Speaking Truth in Love
Ephesians 4:1-16; 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a
Sermon Speaking Truth in Love
Good morning! How many of you watch the Food Network? When I want mindless entertainment, that’s usually the first channel I go to. I love any shows about travel, food, or cooking. Whether it’s Chopped! or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, if it’s on Food Network and I’m bored, I’ll probably watch it. Though I usually don’t watch the baking competitions, because I don’t bake.
I do think that the cult of the celebrity chef is a little overblown, but I don’t watch those shows when I want to think. Most of the time, I watch them when I’m tired of thinking. We all crave mindless entertainment sometimes.
One of the shows I used to enjoy is called Restaurant: Impossible. It’s hosted by a celebrity chef named Robert Irvine. In this show, the cast and crew find a local restaurant that’s in danger of failing, and then Irvine goes in, seemingly unannounced, orders a bunch of food, and then tells the owners everything that’s wrong with their restaurant.
Then Irvine sits down with the owners and the staff and works through their various issues. Meanwhile, a team of designers and builders comes in and gives the restaurant a makeover. They have a budget of $10,000 and they have 48 hours to do the makeover. All of the action in a one-hour episode covers about three or four days in real time. It’s a very quick transformation.
On the show, Robert Irvine is like a therapist; a very in-your-face therapist. He would tell the restaurant owner, point blank, “you’re killing your own business!” He didn’t sugar coat anything. He wasn’t nice. He wasn’t gentle. He didn’t beat around the bush. I really enjoyed the show, particularly in the years before I went to seminary. Irvine’s approach is almost exactly the opposite of the tactic that the prophet Nathan employs in our reading from Second Samuel.
Last Sunday, we heard the story of King David’s most egregious sins; in today’s reading, Nathan calls David out for his crimes, but he does this very indirectly. Instead of getting in King David’s face and saying, “You have sinned before the eyes of the Lord!” Nathan tells David a story—a parable about a rich man and a poor man.
This parable is not like most of Jesus’ parables. In this case, there’s a very clear answer: the rich man has sinned against the poor man; he has caused great harm to the poor man. After hearing this story, David correctly identifies the guilty party: the rich man deserves to die for his crime and he must make restitution. Then Nathan pulls the rug out from under David. He says, essentially: Dude, you’re the rich man! You sinned against Uriah the Hittite! Only, instead of taking Uriah’s lamb, David took his wife, Bathsheba. And then David arranged for Uriah’s murder. David cannot make amends for his crimes.
Nathan was a prophet. That means that he speaks for God, from time to time. Which begs the question, why can’t Nathan just come right out and name David’s sins? There are two answers to that question.
First, the obvious answer is that David is the king. You can’t call out the king. A prophet who calls out the king might get ignored or exiled. Might. More likely, that prophet would end up like Uriah the Hittite. Dead. Kings have the power to silence the voices that disagree with them. Kings get to create their own reality, their own truth.
The second, and less-obvious answer is this: an effective therapist doesn’t tell me what my problems are, any effective therapist gets me to the point where I can see what my problems are, name those problems, and then work on changing what’s wrong. Nathan is almost practicing therapy. Almost.
Good therapy takes time. Lots and lots of time.
I think that one of the reasons Restaurant: Impossible appealed to me and to other viewers is that Robert Irvine drops into a highly dysfunctional environment, does something that looks like therapy, and over the course of an hour, it seems like everything gets fixed. In the space of an hour. But it’s a show; a fantasy.
We all have people in our lives who drive us nuts. We can see the problems in their lives, but they don’t want to listen when we say something. Or they don’t seem to want to listen. Sometimes we want to yell even louder at them, kinda’ like Robert Irvine yells at restaurant owners. That’s why we enjoy the show—Irvine gets to do what we wish we could do in our own lives.
We fantasize about speaking freely, without filters. We also fantasize that the person we want to yell at will change—if we just find the right way to yell. And on Restaurant: Impossible, it always seems to work. We see a restaurant that is physically transformed. We also see a restaurant staff that promises to repent from all of their transgressions against one another. The show fits into the fantasy that change can be accomplished quickly.
This is a fantasy of therapy.
Again, good therapy takes time. Lots and lots of time.
I think many of us want to play the role of Robert Irvine from time to time. And that’s definitely a problem. But the bigger problem is that we are all too much like David. We are all too good at constructing our own realities. We prefer not to engage in self-examination. We are unwilling to let others question us. We want to be entertained and we want other people to change. We don’t want to listen to the voices that call for us to change. We isolate ourselves from people who think differently and we insulate ourselves against the voices who question our choices and actions. We only let people inside the perimeter if they agree not to criticize us once they’re inside.
I want to be clear about something. I’m not calling out some specific, individual sin. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m as guilty of these things as anyone. I’m not accusing; I’m asking each of you to look within. Who are you yelling at? Whose voice do you refuse to hear? Who are you lashing out at on social media? If you can answer those questions, then those are the voices you need to listen to. Those are the places where we are disconnected from one another. Those are the places where we need to reconnect.
In our previous two lessons from Second Samuel, we saw King David disconnecting from his relationship with God. In today’s lesson, we get a glimpse of grace when David finally admits his sin. It is only after David’s confession that grace can enter the story. Yet we know that the ripple effects of David’s many sins will continue for generations to come. For a sustained practice of grace, we need to look at our reading from Ephesians.
The Letter to the Ephesians was written to an early Christian congregation in Ephesus, which is in present-day Turkey. It might have been written by the Apostle Paul, but more likely, it was written after Paul’s death by one of Paul’s followers. It was written to a diverse community. Some members would have been born to Jewish parents and likely would have seen themselves as faithful Jews, who also believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Other members of the congregation would have been Gentile converts. There were lots of potential fault lines within the congregation at Ephesus.
The author of Ephesians is urging them to hold tightly to what they hold in common; he is urging them toward unity, even in the face of division. He begins by urging the Ephesians to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1). That is, to lead a live worthy of being a disciple. This is done with humility, gentleness, and patience (4:2).
We all have trouble practicing humility, gentleness, and patience. And if you don’t believe me, spend a little time on social media. Or listen to talk radio. Or read a news article online—any article—and then read the comments. You will read or hear all sorts of vitriol. You will find precious little humility, gentleness, and patience.
We are called to bring people into a community that is called into action by the grace of God and the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to practice grace, humility, gentleness, and patience. We’re called to do that with one another, here in the church, and we’re called to do that outside of our walls. We’re called to do that with and for people we do not like.
How do we square that circle?
We start with prayer. In fact, I’m going to suggest that we start with this reading from Ephesians. I’m going to adapt it into a prayer. Please follow along in your bulletins as I pray. Let us pray:
Lord, help us to lead a life worthy of the calling to be Christians; to be disciples. Help us to practice humility and gentleness and patience. Inspire us to bear with one another in love; inspire us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We know that there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
You have granted us grace, through the gift of Jesus Christ; help us to practice that grace for all. Help us to live into our gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Help us, O Lord, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Help us, O Lord, to speak truth in love. Amen.
That’s the prayer I want you to pray. I’ll write it out so that you can pray it on your own. But the prayer is only the first step.
After praying that prayer, after asking for humility, gentleness, and patience, we actually have to practice those things. We have to practice those things with the very people who sometimes inspire us to pride, harshness, and impatience. We have to examine our lives and we have to listen to the people who challenge us. In fact, we have to put ourselves in places where we hear uncomfortable stories and we need to be willing to look at ourselves through the eyes of others, including those who question us. That’s part of the practice of humility. Let us live as the apostle urges the Ephesians to live. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you depart from this place, remember to practice humility and speak truth in love. Remember, too, to listen when someone else speaks truth in love to you. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!