Saturday, April 26, 2014

Peace and Joy

Peace and Joy
Acts 10:36; Ps. 118:14-24[1]
  It seems there’s precious little joy in our world these days. I’m not talking about “happiness.” It seems we’re obsessed with happiness. Everywhere you go, people are making every effort to make sure everything and everyone is “upbeat.” You walk into just about any public place and you’ll hear plenty of laughter. And we love a good party, where we can let our inhibitions go and let our spirits soar. But it never seems to last. We always have to have one more “hit” of good feeling to keep up the appearance of “happiness.” In fact, it seems like many of us are spending a great deal of energy chasing the next dose of “feel good.”
  Joy is something else altogether. If happiness is fleeting, joy is lasting. It doesn’t come and go. We don’t have to go around chasing after it. Joy is a frame of mind that you choose. You choose joy when you choose to be content with your life just as it is, without having to change anything in order to be “happy.” You choose to be satisfied--satisfied with your past, present, and future without feeling the urge to control any outcomes.  You choose to be comfortable in your skin, because it’s the only “skin” you’re going to have in which to live your life. Joy is the result of coming to the place where you can say, “it is well with my soul,” regardless of your circumstances or how you might feel at the moment or what anybody else may say about you. Joy is lasting because it’s a decision you make.[2]
  One of the features of our Scripture lessons during the Easter season is a repeated emphasis on joy.  The Psalmist expresses the confidence that, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps 16:11).  The Gospel of John says that after Christ was raised from the dead and appeared to the disciples, they “rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (Jn. 20:20).  And this was a joy that wasn’t just for a day or two, because in the book of Acts is says that they continued to spend time together in the temple, and “they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).  Finally, Peter says to the believers who had never had the chance to see the risen Lord, “even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:8).
  But how do we find joy in this world of ours where there seems precious little of it to be found?  I think the Scriptures in the coming weeks will provide us with some answers to that question. This week’s answer comes from the Book of Acts, which says that the message Jesus came to preach was one of peace (Acts 10:36). In the Bible, peace is the wholeness that comes from knowing God genuinely and living the life God intended for us.[3] This kind of peace is not simply the absence of conflict. It’s the peace that the Bible calls Shalom , which might better be translated as “well-being.”[4] This kind of peace represents all that God wants to give us in terms of new life. You could even say that the “peace” that Jesus came to bring to us is synonymous with salvation: peace with God, peace with others, peace with ourselves.
  That is the focus of our study of Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out in Sunday School. It’s not an easy book to read, because it brings us face-to-face with many of the ways in which we lack peace in our lives. We lack peace with God. We’re not sure what to even make of God sometimes. Especially when life seems so full of suffering and hardship. We lack peace with others. In our dog-eat-dog world, it feels much safer to keep others at arm’s length. And at the heart of it all, Nouwen argues that we lack peace with God and peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves.
  You might think that talking about peace on Easter Sunday would be the simplest thing in the world. But if we’re honest about it, we have to admit that it’s a difficult topic. The reason for that is there is a depth dimension to life that many of us never discover in the frenzied rush to get through life.  Many give it different names, but I choose to call it the abiding presence of God. Unfortunately, we tend to fear the path that leads there: the path of silence and solitude. But if you are willing to endure them, when you discover the Presence of God that always accompanies you, you have discovered an unshakable foundation for your life.[5]
  I can think of no more solid basis for finding peace in life that this constant abiding presence of the God of love.[6] And I can think of no better basis for joy than the peace that comes from the presence of the living Lord in our lives.[7] Easter is the day on which we joyfully celebrate what God has “made:” new life out of rejection and death (cf. Ps. 118:24).[8] Throughout the Easter season, not just today, we celebrate the good news that our growing faith in and experience of the abiding presence of the living Lord Jesus Christ provides us with the kind of peace and joy that last, no matter what may come our way.

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/20/2014 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.
[2] Cf. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, 27: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
[3] Cf. John Paul II, Homily at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, January 27, 1999: “If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. It you want life, embrace the truth–the truth revealed by God.”
[4] Cf. Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, 110-111, where she speaks of shalom as “God’s dynamic wholeness” that is the “central vision” of the Bible. Cf. also James L. Mays, Psalms, 311. Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.2:197, where he suggests that this kind of peace can best be illustrated by Jesus’ quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:17-19 as the one who was fulfilling the peace and freedom in human life spelled out there.
[5] As Thomas Merton says it, "The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of the false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls." (New Seeds of Contemplation, 25). He speaks a great deal about this topic throughout this seminal work.  Cf. also Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 44, where he says that in solitude “we can slowly become aware of a presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first (see 1 John 4:19).”
[6] Cf. Nouwen, Here and Now, 27, where he says that joy “is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”
[7] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Passion for Life, 19: “Where Jesus is, there is life. There is abundant life, vigorous life, loved life, and eternal life.”  Cf. also Barbara Brown Taylor, “Surprised by Joy,” The Living Pulpit (Oct-Dec 1995):17. She says “Joy happens when God is present and people know it.”
[8] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 380: “In the church’s liturgical use of Psalm 118, “the day the Lord has made” (v. 24) has become the day of rejoicing and gladness over the resurrection of Jesus. ... Read, sung, and heard in this way, the psalm becomes the language of the risen Jesus and of his community, celebrating the wonder that God himself has become our salvation through the resurrection.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No Shame

No Shame
Matthew 27:11-54; Isaiah 50:7-9[1]      
  Humility is a good thing. From ancient times, it has been regarded as a virtue by almost every religion and philosophy known to humankind. Humiliation  is another thing altogether. We may grow stronger from humiliation, as we can by undergoing any kind of hardship, but I would not say that humiliation is a good thing. Unfortunately, most of us experience humiliation at some point in our lives.  Our deepest secret is exposed to our friends and family. Our worst nightmare comes true, and everyone in our lives knows about it. The embarrassment can be unending. Even more tragically, some of us suffer the pain of humiliation so much in our lives that we begin to believe that we are less than and unworthy and unlovable. We become so accustomed to the sting of humiliation it turns into shame, which means we believe that we are somehow defective.
  But shame is never the final verdict for any of us. It cannot be the last word about us if the God we serve is truly a God of grace, mercy, and love. If God is the one we believe him to be based on the Scriptures, then the final truth about us is that we are good enough because we were created “very good.”  We are accepted and loved simply because God chooses to accept and love us. We are worthy, because God deems us worthy--so worthy that he sent his only Son to die for us! No matter what anyone else may say to us or about us, that remains the ultimate truth about us all. God’s unflinching love for us means that no shame has any real hold over us.
  This perspective is found throughout the Psalms. In one Psalm after another, the faithful expressed their confidence that, no matter what their circumstances, in the end they would not be put to shame.[2] The reason for that confidence was their faith in God. They trusted that God would be a refuge to them, and would protect them no matter what hardships they had to experience in life. They believed that God would be faithful and true to his promise of steadfast love.[3] They held onto their conviction that, ultimately if not immediately, God would take their side and defend them, and he would overturn the “verdict” of those who had humiliated them.
  Our Gospel lesson tells us, perhaps in more detail than we’d like to hear, the story of Jesus’ humiliation. I think it is important for us to understand this dimension of what Jesus endured on our behalf: he was thoroughly and publicly humiliated.  He was dragged before the religious leaders of his people, slandered by false witnesses, and ultimately accused of blasphemy (Matt. 26:57-65)--the one who spend his whole life doing the Father’s will was accused of blasphemy! Then they sent him to Pilate, the Roman Governor, who offered to release him, but the crowd that was stirred up by some of Jesus’ enemies demanded he be crucified (27:11-26).
  Pilate had him literally beaten to within an inch of his life, and then handed him over to be crucified.[4] The soldiers who took over dressed him up in a robe and a crown of thorns and mocked him and even spat on him (27:27-31).  Some of the people in the crowd--perhaps some of the same people who had cried out “Hosanna” when he entered Jerusalem--now hurled insults at him (27:39-40). The Jewish leaders who sought to have him executed went so far as to mock him for his faith in God (27:41-43)!  Even the criminals who were crucified with him taunted him (27:44). 
  I’m not sure about you , but it seems difficult for me to imagine a more thorough humiliation than what Jesus endured.[5] Stripped of his clothing, helpless from the beating and from the fact that he was literally having to fight for every breath, he was completely at the mercy of those around him. His weakness before his opponents, his apparent helplessness to prevent his execution, and the mocking all contribute to the ultimate humiliation: how could one who was so seemingly powerless claim to be the Son of God? It seems for all intents and purposes to contradict his claim to be the Messiah who was establishing the kingdom of God.[6] 
  Those of you who have some experience with humiliation may very well be asking the same question I am: what could enable any person to endure such complete and total humiliation?  All I can say is that his faith was much stronger than mine! I think the other Scripture lessons for today suggest that he must have been inspired by the faith expressed in the Psalms that no matter what happened to him in this life, in the end he would not be put to shame (cf. Isa. 50:7).[7] It’s not easy to maintain that kind of faith in the face of humiliation and shame. But as one Apostle puts it, Jesus did so to leave us an example to follow (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21-23).
  We all have times in our lives when we have to face humiliation. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a part of life. When humiliation becomes our “normal” experience, it can turn into shame. We start believing we are unworthy or unwanted or unloved. That can be unbearable, especially when we believe it so much we tell ourselves that it’s our truth. But that kind of shame is never God’s truth. God’s truth about us is that we are more than good enough.  We are accepted and loved simply because God chooses to accept and love us. We are worthy, because God deems us worthy--so worthy that he sent his only Son to die for us! No matter what anyone else may say, God’s love for us means that shame need not have any real hold over us. We can choose to believe, as people of faith have believed for centuries, that “The Lord God helps me, so I will not be ashamed” (Isa. 50:7, NCV).

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/13/2014 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Ps. 22:5; 25:2, 3, 20; Ps. 31:1, 17, 19; 71;1, 21; 119:6, 31, 46, 80, 116.
[3] This perspective is particularly found in Psalm 31, from which Jesus took the cry, “Into your hand I commit my spirit.” This is a prayer not of resignation but of trust, of confidence in the “faithful God” (Ps. 31:5). The Psalmist trusts in “the God who can be relied on and believed in because [God] is true to himself.”  Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 143; cf. also H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 363; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1:459-60: (p. 459) “We can trust Him because His essence is trustworthiness.”
[4] Cf. M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” New Interpreters Bible VIII:488 points out that the severity of Roman flogging was sometimes fatal.
[5] But cf. Christopher R. Seitz, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66,” New Interpreters Bible V:440, where he points out that Jesus’ crucifixion “was neither the worst nor was it even remotely a singular event in its time; many were such executions in his day.”
[6] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 123: the question is “how the dead Jesus became the living, the crucified the resurrected and the humiliated the exalted.” He says (p. 124) the answer lies in “the faithfulness of God.” Nevertheless, the “scandal and folly of the cross” remains “the basic problem and starting point of Christology” (p. 125).
[7] Cf. Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66, 140-41, where he says that “the abuse and shame heaped upon the Servant loses its power over him, thanks to his knowledge that ‘he who vindicates me is near.’” In Isa. 50:9, the “Servant of the Lord” goes on to express the confidence that “It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Nothing Lost

Nothing Lost
Ezekiel 37:1-14[1]
  At some point in life, many of us will lose hope.  We will find that, whether due to our choices, or due to circumstances beyond our control, the ground has given way beneath our feet, and we have been swept away to a place where we feel completely and hopelessly lost. From the days of Homer’s Odyssey, this theme has been the subject of poetry, novels, plays, and even films.[2] The experience of being lost is part of life.  I think it can feel so hopeless because when you feel lost, really lost in life, it can seem like you will never find your way again.  It’s hard to hope when fear, sadness, and pain are your constant companions, and you wonder whether you’ll ever find joy, peace, and love again.
  It would seem that the people of Israel felt that way in exile. They were a whole world away from everything that was “home” to them.  I’m sure after spending not only years but decades in a place that was very foreign to them, it was difficult for them not to feel lost and hopeless. In fact, that was the whole reason for Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones.[3]  As the Lord speaks to the prophet, he says that the vision of new life was intended to address the fact that “the whole house of Israel” was saying “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely” (Ezek. 37:11).  We don’t really know how long they had been in exile when the prophet received this vision, but it’s likely that they had been there for perhaps 15 to 20 years![4]  They had felt lost for so long many of them had probably begun to forget what it was like to be “home.”  It’s no wonder they had given up hope!
  Into this despair, the message that the Lord had for Israel is that nothing and no one is ever beyond hope!  Think about the lesson for today: what could be more hopeless than dried-out bones. How can bones come back to life again? It would seem that there was nothing left to which God could give new life. And yet, before Ezekiel’s eyes, he sees new life come to those lifeless bones. And the message that God has for the people is that “ I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again.” (Ezek. 37:12, NLT). It was a dramatic demonstration that nothing and no one is beyond the hope of new life--not even those who have felt lost so long they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be home. [5]
  If there was ever anyone who deserved to feel lost, I think it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer immediately began to oppose their propaganda, even though he put himself at great risk to do so.  He took part in forming an underground community known as the Confessing Church, and illegally ran a seminary that was closed and relocated several times. Although he had two different opportunities to leave Germany, Bonhoeffer decided that he had to share the fate of the church in Germany if he were going to have a role in rebuilding it after the war.[6]  And as a result of his work with the German resistance movement, he was arrested on April 5, 1943, and was held in prison without trial until his execution on April 9, 1945.
  It’s hard for me to imagine how hard those two years must have been for him.  Yet, even in a Nazi prison, Bonhoeffer was able to maintain his hope.  In a letter in which he described the difficulty of waiting in prison without any prospect of release, he reflects on the words of a German Christmas hymn.  In one verse, the Christ child says to all those who suffer: “Let pass, dear brothers, every pain; what you have missed I’ll bring again.”[7] Bonhoeffer concludes from this “that nothing is lost, that everything is taken up in Christ, .... Christ restores all this as God originally intended for it to be.”[8]
  In a very real sense, many of us have experiences in life that can push our ability to hold onto hope past its limits. Our forms of “exile” can go on so long that we can begin to feel lost; lost to ourselves, lost to life, lost even to God. But one of my favorite themes of Scripture is that those who feel lost are never lost to God.[9] In story after story, somehow, God always finds a way to bring them home again. I believe that still holds true today.[10] There are all kinds of ways we can find ourselves lost in this world. And some of us have to endure that “exile” so long we may lose hope of ever feeling at home again. But the promise of scripture is that no one is ever beyond hope. No one is ever truly lost to God. Even when we may feel lost, we can trust that we are not lost to God. No matter what our circumstances may be, we can hold on to our hope that in his time, and in his way, God will bring new life to us all.[11]

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/6/2014 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Among others, James Joyce patterned his Ulysses (the latinized version of the Greek name Odysseus) after The Odyssey; Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain bears some similarities and was called an “American Odyssey” by the New York Times; Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions draws on both Ulysses and The Odyssey; and the 2000 film by Joel and Ethan Coen, “O Brother Where Art Thou” is loosely based on The Odyssey.
[3] Cf. Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, “The Book of Ezekiel,” New Interpreters Bible VI:1503: “Their hope has perished; and without hope, they might as well be dead.  The future, ..., seems as barren as the past years and present experience of exile.” Cf. also Walther Eichrodt, Ezekiel, 310-11, “The despair of the exiles meets here with something much more than a mere superficial word of comfort. Ezekiel does not see any less sharply or realistically than the rest of his fellow countrymen the utter ruin to which Israel has been reduced.  He therefore demonstrates to them that under such conditions the sole basis of hope lies in the superhuman and miraculous power of his God, ... .  All that has been said about the way in which such a God will accomplish salvation must be seen against the background of well-justified desperation on the part of man.  That desperation can only admit itself to have been overcome when it meets with the Lord of life in all his mysterious power.” (emphasis added)
[4] On the dating of this oracle, cf. W. Zimmerli, F. M. Cross, F. M., & K. Baltzer, Ezekiel: A commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, 245-46, 258.
[5] Darr, “Ezekiel,” NIB VI:1504: “When we raise our vision to look beyond what our mundane eyes can see, we watch the impossible happen through God’s eyes.”
[6] Cf. Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, 655.
[7] Cf. Peter Frick, Bonhoeffer’s Intellectual Formation: Theology and Philosophy in His Thought, 29. It is Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, “Frölich Soll Mein Herze Springen.”
[8] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 169.  He also says that this is related to the idea expressed in Ephesians 1:10 of the restoration of all things.
[9] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.3:771: God’s “omnipotent mercy rules over all without exception, … no matter how lost they are they are not lost to him.” (emphasis added). Cf. also Barth, Church Dogmatics, 2.2:29: “God Himself in His freedom has decided that [man] shall stand, that he shall be saved and not lost, that he shall live and not die.”
[10] Cf. Darr, “Ezekiel,” NIB VI:1504 where she quotes Elie Wiesel to the effect that “every generation needs to hear in its own time that these bones can live again.”
[11] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 209: This is a new promise of life, for it is no longer attached to the condition of a possible repentance, but promises a creative act of Yahweh upon his people beyond the bounds of the temporal and the possible .  Cf. also Paul J. Achtemeier, Romans, 134: “Only when the power of sin, ..., has been overcome by the greater power of God’s Spirit, working through his Son, can people trapped in that life be free to pursue another kind of life. ... But once the Spirit, working through Christ, has broken that power, a new world is born and a new life is possible (vv. 9, 11a).”

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Healing Light

Healing Light
Ephesians 5:8-14[1]
  Another popular misunderstanding about the Christian faith is that if you just give your heart to Jesus, then you will immediately find your life transformed.  To be sure, many people experience the release of surrendering  control of their lives into the hands of one whom they trust.  Many experience the euphoria of their new-found way of life and their new extended family of faith.  But, all too often, without proper guidance, many of these new believers cannot be found anywhere near a church within a year.  Sometimes less!  The truth of the Christian life is that lasting change takes place over time.  And despite stories of miraculous transformations, the reality is that it takes concerted effort for most of us to experience genuine change.[2]
  I’m not proposing here that finding the joy and peace and love of the new life is some kind of massive self-help project.  It always has been and always will be the work of God’s Spirit.[3]  But we do have to “work out our own salvation,” as confusing as that may sound to us.  I think at least part of what that means is that we have to do the kinds of things that make our hearts and minds available to God’s Spirit.  The changes that lead us to the joy and peace and love of God’s kingdom come as the result of a definite decision on our part to take a different direction in our lives.[4]
  I think that this is something of what St. Paul was trying to convey in his letter to the Ephesians.  Many of the Christians in that area had converted from the worship of local idols, and they were still surrounded by constant reminders of their former life.  Even the local Jewish Christians must have experienced the tension of being surrounded by vivid images that Caesar was “Lord,” or Zeus was “Lord.”  And so the Apostle was writing to teach them how to reinforce their new faith by making changes to their behavior (Eph. 4:17-24).  These changes were specific, including speaking truth, dealing with anger in healthy ways, doing honest work, avoiding slander and gossip, practicing kindness, and showing God’s love to one another (Eph. 4:25-5:2).[5] There was a lot about their former lives that was incompatible with their new faith.[6]
  I find it interesting that in our lesson for today, St. Paul tells them that the way they could make these changes was to expose their former way of living to the light of Christ.  He likens the promiscuity, depravity, and corruption of their former lives to living in darkness.  Using images from Easter, he speaks of the living Christ as a light that has shined upon them.[7]  And he observes that whenever the light shines on what is in the darkness, it reveals the true nature of what is going on, whether good or bad. 
  But more than that, Paul speaks of the light of Christ as a healing light, a light that effects change.  He says, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible” and continues by saying, “everything that becomes visible is light” (Eph. 5:13-14).  I think what he is saying is that when we open our hearts and our lives to the light of Christ, it changes us[8].  It transforms us from where ever we’ve come and from whatever we’ve been into people who reflect the very same light in our lives.[9]  And so Paul calls us all to open ourselves to the healing light of Christ.
  Part of how we do that is by moving our lives in a different direction.  We have to change how we respond to what comes our way if we want to change how we experience life. [10]  I think St. Paul was hinting at what he had said earlier about re-directing their behavior when he says that “the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:9).  It seems to me that “all that is good and right and true” is a pretty good summary of what the Christian life is about.[11]  If you want to know what changes God’s Spirit will make in your life when you turn to the healing light of Christ, I would say it will be “all that is good and right and true.”  That was the goal that St. Paul had for the converts he was encouraging.[12]
  I think his instructions for the Christian life still have value for us as well. There is much about our world that is different from St. Paul’s.  But there is also much that is very similar.  This world surely can feel like a dark place sometimes.  And it can seem like an impossible task for us to keep from succumbing to the darkness, or at least being deeply affected by it.  I think we need his words now more than ever.  If we want to live in an authentically Christian way, if we want to experience genuine change, if we want to learn to practice “all that is good and right and true,” then we too need to open our lives to the healing light of Christ.  When we do, it might be painful at first, as all healing is.  But the outcome will be joy and peace and love as we reflect his healing light in our lives.

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/30/2014 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Cf. Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, 151: “the phrase, ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together’ says it well: When we repeatedly direct our minds toward thoughts and memories that evoke feelings of love (or safety or strength), the very structure of our brains is altered.’  This perspective is the basis of a whole field of scientific research into how the brain works, from the connections between our thoughts and our feelings and our bodies to how to retrain a person who is learning to use a prosthetic limb.  Cf. also Margaret M. Polski, Wired for Survival; and Norman Doige, The Brain that Changes Itself.
[3] Cf. Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 41-42, “God does not love us if we change, God loves us so that we can change.  Only love effects true inner transformation, not duress, guilt, shunning, or social pressure.”  But as he later adds (p. 52), “it is a lot of work to get out of the way and allow that grace to fully operate and liberate”!  Cf. also Ralph P. Martin, Ephesians, Colossian, and Philemon, 65.
[4] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.3:512-13, saying of the believer, “ What makes him a Christian is that he has a Lord who to his salvation will not leave him in peace but constantly summons him to wake up again.”
[5] Cf. Martin, Ephesians, Colossian, and Philemon, 60-61, where he attributes these new “down-to-earth behavior patterns” to “living in the network of new social relationships,” and more importantly to their “being-in-Christ,” or their “faith-union with Christ” (p. 58).  On the latter idea, see A. T. Lincoln, Ephesians, 327, where he says that the believers “have become identified with the light because of their identification with Christ.”
[6] Cf. Pheme Perkins, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” New Interpreters Bible XI:437, where she recalls the “ridicule and abuse” suffered by new Christians in the Mediterranean world as described in 1 Peter 4:3-5.  She goes on to point out that while they are to dissociate from their former behaviors, they are nowhere instructed to dissociate from their former acquaintances. However, in contrast to the approach I am taking to the passage, she suggests that the “exposure” is to take place as Christians call out the behavior of those outside the church.  Cf. Similarly, Lincoln, Ephesians, 330.  This difference of interpretation is reflected in English translations: for the idea that the light transforms us, see the TEV: “anything that is clearly revealed becomes light” (cf. also TNIV, CEB, and ESV).  For the idea that the light exposes the deeds of others, see NLT: “And where your light shines, it will expose their evil deeds” (cf. also MSG, CSB, NIV, NIRV, CEV).  It seems to me that Paul’s focus in this passage is primarily on the effect the light has on believers, and so I opt for that interpretation despite the fact that there are many who take the other view.
[7] Cf. Martin, Ephesians, Colossian, and Philemon, 63, where he also points out that Eph. 5:14 is a reminder of baptism (which in the days of the early church was typically observed in connection with Easter).  Cf. also Lincoln, Ephesians, 326, 332.
[8] Cf. Rohr, Breathing Under Water, 39, “you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within.”
[9] Cf. Brach, Finding Refuge, 151; see also Tara Brach, “Opening the Gateway of Love,” The Huffington Post 12/3/2012; accessed at http://www.huffington While I would agree that we can change our outlook, our emotions, and even our lifestyle by focusing our attention on what we want to become, I would say there’s more than that going on in the mind of St. Paul (no pun intended!).
[10] Cf. Brach, Finding Refuge, 118, where she points out that our earliest hurts in life often shape our assumptions and experiences as adults.  She says, “As the saying goes, ‘Our memories are Velcro for painful experiences and Teflon for pleasant ones!’ We are very inclined toward building our core beliefs out of experiences of hurt and fear, and holding on to them (and the underlying fears) for dear life.”  Cf. also Tara Brach, “Loosening the Grip of Core and Limiting Beliefs,” The Huffington Post 11/29/2012; accessed at
[11] Cf. Rohr, Breathing Under Water, 62, “there are ways of living and relating that are honest and sustainable and fair, and there are utterly dishonest ways of living and relating to life.  This is our real, de facto, and operative ‘truth,’ no matter whose theories or theologies we believe.”
[12] Cf. Rohr, Breathing Under Water, 31, “the goal is actually not the perfect avoidance of all sin, which is not possible anyway ..., but the struggle itself, and the encounter and wisdom that comes from it.