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Lent 4A 2nd Reading

Ephesians 5:8-14

Danny Quanstrom

I don’t know about you, but I often think of Ephesians as the book between Galatians and Philippians. Galatians and Philippians are these Pauline pillars; written to specific peoples for specific reasons. Galatians and Philippians criticize and uplift with such precision. They give us passages we couldn’t forget if we tried; the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and the Kenosis hymn in Philippians 4. Were I composing the order of our Canon, I don’t know that I’d place Ephesians between Galatians and Philippians; maybe right after Colossians…

But Ephesians feels hard to preach. Maybe it’s because of the general lack of specificity. Scholars are mostly agreed that the apostle Paul was not the actual author, but was a pseudonym. The specific audience mentioned is the church in Ephesus (or the saints who are in Ephesus), but many original manuscripts omit “in Ephesus.” Even if it was composed to the church in Ephesus, the specific situation of that church does not have a functional role within the epistle. This book largely speaks in generalities to the widest scope of the church possible. Even this Sunday’s (chopped) pericope speaks in incredibly vague terms; “the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Could this be any less specific?

The question for you, preacher, is how to take a passage that feels supplemental to our Gospel passage (the man born blind), a passage missing the seemingly necessary antecedent, a passage not written in response to any particular crisis, a passage with a mysterious unknown reference (verse 14), and preach it in such a way that our people who live in the midst of very specific circumstances and crises can grasp and apply to their life.

At the risk of brevity, here is where I might take my congregation with this passage; live faithfully.

Is that too simple?

I sure hope not… As we dig into our passage, let’s hold on to this.

We must understand verses 8-14 as being built off the foundation of 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Different than undisputed Pauline letters, here the one we imitate is not an apostle, but is God! Our passage needs to be read through this lens.

To be frank, I get tired of those apophatic Christians. We know who they are based on what they’re against, not what they’re for. Do you know who I’m talking about? Thanks to social media (which I am refreshingly fasting during Lent) we seem to have these sin-exposing sleuths around every corner. Do you have that Facebook friend who posts about what Christians have to avoid because of how evil that thing is? Are YOU that online presence who can’t help but post what you’re against?

My wife was informed by one of those sin-sleuths on Facebook this last week that we weren’t supposed to see Beauty and the Beast because (surprise) Hollywood doesn’t always have a Christian agenda…

Light isn’t “opposed” to darkness. It’s mere existence, it’s very presence, exposes what the darkness hides. Maybe, just maybe, sin is exposed by the faithful living of the imitator of God; living a life of love. What if we didn’t feel it necessary to fill our social media feeds with Gnostic-esque disembodied “truths” about how awful everything else is, spiritually massaging ourselves because of how much good we feel like we’ve accomplished. What if darkness-exposing-light doesn’t reach through pixels? What if we believed that sin was “exposed,” as our passage says should happen, by our imitating the love of Christ; giving ourselves up for others‽ What if it demands presence?

As Ephesians 5 indicates, we can’t be those who merely talk about how wrong other people or things might be. The author says we shouldn’t even mention them! Have you also learned that these Christians-by-disassociation often enjoy the shock value of explaining in great detail the sin being exposed?

If it’s not about “exposing sin” with our words, then what?

Maybe, just maybe, we “expose” sin by sharing our lives with others. Maybe, just maybe, our primary objective isn’t to expose, but to love! Maybe sin and darkness simply cannot stay hidden when we love others, imitating the love God has for us!

Preacher, think of those history remembers as great imitators of God. Were they those who spent their time proclaiming how wrong other people were or were they those who sought to live faithfully? Maybe you can preach this passage by telling the story of Martin Luther King Jr whose love exposed the darkness of racism and bigotry in North America. Maybe you could preach the life of Mother Teresa whose love exposed the sin of economic oppression and injustice. Maybe you could preach the faithfulness of John Wesley whose love for the working poor and marginalized exposed the sin of exclusive ecclesiology rampant in the 18th Century Church of England.

What do we do with this seemingly vague, nondescript, pericope? Perhaps it really is this simple; live faithfully.

About the Contributor


Hastings Church of the Nazarene

Danny Quanstrom