11 Pentecost proper B14
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Ephesians 4:17-5:2 Sermon
August 12, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 350 "Jesus The Very Thought Of Thee"
TLH 320 "Lord Jesus Think On Me"
TLH 457 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
TLH 315 "I Come O Saviour To Thy Table"
WOV 690 "Shall We Gather At The River"
LIVING IN THE LOVE OF CHRIST
TEXT (vs. 1-2): ďTherefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Last Sunday, I told you about an older woman in Emerson Nebraska by the name of Martha Biede, or Grandma Biede, as I knew her. She used to baby sit me as a child. I told you about her lovely homemade bread that she would bake every week, and how good it was. It smelled as good as it tasted. Of course that story got me in trouble with many of you, because I made you hungry for homemade bread, and there wasn't a few fresh hot loaves ready and waiting for you. I'm sorry about that; but I wanted you to think about that bread in order to whet your appetite for the true Bread of Life, Jesus himself.
Today, our Gospel Lesson is a continuation of that same Bread of Life story that we heard about last week. However this week, I'm going to be looking at our Epistle lesson for today, and I'm going to be taking things in a slightly different direction. Today I'm also going to tell you a bit more about Grandma Biede, just so you get a better idea of the type of person she was, and what her life was like.
Just to recap a bit, she lived in this rather old weatherboard house, where the white paint had turned gray because of age. The sagging front porch had a screen door on the front with a thread spool screwed on to it for a handle. To the right of her front door was the remnant of an old treadle sewing machine where she had some plants. And in one of the drawers of that sewing machine was the key to her house, just in case you wanted to get in when she wasn't at home.
To describe her, she was about the most kind, gentle, and giving person you'd ever want to meet; in fact, I don't think she would have even known how to get angry. She was barely a hundred pounds soaking wet. Her English and her grammar weren't very good, but she communicated her love and affection very well. She was born in 1885 and died in 1967, so she lived to be a bit over 81 years old. And those years were very hard ones too.
If I remember right, she had three children; Emma, Anna, and a boy Louis. Her son was killed in the Korean War when he was 25. She was raised on a farm, where her parents had to scratch for every penny. When she got married, her husband Leo was an alcoholic, and abused her terribly, both verbally and physically. For the last years of his life, he was bedridden, suffering from emphysema and cirrhosis of the liver. Even though he was a large man, she was able to take care of him. He died in 1950.
After her husband died, Grandma Biede's mother then became bedridden in her final years. Her name was Christiana Goertz. My dad ministered to her in her final years, and he tells about how she used to lie in bed and recite her catechism in German from memory. Grandma Biede also took care of her. She died in 1953.
I came into the picture in 1954; and considering what she had been through with her husband and her mother, she was more than capable of taking care of me. There are some stories there too, but I'm not going to go into that now.
When I looked at her, her twinkling eyes and her smile were definitely reflections of the love of Jesus. And even though I was quite young, I could see this. In her home, she had this big blue overstuffed chair with hand crocheted doilies on the back and arms. Beside her chair was a small table where she kept her devotional book from church and her Bible. That Bible was an old King James Bible with a black composition cover, held together with black electrical tape. That Bible was definitely her most prized possession. If it needed mending, she would take it to her kitchen table, get out the electrical tape, and make the necessary repairs.
On Sunday morning, she was always at Adult Bible Study and Church. She would come with that old Bible in tow, and sit in the same spot. She had a Sunday School pin that she always wore, with many bars hanging on the bottom for each year of perfect attendance.
She also had a special ministry project. Every week, the Bible Society would send her printed Bible Studies. She had a list of men in the Armed Services. So every week, she would address the envelopes to these men, enclose one of the Bible Studies and a church bulletin, and a little personal note. She bought everything out of her own pocket. And throughout the years, I can't even begin to estimate how many service men received her weekly mailings. But I know they were deeply appreciated, and they had an impact. Martha Biede certainly had a way of sharing the love of Jesus that was in her heart.
So now you know just a little bit more about Grandma Biede, the woman who also baked that delicious bread.
In our Epistle Lesson for this morning, the Apostle Paul is writing to the congregation at Ephesus. When I talked about this congregation some weeks ago, you might remember that I told you about the makeup of the people. These were Christians who had once been both Jews and Gentiles. They were natural enemies, and now they were together in the same congregation sharing a common faith. There was a lot of friction going on amongst these people. That's why Paul addresses them as he does.
They are different now than they once were. In verses 22-25 Paul describes this: "...put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
One of the things that Lutheran theology stresses, is the importance of what God does for us. That's the message I want you to really take to heart. I don't want to put you on a guilt trip and make demands based upon some sort of individual holiness. The emphasis is upon what God has done for us through Christ Jesus, and not what we must do for God.
It's because of this that there is one hymn in the hymnal that I will never choose, and that is hymn 405 in the Lutheran Hymnal. It's also hymn 513 in the Service Book and Hymnal. The first five stanzas were written as if Jesus were speaking them. Listen to verse 1: "I gave my life for thee, my precious blood I shed, that thou might'st ransomed be, and quickened from the dead. I gave my life for thee; what hast thou given for me?"
That's almost like Jesus is saying, "Okay people, I did all these things for you; now what have you done for me, you dirty, filthy, rotten sinner?" No place in Scripture has Jesus ever come across this way! This just rips the heart right out of the Gospel, and turns it into one big theological guilt trip. Jesus did not come to engage in some sort of work righteous trade-off, where he is keeping track of what he has done versus what we have done in return. So you see, not all of the old hymns are good ones.
So we keep this in mind as we look at the last verse of chapter 4 and the first verse of chapter 5: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children."
Do you realize that this is the only place in Scripture that we are told to be "imitators of God?" Be imitators of God? How can that be possible? If itís hard to keep up with the Joneses as the old saying goes, how can we keep up with God? Isnít this just a recipe for disaster?
If we look at the example of our church fathers, their emphasis was on what God has done for us in Christ, not on what we must do for God, as I pointed out earlier. Their emphasis was on how God became like us in Christ, not on how we become like God by imitating Christ. Their aim was to give us the assurance of salvation by grace, and to remove the uncertainty of calling us to become like God, which is an impossible ideal, an ideal that drives us to despair.
You and I are no longer trapped in some wilderness of despair, a million miles from God, seeking to impress God, in order to win his acceptance. Weíre not seated nervously at the table of a remote and angry God, trying to make a good impression, hoping to get accepted into heaven. Not at all. Weíre beloved children, seated at the table of a loving Father, knowing weíre already home, and nothing can separate us from our Fatherís love. This is God's grace in action, through our faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Thomas A Kempis, in his book entitled, "The Imitation of Christ," begins by saying that in order to imitate Christ: let it be our chief occupation to think about the life of Christ. And when we think of the life of Christ surely compassion and forgiveness are the two words that first come to mind.
Aha! I think now we're getting to the heart of the matter. Just think about the way Jesus has dealt with people. When he fed the five thousand, he had compassion on them and gave them something to eat. The Bible is full of instances where Jesus shows his compassion.
And then he shows forgiveness, even in instances where we would find it almost impossible. When he was on the cross, he said through his pain and suffering, "Father, forgive them." That's the kind of forgiveness Jesus offers to the entire world through faith alone. That's the forgiveness Jesus has given to each of us.
All of us live a life that imitates or follows somebody. Will it be the way of Christ, or the way that we renounced in our baptism? Ephesians 4 calls us to renounce the old way of ignorance, alienation from God, deceit, and utter selfishness. It then calls us to live the new life of Christ: the way of speaking the truth to build others up, working hard so we have enough to share with others, dedicating ourselves to all that builds others up in faith and love. Imitating God whom we have not seen means living the life of love Godís word describes.
This morning I told you more of the Grandma Biede story, because of what Paul is telling us in our Epistle Lesson today. She didn't have much money. Since she never paid into Social Security, she lived on what we called County Aid. Still, in her own way, she was able to imitate the love of Jesus in every aspect of her life. She endured hardships that most of us will never know. She showed patience and endurance in almost unbelievable measures. She knew hurts, disappointments, and sorrow. Her years on this earth were anything but easy.
I think about the Bible Studies that she mailed to those servicemen every week. She started that when her son was in the service, and she continued it on after he was killed. Who knows how many lives were influenced and touched by that? She used to get letters thanking her for the studies, so they were appreciated. I also knew that those Bible Studies got shared amongst the men. Who knows how many people came to know their Saviour by what Grandma Biede had done? Who knows how many souls are now in heaven because of her?
One of the things Grandma Biede showed me how to do was how to make a simple guitar. She took an old egg carton, and stretched a rubber band around it lengthwise. Then you could pick out a tune by plucking the rubber band and moving the finger on your other hand to change the pitch. Growing up the way she did, she had to be inventive when it came to things to play with.
Anyway, by plucking the rubber band, I learned how to pick out her favorite hymn, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus." She knew all the verses too, and she would sing along in her feeble voice. "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer." When I think about what her life was like, I know why it was her favorite. She knew the love of her Saviour through all of life's storms. And she carried all of her burdens to the foot of the cross, where she found in his arms a shield and a solace.
My friend Pastor James Irwin made the point yesterday that it isn't the size that's important, it's the impact. We impact others by Christ's influence in our lives. I'm fairly sure that Grandma Biede had no idea how much of an impact she had on others, but she never failed to show her faith and the love of her Saviour.
Grandma Biede died from cancer. Her taped up Bible, with the crocheted crosses and Scripture verse bookmarks was by her side. We sang her favorite hymn at her funeral, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. She was welcomed into the mansions of heaven, not because she was an expert at imitating God, but because she was a sinner who knew her Saviour, and knew the forgiving love he had for her.
This morning as the offering is being taken, we'll be singing her favorite hymn as sort of a special tribute. I know it's only been a couple of weeks since we sang it, but I think it's worth singing again. And as we sing it, we can remember that whatever happens to come our way, we can take it to the Lord in prayer. And as we think about Grandma Biede and her humble life of service, let us never forget that it's not the size that matters; it's the impact. When the love of Jesus is being lived in our lives, there will always be a great impact.