Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 9, 2015
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Ephesians 4:17-5:2
Sermon Theme: “Playing God the Right Way”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle B, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Online Religious Humor; Online christiansuite.com Jokes; Introduction to Ephesians, Concordia Self-Study Bible).
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
While walking along the sidewalk in front of his church, a pastor heard the loud intoning of a prayer that nearly popped the clerical collar tab off his shirt! Apparently his five-year-old son and his playmates had found a dead bird which they had felt needed a proper burial.
They put the bird in a little box they found, dug a hole in the ground, and planned a proper interment for the deceased. The other boys decided the pastor’s son would need to officiate at the funeral, beings that he had watched his father do such things.
With solemn dignity, the pastor’s son loudly recited what he thought his father always said, “Glory be unto the Faaather, and unto the Sonnn, . . . and into the hole you goooo.”
We all imitate that which we respect, that which we look up to, which, in the case of kids, is usually their parents, — so, fathers and mothers, be careful and be clear. In our sermon text for today, Paul sets the highest standard in all the world for Christians. He tells the recipients of his letter and us that we must be imitators of God.
Later, Clement of Alexandria was to make the daring statement: “The true and wise Christian practices being God!” Although Clement meant what Paul meant in our text, for obvious reasons, that’s probably not the best way to say it.
Just like the woman who went to her pastor for counseling soon after she divorced her husband and said to the pastor, “You see, my husband thought he was God, . . . and I didn’t.”
Here’s what Paul says in our sermon text: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” But some people do this improperly. They really think they are God and take it upon themselves to create or destroy life. In other words, they seize power and prerogatives that are not rightfully theirs. Playing God the right way means imitating His grace, love, and forgiveness. We are called to emulate God’s character.
Paul also says we are no longer to live as the Gentiles do. Now that seems strange to us considering that as non-Jews we are Gentiles; however, the heathen Gentiles in Ephesus, as well as in other cities in Paul’s circuit, were, before conversion, grossly pagan. There was a huge pagan temple in Ephesus, and some pagan practices were very offensive to Christians.
Paul describes those pagan Gentiles in our text like this: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Sounds like people in the world today, doesn’t it. Paul’s point: we are not to imitate pagans; we are to imitate Christ.
Since Christians are members of the same body, says Paul, we are to be truthful with one another, don’t lie, get rid of our anger and belligerent behavior, don’t steal but work for a living, free ourselves of abrasive, filthy-mouthed talk, and avoid slandering others.
One pastor was preaching a sermon on the teachings of Jesus, telling the congregation Jesus had a very strict interpretation of the Law, hating our brother considered the same as killing our brother. Abrasive attacks on others and slander were sins, as were belligerent behavior and a foul mouth. Instead, we were to love even our enemies.
The pastor then asked the congregation to raise their hands if they had enemies. Everyone did so except for Mrs. Watson, on the front row, who had just turned 95.
“Mrs. Watson,” the pastor asked, “how could you possibly live for 95 years and have no enemies?”
“That’s easy,” the old lady replied, “I just outlived the good-for-nothing jerks!” Even nice, little ole Christian ladies sometimes do not live up to the call to imitate Christ.
Pagans in the mission fields Paul pursued were astonished by the kindness and moral purity of Christian citizens. That in itself sometimes led unbelievers on to the path of conversion. How awesome it would be if unbelievers would imitate Christians who imitate Christ.
Whether we realize it or not, all of us imitate someone, or something, usually one or both of our parents, and sometimes their teachings. When I was a student in Dime Box Rural School, I was very impressed with my 8th Grade teacher. He was more refined than the other men in that rural community. By example, he showed me you could be a man and not curse or swear and treat women like they were dirt. And you could be a man and have an indoor job (I liked that!)
But more important, he seemed to have more patience than any other man I knew. He was loving and caring with each and every member of the class. He seemed to evoke many other God-like qualities. Before long, I remember wanting to be just like that man! I even wanted to wear the fancy type of socks he wore, — I knew I couldn’t afford an elegant suit like his. He was a good man to imitate.
It is sad that so many young people today imitate the wrong people and the wrong things. Many movies, TV shows, and videos depict unchristian life styles, using abusive, abrasive, dirty, and malicious language. Sometimes it’s difficult to find anything pure rather than impure to imitate. And it’s not easy to imitate Christ-like behaviors.
In our text, Paul recognizes the difficulty, because he recognizes the weaknesses in our human nature. Thus, in the text, he calls for truth, for facing the reality of our anger, our hostile feelings, and telling it like it is. Only then are you ready for the challenging of imitating Christ.
Is Paul really telling us to play God? I’m going to shock you by saying, “Yes!” But there is “playing God” the right way, and there is “playing God” the wrong way. Playing God the right way is imitating Christ.
Obviously, there are many ways we cannot be like God no matter how hard we try, as none of us are all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), sinless, unchangeable, or eternal, and we can never be. We cannot die on the cross for all mankind. So, yes, it’s impossible to play God in that respect.
But, even with the Old Adam still in us, we can strive to be gracious, truthful, caring, giving, loving, faithful, patient, kind, humble, good, obedient to the Father, loyal, and forgiving, as Christ was and is. We must love Christ as He first loved us, even to the point of self-sacrifice. God knows our sinful nature and the difficulty of being pure, so He loves us and forgives us even when we strive and fail. His Son suffered and died for that forgiveness. Sanctification is a life-long process; that’s why imitating Christ must begin in childhood.
There were some children lined up in the cafeteria of a Christian school for lunch. At the head of the serving counter was a large pile of apples. Someone had written a note and placed it next to the apples. It read, “Take only one, God is watching.”
As Tommy moved down the line, he saw a large pile of chocolate chip cookies ahead near the end of the line. He took out a piece of paper and wrote his own note and stuck it next to the cookies. It read, “Take all you want, God is watching the apples.”
Paul concludes our text with these words: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s playing God the right way! Amen.