Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne.
These are excerpts from his sermon last Sunday morning.
Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books on religion in America who describes himself as "religiously confused." It is precisely the willingness of such a learned person to describe himself as confused that makes him worth our listening. I always find religiously confused people more interesting and worthwhile than I do those who are religiously assured. Prothero wrote about Paul when Paul wrote this letter to the ancient church at Ephesus.
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 2631Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.Paul of Tarsus wrote while in prison in Rome (around AD 62). Ephesus was an ancient Greek city in what we know today as Turkey. Culturally, politically and religiously, the early Christians in Ephesus were far out of the mainstream of community life. It's the age old question. What does it mean to be Christian in a decidedly un-Christian culture? And so Paul’s letters even though written almost 2000 years ago, become relevant today.
Professor Prothero concluded we humans all live somewhere between the animals and the gods. While aspiring to be like the gods, we are often like the animals and so we live our lives somewhere between. Humans pat themselves on the back for being smarter than the animals. We claim a vast gap between us and other living creatures—the uniqueness of our intelligence, our culture, our ability to think and reason, and our countless impressive achievements. One anthropologist set out the key differences saying, “the animals don’t think or reason, write, read, listen to music (let alone compose it or perform it), drive cars, or understand mathematics and chemistry.
He doesn’t know my little dog Buddy. I have no way of knowing whether Buddy can read or write. I have never offered him a chance to drive my car. He may not understand mathematics or chemistry but that doesn’t separate him from me. I do know he listens to music. He and Pat are the only ones who’ve ever heard me sing and unlike my wife, Buddy seems to think I sing pretty well.
In the end, there is really only one sure characteristic separating Buddy and other animals from us…the ability to speak words! We take it granted. The only time we marvel at the ability to speak is when an infant says his or her first words. From then on, the ability to speak, to question, make observation, to gossip, lie, challenge, explain…the ability to form words that express feelings, beliefs, prejudice, love…the one characteristic that separates us from the rest of God’s creation is taken for granted.
When the Bible says we were created in God’s image, this is precisely what that means. God spoke the world into existence and gave us the ability to do the same thing.
Think about it. What you say to your spouse, your children, your neighbors, friends, to strangers…the words you use to express love, anger, joy, sadness, confusion or certainty…the words you use to express your deepest thoughts or your momentary emotions…those words create the world in which you live. As you consider how your words create your world, think about Paul’s advice.
He says, put away falsehoods and speak the truth. Now he isn’t simply telling us not to tell lies. We know that is an important part of our relationships. Paul is saying something far bigger, far more difficult. Paul’s meaning is uncovered in the final words of this reading where he tells us to be “imitators of God and to live in love as Christ loved us, willing to give himself. And so the world we create with the words we use has to do with understanding that to be a Christian has a great deal to do with telling the truth to a culture that has much at stake in the lies that create that culture.
Listen to the culture this week in the new light of Paul’s letter. What kind of world is created by the words spoken on TV and radio, words used in newspapers, the words spoken by you to those you care about, those who care about you? What kind of world is created by the words spoken in anger, words to justify prejudice, to create fear? What words are spoken by you or to you that create hope, love.
Paul says, “29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
The words of Paul are combined in today’s lesson to create your world, one in which you speak the truth, and Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
It is no accident or coincidence that of all of God’s creation, only we humans share with God the ability to speak words. God gave us that ability so that we might be full partners in God’s hope for the world with an expectation we use words not to harm or hurt but to build and to love.