Monday, November 10, 2014

The Highest Calling - Doing the Jesus-Walk

Preached on a Communion Sunday, November 9, 2014

Scripture reading: Ephesians 4:17-5:2

In my first church, down on the Oregon Coast, there was a retired couple named Dale and Mabel, and they had a granddaughter from Portland visiting them for the summer. Her name was Marguerite. She had come to help with our Vacation Bible School which was being put on by a mission group from out of town.
Photos Near Desert Aire, WA: November 2014
When one of the adult leaders of the mission group met Marguerite, almost the very first thing he asked her was, “Do you dance ballet?” He asked her this question because she did, and she looked like it.
Marguerite didn’t walk. She flowed. There was nothing unnatural about the way she walked. She didn’t put anything extra into it. She didn’t twirl or wave her arms in the air when she moved. She simply walked to perfection.
Another member of that church was a woman named Margaret. She didn’t live far from the church. One day I walked down the street to pay her a visit. She looked out her window and saw me coming, so she was ready for me when I got there. At her door, Margaret told me she had recognized me, from a distance, by my rolling gait. I think she meant that I didn’t have a ballet dancer’s walk.
Every one of us has a unique walk: and more than one walk, if you look across our lives. We have one walk when we are three, another walk when we are sixteen, and still another walk when we are sixty or so. But, for Paul, in his letter to his friends in Ephesus, it all boiled down to two walks: the world walk and the Jesus walk. You could say it is the matter of the world’s life and the Jesus life.
“You must no longer live like the Gentiles do.” (Ephesians 4:17) The Greek word that gets translated as “live” is really “walk”. The older translations say “walk”, but who lives by walking anymore?
When I was in high school, one of the coaches during P.E. was watching me run. He started to run beside me and tried to give me instructions on how to run correctly. He kept telling me what to do so that I would run right. I tried to do what he said. For a few days he repeated the process with me, and then (I think) he gave up.
There are rules for good running. There are even rules for good walking. The people who have physical therapy probably learn those rules.
Paul seems to give us a lot of rules for the Jesus walk. All those rules are worth thinking about. The truth is that it’s hard to do the Jesus walk. There is a lot of falling down involved; and a lot of bruises; and some pain. It takes time.
I had a friend in college named Bob. Bob was born with cerebral palsy, and he could never walk very well. He got around campus in a golf cart. When he had to walk, he looked like a human windmill. His legs and arms swung around and around.
Bob’s body did not walk well, but Bob walked the Jesus walk in an amazing way. He didn’t grow up that way. If I recall correctly, he had been a desperate and angry kid who finally met Jesus, and was changed by Jesus, so that he could learn the Jesus walk. For Bob it wasn’t a matter of rules. It wasn’t a matter of “should” and “ought”. It was a matter of love and passion.
In spite of his life-long condition Bob knew that Jesus loved him and Bob loved Jesus back. He did the Jesus walk because Jesus lived inside him.
We know it has to be this way, because some of Paul’s rules are humanly impossible. It depends on our “being made new.” If you are “being made new” it doesn’t mean that you are making yourself. It means that something or someone is doing it to you.
“Being made new” is something that is done to you. It happens to you. It’s a gift as well as something that we must learn.
Paul does this strange thing over and over again. He makes the walk really tough. He requires of us the achievement that is humanly impossible. And then he tells us how it is done. It is done by God, in Christ. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2) The walk comes from efforts at imitation, but it also comes from the “fragrant offering” of Christ.
It is so hard to know how to live unless we know that we are infinitely loved, unless we know that the creator and power behind everything made himself into a human being to die on the cross for all humans. He did this in Jesus for our forgiveness and to give us a new self.
He is our Father by creation, and he is our Father by the new creation of grace. He offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins and so he defeated the power of sin. He offered himself up to death, and so he defeated the power of death. And he also made an offering of our humanness as a gift to his Father.
As humans we surrender ourselves to the humanness of God in Jesus. By faith we take ourselves off. By faith we put Jesus on. We become the humans we were created to be because we receive the humanity of Jesus. In Jesus we have all died, and we have all risen from the dead. He is one with us and we are one with him.
Once I served a little small town/rural church where some of our members and others in the community performed a piece of classical music for holy week. It was called “The Seven Last Words of Christ” by a French composer named Theodore Dubois, who mostly wrote operas. After our last performance, a member of the audience said to me. “It was great. It was just like hearing ordinary people singing opera!” Yes it was exactly like that: hearing ordinary people singing opera!
It was a good thing we didn’t try to make it into a ballet, as well. It came off better than that. The audience was gracious because we were everyone’s friends and neighbors. Their enjoyment must have been based on the same principle as parents watching their little kids dance ballet.
On one hand the rules are excellent. The rules define the holiness and the greatness of the ballet, the opera, and the walk, but it is (above all else) a matter of heart and mind: a heart and a mind open to love, and wonder, and grace.
Sometimes Christians come off as unloving; and that is because we often are. We make life a matter of the rules and not of the freedom that comes from being loved and loving back in a million different ways. Even when we claim to love, our love can be very cold and prickly.
Jesus “offered himself up for us”, and that is where our love is supposed to come from. That is the love that lives in us when Jesus truly lives in us.
This is so hard. Can any of us really say that we love anyone if we are not willing to give ourselves up for them as Jesus gave himself up for us? And what would that require of us, if we truly did it? Do we really know our true selves, at all, in the matter of our love for others?
The world walk, as Paul saw it, was what Jesus came to cure. The world walk needed to come to an end. So much is wrong in this world because what sin really does is rob us of our true selves. We no longer know how to understand what we are really saying and doing, or what anyone else is saying or doing.
In the world walk, neither the brain nor the heart is right. Neither the brain nor the heart work the way God made them to work. Paul speaks of “the futility of their thinking” in the world walk. He says, “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17-18)
Paul talks about “deceitful desires” and these don’t need to have anything to do with sex. We jump to conclusions about this because we, as Christians, in our own way, are just as obsessed about sex as the world is.
“Deceitful desires” come when we disguise what we want as good for us (as something that will make us happy) and it wrecks our lives. Deceitful desires come when we disguise what we want as something good for others when it is really about ourselves. Deceitful desires even come when we claim to want what God wants (when we convince ourselves that we want what God wants) and yet we are serving ourselves and our own supposed emotional needs.
Paul writes this about one of our needs. “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Sometimes we need to be angry. Sometimes we really do. Even God wants us to be angry about some things. Love demands it. Parents understand the meaning of righteous anger when they hear their child tell a lie, or see their children be cruel to each other or, to a pet.
The world needs a truly righteous anger in the face of evil, and injustice, and corruption. But there is a fine line between anger and sin. There are just too many times when I need to be angry only because I want to be angry.
The mind and the self, that come from Jesus, are able to teach me that such an anger is not based on what is happening to me right now. It’s based on my life story. It’s an anger that is not about what any one says or does now, but about something (maybe something horrible) that some one said or did long ago. Or my anger is about my pride or my ego.
“Do not let the sun go down on your anger” means at least two things. First: it tells us to make up as soon as we can, and it tells us not to design our making up as another tactic to actually blame the other person all over again. Don’t say, “I’m sorry I didn’t know that you were out of sorts yesterday when I ate the last piece of pie after you told me you were going to have it for breakfast the next morning.”
Not letting the sun go down on our anger is also a matter of facing what our anger reveals about ourselves. We are called to surrender what we are quickly, all the time (before the sun goes down), “to be made new in the attitude of our minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23-24)
“Righteousness” means working right. It means having hearts and minds that are sensitive to what God is asking of us because we are letting God live, in all his truth and light, in our hearts and minds, so that we live it right.
“Holiness” means being set apart for a purpose. God is holy because he sticks to his purpose, and his purpose is love. We are holy when we are like God in his purpose: to love and to make love possible, and to rescue everyone from the world walk by walking the Jesus walk.
For Christians, when we try to relive the world walk, Paul wrote, “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.” (Ephesians 4:20) The problem is not merely in learning and mastering the rules. The situation is that we have not fully come to know God as he truly is in Christ. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) We forget.
Forgiveness is a mystery. It may seem like a game. Forgiveness may have been used against us as a game to make us lose and to let the wrongdoer win; or even to let the wrongdoer go on, and on, and on in their wrongdoing.
Or forgiveness may be a game we play by making excuses for the wrong doing and this implies that the wrong doing was not really wrong: not really. But that’s not true forgiveness. Sometimes there is no good excuse for our sins. What if God only forgave the excusable?
The truth is that is kills us to truly forgive. It killed God, in Christ, to forgive us. It cost him death on the cross. And, sometimes, it seems as though God has forgiven many people in vain. They do not respond to the kindness and compassion of God on the cross. God’s love is a love that truly forgives even when that forgiveness seems to be offered in vain.
I believe that the truth is that we cannot truly and fully know Christ without receiving a love and a forgiveness that are exactly like that: that extreme. Only such a forgiveness and love can make it possible for us to be made new; for the old mind and heart to die and to rise from the dead.
I believe that giving forgiveness comes from seeing the forgiveness of Jesus, and trusting the power of what we see in Jesus, and giving it to others by faith. When we forgive others we are giving them a love that trusts what Jesus intends to do with that love.
In Romans 13:14, Paul says that we must, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is another way of saying to “put on the new self created to be like God”.
We stand before others as if we were not ourselves but Christ forgiving the wrongdoer. That is exactly what we need each other for. We need others to stand before us as if they were Jesus forgiving us when we do not deserve it. It’s is what Jesus came to give to the whole world, and it is what we are called to give to the world in his name.

The Lord’s Supper is a kind of surrender in faith to that love. We receive what Jesus came to give the whole world. It is like food and drink because we need it to live. We need it just as much as the world does. In the strength that comes from this love we will be able to walk the Jesus walk and share it with the world.


  1. dear pastor dennis,
    you have given us a power-packed message which mankind needs . we were blessed.
    i wish with all my heart every one could hear this message.
    thank you.

  2. I read the comment above and I agree, a power packed message.
    To walk the Jesus walk and to share it with the world, amen.