Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 12, 2012
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us…” (Ephesians 5:1)
Thrice I read these verses from Ephesians:
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us…
(Italics added by me…not the bleary-eyed NRSV editors.)
First reading. Confident from long-ago seminary studies that Paul didn’t write Ephesians, I hurried through the words, barely paying attention. Pseudonymity is one of the fancy descriptions for Ephesians. A book or article appears to be written by a particular author—in this case the apostle Paul—but it’s false or pseudo, since another author created the actual work. He (more unlikely than she in the first century) claimed Paul’s name, developed insights from Paul’s ideas, but wasn’t Paul. Why stay alert to fake Paul? Most Biblical scholars I’ve read would say pseudonymity was a common practice in ancient times. Hey, it’s common today. You could find many cleverly named blogs that honor—or dishonor—the pseudonymity tradition.
Second reading. Whoever wrote Ephesians, why couldn’t s/he slice and dice those longish run-on sentences? If I’d read Ephesians 4:31 aloud, I’d have to gulp a gallon of air and then hope to make it to the end before turning blue. Sure, sure, I could pace myself, take a breath or two, and not be troubled. But still, give me an oxygen break, and edit out a few the four “ands” in verse thirty-one. Even though I know it’s a Greek to English translation, I’d prefer a little more responsible sentence structuring, thank you very much. Brevity has value. Right?
Third reading. Reality smacked me.
Why babble about pseudonymity and this really, really not being written by Paul? Because that attitude provided an excuse to ignore or downplay the veracity of Ephesians’ challenge to my faith.
Why whine about sentence structure? Again, it’s an excellent excuse for avoiding thoughts that rattle my soul. It’s always easier to complain than listen, to identify your faults rather than admit my fears. (And thus I live a lie: when you change, I’ll be better.)
Therefore be imitators of God.
In the third reading, when I shed at least some excuses, and a smidgen of my vulnerable faith and honest fears were present, those five words roiled me.
First reaction. Imitate God! You’ve got to be kidding. How can anyone claim to mimic God? Anything I attempt will trivialize or domesticate the Holy. Eugene Peterson wrote, “…religion has a long history of doing just that, of reducing the huge mysteries of God to the respectability of club rules, of shrinking the vast human community to a ‘membership.’” Mostly I don’t seek to imitate God, but to limit God. On Project Runway, Heidi Klum declares of the fashion world, “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” That’s also the world of faith . . . my ways of limiting—not imitating—God will often be designed to keep others out.
Second reaction. Is God worthy of imitation? In the last week I led a grief support group, surrounded by widows who’ve all had beloved husbands die, and listened to them share about unanswered prayers to God. With a nod to Ephesians, these women have stumbled along a path strewn with wrath, anger and wrangling. Once they fervently prayed for cures; eventually, they each dully tossed soil into an open grave. Why imitate a God who doesn’t listen?
Third reaction. This is the hardest reaction, my response to those five words where I endeavor to be honest with you. With myself. With . . . well, yes, God. If I believe anything about God—and I believe a thousand good and bad and useless things—I believe in God the Creator. The Creator who proclaims the new, the next, the hope when hopelessness rules, the foolish “yes” when the realistic “no” is the loudest voice.
In the third reaction, I imitate the model of God by ignoring the model called Heidi. How can I make sure that one day everyone is “in?” Even though I matter so little—I am but one foolish person—I will strive to imitate God by seeking to widen, rather than narrow, the circle of love. I’ll mostly fail. Most of what I’ll do—most of what you’ll do—will be the proverbial drop in the bucket . . . but try I will.
I think of those lovely, wounded widows. They have cried to God and heard only silence. And yet not. They chose to be in a support group. They share their well-worn wrath, anger and wrangling and support each other in their quest to heal. Even if they don’t use fancy God language, they are clinging to that wild notion that the worst news is not the last news, that an old prayer of “why me?” or “woe is me!” or “why him and not me?” can become a new prayer of “what shall I do next?” and “how can I find a way to restore my soul?”
Like Ephesians, I am a fake most of the time . . . little more than a twenty-first century pseudonymist, borrowing ideas and belief and barely getting through the day. Those five words—therefore be imitators of God—intimidate me. And yet enough of the time, just enough, I try to live in love, to be open to the new and next and the Holy hope of healing.