Please Read Ephesians 2:1-10
Although the melting mounds of snow bear witness that Spring is indeed coming (praise God!), the headlines would have us think we are in a relentless season of violence at home and abroad. And even though there are any number of narratives that try to explain why the violence persists—from racism to the breakdown of the family, radical Islam to western imperialism, economic inequality to the welfare state—too often the explanations seem to be evoked to somehow justify either the last act of violence or rally folks around the next act about to be committed in righteous indignation.
Is it any wonder that people of faith, as people of peace, often find it easier to retreat into the safety of our communities of faith? Sure, we will welcome others of like mind and spirit to join us within the physical and metaphorical walls of the church. Besides, there’s safety in numbers, and we can use the reinforcement of more of us against them—however we may define them—who threaten our sense of security.
In last week’s devotion, our Associate Presbyter Rev. Greg Klimovitz, reminded us of God’s call on the Church to move out of its comfort zone into the chaotic and often frightening waters in order to confront the evil on the other side. In this week’s passage from Ephesians, I believe Paul is reminding believers then and now that sin and the results of it are not just outside, but within—within us individually and within the Church as we know it.
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world,” he notes, “…following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath.” (see Ephesians 2:1-3). Elsewhere Paul makes it clear he knows he’s included in that description, as all of us must.
For me, Lent is a time to identify and confess the ways I participate in every one of those dynamics I listed in the first paragraph of this devotion, either actively or through silent complicity. In so doing, I perpetuate the very power that would bring death to me and to others.
But thanks be to God, Paul doesn’t stop there: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7 italics mine)
It’s been my experience that when I can identify the places where I’m dead through sin and allow them to be nailed to the cross, especially the sin I’ve been holding onto the most, I open myself up to the immeasurable riches of God’s grace. This grace is waiting to be revealed to me (and all of us) as I allow God’s power in Christ to use me as an agent of reconciliation.
On this 50th anniversary of Selma, I take heart that the Church bore witness in my lifetime during yet another cycle of violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. could’ve been describing our current cultural landscape when he reportedly said, “If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless nation.”
But even as what appears to be winter on the surface masks the reality that Spring is becoming underneath. May the world in which we find ourselves this Lent propel us into the dead places in our individual and collective lives. May we then offer our neighbors God’s redeeming touch. May we discover that by God’s empowering Spirit, our incarnation of these words of Dr. King, which lay just beneath the surface, are about to break forth this Spring:
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
“Loving Your Enemies.”
Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957.