Books of the Bible- Ephesians
Today is Rally
Sunday, and we welcome all of you back to church on this special
occasion. It is
wonderful to see so many of you here today.
In Seattle, Washington, on days like this, pastors pray for
rain, because with rain, more people seem to come to church, and our
prayers for rain and good attendance were answered.
It is autumn and the kids are back in school, parents are
home from vacation, and people are settling down into work and the
routines of life.
continues the series of sermons on the book of Ephesians.
As many of you know, the Apostle Paul’s letters are usually
divided into two parts: the
first being doctrinal; the second part is the ethical section or
moral implications of the doctrines. We
have preached six sermons on the doctrines of Paul:
the will of God for our lives, the lavish grace of God in our
lives; we are saved by grace; the peace of God; the power of God;
the fullness of God. In
Paul’s letters, you build up to a doctrinal crescendo or
mountain-top, and last week we examined those passages where we were
invited to grow into the fullness of Christ. The first six sermons
focused on God. And
today begins a new section in Ephesians where Paul says in Ephesians
4:l, “I beg you, I implore you, I plead with you. Live a life worthy of the high calling you have received in
Christ Jesus, with all lowliness and meekness, strengthening each
other with love.”
I would like to
begin with three stories, the first two stories from Jackson,
Minnesota, my hometown. On
Rally Sunday, for some reason, I like to tell Jackson stories.
The first story is about a man, a living legend in Jackson,
someone who stood taller than the rest, a much admired man.
His name was Louie Swearingen.
I mean, Mr. Swearingen.
No one ever called him “Louie” that I was aware of.
Everyone called him Mr. Swearingen. Mr. Swearingen was a high school teacher; he taught Social
Studies and he also coached football, whereby he became the living
legend of Jackson, Minnesota. I
was in grade school and learned to be afraid of Mr. Swearingen and
those feelings of awe only increased when I was in junior high
school, but it was in senior high school that I finally walked
through the door into his class room. I was surprised; Mr. Swearingen was a rather small man, with
small rounded shoulders and small bones.
His voice was soft, but it was his eyes that got you, those
piercing brown eyes flashing there behind his glasses.
Those brown eyes sparkled with humor and anger, and nobody
challenged the personality behind those bright brown eyes. I mean, no one got kicked out of his class.
No one acted up. No one was rebellious. We all sat there silently and
politely. For all the
decades that Mr. Swearingen taught class, I never heard of anyone in
trouble with Mr. Swearingen.
You wouldn’t have dared to. He had expectations of us.
That is, we were expected to work in class and we all did. We were expected to be disciplined in our studies, nightly
doing our homework, and we all did.
We were expected to be people of integrity, acting properly
with manners and decorum, and we all did.
He never preached to us about these things; he didn’t
lecture to us about these values.
He simply embodied those values of work and discipline and
integrity, and he expected the same of us.
Now, how disappointed we would have been if Mr. Swearingen
got drunk after the Friday night ball games.
How disappointed we would have been if Mr. Swearingen ran off
with the first grade teacher. How disappointed we would have been if we had heard rumors
about his family violence and beating his wife or children. Not Mr. Swearingen of all people. We had higher expectations of him than that.
We had double standards for him. We expected that of him, and
he accepted it. We
expected more of him because of who he was. My older brother has a small business that employs two
hundred people. Each
year, he gives one plaque for excellence, and the title of that
plaque for excellence is the “Mr. Swearingen Award.” Mr.
Swearingen is an essential part of my older brother’s history as
His name was Pastor Torvik, he with his flashing blue eyes
and rounded face and clear sounding voice.
I admired all of my childhood pastors.
They were all people of high character, high standards, high
integrity, but Pastor Torvik stood above them all.
Perhaps it was because he came from a missionary family who
were missionaries in Madagascar.
Perhaps he was this way because of his upbringing; he came
from generations of missionaries before him.
I don’t know exactly why he was who he was, but Pastor
Torvik stood above them all. And
how disappointed we all would have been if Pastor Torvik had been
dipping into the offering plates and making off with money.
How disappointed we would have been if he had run off with
the church secretary as several pastors have done.
How disappointed we would have been if he had been nipping on
the communion wine and really was a “closet” alcoholic.
We expected more of Pastor Torvik than that, and he seemed to
accept our higher expectations. To be honest, we had a double
standard. Pastor Torvik
knew it and accepted it.
Billie Graham. One
person of high integrity that we all seem to admire is Billy Graham,
the world famous evangelist. He
has been famous around the globe now for more than fifty years, and
he seems to exude an upstanding quality of integrity.
He is not like some of those other TV evangelists, like Jimmy
Baker and his ex-wife, Tammi Faye, with the long eyelashes that we
all laugh at. No, Mr. Graham is a cut far above that.
How disappointed we would be if his wife (who was a Lutheran)
divorced him and she filled with airwaves with all kinds of
scandalous reports of what a creep he was behind closed doors.
How disappointed we all would have been if he had embezzled
funds. How disappointed we would have been if it was discovered that
he was a charlaton. Why? Because
we expected more of Mr. Graham than that.
Mr. Graham accepted the double standard that we all placed on
Thus we come to one
of the fundamental paradoxes of life that is found in all the
Scriptures, in the Apostle Paul, in the warp and woof of our
everyday lives. On the
one hand, all of us are sinners.
All of the heroes that I just mentioned are sinners.
All fall short of God’s mark, of God’s standards, of
God’s expectations. We
are all sinners in need of God’s gracious love that is for all
people, God’s gracious love that is freely given to sinners.
But the other side of the paradox is equally true when the
Apostle Paul writes: “I
beg you, I plead with you, I implore you:
Live a life worthy of the high calling which you were giving
in Jesus Christ. I beg
you to live a life that way.”
This fundamental paradox is found in all of life and in all
of the Scriptures.
The Bible and the
Apostle Paul tell us that the name of Jesus is higher than every
name in heaven and on earth, and that in our baptism, we put on the
name of Jesus Christ. In
our baptism, we are called Christians, followers of Christ,
disciples of Jesus. We
wear his name, and we hear that all of us who wear his name have
higher expectations of us. “I
beg you, live a life worthy of the name that you bear.”
The Christians calling is a high calling, a high privilege, a
high distinction. In
life and the Bible, we discover that there is a double standard.
There is one standard for pagan unbelievers and another
standard for Christians. A
pagan world is hedonistic, materialistic, worshipping of pleasure,
success, and money. But
we expect more of Christians than that. Christians have a different standard. A Christian is to be loving, kind and gentle, compassionate
and caring with his family, friends and world around him or her.
We are to be generous to the poor and starving.
We are to work for peace and justice.
Why? Because of this double standard that we all live under. We
expect more of Christians, that’s why.
Just like we expected more of Mr. Swearingen, Pastor Torvik
and Mr. Billie Graham, we expect more of Christians.
Paul says, “I beg you, I plead with you, I implore you,
lead a life worthy of the high calling you have received in Christ
The following are
examples of why Christians live in a certain way in the world. These
are illustrations of why we expect more out of Christians.
Let’s talk about
refugee work. Refugees are essentially a consequence of war and poverty.
The United States has been fortunate that we have not
experienced war first hand on our lands; that we are protected from
other nations by means of the oceans on our East and West coasts.
But so many nations have had devastating wars fought of their soil,
with the rape of their women, the death of their children, the
destruction of their homes and families, all experienced first hand.
The consequences of war are awful, and our nation has been
spared most of these. But
not the world’s refugees, those millions of people today who are
running from war torn countries.
There in Baltimore, Maryland, is Lutheran Refugee and
Immigration Service, an agency of the church whose mission never
ends. The head of
Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service is Rollie Deffenbacher, a
Harvard lawyer, as I recall, who used his education not to make the
big bucks but to work on the big mission of God in this world,
taking care and sponsoring of refugees.
Their task is always enormous. …It was in the 1970s that
our congregation was approached to sponsor one refugee family from
the Viet Nam war, and our church council voted it down.
There was rebellion, to say the least, among some of our
members and Cecil and Frances Vance went ahead and sponsored the
Pion Li family, ignoring the church council.
Soon the church council reversed its decision and voted to
sponsor refugee families, perhaps ten families for the ten
commandments or perhaps twelve families for the twelve tribes of
Israel. Eventually, our congregation sponsored some twenty four
families who lived in our homes and apartments for one to three
months. I personally
believe that was the high water mark of our congregational history,
for the twentyseven years I have been here.
Why did all these families of ours open our hearts and homes?
I’ll tell you why: because
we expect more of Christians, that’s why.
Let’s talk about
working with the poorest of poor, as Mother Teresa would call them,
the marginalized, those families who have dropped off the rung
beneath the poverty lines of the world. Who cares for them? Who
goes to the slums of Nairobi, the ghettos of Calcutta, the soup
kitchens of New York? It
is always the Christians. Why?
Because we expect more of Christians, that’s why.
Let’s talk about
the hospitals in the world, the hospitals in Seattle.
In the history of every city, there is an old hospital and
most often that old hospital has a Christian name such as our local
hospitals, Providence or Swedish, on our hospital hill.
Who initially sponsored and developed those hospitals?
Christians. Why? It is simple, we expect more of Christians. And who
sponsors are the leprosariums of the world, where lepers go?
You know. It is the Christians. It
is the people who read in the Bible that Jesus healed people of
their diseases and leprosy. We
expect these things of Christians and are disappointed if Christians
don’t respond to people in need.
Let’s talk about
the elderly here in our area. There is a greater concentration of
elderly in the Des Moines, our city, than any other place in our
state. Who build the
large retirement homes in our local community?
The Methodists, the Baptists, the Shriners. Who founded “Friend to Friend,” that group of people who
has a personal relationship with the elderly in our homes, the older
people who don’t have family and friends to visit them?
Who founded it? A
Christian, to no one’s surprise.
Joe Rust. Where
did Joe Rust go to get “first friends” to visit the lonely
elderly in our midst? The
churches. Of course,
you expect more of Christians.
You expect them to respond and are disappointed when they do
Let’s talk about
the sexual mores in our community.
We have all kinds of teenagers who live a life of chastity
and morality in their sexual relations. We have all kinds of young
adults in our parish who do not view their apartments as middle
class brothels where sex is cheap and easy.
Why do these young Christians live their sexual lives this
way? I know why.
Because we expect more of Christians, that is why.
And so we come to
this profound paradox about life, this profound paradox that is
woven through the warp and woof of daily life, woven through all the
pages of Scripture. On
the one hand, all human beings are sinful, miss the mark, are
totally human in need of God’s lavish grace, freely given, to
forgive and save us. And
the other side of the paradox is this:
“I beg you, I plead with you, I implore you:
live a life worthy of the high calling you have received in
Christ Jesus.” Both sides of the paradox are crucial.
Let me tell you a
story. The Internet was
helpful to me. I looked
up the name O. Henry on the Internet and learned about all the
winners of the O. Henry Pulitzer Prize winners from 1919 to 1999,
for the best short stories in America and Canada.
I learned much about O. Henry, but let me tell you the
following story. It is
the story of William Sydney Porter, Bill Porter, who was a young
adult in New York City in the late 1890s, trying to make it as a
writer. Bill Porter
didn’t do so well, and so he worked as a pharmycist and then a
bank teller before he got married.
Unfortunately, Bill Porter embezzled money from the bank just
at the time his young wife died, leaving him with a daughter,
Margaret. He was also facing a jail sentence. By 1898, Bill Porter
was in prison, serving a three-year term, writing some short stories
for the New Yorker and sending what little money he made to support
his child, Margaret. While
in prison, Bill Porter needed a friend to help him and a prison
guard became his guardian angel, helping and caring for Bill and
working with Bill to get healthy.
After three years, the time came for Bill to be released and
he approached the prison guard, his guardian angel, to thank him.
At their last meeting, Bill Porter said to the prison guard:
“I can’t leave this prison with my old name.
I need a new name for a new life. … I want your name.” The prison guard responded, “My name? My name is Otto Henry. For
generations, there have been Otto Henrys. Otto Henry is a good name, a respected name.
You may have my name, but take good care of our name.”
The young author said: “I
will. I will take good
care of our name.” Well,
the young author left prison with the new name for a new life.
His name was O. Henry, and that name became the most famous
name in all of American history associated with short stories such
as “The Ransom of Red Chief.” O. Henry is synonymous with the
Pulitzer Prize for the short American story. But the key line in the
story is when the young author, prison inmate, said to the prison
guard: “I want
your name.” Otto
Henry gave it to him, and said:
“Take good care of our name.”
“I beg you, I
plead with you, I implore you.
Lead a life worthy of the high calling you have received in
Jesus Christ. Lead a life worthy of your name, Christian.”
One more story.
I have been thinking about the famous quotation of Thoreau in
Walden Pond about the different drummer.
Thoreau wrote these famous words:
“If a person does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music that he hears, however measured or
far away.” And what
is that voice we hear in our minds? What is that cadence that we hear ever so faintly but
distinctly? What is
that rhythm of life that we know?
Is it not the voice of Christ, the cadence of Christ, the
rhythm of Christ that we now march to? Do we not keep step with
Jesus Christ, however imperfectly?
So we are left with
that divine and profound paradox.
On the one hand, we are all sinners who miss the mark and who
are in need of God’s lavish grace to forgive us and save us.
And the other side of the paradox is this:
“I beg you, I plead with you, I implore you:
Lead a life worthy of the high calling that you have received
in Jesus Christ.” Take care of your good name.
I love Jackson,
Minnesota. I loved
growing up in Jackson. What
a place to raise a family. One
thing I liked about Jackson was the privilege, the honor, the
possibility of getting to know…Mr. Swearingen.