SERMON 8/12/12 Pentecost 11B
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
Deep within the noble mirror my novel soul resides,
Whatever secret the mirror reveals shows the change I hold inside.
Upon reflecting an autumn tree, newly converted to golden hue,
Beckoning me to obey nature’s course, so my soul can be renewed.1 Author Unknown
“A mirror is an object that reflects light or sound in a way that preserves much of its original quality.”2 When we gaze at the reflection in one of those pieces of glass, we usually see our “true” self. When we wake up in the morning with wrinkled PJ’s and messed up hair, without makeup, razor, and with un-brushed teeth guess what, that image is the “real deal.” Mirrors also reveal our “masked self” with its designer clothes, fashionable hair doo’s, appropriate social etiquette, and proper church-like behavior. When we gaze out our reflections, the reality is that underneath all that glistens from the glass, is the same person with messed up hair, without makeup, razor, and with un-brushed teeth.
We are who we are and the outside shines through, that side of us others see, which, shows both the “real deal” self, and it, shows the “masked self.” How we live, how we interact, how we witness to our faith, speak volumes about our spiritual life; our true self. In today’s epistle, the Apostle Paul was metaphorically holding up a mirror before the Church in Ephesus, as he asked them what it was they saw in the reflection! Paul cautions this early Christian community, that they should be aware of how they interact with each other, and what life within the community looks like to the world around them. Evidently, based on the examples Paul uses, there was some “bad blood” between some of the folks in that little community. Paul mentions in his letter that there was anger, evil talk, stealing, and all sorts of conflict in Ephesus, and it seems there were some disagreements and rumblings going on. Through his exhortation, Paul reminded those folks that being a Christian community, to truly follow Christ, they had to stand up and proclaim, we will be “without bitterness, anger, shouting, cursing, and any kind of malice. Instead, we need to embrace goodness, warm-heartedness, and forgiveness, with Christ as (our) example.” Like those first century Christians, churches today are not immune to some of those problematic relational issues, and we probably ought to be on the lookout for these things in ourselves and in the congregations to which we belong.
The church is supposed to live as a reconciliation community. Our mission is to bring others to “unity with God and each other in Christ.” We are not only a respite place, an island of love where its members can escape from a world where division, malice, and unrest abounds. We are a mission society that is sent out to show the world what reconciliation in Christ is really like. A “community of reconciliation is to be, and will be, a neighborhood where the old is put off and the new put on.” 2 Our purpose is to be a place for personal transformation, communal transformation, so we can transform God’s world. The church is like a laboratory, a gymnasium, a practice field where we can come together in Christ, and live out together, love, mercy, and grace that will flow from beyond the walls of the building. We are members of one another and as such, how we are perceived, the reflection we cast in the world, the image of our everyday lives, should show the world reconciling love.
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus met folks where they were. Jesus brought healing to all with whom he came in contact. Jesus never worried about what made him feel good, what he wanted, what filled his needs. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, restored the outcast, and eventually, he gave himself up fully to the world to do with him, as we wished. Jesus loved beyond himself. Jesus did not judge the failures of those who wanted to follow him, but for whatever reason could not make that leap rather, he invited them and grieved when they turned and walked away. Jesus invited everyone to journey with him regardless of his or her background, failure, social place, or theological perspective. Jesus loved in ways that we sometimes cannot.
This image of Our Lord, is the image we are called to reflect. We are not merely to put this image on for special gatherings, for Sunday mornings, but this image should be one we reflect all the time. Even when things are tough, when we are having that bad day, even when it doesn’t seem like we can cope, if we stand in the mirror and look long enough, we can see the face of Christ in ours. See, even when we might fail to live up to the perfection of Christ, we truly have in us the spark of the divine presence. We are marked as Christ’s own and sealed by the Holy Spirit by our baptism. That spark of that image never goes away. So whether we are in our PJ’s with frumped up hair, no makeup, five o’clock shadow, and un-brushed teeth, or we are standing tall in the latest fashion, the finest designer haircut, or the most appropriate social skills, we have in us a glimpse of the image of God’s divine Spirit in us.
The other day, I happened to look at the website of an Episcopal parish in another part of Florida. I read a recent sermon preached by the priest and I found it very interesting. In her homily she asked parishioners to wrestle prayerfully with this question, “if St. Swithin’s was not here next week, would the community of Swithinville miss us?” Then she added, “Why would we be missed?” We need to wrestle with that question, as we wrestle to be imitators of God.
Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus charged them to be “imitators of God.” He encouraged the little community and the individuals in it, to mimic God. As we hear the scripture read this morning, we need to recognize that we are also the recipients of Paul’s letter. We too are called to imitate God, maybe even to impersonate God both as a community and as the individuals who make up that community. We come together as a faith community not merely gathering for our benefit, yes, our benefit makes us better witnesses, but we gather as a community so we can show the world what a reconciling community is really like. We do that not by trying to put on airs with great hair, makeup, saying the right things, acting the right way. We do that by being people of love who can accept our neighbors’ failures, our neighbors’ imperfections, and our neighbors’ struggles to live into the reconciling grace of God.
In 1988, a song written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett and performed by Michael Jackson, topped Billboard’s Hot 100 for two weeks, and was nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards. (The Video) This song was very popular when I was in my last year of college and the words are, “I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror, I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways, And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer, If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place, Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change.” I remember how much this song influenced so many people in the late 80’s, at a time when a cultural shift was beginning to occur. Many of us were beginning to notice the needs of the world beyond our borders, and this song helped us put words to a deep concern for our neighbors that was emerging in our spirits. I believe this song stands as a challenge, not only to a generation nearly 25 years ago, but it challenges the church today. “If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place, Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change.”
If we are going to truly fulfill our mission “to bring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,” then the mission needs to begin with each of us. Thus, we will begin to live as the redeemed and our lives will be the real thing, not “knock-offs” of the humans we would be without God. I believe we are well on our way and in Christ, the church has begun to resemble the creature humanity was meant to be—a humanity created in God’s image.
2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror 3 Olson, Ronald. “Thinking And Practicing Reconciliation” : The Ephesian Texts For Pentecost 8-14.” Word & World 17.3 (1997): 322-328. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.