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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible- Ephesians
Double Standards 

Ephesians Series     Ephesians 4:1

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.

Today also 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 well.

Second story.  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.

Third story.  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 his life.

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 Jesus.”

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 not.

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. 

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