8/12/18: Living Truthfully, Ephesians 4:25-5:2
First in the series: Practicing Community
First Lesson: Psalm 34:1-8
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Rev. Scott Dickison
In the sermon two Sundays ago, we re-encountered John’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand through the wisdom of the poet-farmer, Wendell Berry, who reminded us that when we look at the world, at our community, and even we ourselves: What we need is here.
We live in a world of abundance that contains everything we need to live and thrive—this abundance needs only to be revealed. And we reveal it through the miracle of sharing. Sharing is God’s design for revealing and spreading around the abundance of creation, and a community, at its heart, is a group of people committed to the practice of sharing: sharing physical resources, but just as important, intellectual resources, emotional resources, sharing spiritual resources.
Beginning this morning and continuing through the next several weeks, we’re going to take an extended look at the idea or maybe the hope of Christian community. And we’re going to do so through the lens of specific practices that make for rich, deep—abundant—communal life.
To help guide us along the way, I’ll draw from a wonderful book I’m reading called, Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, by Christine D. Pohl. Pohl notes what we all know through our own experiences, which is that community is more than simply living in proximity to others. You can live right next door to someone and not live in community with them in the ways we’re thinking of it. Community is accidental or circumstantial, it’s intentional,and has to do with values and convictions—a shared story and understanding of what is good and right and true. And it’s cultivated through sharing in specific practices that help point us to these things. Practices that are often small but when taken as a whole and over the long haul are revealed to be powerful andgenerative.
And we begin this morning with the practice of what Pohl calls “living truthfully.”
Now, it was just a few weeks ago at the end of our summer series on King David that we focused our attention on “telling the truth,” recalling how Nathan first told the truth to David about what he had done with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, and then how David sees the error in his ways and confesses his sins to God, telling the truth about what he had done. And there we lifted up the truth against the allure off power. Power, we said, tends to hold contempt for the truth because the truth is the great challenge to power—power tries to make its own truth. In fact, a definition of power would be the ability to create one’s own version of reality and have others accept it.
But truth is, we all struggle with the truth in this way. We all try to present our own version of reality. Isn’t this what social media is for?! We live in a photoshopped world. We put the image of ourselves as we’d like other people to see us and know us, and if we’re being honest, how we’d like to see and know ourselves. This is what we do, and really, what we all expect each other to do. Audrey and I had a friend from home who in her Instagram account for a while was just posting these dull pictures of her very barren, unkempt backyard without comment. We wondered if everything was okay! We expect the filters.
Of course, this is just one element of these incredibly strong cultural pressures to value image or perception over truth.When TV news talks openly about things like “spin rooms” and debate what political candidates and other figures can "get away with,” it seems like pretty clear evidence the truth is secondary in our culture. And lest you think I’m removing myself or the church from this, it may be that people of faith struggle with these pressures of image and perception more than most. Pohl points out religious folk are especially prone toward hypocrisy and deception because we internalize these pressures to “be good” or “ have it together,” personally or as a family. So we keep up appearances or prop up our images to “cover our failures” or fallings.We in the church struggle to live truthfully with one another as much as anyone, and in some cases maybe even more—this is a special vulnerability of ours.
By this point it’s clear “living truthfully” has to do with more than our words—though words are important. Living truthfully—or living in such a way that honors truth—is so all-encompassing there’s not much in communal life that it doesn’t touch. A commitment to the truth is at the heart of living in community. If we can’t trust each other on some basic level, how can we ever expect to live in honest community together? Isn’t this right at the heart of our current breakdown in community as a wider people: we don’t trust each other anymore—we don’t trust our institutions, our leaders, our neighbors? Sometimes for good reason, but these things compound. When trust erodes, its difficult to get back and before long communal life loses its footing.
But viewed from the positive, truthful living reveals itself through a variety of postures or qualities:things like restraint or tolerance—our capacity to bear with each other in our differences. Mutuality—our shared concerns. Forgiveness, and patience—realizing how much of these we need from others and so finding the strength to offer them ourselves. Even reliability can be a sign of truthful living: when others know they can count on you, that when you say you’ll do something , you’ll do it. A quality we in the church called faithfulness. I remember a few years ago when James Trammell died—one of the great souls of this church whom many of you knew and would probably say is responsible for you even being in this church. But that week of his death I remember different people telling me about his prayer journal that he kept with incredible discipline. Day after day, week after week, year after year—all these names of folks he would lift up in prayer to God—probably many of those names are here this morning. And I believe it was Jane Hall who told me, “Mr. Trammell was the type of person who if he said he was praying for you, you could be sure he meant it, and your name would be in that journal.” Truthful living.
And Paul seems to know this. He knows how central the truth is to Christian community. In writing to the Ephesians about what “new life in Christ” should look life, he begins by saying, So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members one to another.
Let’s be true with each other, he tells them, because we belong to each other. And from there he goes on to list so many other acts of community:
Be angry but do not sin; don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Or as Audrey’s great aunt liked to tell us: Stay up and fight about it!
Don’t steal; do honest work so you can have something to share.
Don’t say unkind things, but only what will build others up.
Put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
The richness of community, the textures of concern and attention and love. And it’s all rooted in truthfulness. A commitment to the truth of who we are in Christ and who God made us to be for each other.
It was a few weeks ago when I decided to begin this extended look at community today. But I was grateful to be thinking about these things over this past week which from the start was such a hard one for our community.
It was Monday afternoon when we lost one of the saints of our congregation in the passing of
Robert Richardson. As so many of you can attest, Robert was a person of tremendous integrity and warmth and kindness and gentleness. A person who embodied truthful living He was about as close to the image of new life that Paul describes as I’ve known in a single person. He dedicated his vocational life to the service of others and our community, in church and to different institutions of higher learning, finally ending his career here in Macon at Mercer. He came out of retirement about 7 years ago to answer the call of his church to be the lead administrative pastor in the interim—a job he took very seriously and probably overworked himself doing. But this was simply who he was. As so many of you described him over these last few days, Robert was simply a good man, in all the depth and richness that word can allow. We’ll miss him terribly, and of course our hearts remain close to Sylvia in his passing.
And then news came through later that day that Anya Silver, too, had died earlier in morning. Anya was a friend to many in this congregation, and she and her husband Andy were fixtures at our coffee houses and other church events. And not just our church, but our Macon community—she and Andy have been deeply involved in so many ways and in so many places around Macon—too many to name. As many of you know, Anya was a poet and taught literature at Mercer. She was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive breast cancer 14 years ago when she was pregnant with their son, Noah, and in her poetry wrote unflinchingly about these deep tensions of life and death, joy and sorrow, ecstasy and pain. She was also a committed Christian, so she didn’t let God off the hook in these things. She kept God in conversation about her joys and sufferings, which is among the most faithful things we can do. Her poetry is beautiful and challenging and will live on as a witness to the beauty and challenge of her life.
Her husband, Andy, shared many moving words about her this week, and even offered some of her most recent, unpublished poetry. And I was taken by one he shared entitled, “Kindness.”
Last week, a nurse pulled a warm blanket
from a magical cave of heated cotton
and lay it on my lap, even wrapping
my feet. She admired my red sandals.
Once, a friend brought me a chicken
she’d roasted and packed with whole lemons.
I ate it with my fingers while it was still warm.
Kindnesses appear, then disappear so quickly
that I forget their brief streaks: they vanish,
while cruelty pearls its durable shell.
Goodness streams like hot water through my hair
and down my skin, and I’m able to live
again with the ache. Love wakens the world.
Kindness is my mother, sending me a yellow dress in the mail
for no reason other than to watch me twirl.
Small acts kindness, yes. But taken as a whole, they’re also acts of community. People gathering around another who is in pain. Offering what little they have to give and when added to the small gifts of others, the abundance of community is revealed.
And it occurred to me in reading these words, and holding them against her life and Robert’s life, which then called to mind the lives of so many others whose lives have pointed to something beyond themselves, that, taken as a whole, truthful living—and maybe even community on the whole—boils down to kindness.
Kindness is the clearest sign we’re living truthfully.
Kindness is how we’re most true to who God made us to be for each other.
Kindness is how we show we see others for the truth of who they are.
Kindness, I’m convinced, is closest to the truth.
“Be kind to one another,” Paul writes, “tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
What begins in the truth finds its end in kindness. And so I wonder if the reverse might be as well. If we would start in kindness—as individuals, as the church, as a community, as a people—if slowly we might find our way back to the truth.
Christine Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, 119.
Posted on Andrew Silver’s Facebook account, August 8, 3:13 AM.