as particular about checking ID’s. I came home with a bit of buzz on and my dad met me at the door. “Ricki, have you been drinking?” to which I responded, “Of course not Dad. I’m not old enough.” At least, part of that statement was true. Those lies have stayed with me and though I know, I’m old enough now to go near the pond and to have a drink if I want to, I can’t shake the memories of those earlier lies.
I often wonder why the wrong things we do stay with us long after the good things we’ve done have been lost to memory. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians gives us a hint as to why this is so. When we lie, cheat, steal, we disappoint ourselves and, we most certainly disappoint others. I can only guess how disappointed in me my dad must have felt when he knew I was lying to him, but I do know how disappointed I was when my kids lied to me. Lying or cheating, stealing or slandering another breaks the covenant implicit in the concept and reality of our various communities – the family, the tribe with which we run. We fail others and so, of course, we fail our selves. We fail God and so, we diminish the image God has given to us – the likeness between God and us is flawed. Everyone of us, I would guess, has felt that sense of shame when what we do or what we say isn’t what God would have us do or say and shame is crippling.
Paul loved his churches. He loved the people in those churches and he wanted them to love one another. Certainly Paul’s own deceptions and dishonesty, his own dismissal of God’s goodness in his life, prior to his conversion on the Damascus Road was now fueling his passionate plea to these communities. He knew the power of shame; how its strength was capable of robbing him of a sense of peace. He knew that his own warring nature, pitting himself against God and destroying God’s call to promote fairness, justice, and mercy in the lives of others had crippled him. So he wasn’t speaking from a favored mountain of elitism but from the depths of the valleys he had sojourned through. He knew what it felt like to stand a part from the community, to break the covenant of God’s grace, to disappoint God and to risk the loss of love. So when he spoke, he could do it with authenticity, with integrity, with a history.
Well, I guess we could say, we all have history – those moments we aren’t all that proud of, moments when we have tripped up our lives of faith, moments when our stumbling might have caused another to fall. There’s a Peanuts cartoon I just love. In the first frame, Lucy says to the hapless Charlie Brown dressed to play football, “Why don’t you let me hold the ball for you Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown in the next frame gets in Lucy’s face and screams, “Do you think I’m crazy? Do you think you can fool me with the same trick every year?” Third frame: “Oh, I won’t pull the ball away, Charlie Brown. I promise you. I give you my bonded word!” “All right. I’ll trust you.” Charlie Brown says in the fourth frame. “I have an undying faith in human nature.” Charlie Brown continues his words of affirmation for the human race in the fifth frame as he prepares to run to the ball and kick it. “I believe that people who want to change can do so and I believe they should be given a chance to prove themselves.”
Well, no surprise…in the sixth and seventh frames, Charlie Brown goes down with an ummph as Lucy pulls the ball out from Charlie Brown’s incoming kick and lands hard on his backside. In the last frame, Lucy looking down on the flattened form of Charlie Brown, says, “Charlie Brown, your faith in human nature is an inspiration to all young people.” And indeed it is.
Paul had faith in the Christian churches of his day, but he was a realist. He knew the power of sin; he had lived in sin at one point in his life. But, he also had faith that with guidance and instruction, these precious churches, these communities raised up and anointed by God’s holy spirit could be the kind of churches, which would grow healthy, faith-filled people. However, it is clear from the scripture we read this morning; God’s grace would have to play a part. The very fact that Paul had to address the issues of lying, cheating, and anger indicated this community in Ephesus had faced some difficulties. They were not at peace with one another. He used his own experience, his own conversion to a changed life to help them better understand how their flaws were breaking down the community God had created and to begin to appreciate the power of what God could do in them and through them. So, he called them out; he called them to do the right thing. He insisted that by the power of the Holy Spirit their communities of faith would grow strong and would be examples to others. “Be imitators of God”, Paul said. “Live as the beloved Children of God.” Then, those who see will know you are Christian by your love.
Let’s sing verse one of # 2223.
Well, life in and outside churches hasn’t gotten any easier. We are still bombarded by community breaking stresses and have to continually rely on the ever-present power of a forgiving God to find our way back into God’s and our neighbors’ good graces. And, there are times when the scenes around us might easily pull us off track, make us feel defeated; believing our country is doomed. It doesn’t take too many incidences of gun violence or Olympian cheating to shatter our Pollyanna hopes for something better.
But all these occasions of human deception, anger and violence should lead us to make personal choices that illustrate another way to live imitating a greater presence in our lives. We are, after all, Christians and therefore called to lead lives that are distinctively different. But, what does that mean in a world where violence has become commonplace and lying acceptable? Well, I guess, it just means we choose not to break the community of the faithful. We choose to follow Christ’s example. We choose to be God’s possibility for another way to live. We choose…we pray… and we put our faith in, our hope in someone greater than ourselves so that, by our love, we will be known as Christ’s followers. Let’s pray…
Holy One, Beloved,
by your grace in me,
I shuck off the little desires I wear,
to clothe myself in your deep desires for me.
I release the self I have tried to create
so that you may create me in your image.
May I shed all falsehood
and speak truth to my neighbors.
May all my words be building blocks, not weapons,
gifts of grace for those who long to hear.
May even my anger be loving truth, not bitterness.
May my delight be not in getting, but in sharing.
With you living in me may I be kind,
tenderhearted and forgiving,
as you have forgiven me.
Life-Giver, Heavenly Lover, Flame of my Heart,
I am your beloved child.
May I be your perfect imitation.
May I live in love, as fully as you love me.
I offer myself, as Christ,
a fragrant gift to you. Amen.