This morning we hear an important letter from Paul to the Ephesians. It is a letter of Spiritual direction, encouragement and guidance on how to live in the world as Christians. Paul writes that we ought to:
Put away falsehood
Speak truth to our neighbors
Be angry, but do not let the sun go down on our our anger
Make no room for the devil
Work honestly and share our wealth
We are to let no evil talk come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up, we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, and we must put away all bitterness, and wrath and wrangling and slander
Paul’s letter is written to an early, emerging Christian Community in Ephesus who are learning how to live as followers of Jesus in a particular political, social and cultural context. The Greek city of Ephesus was very prosperous, located near a natural harbor it was a hub of commerce and trade routes. It is also a center of political and philosophical thought.
Even during Roman Rule, Ephesians retained their wealth and prestige. In fact, because of their wealth, and the tax revenue that wealth generated for the Roman Empire, Ephesians enjoyed more rights and freedoms than less wealthy communities under Roman Rule.
So, Ephesus is a wealthy, political, intellectual, privileged, Greek community. And this is the context in which Ephesian Christians receive Paul’s letter.
They are part of an emerging Christian community trying something radically different:
Instead of going along with the status quo of their wealth and privilege
They are leaning into the teachings and practices of Jesus.
They are learning how to become a Christian community. How to Be Christians in the world—in their world.
Paul’s letter calls out behavior incompatible with Christian life and community:
Bitterness, Wrangling, and Slander
And encourages them instead to be
Kind to one another
And “Imitators of God”
I believe this letter from Paul was radical when it was received by the Ephesians—and is still radical and relevant for us here, today.
I wonder what it would have been like for the early Christian community of Ephesus to practice Christianity in an elite society marked by wealth and power and privilege.
Were there some in the community who rolled their eyes at yet another letter from Paul, dismissing him as a purist or a zealot or as unsophisticated and simple minded?
Were there any who recoiled at the idea of sharing wealth with the needy?
Or felt personally called out for their gossip and evil talk and lack of kindness towards one another?
I hope there were some who, when they read or listened to this letter, were animated by the vision of Christian life Paul describes.
Did this letter divide the community or bring the community together?
I wonder, too, what it is like for us here—today--at St. Michael’s to listen to this Letter from Paul.
Like the Ephesians, we receive this letter in a unique Christian community in a particular geographical, social and political context.
In our state and in our culture and in our wider Christian community – and perhaps even here at St. Michael’s-- there is Division. Confusion. Anger. Bitterness. Falsehood.
There is also kindness. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Generosity. Love.
Just as the Ephesians struggled, we struggle, too. Each in our own way.
And I wonder, friends,
How can we put away bitterness, wrath, and malice and BE KIND to one another.
How do we do this?
There is an essential connection between Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and John’s Gospel proclaimed this morning.
We are in the third week of listening to the “Bread of Life” discourse in the Gospel of John. For five weeks we read the entirety of John Chapter 6
In which Jesus teaches us over and over and over again that He is the Great I AM—The Bread of Life, Jesus is the Great I AM—God embodied in flesh and spirit and in life sustaining bread.
This primary understanding of Jesus as The Bread of Life is why Christian table fellowship—the blessing and breaking and sharing of bread and wine—remains a central part of our identity as Christians.
Coming together to receive communion shapes who we are as Christians, and fundamentally orients us to the good, to God, and enables us to practice the Christian virtues outlined by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.
When we come to this table, we come to Jesus. We come as we are. Invited. Broken. Angry. Scared. Unkind. Given to fear. Weighed down by falsehood.
We come to this table as we are. Invited. Hopeful. Grateful. Tenderhearted. Kind.
All who come are nourished. The bread and wine we share together at this table—is strength for the Christian journey.
Ours is to be kind to one another
And to live in love
In a world where there is too much
Bitterness, Wrangling Slander
And embracing falsehood
We cannot be the light of Christ in a dark world without receiving Jesus, The Bread of Life.
So please, come to this table of plenty. Come often.
All who hunger for the great I AM, who desire to live a life marked by kindness and not bitterness: Come to the feast of heaven and earth, draw near to God. Receive the Bread of Life—strength for our journey. Be nourished. Be filled. From this table no one is turned away and none are sent away hungry.
The Rev. Anne K. Ellsworth
August 8, 2021
Proper 14, Year B
St. Michael’s, Coolidge
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings