Communication can be confusing. Sometimes despite our best efforts to be clear, the person hearing us speak can get the wrong idea altogether.
For instance, an elderly woman arrived home from a church service to find that her home was being burglarized. She yelled "Stop! Acts 2:38!" It may sound like a strange thing to say, but if you were to look up Acts 2:38, you would see that it says, "turn from your sin." The burglar stopped dead in his tracks, while the woman calmly called the police and explained what had happened. After the police arrived and the officer was cuffing the burglar, he asked, "Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a Scripture at you." "Scripture?" said the burglar. "She said she had an ax and two .38's!"
That's a rare example of a miscommunication turning out for the best. Usually when people misunderstand each other that leads not to resolution but further conflict. Not just with strangers, but even more so with those we are closest to. That reality is what puts bread on the table for marriage counselors.
You've heard of the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Well, my new book discovery is Men are Clams, Women are Crowbars. Isn't that a great title? It says it all. We are so different, that not only do we speak different languages, we even have different perspectives on whether something even needs to be talked about at all. Ed says he cringes when I say "We need to talk." Because to him that spells trouble. To me it means we need to talk. Still, I cringe when I say it, because I hate when he gets defensive. In the book Men are Clams, Women are Crowbars, the author says that the differences between men and women challenge us to do three things: 1. depend on God, 2. develop complementary relationships and 3. establish a deep intimacy with someone who has numerous combinations of physical, emotional, and spiritual possibilities.
This concept doesnít just apply to husbands and wives, though. This is about all of us relating to each other at many levels. We are so different, yet we need each other. We are so different, yet we are called to be together and minister together in the one body of Christ. Besides the male and female language barriers, we also come from some differing religious and cultural backgrounds. Some of you come from many years in the Catholic church where words like "Mass" and "Rosary" and "Host" are familiar, others from Baptist and independent evangelical churches where you are used to hearing words like "saved" and "born again," a few are long-time Presbyterians, who know the code words COM and GAC and PNC. I say toma-to you say tomato. I say roof, you say rooooof.
It goes deeper than just words, though, doesn't it? Sometimes we wonder just what makes that other person tick. Where are you really coming from anyway? Can I trust you? Can we really make a go of this church thing together, or are you going to make trouble?
Hereís a little piece of what we call "Reformed Theology" to put in your pocket. Reformed theology, which is the belief system that Presbyterians tend to buy into, has several major themes (sovereignty of God, priesthood of all believers). One of these themes has to do with the nature of the church. Many churches look at the church as a "voluntary" organization. You join a church because you like it or some other more or less logical reason. Well, what Reformed theology says is this: You and I were both called by God to be here. God chose us before we chose to be here. So, our job is not so much a matter of making a good choice, itís learning how to live with the motley crew that God placed us with.
The good news is that God doesnít just throw us together and say, "have at it." God is in the midst, and it is God who even serves as our translator, helping us to bridge the gaps in our different experiences and different perspectives.
Hereís how we can experience this:
In the Bible lesson (toward the end), Paul uses some of his famous "body language" talking about the body of Christ being joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped. Ligament can also be translated as joint or contact point. Think for a minute about your physical body. What would it be like without joints? Youíd be all parts, but no connection. What would you be able to accomplish? The word "equipped" also suggests nourishment. Through the joints flow the supply of blood, nerve impulses and other services that are vital to the life and health of our body. Suppose the joints dammed up the flow of blood, stopped each nerve from reacting, and prevented the passage of good things to the next body part?
In the Body of Christ, there are certain "contact points" or joints, where the body comes together and finds nourishment. These are our relationships. We are connected to each other, like the hand is connected to the wrist. Each of us is closer to some body parts than others. And thatís ok. But each contact point is vital, because through these contact points, we either pass along the grace of God, or we create a hardening of the ecclesiastical arteries. Through our relationships, we either communicate the grace of God to each other, or we withhold it.
Earlier in the passage, Paul suggests three character qualities that will help us to communicate the grace of God to one another.
Humility, gentleness, patience. These qualities will express our love and they will help us to stay connected. The way God has structured the Body of Christ, these qualities will naturally flow through the jointsóthat is, our relationships. First, though, if you can stand the mixed medical metaphor, we may need a little spiritual angioplasty to get rid of some blockages, before these gracious qualities will come through.
Humility on the face of it may sound like putting oneself down. But it is not self-abasement. Itís a state of being where we are comfortable with who we are and we are able to accept others for who they are. If weíre truly humble, we are able to become all we are meant to be, and at the same time to celebrate the successes and achievements of others. To get to humility the blockage we need to clear out is self-centeredness. The world doesn't revolve around you or me or Morning Star. Christ is the centerpoint, and when we re-orient our perspective and let our lives revolve around him, we don't have to run around with a chip on our shoulder, we donít have to be one up from other people, we can just be who we are.
Gentleness can sound as if itís a sissy, wussy kind of thing. But itís really a strength. Someone who is gentle is sensitive, values the other without forcing anything. Someone who is truly gentle has enough confidence to be vulnerable. To achieve gentleness, we need to get rid of the blockages of harshness and violence. There are so many hazards in this world, so much violence and rage that we tend to have our guard up all the time. We get defensive, anger easily, get prickly and hard. One commentator says that "Some Christians present themselves as so brittle and hostile that no one wants to be around them. Even if they are right, they are repulsively right." (Snodgrass, Commentary on Ephesians, 219). There was a man who had spent more than three hours in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles enduring long lines, surly clerks and insane regulations. On the way home he stopped at a store to pick up a gift for his sonóa baseball bat. He took the bat up to the register, and the clerk asked, "Cash or charge?" "Cash." The man snapped. Then quickly realizing his rudeness, he explained, "Iíve spent the afternoon at the DMV."
"Shall I gift wrap the bat," the clerk asked sweetly, "or are you going back there?" (parables, 19. 9.1)
And then there's patience. Something I resist praying for, because I'm sure that God will give me opportunities to use it. What blocks the road for patience, is the tyranny of our own agenda. We all have our schedules and agendas, and often there isn't much breathing room. Impatience is of course just another word for self-centeredness. We want what we want when we want it. And that extends to our relationships. We want our husbands to change. Now. Patience suggests a person with good boundaries. Someone who knows that there are things (and people) that we canít change, and that the only person I can change is me.
When we allow this spiritual angioplasy to take placeóto getting rid of self-centeredness, and harshness, and our selfish agendaóthen humility, gentleness, and patience rather naturally flow through the joints in the body of Christ
This is what nourishes the body and helps the body mature. Spiritual maturity is the goal. Don't be tossed about, Paul says. Don't be flaky. Grow up into Christ. One sign that we are growing up spiritually is that we are able to speak the truth in love--agape. Remember from last week: agape is that self-giving love that wants the best for the other, seeks the best, whatever that means. It means being honest about feelings and opinions, even when those may be different from those around us. It means being able to own up to oneís own decisions and actions. When I was young, I wasnít taught that differences were a good thing. I thought we all had to be alike. So, I learned to try to either blend my opinions with others, or not say my opinion at all. Many of us are so used to hedging, denying, even lying to protect ourselves that itís tough to be honest.
A police car pulled up in front of Grandma Bessieís house, and Grandpa Morris got out. The polite policeman explained that this elderly gentleman said that he was lost in the park and couldnít find his way home. "Oh Morris," said Grandma, "Youíve been going to that park for over thirty years! How could you get lost?" Leaning close to Grandma, so that the policeman couldnít hear, Morris whispered, "I wasnít lost. I was just too tired to walk home." (parables, 19.8.1)
Speak the truth in love, Paul says. Even when it is difficult. Even when itís painful. That word "speak" doesn't just mean talking the talk, though. The word speak also has the connotations of doing and living. So, walk the walk. Speak the truth, live in the truth. Do the truth. Grow up into the truth, which is Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. As we do that, gradually we will find ourselves understanding each other better, because we will all be speaking Godís languageóthe language of love.