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“Exchanging our Clunker for a New Self,” Tenth Sunday of Pentecost, August 9th 2009 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA

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Tenth Sunday of Pentecost, August 9th 2009

at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA

1 Kings 19:4-8 Psalm 34: 1-8 Ephesians 4:25-5:2 John 6: 35, 41-51

Exchanging our Clunker for a New Self

The Ephesians lesson gives us wonderful instructions for how to live our new life in Christ; but the change that has to overcome us, to make such a life possible requires the Bread from Heaven, requires Christ living in our hearts.

Look at the wonderful passages in this letter: put away falsehood; be truth-tellers, for we are not by ourselves, but members one of another. That means we are not completely on our own, but you are inside me and I am inside you through Christ our Lord.

Be angry or mad, but do not sin. A teacher in school became so angry at a child she threw a scissor at it. It is all right to be angry, but you still have to be responsible. Our losing our temper is no excuse. Shouting something does not make it right and sometimes people get real angry to generate heat, because they do not want the light. Be wary of conscious misinformation for the sake of special interests. We don’t need a culture of anger. Look at the troubles road rage caused. We thought at first it was harmless. No, we read, don’t let the sun go down on your anger: that means make up before you go to bed.

Do not make room for the devil. Luther said, “You can’t stop ideas from going through your mind, just like you can’t stop a flock of birds from flying over your head; but you can sure stop a bird from making a nest in your hair!” Before a killing that took place in rage, somebody bought a gun, somebody loaded it, somebody went and got it, pointed it and shot it. At everyone of those points, you were letting a vulture, let alone a bird make a nest in your hair.

We used to say, “That person is a walking time-bomb” and it was a metaphor. Now people actually strap bombs on themselves and blow themselves and the people they hate into smithereens. Hate is anger that has grown cold and hard within us. We nurse those bad feelings many a night. So don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If you have too much give it a safety valve and blow off a little steam at a time.

Thieves stop stealing. Produce something yourself, so you can share what you have with others. Don’t let evil talk, like gossip come out of your mouth – but only say words that build up. Like your mom said, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Now often the truth will hurt, but we can bear it, when we speak the truth with love.

Your words have to give strength to people, like the food that the angels fed Elijah. That food sustained him for forty days and forty nights, when he was so low, so dejected, feeling like such a failure, he did not think he could live another day. “Like a depressed woman said, “Do you mean I have to live the rest of the days of my life?” We usually hear people say, “This is the first day of the rest of your life!” Look at what she said! But when we journey through our days, we do not head for a sunset, but a sunrise. God is our destiny. But the dejected Elijah called upon God to let him die.

The conversation of some people leaves you drained and empty. The words of other people can fill you with strength for a whole week. Those are words that give grace. The words of Jesus are full of grace and truth. Like Emmadell said in our Bible study, “Look Jesus’ words say just what we mean!” And one point after another in chapter 23 of St. Matthew hit the nail on the head. The words of Jesus Christ give us grace and truth and eternal life. The words of Jesus have been doing that for countless generations and that is why this church was built over them, so they resound within these walls, among these waxed and polished pews, there to get into your hearts and feed you with the bread of heaven.

Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit: that means you have to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, slander, quarreling, and malice. All those things grieve the Holy Spirit. As Abe Lincoln said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on….”

Ah, and the next lines of the letter have moved us to song:

“Be kind to one another, be tender-hearted too, forgiving one another, as God’s forgiven you. These words are very precious, they’re also very true. They are found in the Bible, Ephesians 4:32.”

So be imitators of God. We have come to know God, you see, through Christ and him crucified. Baptized into the death of God’s Son, we become raised up by God; we get the up-bringing of God’s very own children. Thus we live in love as Christ loved us, whose sacrifice on the cross was so sweet and fragrant to God that our sacrifices have become filled with rejoicing in our suffering.

Those are the descriptions of the new persons, the new selves we have become by our baptisms into Christ Jesus. But when we really honestly and truthfully examine ourselves, we fall very short. We are like those people who love to watch cooking shows on TV, but have empty refrigerators, buy fast food and junk food and never cook a meal. Like them, we fall short of the glory of God and wonder if God can still keep the redemption seal of the Holy Spirit upon us.

Martin Luther of old says that the climax of the whole Bible comes in Romans 3:21 to 26, when St. Paul says that we are all sinners, [Are there any who are righteous? No, not one], we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. And that means that we all stand in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

That does not only go for you and me as individuals, but for our church as well. Bethlehem has also fallen short of the glory of God and as a congregation, we too are sinful and thus, our church can only count on God’s grace.

If we examine ourselves honestly, truthfully, we have to confess that we have not put away bitterness and anger. We do quarrel and we do bear malice to those who do us wrong and we fail to recognize that we need more forgiveness than they do.

Yes, let me take the speck out of your eye. You know how: I roll up your eyelid with a match stick and poke around your nose with my handkerchief. Always toward the nose! Suddenly you look up and notice that I have a log in my own eye and I can’t even see your nose in your face, let alone the speck in your eye.

When we examine ourselves honestly, then we come to the same conclusion that Elijah did, “It’s enough, take away my life. I’m no better than my ancestors.”

We are all flawed. We are all embarrassed by our weaknesses and take pride in our strengths, which then separate us from God.

But here is the good news! “God loves sinners. That’s why he made so many of us.” And God made us inadequate in and of ourselves so that we have to turn to God for help. When we turn over our hearts to Christ, who is the Man from Heaven, then our incompleteness and inadequacy become marvelously fulfilled. Not only do we become healed, become whole and mature in the stature of Christ and we no longer fall short, but we far exceed the mark that our own efforts could have brought for us.

We walk through the wreckage of our lives and Christ gives us new fenders, tires, a hood, trunk, front end and back, if we need it. For our clunker, Christ makes us into a brand new car! Christ starts working through us and then the saying comes true: “God writes straight on crooked lines.” By the grace of God through faith, we become straight arrows, who can say the words full of grace that strengthen those who always get walked on like rugs, people whom others wipe their feet on.

Ah, if we are left on our own, where would we be? But with the Bread of Life, with the living bread come down from heaven, we too can say “I am. I am somebody. I am a star of heaven. I am a child of God. I am filled with the wonder bread that has made me whole, made me unstoppable, made me more than victorious over the world and my old self in it.

Christ told us to love our enemies. I’ve often thought of saying that to married couples. If you don’t love your enemies how will you love your husband, or vice versa, how will you love your wife? But we have to go a step further. We find that we ourselves are our own worst enemies. So if you don’t love your enemy, how can you love yourself? My father would say, “The battle you fight with yourself is the hardest battle you’ll ever fight and it is the sweetest victory you’ll ever win!”

Christ gives us that victory. Christ who comes into our hearts from heaven, who leads us to the loving Father, the Father who accepts us and loves us as unacceptable and unloving as we are, and graciously makes us acceptable and lovable; yes makes us more than victorious – because the One is us is greater than the one in the world.

And he feeds us with manna from above, the very bread of heaven that gives us eternal life, and raises us to be his body here on earth.

Left on our own we are hopelessly lost. But with Christ in our hearts, we can’t help:

“Be[ing] kind to one another, tender-hearted too, forgiving one another, as God’s forgiven you. These words are very precious, they’re also very true. They are found in the Bible, Ephesians 4:32.” Amen.

Communion Blessing: “Left on our own we cannot love and we cannot forgive, but with Christ in our hearts, with the Holy Spirit, we can’t help loving, we can’t help forgiving others.

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Written by peterkrey

August 10, 2009 at 3:53 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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