Let Go of the Old Ways
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 8/09/2015
Based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2
One of the requirements that I needed to take prior to graduating from seminary was a unit of CPE. Officially known as Clinical Pastoral Education, this course was designed to help the pastor provide counseling care in a way as not to inject their own personal issues into the situation. Part of this course included morning gatherings of all CPE students to do check-in and then a once a week one-on-one session with the director of the program.
Between the clients at the institution and the personal work this class required, it was a very demanding twelve week course. During that time, I and the other three CPE students had become very well acquainted with each other. Because of the distance I had between home and the city that I was doing my CPE in, I shared a space with one of the students, and once a week we would all gather for a shared meal at the home of another fellow student whose wife would prepare for us. In other words, we as CPE students had become a community, a community come together through Christ with the specific goal to learn how to best minister in loving support to one another and others.
As we neared the end of the course, the director suggested that there be communion included in the closing gathering. It was in this suggestion that I experienced how divisive denominational doctrine can be in a group of gathered followers of Christ. In this community of four, there was represented, American Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, Roman Catholic, and Missouri Synod Lutheran. The director was aware that the Roman Catholic seminarian might have difficulty of a joint communion service that was not being administered by a priest.
The Roman Catholic seminarian was committed to the inclusion of communion to the point that he had some in-depth discussions with his priest to gain permission to join in this invitation to Christ’s table. There was not a theological dilemma with either the Evangelical Covenant student or with me with my American Baptist heritage. The one person who was without questioning the “do I or don’t I” participate came from the Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, the only one of us four who was actually ordained and serving a congregation. He was not going to participate, no questions asked, no discussion needed. I was deeply hurt in his decision to not join us and it was through that experience that I realized just how deeply important I saw coming to the table of Christ was in my heart.
When I asked him what his reason was, the response was, “We don’t allow communion or participate with people who are outside of our immediate church membership.” I continued to press on this discussion with questions about excluding others who professed to having an active relationship with Christ and their church? He basically said, “He could not in good conscience give communion to anyone outside of his congregation because he might be giving it to a person who may not be a true member of Christ’s family; meaning that there is only one true church and it wasn’t the Roman Catholic or any other Protestant denomination .” Ultimately, his stance was, if he saw others in heaven who had not been Missouri Synod Lutherans then he would consider having communion at that time.
This morning’s text, although is directly addressing “new” Christians coming into a community faith, my experience at the close of my CPE course shows that those of us who have been in the fold for years have need to be reminded about how we conduct ourselves both in the faith community and outside the faith community.
According to Paul’s way of thinking, truth is the most essential element in the survival of community. For without truth at the core, the community will collapse into disunity and eventually perish. On the surface, it sounds like Paul is telling us that when speaking to others we need to be speaking the truth to that person. I like that, as it puts things out there, beyond me. I can speak all day (possibly) sharing with other folks all the wrong things that they are doing and be speaking “in truth.” But Paul starts his sentence off with, “putting away falsehood…”, this is actually a statement directed toward “self.” Before we can actually speak “truth” to others, we ourselves have to be truthful with ourselves.
As Christians, we so often talk about the need to live in God’s truth, but I really question how honest we really are in that statement. In my CPE story, the Roman Catholic seminarian in his discussions with his priest, revealed a questioning of “truth” in Eucharistic doctrine that the Roman Catholic holds. The Missouri Synod pastor already saw the answer of how God looks at Christ’s table and had no need to question what he had grown up to believe and understand through scripture. When I speak to people who say that much of the evil and pain of our world most often comes from religious people, I cannot deny that truth. In reality, religion is designed to help us examine ourselves and help us to move beyond ourselves, but the reality is, most of us do not really want to take on the challenge of self-examination and discover “our” true self (the past hurts that we hold on to, the biases we clench onto) and through discovery, work on discarding those things within our heart that are false and destructive to ourselves and to community life.
One of the things that I was taught as a child was it was bad to become angry, because when you are angry, you are capable of doing bad things, and truly nice people don’t get angry! So, for years I felt guilty when I would become angry about something that happened in my life. Paul acknowledges that “anger” is a natural part of being human. It is a piece of our “image” of God. What is unhealthy is not dealing with that anger and most of us are guilty of holding onto anger.
Dr Dianne Bergant, professor of Old Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, says this about Paul’s list of sins:”Bitterness is that disposition that cherishes resentment…Fury is anger expressed in violent outbursts of temper. Anger is the eruption of impulsive passion…Reviling denotes slanderous words spoken behind another’s back. Malice is less a vice than a quality of evil.” All these are harmful to the Christian community, and they grieve the Holy Spirit. The truth is, within and beyond our own walls, our own neighborhoods, so much of the world’s conflict is caused by anger nurtured for years and generations. There can be value in anger when it motivates us to action on behalf of justice and healing, but how we express that anger is the key to either healing or more hurt. Sermon Seeds, UCC, Aug 9th, 2015 by Kathryn Matthews (Huey)
Last Fridays announcement of a hung jury on the death penalty portion of James Holmes conviction of murder now allows him life in prison instead of receiving the death penalty. This new development brings many mixed reactions with regard to the carrying out of justice to the victims, the families directly affected by his actions, and the community of Aurora. There will be people who will harbor deep anger toward that one juror who was not able to vote for the death penalty and see once again “failure” of the judicial system. Anger is inevitable because it is a part of being human, but when we hold onto it, then we are not examining the truth within ourselves (the causes of why I see that I’m being violated) and eventually it will come out in very harmful ways: in bitterness, wrath, wrangling and slander, back biting, being two faced, toward others or physical illness within ourselves.
Paul says, living in truth, creating that supportive environment for community has to come by letting the Holy Spirit work within our lives, being imitators of God, living in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. These are not a list of do’s and don’ts but rather behavioral changes that are necessary to live in the spirit of God. This is what happens through the baptism of our heart, the letting go of the old ways and putting on the new. For we as the body of Christ are the living expression of Jesus to a world that is broken hearted and in need of true love and a peace that passes all understanding. Amen