15 Pentecost proper A16                      
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Ephesians 4:17-24 Sermon
August 24, 2008

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
446 "Ye Servants Of God, Your Master Proclaim"
151 "Built On A Rock The Church Doth Stand"
510 "Take My Life And Let It Be"
242 "Christ Is Made The Sure Foundation"


TEXT vs. 21-24:  "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

            I'm sure that most of you know about or at least have heard about various summer camps.  Many organizations have their own summer camps for children and youth-scouts, YMCA, and various other community organizations.  And of course many different churches have them too.

            During my ministry, I have been involved in church camps.  I guess this is sort of a continuation of my youth, because I remember going to church camp from a very early age, and I really enjoyed it.  But as an adult, I can say that my experience at church camps has been positive and rewarding, at least for the most part.  On the negative side, I can remember things like having to bring in several cases of lice shampoo one year because someone brought head lice into camp and it spread.  Or there was the time when a small black bear wandered into camp and began foraging through the garbage.  And of course there are the bumps, scrapes, and bruises that go along with any sort of children's activities.  I can also attest to the fact that original sin is alive and well in children, because not everybody was on their best behaviour all of the time.

            But on the positive side, church camp is an opportunity for children to meet and get to know others of their age who are true brothers and sisters in Christ.  They learn together, they do crafts together, they play together, they hike together, they swim together, they eat together, and they sleep together (boys and girls separately, of course).                     

            After it was all over, everyone agreed it was a great time, and I could safely say that 100 percent of those who attended wanted to come back again.  And as it was so often the case, I frequently was the oldest pastor and adult counsellor there, and you could sometimes hear me mildly complain that "I'm getting too old for this." But that excuse never worked, and I always went back.

            Every camp has a particular theme.  One particular year, it was 1995 I think, the powers that be decided to adopt the general theme, "Ain't no shame."  Yes, I realize that the grammar is bad, with the double negatives, etc.  But it does point up one very important thing; and that is, that irrespective of the proper or improper laws of grammar, God's truth can be proclaimed, and in fact IS proclaimed.  The "ain't no shame" theme was a very earthy way of pointing to Paul's very eloquent words written to the Roman congregation, "...for I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ."  And when that group of campers left that camp, they departed knowing that being a Christian and following Christ was something they didn't need to be ashamed about; in fact the camp T-shirts had the words inscribed on the front, "Not Ashamed."  How appropriate.

            One of the key things we do at camp, besides strengthening faith in Christ and having a lot of good times, is teaching our children how to make good decisions in their life based upon their faith.  Because Christ lives in you, what kind of decisions are you going to make?  What directions will you be going?  How are your actions going to be different?  How are you as a person going to pattern yourself after your Lord?  Because as we all know, there are so many wrong decisions a person can make; so the right decisions need to be learned and put in the forefront.  The right decisions must be inscribed on the hearts and in the minds of our children. 

            Our text for this morning is speaking about making such decisions.  And so, we look at the example of the congregation at Ephesus.  These people lived and worked together; Jews and Gentiles who were natural enemies, who were now brought together under the unifying Gospel of Jesus Christ.   The Ephesians had many things to learn, and one of those things was making Christian decisions, and not decisions according to the sinful flesh or their own selfish desires.

            It would appear that the Gospel was such a freeing experience for them that they had somehow gotten the idea that they could just go and do anything they wanted whenever they wanted.  They looked at the forgiveness of Christ as something that gave them an open season license to sin without any compunction. 

            So the Gentiles were looking at their old sinful ways as being completely legitimate ways of doing things.  Likewise some of the Jews probably thought that they could give into temptation, and do the things that the Gentiles were accustomed to.  They didn't look at the commandments as commandments anymore, but more like ten friendly suggestions for them.  After all, didn't Christ free them from the law?  If they were free, why did they need to worry about it any longer?  Couldn't they just go and do their own thing?

            In our text for today, Paul gives a very practical assessment of things.  He says, "You, however did not come to know Christ that way."  And he's right.

            How in the world could someone come to know Christ by visiting a prostitute out on a street corner?  How many conversions to Christianity have come out of crack houses?  Is the Gospel preached at drunken orgies?  Do bar fights preach the message of peace?  Do street gangs show the love of the Saviour?   Do unchristian actions and behavior ever point out the path of truth?  The answer is obvious.

            So Paul, as our text says, "insists on it in the Lord" that these things must stop.   There is no excuse for perpetual sin.  This type of thinking is futile.  It is useless, and it is definitely wrong. 

            Jesus tells us the same thing He told the early Christians; that "...if you love Me, you will keep my commandments."  And so the Christian will see that as a message of love to his or her Saviour that they will endeavor to keep His commandments, and witness His love.   And so we see the basis for Paul's instructions to the Ephesian church that other people cannot see the love of Jesus and His Gospel through sinful and immoral lives and conduct.  And to illustrate this point, Paul reminds them that they "did not come to know Christ that way."

            And then Paul continues, "Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus."  They were taught to "put off their old selves...the deceitful desires...the sinful and perverse minds...and to be made new, Created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

            It may be difficult to see, but how does this apply to ourselves in our lives?  Have we said things, or done things, or had attitudes that have shown us to be doing something far short of the God pleasing thing?  Have personal and selfish desires placed a stumbling block in front of those of weak faith?  Have kind and loving words been replaced with biting sarcasm?  Have we, as a congregation made bad decisions which have affected the whole body of Christ?  Have we as individuals thought more of ourselves than others?

            And in our personal lives, have we pushed God's will aside for what might be pleasing at the moment?  Have we gone along with unchristian behavior simply because we didn't want to be laughed at or ridiculed?  Do we find sin the fun way to do things, and God's ways to be stodgy and restrictive?  Have we chosen the sinful way to do things, simply because it seems to be the easy way out?  Have we been ashamed of the Gospel of Christ?

            You know we have.  Every one of us at so many points in our lives have made the wrong decision more times than we'd like to admit.  We've made wrong decisions based upon faulty principles.  We haven't looked to see what God wanted, only to what would satisfy us, and bring us some sort of temporary pleasure.

            And so to everyone who has ever made a wrong decision in their life, and that includes every one of us, Christ comes in and brings peace.  Christ comes, not because of some right decision we made in our lives, but He comes to us out of love for us.  Jesus doesn't expect us to make a decision on His behalf.  He already decided.  He chose us, and He chose to live and die and rise again for us.  When it comes to making good and proper decisions in our lives, we know that Jesus has made all the proper ones.  Through all of our bad decisions, Jesus accepts the responsibility and punishment for them.  God forgives us for all those bad decisions, through simple faith in Jesus our Saviour.

            And then Jesus comes with a very simple but practical request:  "If you love me, you'll keep my commandments." 

            At the beginning, I talked about summer church camp, and what a good time it was, and how through this experience we were teaching our young people on how to make good decisions and develop good relationships with others, as well as having a lot of fun in the process.  Church camp is indeed a well balanced program.

            I'd like to say that our experience was without difficulties or without sin, but I would be lying, and you know that.  I witnessed inappropriate behavior, and some bad language, and some hurt feelings.  People didn't always listen to and obey their counselors, even though they knew full well that they were their immediate authorities.  Somehow, kids like to test the limits and see how they can bend or break the rules.   Trying to teach young people to make good decisions and behave like Christians isn't easy.   And I've got news for you that it isn't easy for adults either.

            On our final day of that camp back in 1995, we had a worship service put together by the camp kids.  It included words to two hymns written by the kids, and prayers written by them.   But it also included 6 short essays written by 6 of the kids, which they got up and read.  Each was a personal testimony of their faith, which reflected the lessons that had been taught that past week.   They let everyone know how they knew that there "ain't no shame" in the Gospel of Christ, and that being a Christian is nothing to apologize for. 

            Now maybe their decisions, like our decisions won't always be the right and proper ones; but we all know that Christ makes perfect decisions, and we are to make our decisions according to his. 

            And so, let us continue, as Paul writes, "to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on  the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."  With that as our base, our decisions will always be good ones, guaranteed.