Pentecost 11, August 8, 2021
Teaching Children to Get Along (Be Nice!)
Text: Ephesians 4:17–5:2
For those of you who may not know, Edmond Public schools start up again this Thursday. For us with kids in school, our schedules will change a bit towards the end of this week. With school coming back, I have noticed that many of our families have been off trying to get in that summer trip before Thursday. (That includes the Erlers) And when we go on these summer road trips, there are usually certain things said by the people in the back of the car. You know: “Stop touching me.” “I want a turn!” “Give me that back!” And of course… “Are we there yet?” And I see a few nods of understanding, parents who have heard such things from the back of their cars on road trips.
It is interesting to watch children interact, isn’t it? Sometimes they cooperate with one another so well, sometimes not so well. I used to marvel at my two kids as they were able to play and imagine and get along and be a team and they could do that for hours and all of a sudden at the drop of a hat: (The sound of nuclear Armageddon.)
What makes children get along with one another? We’d like to find the formula, wouldn’t we? God’s formula is, I believe, pretty simple. In our text this morning, Our Loving Father Simply Teaches Us, His Children, to Get Along.
One thing that we take away from Paul’s letter this morning is that our Heavenly Father sees us as His children. We are His children. St. Paul wrote, “You were sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30b) “as beloved children” (5:1b). We are children of God! All of us, at every/whatever age. Do you ever think of it that way? Do you think of yourself as God’s kid? Maybe the younger folks here do so more frequently, but what about us old people? With my creaky knees, my aching hip, and my worsening memory, I usually do not think in terms of me being a kid. I am thinking it is the same for many of you. We may be immature, sometimes, but that is something different.
We are God’s kids. In fact, we are sealed as His children. God did that—sealed us as His children—when we were Baptized. Baptism is the visible act by which God puts His seal, His Name, on us (As well as putting faith in here). It marks each one of us as His child.
By that act, God also takes responsibility for raising us, for teaching us those things a parent teaches a child. (You’ve heard of the Ten Commandments?) Or like how to get along with one another. In the last three chapters of Ephesians, His emphasis is teaching us how to live with the rest of God’s children. So how are you doing with that? How well do you get along with the people around you? Can we all just get along?
Not getting along starts early in our lives, right? For our kids, or for when we were kids, we had our squabbles on the ball field. Out or safe, foul or no foul. We fought over who got which seat in the car for the first leg of the trip. I have heard a lot of arguing over my years about who called shotgun first. There are those who are young who think it is fun to hit someone with a water balloon. But everyone knows it is absolutely wrong to hit somebody in the side of the face with a slush ball. (If you were raised in a temperate climate, ask me after church)
Now the older we get, the more our squabbles become these: Destroying someone’s reputation through gossip, rather than shouting over who gets to bat first. Fighting for a job the other person wants, rather than for the seat with the best view. Soaking each other with verbal abuse, rather than with water. That kind of behavior is not acceptable among adult Christians, just as it is not for kids (4:17–19).
Our Heavenly Father has His dos and don’ts for getting along. In fact, when His children sin, He grieves (4:30a). Paul said, “Do not GRIEVE the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is described as being like a parent. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings us God’s love. He is the one who teaches us God’s will. He grieves when we ignore Him. And He grieves when our lives don’t reflect that love.
Imagine the grief a parent feels: When a son or daughter hurts someone else’s child, maybe commits a violent crime. When a child rejects everything a parent has done for him, storming out of the house at age 18, vowing never to come back. When a parent sees a child go the wrong way in life, perhaps destroying him/herself with drugs or alcohol or unchristian relationships.
The Holy Spirit is grieved: when God’s children hurt one another. When we reject everything God has done in creating, redeeming, and caring for us. Whenever we hurt ourselves by choosing to sin. God cares about us too much to sit back and see whether we’ll learn how to get along. He doesn’t take a “boys will be boys” or “kids will be kids” attitude when Christians hurt one another. No, He commands (4:31–32a). God says, “Put away bitterness, anger, clamor, slander, malice. Be kind to one another.” God’s “Formula”? Be nice! (annual kids sermon) (See a lot of the opposite)
God definitely has His dos and don’ts for getting along. It is completely inconsistent with Christian faith: For believers to fight, carry grudges, talk evil about other believers. For Christian families to raise voices in anger against each other. God does not permit it!
Instead, God says, “32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” God intends in our text to lead us to a better way of treating each other: (4:30–32a). Every parent’s dream is children who are kind and forgiving of one another rather than bitter and angry. How can parents make that happen? How does God make it happen in us?
God commands His children to be kind and compassionate and forgiving. To care about the hurt others are feeling at the death of a loved one, or for any reason. To support others who are feeling weak when life seems to be going wrong. To bear with each others’ sins and failures. To bear each other’s burdens.
Our Father uses a lot of love in getting us to get along (4:32–5:2). God doesn’t want us to act in love and kindness because we are afraid of getting nuked if we don’t. He wants hearts. So He brings about loving outward action by working inwardly, working in here. (our hearts.)
He showers us with huge doses of love (5:1). He calls us His kids, His dearly beloved. And He proved that that’s exactly what we are to Him when Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us (5:2). That’s the greatest demonstration of love, isn’t it? — giving up one’s own life. Jesus died on the cross and rose again because Jesus/God the Father loves us.
God wanted us to be His, to serve Him and one another willingly. That could only be possible if He removed the sin that separated us from Him. That’s what Jesus did by dying and rising again. Once Jesus had paid for the sins of the world, the Holy Spirit could come to us in Baptism and give us the forgiveness Jesus earned. That is love. That love then teaches us to love; we imitate God’s love (5:1). The Greek word for “imitator” gives us our word “mimic.” That’s the way children learn, isn’t it? Children mimic their parents. It can be a frightening thing to see your kids say something (usually naughty) or do something (usually naughty) and then realize that they learned that from…us.
On the other hand, children who live in a loving home see how it’s done. Dad saying nice things to Mom, spouses helping each other around the house—it rubs off. Or it should, anyway. God uses that technique on us, teaches us by example how to get along. He wants us to love, so He first loved us. He wants us to forgive, so He shows us how by first forgiving us.
We Christians are all growing up in the most loving family. In spite of all of our sins, we’re loved. In spite of our unworthiness, we’re blessed every day. In spite of our “bitterness and wrath,” “anger,” “clamor,” “slander,” and ”malice,” all who believe have eternal life. That kind of love moves us to get along nicely, even if we’ve long outgrown summers off and the backseat of the family car.
Be nice! God has shown us/taught us how.
In the Name of Jesus.