The Irenic Church (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Sunday, September 2, 2012
You answer the door to see a tall, thin guy with light brown, neatly brushed full, rich hair, growing down to just about his shoulders. He could be equally comfortable in a Wall Street suit, a golfing outfit from Nordstrum’s, or in hiking shorts on the Appalachian Trail. Is he a catalogue model? The short, perky blond with moon-sized blue eyes stands next to him holding a clipboard. Is she pledging a sorority?
The catalogue model smiles: “Hello sir. We hope we aren’t interrupting your day.”
“No, I was just sitting here killing time watching football, hoping you’d come.” Actually you don’t say that. You say, “No problem. How can I help you?”
“Well sir …” (how does he smile that, and talk at the same time) “… we’re not here to ask you for money - today.”
The catalogue model continues. “We’re here on behalf of drunken former teen pop and tv stars.”
The sorority sister chimes in earnestly. “Sir did you know that every year, 20 – 5o people who earned millions as child movie and music stars experience extreme public humiliation through inane acts of destruction and stupidity, usually influenced by illegal drug use?”
“No,” you say, shocked. “I had no idea it was that many. Usually, when the first story comes on, I turn off the TV.”
“Sir,” she cries out forcefully and passionately, her eyes misting. “Don’t you watch reality TV?”
Chastened you shake your head no.
“These people were on top of the world. Most of them by age 10 had over 1,000,000 Twiter followers and 500,000 “likes” on Facebook.” A tear runs down her check and rests delicately in the dimple that’s alongside her trembling lip. “By age twelve, they have a top-10 record and a contract for 8 figures for future records.”
The catalogue model, mindful that he hasn’t been heard for almost 60 second BASE jumps into the conversation. “And then, record producers and agents fix the contracts and make off with 80% of their earnings. And these young pop icons, too young to know better, …”
“… broken by the deception of those they love and trusted …” the sorority sister pipes.
The catalogue model, irritated by the cheerful but unwanted interruption, continues. “These child-heroes, so fragile, crack. It starts with gateway drugs, then gets to the hard stuff …” his voice breaks off.
“And,” now the sorority sister, “They bottom out with 15-minute marriages and embarrassing appearances on cable-channel morning shows.”
You dab your now moistened eyes.
“Sir,” says the catalogue model, “won’t you help these who have fallen so far. A small pledge can get them into treatment, and maybe even a spot on celebrity rehab.”
You pledge $50, write the check, and send Ken and Barbie on their way. As they meander down the street to disturb your neighbors, it hits you. Your head said,
. The catalogue model said, “We don’t want any
money today.” Now, they’re off fleecing you neighbors. You’re out $50. You’ve missed the entire second quarter. And your preschooler has started the kitchen
Be “wise as serpents, but gentle as doves,” Jesus said (Matthew 10:16). Sin has run amuck. We are in a world of deceivers, users, and people who want to sell us stuff we don’t want to buy. The political pollster wants you to give to a campaign to protect the middle class or preserve America’s freedom. The guy from the long distance company wants to sell you a plan – something you weren’t shopping for.
We get edgy. We live thinking people want to take something from us. “Answer the trivia and win free movie tickets” the web ad said. I clicked on it, and ten web pages later I had given them my cell-phone number and my email address. I had not answered any trivia nor did I receive movie tickets. Later I got a phone call telling me I had won an mp-3 player (not what I registered for), if I would just send in $4. Be wise as serpents. Jesus was right. Of course.
Suspicion, creates natural conflict among people. If I am automatically thinking you are out for something of mine, I have to get past that assumption before we can be true friends. It’s inevitable. Conflict is life and life is conflict, and we are suspicious by nature.
Except that is not how God created us. When God made the world, he saw that it was good. Humans, God said, were very good. Adam and Eve were in relationship without guile and without suspicion. It was natural to trust and be at peace in a relationship of love. Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. God did not create us to have
be our reaction to the approach of others. God created us for wholesome, loving,
The sin entered the world and everything fell apart. Sin stayed. The world today is fragmented and we accept it. There is so much noise and finger-pointing. We shrug our shoulders and say, well, that is how things are.
Not in God’s view. Yes, sin brings weapons of mass destruction and the greed of Enron and all the carelessness of British Petroleum and all the debauchery of the French Quarter in New Orleans and the addictive greed of the Strip in Vegas. Sin yields brokenness in countless ways, but Jesus came to write a different story. When acknowledge our sin and give receive His full forgiveness, 100% pardon, we enter the new story he’s writing. We’re rescued from suspicion. We don’t have to be on guard all time, even when Ken and Barbie show up at our doors to fleece us. We love them without being suckered in by them.
As Jesus writes his new story of the Kingdom of God, he allows us to write chapters of it in our lives, beginning with relationships.
Some participate with Him, and some don’t. The church that does not seek God’s Kingdom is irresolute. Irresolute. The irresolute church sees that sin has infected all of human life, but either doesn’t care or feels impotent in the face of moral and spiritual decay.
The irresolute church talks getting saved and into Heaven, which is good. But the irresolute church waves a white flag in the face of the aggressive assault of godless humanism. It is a do-nothing church. A friend at a mega-church said she wanted to start an adoption ministry as a response to the orphan crisis. The pastor said, no, we stick to spiritual matters. That’s a worldly concern. Any church that answers the world’s pain by turning its back and pretending to be spiritual is a do-nothing church. No church can meet every pain that arises. One fights hunger, another homelessness, another ministers to those in prison and so on. But not in the do-nothing, irresolute church.
We sing, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” wanting to feel Jesus’ love, but not this church. Stone-faced they sit, happy they are heaven bound.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1 he is a prisoner for Christ, jailed because of his words. The irresolute church does not go to jail or to martyrdom for the sake of Jesus or anything else. “I beg you to live a life worthy of your calling,” Paul writes from a prison cell, there because of his love for and loyalty to Jesus.
A few people in the do-nothing churches don’t like the do-nothing attitude. We don’t like it that suspicion and conflict and pain are accepted as normal. Sometimes it is the pastor who tenses up when sin is prominently flaunted as the church shrugs indifferent shoulders. Other times, a worshipper wants to start an adoption ministry and is frustrated as her path is blocked by a do-nothing leader.
Christians who want to break out of spiritual apathy and offer good news and truth to the hucksters and snake-oil salesmen and want to rouse the sleepy irresolutes – these make up the irritated church. These believers, and you might be one, are ready to meet the world’s pain head-on in the power of the gospel. These want to answer the call a worthy way. This is the get mad church. Frustrated by the hurt sin has inflicted on you or those you love, you want something better. The gospel of Jesus Christ is where that something better is found.
The PICTURE OF THE IRRITATED CHRISTIAN clearly shows, he’s not just sitting, resting on his laurels. He’s ready to stand up for right and truth and love.
The love Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:2 begins in the church. We cannot allow mean-spirited, selfish, self-promotion into our fellowship. He says do the work to maintain unity that comes when we are follow the Holy Spirit. Often we have to give up our own way for the sake of the greater good. Again, Ephesians 4:2, Paul writes this must be done with all humility, patience, and gentleness.
The irritated, get-mad approach is fine to get us started in resisting sin and conflict and that suspicion that feels so natural. Anger spurs us to act in faith. But, if we don’t pay attention to God’s love, we end up fighting like a couple of hot-blooded polar bears during mating season. Our hatred of sin gets swallowed by indignation and self-righteousness. To make sure we don’t become another voice driving lost people away from God, our irritation has to be tempered with the qualities Paul lists – humility, patience, gentleness, love.
When these Holy Spirit-given qualities guide our response to sin and to lazy Christianity, then we’re ready to work with God in announcing the Kingdom of God. Then we’re the irenic church. Ah, fun with 10-cent words.
You probably know what irenic means; I had to look it up to make sure I had the right word. The dictionary definition: one who is irenic is one who tends to promote peace and reconciliation. The Greek word for peace,
used by Paul in Ephesians 2:14 and here in 4:3.
The English word irenic comes from the Greek , peace.
Paul summarizes the horrible effects of sin in Ephesians 2. “[We] once were far off [from God] but have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Do we fight sin with fists and swords, guns and bombs? How did Jesus rescue us? By love and sacrifice, willingly shedding his own blood on the cross. Ephesians 2:14 says, “He is our peace” our ‘eirenes.’ We who follow him make up the irenic church. Ephesians 4:3, “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
It is the peaceable kingdom. The peaceable kingdom. Or we might say, the reach-out-in-love church.
In Paul’s day, the biggest problem the church faced was an ethnic split. Jews and Gentiles had trouble worshipping together. So they fought – in the church. What did that fighting do to draw in unbelievers, pagans, Romans, Greeks? The outside world would look and say, I don’t want to be part of that.
What do we do here to drive people away instead of calling them in? Is there a certain type of person we consciously or unconsciously reject? Are we too sleepy? Are we too ready to fight? Think of who it is hardest for you to love and resolve to love that one starting right now. Think of tangible ways you can overcome prejudice in your heart so that you can be an agent of peace within this community of peace, the irenic, reach-out-in-love church.
There may be people you just don’t associate with because they’re different or you were taught not to like those folks or not to trust them. You and I, in the power of the Holy Spirit can do our parts to make this church a community of peace built on Jesus Christ who is our peace. The irenic, reach-out-in-love church challenges the hate and violence in the world with a message of invitation. We don’t put our dukes up and fight. We offer an alternative story. Something better.
When we’re done here today, go from this place seeking. Seek Jesus. And seek the world’s pain, your own and the pain inflicted by sin that exists all around you. Then introduce the pain to Jesus. He’ll take care of it. And commit to be a giver of grace and to be gentle and patient with people so that this church will be a family of peace and love.