January 26, 2021
Stop and Start

Dr. Oliver Wagner
“Thieves must give up stealing. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but let your words build up and give grace to those who hear. Put away all bitterness and slander and be kind to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  from Ephesians 4:25-32
I was driving with my father through the small town where he and I both grew up, a place where he still lives. We both know the streets and streams, stores and neighborhoods, churches and fields by heart. We both spent lots of time in those very places with our friends and siblings, as do my nieces and nephews today. At a red light by the Mahoning Creek railroad bridge, he rolled down his window and yelled at a pack of boys on the railroad bridge. “Hey you kids, knock it off!” He rolled his window up and we drove off. I was puzzled by his action and asked “what were those kids doing wrong?” “I don’t know” he said, “but probably something they shouldn’t have been.” We both laughed knowing what we were like at that age!

In today’s verse Paul yells to the Christians in Ephesus who were stealing, lying, slandering, holding grudges and fighting: ”Knock it off! Stop acting in the way of the world and start living like you’re baptized into Christ!” Presbyterian pulpits don’t usually offer up too much fire and brimstone, but clearly, to embrace the good news of Jesus we must first let go of an “evil” or “sinful” old life that had us doing “things we shouldn’t.” It is helpful to remember the first words Jesus spoke when he started his Spirit-filled public ministry: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Repentance or turning around to face a new direction is what the world needs, always and everywhere. The large crowds came to be baptized by John and “confess their sins.” We “confess our sins” weekly in public worship and daily in prayer. I love the Lutheran liturgy I learned from a colleague: “I confess to God, before heaven and you, that I have sinned…by my fault, by my fault, by my most grievous fault.” The sins of racism, prejudice, injustice, pride, greed, lies, hatred, theft, arrogance, self-righteousness, divisiveness, violence, gluttony, gossip…and the list goes on. Sins are personal and they are corporate. They are easily seen and sneakily systemic. Therefore,  “Knock it off!”…or at least try to.

Today’s scripture would have us consider the reality and painful consequences of our sin. It also reminds us of why we need saving. For Jesus said, “I have come to call sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me and grant me your peace. Amen.
Alpharetta Presbyterian Church
180 Academy Street, Alpharetta, GA 30009
770-751-0033 www.alpharettapres.com