Walking in Love, Not Futility
August 8th and 9th, 2009
It was one of the final cross country races in my senior year of High School. It was toward the end of the race, and a number of runners came to a point on the course where the route was relatively unclear. I forget how many of us ran this particular route, only to find out it was the wrong path. Translation, while everyone else ran 3.1 miles, I and the fellow lost runners ran an extra quarter of a mile or so. At least in this race, it was an unnecessary run. God’s Word from Ephesians says this “This I say and testify in the Lord that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated fro the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Translation, those gentiles or (unbelievers) which you once were, live, walk and have their being, but they are putting in wasted miles, empty miles. Not so you, walk purposefully, as the new self that you are. Walk as beloved children. Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.
The following is an old African Proverb. “A very hungry hyena went out on the African plain to hunt for food. He came to a branch in the bush road where the two paths veered off in different directions. He saw two goats caught in the thickets at the far end of the two different paths. With his mouth watering in anticipation, he decided that his left leg would follow the left path and his right leg the right path. As the two paths continued to veer in different directions he tried to follow them both at once. Finally he split in two or as the proverb states “Two roads overcame the hyena”. Paul knew that many of these new Christians, were falling into old habits. Rather than transforming the world around them, they were being transformed into the world and all its futile walking. They thought they could walk two paths, but unknowingly they were destroying themselves by being split in two.
It seems to me this text is showing us very clearly that Christians are different people. Our walk is different, our clothing is different, and our hearts our different. What is it that makes us different? Over the past two weeks we have heard about living out the Christian life. Last week we heard about humility, and patience, and this week we hear about walking in love. Our verses today, tell us that we are to live our lives handling our anger, not cursing, but rather building one another up., and loving others as Christ loved us. Some might say that the thing that makes us different, is the set of new rules we are given. There was a race I was running earlier this year called the race for character. As we were running, they had a number of character phrases along the path. While I don’t remember the exact phrases or mileage markers, they went something like this. At the end of the first mile of the race a sign said persistence, two miles another sign said courage, and finally close to the end was a sign called determination. This is not what is meant by walking in love, or putting on the new self. It is not about collecting outside traits, even good things, and incorporating them into our life. In response to this empty living Paul says “That is now the way you learned Christ”. When we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and as the Holy Spirit used the message of Christ to create faith in our hearts, we became new people, with a different type of clothing. God changes us from the inside out, and doesn’t just give us a new set of rules to live by or merely a new set of outside clothing. The empty way of life, is a life lives pretending that Christ has not changed you. It is a life which falsely believes that the old self, whom we all have, rules the day. It’s a life that forgets our neighbor, and forgets that we belong to one another. The danger with living this old life, is that of hardened hearts. “They have become callous and have gen themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Do you really want a calloused heart? The word for callous here refers to a stone that was harder than marble. It is also used as a medical term to refer to the calcium deposit that forms when a bone is reset which is harder than the bone itself. According to one commentator the word came to mean the loss of all power of sensation, it described something which became so hardened, so petrified that it had no power to feel at all. Paul is saying, you are different, you are cleansed, and you’ve been changed.
Put on the new self, and walk differently. This new self we get to put on once again today. In one place of scripture it is described as the robe of righteousness. This new self is created by the one who our Gospel reading today says is the bread of life. He is the one who loved you, and gave himself up for you, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. He is the one who feeds us over and over again in this sacrament, his real love, his real forgiveness. To walk with this clothing is to walk in life, in true hope, in that precious forgiveness we all need and receive from the Savior. In him we have, right now away to truly live in hope and peace. In him we have no condemnation, and in him we are complete, and don’t need to look for completeness in anyone else or to become complete because of what we do. If this is all true, and it is, then we are to walk true to our “new” selves.
The apostle Paul in Ephesians demonstrates how this looks. We are called to put away falsehood and live lives of truth with our neighbors, especially those of the Christian family. Why? It says we are members who belong to one another. With the new life, the sun doesn’t have to go down on our anger. Our language is not to be laced with cursing and tearing down, but rather that which fits the occasion and lifts up those who hear. Rather than having calloused hearts, we are to be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as Christ forgave us.
Christians are different! I was going to be title this message “Dare to be different.” Yet I thought otherwise because the key to being different is really not based on a dare, but rather It is being true to our new selves, true to who we really are, and true to the Christ who gave himself for us. Amen.