Growing up, we used Fiestaware plates at home every day. Growing up, I had a daybed in my bedroom, the kind that went along the wall long-ways and had three sides, with a trundle bed underneath it. Growing up, we had a hammock in the backyard, and Saturday was always bathroom-cleaning day. Growing up, my mom drove a Volvo station wagon.
If you’ve been to the vicarage, as Jordan likes to call it, or to the Hylden Haus, as I refer to it, you will have seen that we, too, use those sturdy, colorful Fiestaware plates. If you took a look in our garage, you would see that we have a daybed frame, though it doesn’t fit in our house right now; last summer, before some kids helpfully demonstrated its insufficient anchoring, we had a hammock in our backyard, and when I manage it, I still clean the toilets on Saturdays. Any of you can look outside and see right now, that I drive a Volvo station wagon. You may think you’re becoming your mother or your father, but I’ll give you a run for your money.
It took me until last year, setting up our third house in our marriage, to realize how deeply my childhood had imprinted on my vision of what “home” means. I’m sure there are plenty of ways that my years growing up have formed my perspective of life and family that I haven’t even noticed yet. I was never once told that Fiestware was the right brand of dinnerware to use. Never was I instructed that a home ought to have a daybed and a trundle, for ease of entertaining guests or for economy of space. No one ever said that backyards need hammocks or that toilets could only be cleaned on Saturdays or that all moms drive station wagons. I learned and internalized all these things, and I swallowed them very deeply, without even one word spoken.
Our environments, the places, the rooms, the workplaces and retail stores, the neighborhood streets, and our friends, our family members and our favorite books, the television shows we love, and the places we go to eat — every experience gets lodged in us and begins to shape us, to orient us somehow, to turn our attention and our habits in a certain direction, to color our perspective. And our environments do this all without a single word of instruction. It’s perhaps the strongest case for “actions speak louder than words.”
So Ephesians urges us this morning, “be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.” — “Therefore.” That word suggests that a case has been laid out, an argument has been made, and as a result of that foundation and reasoning, we, the readers, those who seek to be followers of the God made known in Jesus Christ, ought to imitate God, for our actions to speak even louder than our words, and for our actions to imitate our God, Jesus Christ.
The argument that has been made, the case that has been laid out, is in the preceding chapters of the same book, which we’ve been reading and studying together each Sunday for the last four weeks. In chapter one, we read that Christ is our foundation; in chapter two, we learned that Christ as foundation of a community means that it is a group of people who practice grace with one another and with everyone they meet; in chapter three we heard that part of grace is the good, hard work of reconciliation, of growing up and choosing to break down dividing walls, using the bricks instead to build with others. Then last week in chapter four, we read that God has given us to each other as gifts, that each of us has a necessary place in the system of our community, that we can only thrive and grow if we do it together. We miss the entire point if we think that Christianity is a solitary activity.
Therefore, “be imitators of God.” But rather than looking at this chapter, five, as finger-wagging and instructive, I wonder if we could look at it instead, as a description of a vision, a word-picture of God’s kingdom. The second part of this chapter is that infamous passage, “wives be subject to your husbands,” and as you can see in the bulletin, Fr. Jordan was going to be preaching this week, but clearly, Fr. Jordan is not the person in front you now. I thought that it would be pretty hilarious for the quiet, forbearing member of our marriage to preach on the passage about wives being subject to their husbands in all submissiveness.
But as I read the chapter again, asking God for a different perspective on this text which has been used to wound in the past, the Holy Spirit suggested that perhaps it was less about finger-wagging, “all y’all wives, bow down!” and more about giving concrete examples of what a life of God-inspired actions looks like. How does a wife “walk as a child of light”? How does a child “discern what is pleasing to God”? How does a master walk wisely? The first part of chapter five gives us the theories, the underpinnings, the foundations for how to be in relationship with each other, and then second half of the chapter, where all those relationships are outlined, is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
It seems to be less about determining that wives have got to be the silent type and children should be seen and not heard, and oppression ought to be allowed as long as the master is kind, and more about getting the whole picture of all people serving one another, of all people in a community — whether that’s a church or a city or a neighborhood or family — being gifts, one to another, just as God has called us to do.
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children.” Don’t be fornicators, don’t tell dirty jokes, don’t be greedy, don’t be jealous, don’t do impure things (finger-wagy). But if this passage is less about damning rules, and more about how God’s kingdom and communities look, then I wonder if we could understand these words as descriptive rather than prescriptive.
“A place where God is active has no room or desire for physical relationships that take advantage of someone.”
“A community centered on Jesus seeks to know people’s hearts, rather than judging the outward appearance.”
“In God’s kingdom there is no hoarding or greediness, because we trust that God provides enough. Enough food. Enough love. Enough forgiveness. Enough light.”
“With Christ as our foundation, jubilation and humor don’t depend upon cheap shots; laughter wells up out of deep streams of joy rather than striping dignity from someone else.”
The root of all these good actions and right habits is the household of God. We harbor that subconscious, spiritual childhood, echoing in our souls. Just as I have an unspoken predilection for hammocks in the backyard and Fiestaware china, each of us is placed with a God-shaped hole that is filled only by Christ himself. Our desire is sated when we rest in the household, the kingdom, if you will, of God. Deep down, without a word of instruction, we know the way that things ought to be.
In the intervening years, between this spiritual awareness of God’s Kingdom and all its glories and where we are now, all kinds of things get in the way of this familiarity and knowledge. The windows of God’s house might get painted over in the confines of our hearts; the walls of the household of his Kingdom might be ripped down and put up in different places; the china that was cherished for use at Sunday dinners in God’s house might have been thrown out — but somewhere in the recesses of our minds and hearts we know the way that God’s Kingdom ought to look.
And when we suffer moments of forgetfulness, of not remembering this household, this Kingdom in which we are made to dwell, God gives us each other to be images of himself, to be imitators of himself, that we might remind each other of what God’s vision of his kingdom, of his homeland, of his home, is to be.
“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
Being redeemed, forgiven, reconciled to God, we are reminded of this world that God longs to come to fruition here and now. When we gather every Sunday at church, we are reminding each other and ourselves of the good, beautiful, and true Kingdom of God that is in our midst. How ever we become forgetful during the week, the china on the altar table is there to remind us. Whatever isolation or desperation or ill-health or financial worries we face during the week, the words of our prayers and of God’s Word to us jogs our memory and sets us back on the path of his perspective, the road of his kingdom.
So our worship is a reminder of the household of God for which we long, as well as our prayers, and our times of sweet fellowship with friends, family members, our children; our the moments of sacrifice when we join, in the smallest ways, in Christ’s own suffering, and most of all, Holy Communion with the body and blood of Christ himself.
In a strikingly similar way, and without one word of instruction, the things that we watch on television, relationships we choose to spend time on, places we hang out and shop and live — all of these are like the Fiestaware we choose, the Saturday toilet cleaning — they’re all reminders of darkness, or of light, drawing us closer to the God for whom we long, or dragging us further into the disorienting darkness of evil and desperation.
May our prayer each day be the same as it is on Sundays: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.” Amen.