By Pastor Pete Grassow
Thanksgiving Is Our Dialect.
August 15, 2021 – Ephesians 5: 1-2 & 15-20
I recently heard someone comment that all religions are basically the same: just pick one and find your route to God.
This was what people said to St Paul in the first Century, when he brought the message of Jesus to the city of Ephesus. Speaking about Jesus was an audacious venture – because there was already a well established religion in town: Ephesus was home to the Temple of the Greek Goddess Artemis (also known as Diana by the Romans). It was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and the first marble temple of the Ancient world. Acts 19 tells that the Apostle Paul became the subject of a city meeting – with the citizens asking: why start another religion?
Paul thinks about this – and writes a letter:
Ephesians 5 1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
3-4 Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.
5 You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God.
6-7 Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.
17 Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.
18-20 Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge drafts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.
St Paul replies to those who ask why he is bringing another religion to Ephesus. He insists that all religions are not the same. He says that Jesus brings a different dialect to the religious discussion.
Let me illustrate this: Last Sunday I visited a church held outdoors at Oakwood Park – and when I introduced myself I said that I was from Brookings: but the Pastor said “You’re not from South Dakota”.
He is right: I am from South Africa…
I speak of petrol and you say gas.
I stand in a queue and you stand in line
I speak of Tomatoes and you say…
I say I-siah and you say I-zayah.
You and I share a common language – so we communicate in English. But we have different dialects… different ways of speaking. And this becomes our identifying mark –
I open my mouth to speak and I am known for my roots.
Our teaching for today uses this image: Jesus brings a different dialect to the religious discussion.
Let us look at the existing religion in Ephesus: Artemus was the Goddess of Fertility; Artemis (Diana to the Romans) could provide you with fertile crops, or give you fertility in your family – or your business: but she demanded gifts. You had to keep her happy – and if you did not – then you would find your wife barren, or your crops would fail – or your business would go bankrupt.
St Paul says that the religion of Jesus is different:
5 1-2 ….. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.
Paul points out that we do not have to live life in fear of God: rather we can be blessed by God’s extravagant love “He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.”
Pause for a moment to let this sink in:
God chooses to bless us – not because we have offered gifts and sacrifices – but because God first loved us /
Before we knew there was a God – God called us beloved children /
And even when we wander from the path – God never gives up on us.
The religion of Artemis thought that people needed to persuade the gods to get their blessing…and I often wonder how much of this thinking still occupies our thought:
We think that we earn God’s love by our offerings, or by attending church services, or by saying the sinner’s prayer…
So how about believing the teaching of St Paul: there is nothing we can do to earn God’s Love – we already have it!
“He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.”
Paul then continues: he says that the only response we can have to God is That of Thanksgiving:
Ephesians 5vs4 “Thanksgiving is our dialect.”
Even through all religions might speak the religious language of love – the followers of Jesus speak a particular dialect – we speak the language of thanksgiving
When we open our mouths people will hear our religious accent – and it will be touched by thanksgiving.
Paul then continues: avoid speaking of the kind of love that abuses people – avoid lust, sexual promiscuity, dirty talk and gossip: such things do not lead to thanksgiving. Instead the sound that is to be expected from mature followers of Jesus is one of gratitude and grace.
Let Thanksgiving be our dialect.
This means that we can recognise another follower of Jesus by the things they speak about – we will hear the gratitude in their heart. Paul imagines how followers of Jesus greet one another: The English Standard Version:
Eph 5:19 address(ing) one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
Eph 5:20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
The point being – when we come to worship – we come to express gratitude to God for the loving Grace that God has shown to us
And to expressing gratitude to each other for being part of our journey.
When we are here we do this by singing songs
But when we are not here we carry the melody in our hearts:
So the difficult question: when people see you coming – what is their first impression of you!
I am reminded of the story told by AA Milne: Christopher Robin – who had his friends in the thousand acre woods. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpIT3t3_t7A
The words of Eeyore : “This is the happiest day of my life”
I suspect that some people think of following Jesus as something like this:
If you follow Jesus – then all the fun is squeezed out of life!
Christians have a list of things you cannot do: and they are all the fun things. So, like Eeyore: “This is my happy face”
Christians are known by their desire to make everyone unhappy?
Paul has a completely different picture of what it means to be a Christ-follower:
5vs 6-7 God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.
Instead: Thanksgiving is our dialect
Invite us to live lives of Thanksgiving: it is not that we ignore the things that are wrong – but we can choose not to make them the focus of our thinking and our conversation.
It is so easy to be consumed by everything that is wrong with life:
Today I want to challenge you to shift your focus:
The Good News of our faith is that God is with us as we face our daily lives: and if we choose to pay attention, we will discover God blessing our days.
One way is to begin a gratitude journal: to find one thing to be grateful for each day…
And begin a habit of expressing gratitude to the people around you
Say “Thank you” – not just for things your receive – thank people for the qualities that they bring to your life
“Thank you for your smile”
“Thank you for your help”
When last did you say to your family: “Thank you for putting up with me – first thing in the morning!”
Let me conclude:
Here is a challenge: to become infectious: to infect people with happiness:
Start right now!