Friday, August 07, 2009

B, Pentecost 10 Proper 14 - Ephesians 4:25-5:2 "Shaken not Stirred"

Imagine you're an archer. You're in trouble. The enemy is attacking; either a fierce animal is bearing down on you, or the opposing army is racing across no man's land in an attempt to breach your line and kill you and your battle group.

You must hold your position and not lose your nerve. You must keep your focus so the arrow meets its mark and brings the opposition down. If you miss you will be dead. Your life hangs in the balance. How are you holding your bow, steadying yourself in the midst of turmoil and strife?

The temptation to drop the bow and flee might be a reality. Or the distraction of pending death possibly takes the edge off your concentration. A towering grizzly bear, ten foot tall, paws as big as footballs, and claws like sharpened knives; or a thousand men descending on you with only one arrow to fire at a time.

The situation surely makes you tremble, but finding peace is necessary to sustain life. One must be completely still and silent if there is any chance of winning the conflict.

Most of us are not archers. This picture though is our reality. As Christians we dwell in times of turmoil where distractions tempt many to flee the battle line to which we've been called to guard in Christ. Many have taken their eyes off Christ and are missing the mark as the faith they received in baptism is thrown out in favour of a faith in human ideals or created objects.

When we're threatened with hardships, like drought, financial ruin, and the like, there's a tendency to become frustrated and wonder why God is doing such a thing to us. Or as soon as we're thrown into turmoil through sickness or disease – the body begins to break down – we think God is letting us down.

But then there's also the ever lessening numbers in our churches. People have departed and are wandering away from God. Others then leave because it's not the socially acceptable thing to do, or the call to endurance in Christ is lost on those worried about numbers and finances as they too become a part of today's exodus from God's church.

Then there's us. Left holding our bows as the battle lines are breaking down. We're lured to do the same as the deserters, their mindset is hard to refute with the visual evidence of collapse all around us. But even if we don't fall into the temptation of fleeing, it's still hard to keep our eyes on the target without missing the mark.

However, unlike the archer in battle or taking a stand against an aggressive animal we're not called to focus on the enemy but on our Saviour. Those who take their eyes off Christ in the midst of trouble are like archers who take their eyes off their antagonist; both will end up falling at the fate of their foe.

This desertion can and does make us angry. There are folks who become angry at those throwing away their God-given faith and trust. But then again there are some who get angry with God and his representatives for not changing tactics to try and keep former followers from fleeing.

As King David fled from Absalom he cried out to God, 'O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, "God will not deliver him."' (Psalm 3:1-2) Then when many were deserting God and chasing after lies, in David's distress God said to those being deluded, In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. (Psalm 4:4-5)

By all means be angry but trust in the Lord. Be angry but don't sin. This may come as a surprise since many believe being angry is a sin. But there are many in the bible who cried out to God in anger, or who cried out on behalf of God in anger, yet God was still faithful to them. However, there were some who cried out to God in anger and their anger became sin when they fled from God not trusting his weapon – his Word, grieving the Holy Spirit who always works through the Word of God.

To be angry literally means to be shaken and to not sin in this instance means to not miss the mark. In other words be shaken by what's going on but not stirred to the point where you lose hope in your weapons or in the target of our trust, Christ crucified.

In Ephesians Paul calls the church in Ephesus to take their stand against sin and evil. This enemy was not just out there, but was the enemy within. The enemy within was the old sinful nature playing up when the Ephesus Christians were shaken by the trauma of the day. They were tempted to sin by losing trust in he who lead them in battle, namely our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so for us it's the same. We're called to sentry duty. To take our stand and not waver! To keep hearts of peace despite turmoil spiralling out of control all around us! God calls us to believe in the one he has sent, the one who suffered and died, the one whom he raised from the dead and is now seated at his right hand, the one who is hidden in his church, and the one who is hidden in you!

The amazing thing is that as we're called to sentry duty, to take our place wearing the full armour of God, our leader and commander has already won the battle on the cross and in our baptismal resurrection. We take our stand in today's turmoil knowing the battle has already been won. It may not appear that way, but it has been won. We only see this in faith by trusting God the Son who has faithfully followed his Father's will.

So by all means be shaken, be angry with unbelief. Be so angry that it causes you to pray against the unbelief of our society, the unbelief that tempts your own heart. Be so angry against sin that it causes you to confess it, overturning the tables of greed and lust in the holy temple God has made you to be, so you're filled with faith and peace.

Be so angry that it drives you deeper and deeper into God's word. Be so angry that you wake up and let the light of Christ shine in you, so that you desire to be taught in God's word. Be so angry that you allow God to change your attitude, so you yearn to be more and more like him in all truth and righteousness.

Be so angry it causes you to be taught to put off falsehood and speak truthfully to each other, causing the body to be unified as one in Christ causing God to be glorified.

But… "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. …And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 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. (Eph 4:26-27, 4:30 – 5:2)

In your anger, give glory to God, and bear each other in love and forgiveness. Hold your bow and arrow steady. Be shaken not stirred! Shaken by the strife of sin in us and our world, but not stirred so that we unite ourselves with sin, and hid it when it should be exposed for healing.

Stand fast in Christ, focus on him, and don't miss the mark. Let the marks of God cross you and seal you with the Holy Spirit. Let your sin be named for what it is, after all your sin sent our Saviour to the cross, so let the carnage of the cross work to your advantage to the glory of God. And most of all trust God's forgiveness has, is, and will continue so your sin no longer has eternal power over you.

By all means be angry but do not sin in your anger. Be shaken not stirred, for Jesus sake and for your own sake too, Amen.