Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Saint Paul's Episcopal Church
August 13, 2006
Walk in Love as
Christ Loved Us
for the Day
you in the name of God our Creator, Christ our
Brother, and the Holy Spirit who sustains and
sanctifies us, empowering us to love and to serve both God
and Christ. (Pause)
Our epistle lesson for today is a very
brief passage from the letter to the Ephesians. In it we
hear one of my favorite sentences from the Bible:
" . . . live in love, as Christ loved
us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and
sacrifice to God."
Ephesians 5:2b (NRSV)
As many of you know, I am an adult convert
to the Episcopal Church. My first conscious memory of
hearing this scripture passage is when former Associate
Pastor Jeff Murph would speak it as the offertory sentence
during the 5:30 weekday Eucharist here at Saint Paul's. I
loved then -- as I love now -- the notion of Christ
giving himself up for us (for me, indeed!) as an offering
and a sacrifice to God! What amazing grace!
Beyond that memory, though, the phrase also
evokes one of those "marriage moments" which -- as the
confession says -- "we from time to time most grievously
have committed, in thought word and deed".
Like many latecomers to the world of
liturgy, I went through a phase when I was all
about liturgy. Early one spring morning --
when Laura and I were in the middle of listing and selling
our home -- I lit a small briquette of charcoal. I placed
the charcoal in a small Pyrex container, covered it with
incense from Holy Cross Monastery, and set it in the
middle of our living room coffee table. Then I sat down to
read the Daily Office.
Just as I finished the prayers, Laura
walked in. She sniffed suspiciously, then looked around
curiously and asked, "Whatever is that I smell?"
I told her that it was incense -- that I
had been making "a fragrant offering to the Lord."
To which she replied, "Well knock it off
with the incense until we sell this house!"
Worse yet, the charcoal got so hot it
scorched the coffee table. We'll talk more about that
later -- suffice it to say that the table -- to this very
day -- bears the marks of my "fragrant offering to the
But what of the rest of these few verses
from Ephesians? In them we are introduced to some ideas
about how we might offer (or even become) "a fragrant
offering to the Lord" . . .
" . . . do not grieve the Holy Spirit
. . ."
the writer of
Ephesians enjoins us, and -- at least for me -- that
breaks open my whole understanding of what happens when I sin. I am, sadly,
accustomed to making people mad. We have all done it, and
we all have our stock responses that comfort us -- and
protect us from the other's anger.
Many of us even have defenses we have
crafted for dealing with God's imagined anger:
God will understand; God will
give me a break.
God knows how irritating that
other person is.
God -- after all -- is a God
of mercy and forgiveness.
But the notion of grieving
God is an altogether different thing! How much it pains me
to think about grieving God! Surely we can irritate,
aggravate, or even enrage God. We did it to our parents,
and many of us see God as -- among other things -- a
But grieving God in the person of the Holy
Spirit? That's another thing altogether . . .
When I think about grieving someone -- when
I consider the times when I have been profoundly wounded
in my own life -- I realize some important things:
It is impossible to
be grieved by someone you do not love.
do not care about can make you angry, but they can
rarely make you sad.
When someone grieves
you, your grief is generally for them as much as it is
That is, your heart breaks for the pain you know they
are going to cause themselves through their poor
choices, or addictive behaviors, or long wandering into
the wildernesses of life.
All it takes for your
grief to be assuaged is for the person to turn away
from the harmful behavior
and embrace behaviors that produce wholeness
and healing in their life. You don't want an
apology so much as you want true repentance
-- a turning away from the harmful behavior.
Perhaps our human understanding of grief
can illumine our understanding of this passage from
Ephesians -- the passage that
speaks of "grieving the Holy Spirit". Perhaps -- at least
in this case -- we and the Holy Spirit grieve similarly.
We are, after all, created in God's own image!
So -- what do we do?
The first thing
we can do is to reframe our understanding of sin.
Sin is not so much "breaking God's rules" or "making
God mad" as it is a turning away from the life God wishes
for us -- the life God intended for us when we were knit
together in our mother's wombs.
We grieve God when we make choices that
move us further away from wholeness,
when we make choices that wound others or ourselves,
when we make choices that telegraph our own dogged
determination to foreswear the counsel of our Creator God,
and instead choose to be god in our own universe.
The second thing
we can do is to examine our behavior in the
light of what we know about God's desires for us. The
behaviors that grieve the Holy Spirit in our passage from Ephesians
(bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice)
all accrue from choosing to honor our own will rather than
choosing to follow the example of Christ.
So we examine our own behavior. Or -- as
the Book of Common Prayer counsels:
"Examine (y/our lives and conduct by the
rule of God's commandments, that you may perceive where in
you have offended in what you have done or left undone,
whether in thought, word, or deed."
BCP, "An Exhortation," page 317, paragraph one
So -- if we are doing
something wrong (if I am doing
something wrong!) -- a big step is to notice it, to
acknowledge it, to name it as a deviation from God's
perfect will for our -- and my -- lives.
The third and final step is difficult but
it is not complicated.
The final step is just this: stop it.
Whatever it is you are doing that is grieving God,
whatever it is that is taking you away from the One who
made you, knows you, loves you, and wills only good for
your life, stop it.
And by this I don't mean to will yourself
to holiness. That is an altogether fruitless task in the
first place and, in the second place, do-it-yourself
holiness is one more way of celebrating and worshiping
your will, not God's will for you.
No -- I am not talking about do-it-yourself
holiness. I am talking about naked surrender, a surrender
that is perhaps most familiar to those who have walked the
path of recovery from addiction of one sort or another.
Sure this surrender is hard. What that is
worthwhile in life is not?
Margaret Guenther -- in one of her books
about spiritual direction -- tells the story of sitting
with a young woman who felt called to the priesthood.
Margaret says to the young woman, "You know, if you do
this, it could cost you dearly."
To which the woman replies, "Margaret,
We are talking about a call from God!"
Indeed we are. We are talking about
a call from God.
We are talking about a
call from God for each one of us -- a call to
trans-formation. A call to forswear our old
ways that grieve the Holy Spirit. A call to die to self. A
call to become a new creation in Christ Jesus.
This call will mean different things to
each one of us.
For me, I will have to crucify the attitude
of judgmentalness and moral superiority that undergirds my
political opinions. I'll have to acknowledge that even
those with whom I disagree may also be honestly seeking
the will of God.
Others of us will have to deal with other
ways that we grieve the spirit. Perhaps it is a grasping
holding-on to resources, afraid that we cannot trust God
with own needs. Perhaps we grieve the spirit through
gossip, or through naming God's good gifts to us as things
we have done for ourselves.
Take a moment to name your own demons
-- I'm too busy with my own to catalog yours. (Pause)
So we name our sins and we -- by effort and
the grace of God -- are able to stop them. Then what?
The most amazing thing will happen, that's
what! When we purposefully root out the ways we grieve
God, there is room in our lives for new ways of living.
There is room in our lives for kindness, for
tenderheartedness, for forgiveness -- for all the
behaviors we find listed in our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. We "live in love,
as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant
offering and sacrifice to God." Ephesians 5:2a (NRSV)
The table I spoke of earlier still bears
the scorch marks of my fragrant offering to the Lord
through incense. How much better and more redemptive for
each of us bear on our very selves testimony to God's
power to transform lives. To God's power to root out
judgment and replace it with compassion. To God's power
to ferret out pride and replace it with humility.
Let us "Live in love, as Christ loved you
and gave himself up for you, a fragrant offering and
sacrifice to God." And let us go forth from here --
empowered by the love of God in Christ -- to live a life
that pleases, not grieves, the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God.
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