Mayhem, Like Me
(Ephesians 4: 17-5: 2)
We’ve all known that one person who was mayhem personified. The face of mayhem. Like the guy on the insurance commercial. Everywhere he goes; mayhem, chaos, disorder! You may even have been that person at one time in your life. One of the advantages to being a new prosecutor in a new town is that after reading enough offense reports you begin to identify what we call: The Usual Suspects, the ones responsible for all the mayhem. One of the disadvantages to being the face of mayhem in a small town is that it doesn’t take long for the authorities to realize you are the root of all the trouble. When I first got here ten years ago I busied myself by reading reports every morning and it didn’t take me long before I recognized one name that seemed to pop up in many of the reports. Strangely enough, he was never arrested but he was always there. Always in the house, in the car, or in the area. I knew that one day we’d meet, and it would be a battle of wills. When he finally graduated from Drug Court, I told him that he had been on my radar for quite some time and that now all of his mayhem was in the past.
This, I believe, is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for today. In his letter to the church in Ephesus he writes to them about the old life and the new life. He tells them that they shouldn’t live their lives like the Gentiles anymore. This wasn’t meant as a slight to the Gentiles, what Paul meant was that the Gentiles were living a life without the knowledge of God. He says that they base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. He says, they are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed. I’d be willing to bet if we took a few minutes, you could put a couple of faces on this description, maybe the face was yours at one time.
There’s a tendency we have as humans. We want to think and do things our way. We know the difference between right and wrong, but we just can’t seem to do right. God’s way seems different, difficult and definitely not as much fun. That’s what Paul means when he says, But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. Now that sounds familiar. How many times did you hear your parents say something like, “You know better than that, or I didn’t raise you to act that way?” I used to have conferences with my client’s parents or grandparents who would assure me that they didn’t raise Charles or Mary to act that way or do what it was they were accused of doing. They wanted me to know that and I would tell them that I believed they did their best. I can tell you, however, there are some parents out there who went out of their way to raise mayhem.
Paul goes on to say, Since you really listened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. He tells them to renew the thinking of their minds in the Spirit and to clothe themselves with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness. We are to live as children of the light by leaving behind the old life of sin and live as followers of Jesus Christ. We must realize that living the Christian life is a process. Although we have a new nature, we don’t automatically think good thoughts and express all the right attitudes when we become new people in Christ. But if we keep listening to God, we’ll be changing all the time. Sometimes it may seem like for every step you take forward you end up taking two steps backward. That happens, but you have to keep facing forward and not look back. There’s nothing there you need to see. Change may be slow, but remember, you’ve had a whole lifetime to get where you are. You just have to put your trust in God to lead you through the change process.
Our old way of life before we believed in Christ is completely in the past. We should put it behind us. This process is both a once and for all decision when we decide to accept Christ’s gift of salvation and also a daily conscious commitment. I liken it to Drug Court, relapse is always a possibility because the old life wants you back, the devil detests losing. I used to tell my drug court participants that relapsing doesn’t mean you failed. The failure is in not getting up and starting over. I believe the same concept applies to us as Christians. God certainly doesn’t want us to relapse, but he knows it is difficult and evil is everywhere and often disguises itself in attractive forms. We have the Holy Spirit to pick us up and dust us off and point us back in the right direction. We must fight the temptation to be driven by desire and impulse that leads back to mayhem.
Even as Christians, we will get angry, but as Paul points out, it is important to handle our anger properly. If vented thoughtlessly, anger can hurt others and destroy relationships. Mayhem returns, and the situation spirals out of control. If bottled up inside, it can cause us to become bitter and destroys us from within. When angry, we need to deal with our feelings immediately in a way that builds relationships rather than destroys them. If we nurse our anger, we will give mayhem an opportunity to divide us.
Paul goes on to say, Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. He says to put aside all bitterness, losing your temper; anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Instead of acting that way, we should be forgiving, just as God has forgiven us. This can be very difficult, especially if the other person won’t let us, or if we happen to be that other person. Don’t feed the mayhem.
We must remember that God does not forgive us because we forgive others, but solely because of his great mercy. As we come to understand his mercy, however, we will want to be like him. Having received forgiveness, we’ll pass it on to others, rather than mayhem. Paul tells us to imitate God like dearly loved children. He says, Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God. Our love for others should be of the same kind, a love that goes beyond affection to self-sacrificing service.
As you look back over the last year or couple of years, do you see a process of change for the better in your thoughts, attitudes, and actions? Or is mayhem like those objects in your sideview mirror, closer than they appear?
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and understanding God, thank you for your patience and for the love you extend to us when we are at our most unlovable. You sent your son to serve as an example of how you want us to live our lives, lives filled with love for you and love of neighbor. You’ve given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in our daily interactions with others as we try to maintain order in a disorderly world. You knew us when we were lost and blind. You found us and gave us sight. You relieved our fears once we first believed and you’ve led us through many dangers, but we know you will keep us safe and lead us home. We take comfort in the knowledge that you’ve promised good to us and in you we have our hope and for this we sing our praises to you. In the name of your loving son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.