Sunday, February 13, 2011

“Becoming: Who Do You Want to Be?” Ephesians 5:1-2, 8

I love to hear kids talk about what they want to be when they grow up. You often hear the regular: policeman, fireman, pro football or baseball player, movie star, artist or world famous musician. The occasionally you hear the less common, wishes to be a race car mechanic, a writer, or President of the United States. I was a bit of an odd kid. I wanted to be Roy Rogers. He always got the bad guys. I had a special outfit I would dress in every time that television cowboy show came on. If not Roy Rogers, then I thought maybe Gene Kelly. He could sing and dance and seemed to cool to me. And finally, if I could not be either of these two, I had a simpler desire. I wanted to be the first missionary on the moon. I thought the floating moon colony would need someone to help them. At some point childhood wishes give way to real life plans. I think most give great thought to where we might want to live – what kind of career path we want to claim – even what kind of person we want to share our lives with. But, I wonder if we give the same kind of attention to what kind of person we are becoming.

This morning we come to the third of the five part sermon series entitled, “Beyond Belief: Becoming the People of God.” In the first week we heard from the prophet Micah who told us that we to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Last week we heard from Moses in his last grand speech to the people of God and love God passionately, to listen to God’s voice intently, and to cling to God with all of your might. This week we hear from the Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus. We claim this particular passage in a effort to join the conversation many of our youth have been having as a part of their weekend DiscipleNow experience. The question that they have been asking and we now ask with them is “who do you want to be?”

There are a lot of different ways you could answer this question and how you answer shapes your life and your way of life. Who we are and who we are becoming is not accidental. We have to come to terms with the fact that who we choose to be influential in our life, how we conduct ourselves, and how we choose to express ourselves, all significantly shape who we are becoming. It is one thing to talk about becoming a people of faith, but it is something very different to move from a grand spiritual conversation to a life defined by who we are in God. In Ephesians 5 Paul raises three interwoven characteristics that I believe are critical for us to embrace if we desire to become the people of God. Let’s look at the passage together.

◊ Be Imitators of God. Paul begins; Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children. (NIV) The New King James Version phrases it a bit differently, and I think more clearly. It reads; Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. Immediately the image of a small child giggling and imitating their mom or dad comes to mind. Paul claims a similar image with his choice to call those hearing him “dearly loved children.” He speaks to them – he speaks to us – not as strangers or even friends, but speaks to us as those that God loves dearly. Becoming the people of God begins with the choice to follow God’s example, of mimicking the way see God act toward us and the world. One the ways I knew where it was same to walk in some of our recent snow events was to look at the footprints of others. I wanted to see where their steps led them. I wanted to know if they would carry me to the place I wanted to God. Can you imagine if you could see the footprints of God going ahead of you, showing you the way? Would you try to place your feet in God’s footprints or go you own way? What do you think it would look like in your life if what drove you was to imitate God in every relationship, in every moment, in every decision? Would it change anything? Would it change everything?

◊ Walk in the way of love. Paul continues in Verse 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. In a sermon on this text the great Reformer Martin Luther offered; "Walk in love," counsels the apostle. He would have our external life all love. But not the world's love is to be our pattern, which seeks only its own advantage, and loves only so long as it is the gainer thereby; we must love even as Christ loved, who sought neither pleasure nor gain from us but gave himself for us, not to mention the other blessings he bestows daily-- gave himself as a sacrifice and offering to reconcile God unto ourselves, so that he should be our God and we his children."(1)

I think the Martin Luther is on the right track. Paul describes a way of life where we walk in the way of love that we see demonstrated in Christ. What he is describing is a love that is self-sacrificing, purposeful and redeeming rather than an expression of emotional passion or claim for personal benefit. A conditional love that demands ”if you love me you will(fill in the blank)” or “if you really cared you would (fill in the blank)” has no place in our conversations or relationships. Likewise a conditional forgiveness is equally foreign to this kind of love. My fear is that we have given more power to judgment and shame than we have to the power of a redeeming love. Paul tells us that we are to walk in the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated in coming from heaven to earth for our sake. It is the kind of love demonstrated in Jesus when he wept for those who lived apart from God. It is the kind of love demonstrated in Jesus when he claimed the cross for us. It is the kind of love that brings us and others to the feet of God. Is this the kind of love you show to others? Let’s be honest with one another. Our model of love falls far short of this kind of love. The call to walk in this kind of self-sacrificing redeeming love seems impossible. We know that there are times we are self-centered rather than self-sacrificing, judgmental and vengeful rather than redemptive. There is only one way we can walk in this kind of love, that is to follow God’s example, to become an imitator of God’s love.

◊ Live as children of light. In verses 3 through 7 Paul describes the kinds of behaviors and relationships that carry them away from being the people of God. So often we think of the Ten Commandments, but Paul wants them to understanding it is not just about what you do, it is about our heart. He tells them that there should not even be a hint of these behaviors in their lives. He then moves from the “don’t ya dare do this” list to remind them that they were meant for more. As the “dear loved children” their way is supposed to be a different way. In verse 8 we hear; For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. There is a temptation to claim a life in the shadows, shaving the corners of being who we are created to be. It is easy to give in here or there – doing what is best for us, not thinking about the price to others or ourselves. Sometimes it we choose the easiest path even at the expense of the best thing or the right thing. Sometimes it we find ourselves demanding our way, with little thought of whether or not it’s God’s way. Each of these choices – and many others like them – are choices that move us into the shadows. In our minds we are clear that they are not decisions for evil or darkness – just the decisions that let us get our way. Our problem is that we do not serve a God of the shadows. We serve a God of light. Paul boldly proclaims; Live as children of light. It means we choose to become the kind of people where everything we do can stand the light of day and the light of God right way. It means that the choices we make and the relationships we claim draw us closer to God rather than pushes us away. But, let’s be honest, we know how to live life in the shadows. There are times it seems most comfortable there. If we choose to become children of light it means that we are ready for our lives to be on display before God and others- on display in a way that points people toward the God who calls us his “dearly loved children. There is only one way we can live as children of light. It is to follow God’s example, to become an imitator of God’s way.

So, who do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to become? Our choice begins with our decision about our relationship with God. We are invited to become “dearly loved children” God, those God calls His own. How you respond to that invitation will shape every other decision that follows.

We are invited to become the people of God. Paul tells us that if that is who we want to be then we need to be people who follow God’s example as imitators of God; to walk in a self-sacrificing redemptive love that draws us and others toward God; and live as children in the light of day and the light of God’s way. Who do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to become? Do you want to become the people of God? The choices are yours. Choose well.

(1) Available online at on February 10, 2011

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