Monday, November 15, 2010

Forging An Authentic Christian Community

17 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. 18 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. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 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. -Ephesians 4:17-5:1

I don’t know how many of you will be familiar with the artwork of Elmyr De Hory.

He was a major figure in the art world in the 20th century. It has been said that there probably isn’t a major collection of artworks in the world that does not contain at least one of his works. His life has captured the imagination of filmmakers like Orson Wells and several biographers.

Mind you I’m not surprised that many of you haven’t heard of him because a lot of people who have his paintings haven’t heard of him either. In fact a lot of people who have his paintings think they’ve got something else. They think they’ve got Picassos, Latrec’s, Mattise, Monet or Van Goth’s but actually they’ve got De Hory. Because Elmyr De Hory is one of the worlds most famous art forgers.

Orsen Wells’ film was aptly titled “F for Fake’. De Hory claimed to have painted over one thousand of the modern art classics and only about 70-80 of his fakes have been uncovered. In later life De Hory, in an effort to avoid the law, would sign the fronts of the paintings with the signature of the master and on the back put his own signature. People knew they were getting a fake but as one owner told a dealer who had sold them the painting when he came to a dinner party at their place don’t tell people it’s a De Hory they thing we’ve got a Picasso.

Rather ironically De Hory has got so famous that people have forged his signature on the back of their own copies of the masters. At a recent exhibition of his work there was genuine concern that amongst the works on show were some fakes De Hory forgeries .

Why did I start by looking at De Hory.

Well central to this passage in Ephesians is Paul’s imperative that we should be imitators of God. The word for imitator here can mean an artist’s ability to reproduce accurately the reality around them. Paul insists that Imitating Christ is what we must do to forge a genuine Christian community. De Hory was an artist of great range and ability who was able to look at the style and techniques of the masters and reproduce their brush strokes and vision in his own works.

While it may not sit that well having a forger put up as an example for Christian virtue copying as forgery is only a recent crime. Prior to the 19th century, the copying of work by other artists was considered an acceptable form of homage to the Masters, and considered an important part of an artist’s training. It was only when art became a commercial enterprise, and the demand for fine art far exceeded the supply, that copying became the crime forgery."

Coping the strokes of another then is the basis of Paul’s ethical teaching in this passage and else where in his writings he implores his readers to imitate God and more specifically to imitate Christ that Hebrews tells us is the exact visible image of the unseen God. It is an imperative that Jesus himself uses in the sermon on the mount where he sums up his talk of loving both enemy and friend by saying we are to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect, showing no partiality.

Loving relationship not dry imperatives and commands forms the basis of Christian ethics. We are to imitate Christ because Christ loves us. Paul encourages us to do this as beloved children. In Greek and Roman culture adoption of an heir was a regular occurrence in rich houses. It was the privilege of being received as the heir of that house and enjoying all the benefits but along with that went a responsibility to reflect in your behaviour the traits and ethos of the family you were being adopted into.

Paul begins his letter by sketching out the framework for the picture that Christian community. He works through the gospel and its implications. He tells the Ephesians that because of Christ’s death and resurrection and their response to it that they have become the new people of God: One people that has been forged together across the great social divide of their time: The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Then at the beginning of chapter 4 he moves on to beg his readers to live up to the calling that they have received in Christ of being Gods people. The passage we are looking at today is part of this very practical teaching of how they and we who are members of a Christian community, drawn from across the divides of our own society and time can be forged into a loving Christ like community.

Then Paul spells out the detail work of the picture with a series of ethical imperatives in verses 25-30. Each of these has a prohibition; something that we ought not to do, an affirmation of how we should live and a reason for it. They deal at a very practical level with how we use our bodies as well as the attitudes we have. It’s like learning the muscle movements of God’s brush strokes with which we can paint our community.

"Putting away all falsehood let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another."

The body image gives Paul’s rational for encouraging Christians to be truthful to one another. It conjures up some rather interesting mental images. You could imagine that your body wouldn’t function that well if your eyes kept deceiving your feet And it would make using a knife really interesting and wildly dangerous if the eyes weren’t giving true information to your hands.

Adrain Plass has written a very funny and pointed poem, in which he describes the arguments and hassles that go on most common garden variety families, particularly when your trying to get everyone into the car and off to church on time. However when the family gets to church all the issues to do with there everydayness and their need for God’s grace and healing seem to vanish behind a mask: The church face and attitude” why yes everything is OK”. It’s written from a child’s point of view and finishes with the child saying they are sure that God and the people at church would care and help if they could see the real people their parents are. The word hypocrite that Jesus used of the Pharisees means putting on a mask, becoming an actor. For genuine community to occur we need to allow each other to be truth speakers and go beyond the false fronts we so easily put up.

Yet this is a reflection of who God has revealed God self to be. In 1 John 1:5 the apostle makes the wonderful assertion about God. That “God is light and in him there is no turning of darkness.” Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the light”. The Holy Spirit is the one who leads us into all truth. Being truthful full of truth is the very nature of God and we are to imitate that in our lives. We often put masks on to keep ourselves away from each other but the word imitate that Paul uses here has another meaning that of putting on the mask of a god in a religious rite. Which mask will we wear?

“ Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger, do not make room for the devil.”

Anger is an emotional response to situations actions and events as such it’s often hard to control the feeling but as Paul says here we shouldn’t let it lead us into sin. We can control our physical actions our actual responses. Angry responses and outbursts can have devastating effects on a Christian community. They can cause rifts. Anger that is allowed to continue can become bitterness and leave gaping wounds that do not enable the body to be knit back together. I guess that’s why it important that we do not let the son go down on our anger. These rifts are just the finger hold that the devil needs to be able to break down the church that Christ wants to build up. At the end of today text Paul talks of imitating Christ and his death by forgiving one another. Forgiveness is the right action in the Christian community not lingering anger.

It is the nature of the God who loves us, a God who is slow to anger and quick to bless, who while we were yet sinner sent his son to pay the price for us. Who said from the cross father forgive them they know not what they do.

v. 28 “Thieves must give up stealing, (prohibition) rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands (affirmation), so that they will have something to share with the needy (reason).”

Despite the fact that money seems to be one of the unholy trinity, money sex and power that cause the downfall of many Christian leaders stealing may not be a big ethical issue in the church today. However in New Zealand if you identify yourself as a Christian you are probably going to be asked what you think about the life style of a certain Christian leader and the idea of the prosperity gospel and how Christians use money. This imperative from Paul challenges our way of thinking about finances and work. The Christian ethic is not to be a community that takes for itself. That works hard simply to have a good standard of living but to have an economy based on providing for the needy. The focus moves from what can I get honestly or crookedly for myself to how can I care for those who are in need.

Jaun Carlos Ortiz a South American Pentecostal confronted with great poverty and wealth in his country sums up Jesus teaching by saying that if he has two coats and his neighbour doesn’t have one to keep out the cold. Then he should give them one of his. If his family has three meals a day and his neighbour has one then they should only have two each.

It also challenges our compliance with our consumer society as well. Lets face it sometimes the Christian faith can feel like a commodity In trying to keep up with the standard of living that the western world enjoys we are grabbing more than our fair share. This passage challenges us to adopt a simpler lifestyle so that the poor in the world may have a life.

In this God is our example. Our God is a gracious giver. It is God who provides all our needs who invites us to come and eat the richest of fare even if we have no money. Who did not even spare his own son but gave him up as a sacrifice to pay the price for all we have done wrong. It is Christ who gave himself up to death for our salvation; it is the spirit who gives gifts to the church that it might be built up. Freely we have received freely we should give.

"Let not evil language come out of your mouths, but rather only what is useful for building up, as there is need so that your words may give grace to your hearers.”

The motivation for using language only to build up comes from the fact that we will give grace to those who hear us. God’s word Jesus Christ was the embodiment of God’s grace spoken for us. Community relies totally on the way we communicate with each other. Perhaps here our Christ likeness needs to come out most.

Paul then finishes this section with a broader stroke that again reveal the big picture. He says that we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Bitterness, anger and wrath, wrangling, slander and malice are to be replaced with being kind to one another, tender hearted and forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven us, to imitate God as loving children.

This is Andrei Rublev’s icon called the trinity. While we often think of the trinity as a hierarchy. It shows the trinity as a community, sitting down together having table fellowship. It is a picture Letty Russell has taken for her book “the church in the round” to express the ideal for Christian community. A community living as equals gathered together in love around the table and the meal that reminds us Christ’s death and resurrection.

AS we look at the three imperatives at the end of the passage do not grieve the Holy Spirit, Imitate God and to love as Christ loved us, we can see that there is a Trinitarian formula. Ultimately to forge a Christian community we are to look at the model of the Godhead itself. It is a community where there are three distinct persons yet they are so intimate in their love towards each other they are can only be said to be one. This is our role model for living out the Christina faith. In the other Lord’s Prayer in John17 Jesus prays for his disciples that we may be one together as Christ was one with his father and that we may also enjoy the loving community of the trinity in Christ as well. A high ideal that seems almost unobtainable

Yet It’s quite liberating to realise that Paul has had to write about the things he does to this church. WE might view these early churches as perfect examples of the Christian communities but they are like all of us. They are people who struggle to show genuine love to one another. With hands and lips, with words and with actions and reactions we don’t always imitate Christ. It’s why “forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you” is so important. We all blow it and we need God’s grace and each other’s grace. Maybe its in that forgiving and being forgiven we reflect most clearly the great grace God has shown us in Christ.

Icons are pictures whose time has come again. They inhabit our computer strewn 21st century world. People know that if they click on an icon on a windows desk top that they will find themselves in a programme that is so much more that just the picture of it, a virtual reality.

Just like with religious icons. People look at them (click on them) and contemplate and are drawn into the reality behind and beyond them. Our care for one another and our Christian community are like an Icon. If people in our nation and our community are to know God’s love for them they need to see that picture in the community that we in the church forge together in love as we imitate Christ. If they are to know Christs forgiveness and be reconciled to God and to one another they need to see it in us. In all we do and say in how we act and react to one another we are called to reflect and imitate God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God who is with us and at work in us not to produce a de Hory like fake but rather an authentic picture of Christ painted by the master’s hand.

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