In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4, which we began reading last week and finish reading today, St, Paul is basically outlining what it means to be in community and to live as followers of the “Way” – a title given to the early followers of Christ before they were known as Christians.
An interesting bit of biblical trivia is that Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned in Rome, after the great fire of 64 AD and that legendary – yet almost certainly fabricated – violin performance of the emperor Nero. The letter is roughly divided into two parts. The first part, as I mentioned, which we heard last week, describes who we are as members of the community:
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…..We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into (Him) Christ, who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
The second part of the letter, our scripture for today, is a sort of laundry list of how we are to act, informed by our identity as members of the community, the Body of Christ. It begins with a call to honesty and truthfulness: “Putting away falsehood, let us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”
It is not simply a command not to lie. Indeed, it is an affirmation of our identity as members of the Body of Christ and a reflection of the one who is truth and gives us life and sustains us, our Abba God. Consequently, we are to be truthful not so much because falseness is a sin, but rather that falseness degrades not only our identity in the Body of Christ but that of our fellow members as well.
Author Stephen Cole observes as follows:
“One of the greatest moral issues that we all struggle with is that of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The book, The Day America Told The Truth, states (p45) that 91 percent of us lie regularly. Of the people interviewed 92 percent said the main reason for their lying was to save face, and 98 percent said the reason they told lies was so as not to offend people.”
Cole notes that often we “bend the truth,” to protect others or cover either for ourselves or for others. How often, without even realizing it, do we participate in and perpetuate lies that support and sustain our way of life? The examples are manifold.
As cisgender white males, many of us rely on the lies that teach us that we are superior because of the way we were born and that accordingly we are entitled to more – for example, more pay for doing the same job as a woman.
Many of us, particularly in this and other wealthy nations, rely on the lies that tell us that we can have what we want when we want it, regardless of the carbon footprint it takes to deliver it to us.
Some, even in the face of scientific fact, still perpetuate the lies that not only degrade us as members of the Body of Christ but also are killing us: “the virus is a fake,” “masks are not necessary,” “the vaccine is dangerous.”
Then there are the lies we tell ourselves that really erode the Body of Christ: you know, the internal little voice that says, “I’m not good enough,” “I am not smart enough or strong enough,” “I cannot make a difference.”
A February 2021 article in the Harvard Business review commented on the insidious effects of these lies on women in the world of work, when they encounter such falsehoods and internalize them:
“When employees from marginalized backgrounds try to hold themselves up to a standard that no one like them has met (and that they’re often not expected to be able to meet), the pressure to excel can become too much to bear. The once-engaged Latina woman suddenly becomes quiet in meetings. The Indian woman who was a sure shot for promotion gets vague feedback about lacking leadership presence. The trans woman who always spoke up doesn’t anymore because her manager makes gender-insensitive remarks. The Black woman whose questions once helped create better products for the organization doesn’t feel safe contributing feedback after being told she’s not a team player. For women of color, universal feelings of doubt become magnified by chronic battles with systemic bias and racism.” Of course, all of us encounter similar lies in our daily lives, lies that cause us to doubt ourselves and be less than our whole, fully realized selves.
As often is the case, Jesus takes all of this and “ups the ante” when He says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
If indeed we are, as a faithful Christian community one in the Body of Christ, “putting away falsehood” and embracing our true identity, then, we must also become the “bread of life” for others, and for ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but while it is so easy for me to look at those around me and see amazing people doing amazing things as the Body of Christ, it is much more difficult for me to look in the mirror and say the same thing.
How are we being called to tell the truth about who we are as the Body of Christ and to be the bread of life in our, family, our work, our community, our church and in our world?
In a few moments, we will be called to come forward and receive the “Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” We will be reminded that, regardless of where we are on our spiritual journey, we are all welcome. We will stand together, as St. Paul writes, not just side by side but members of one another, and with trust and sincerity of heart we will endeavor to put aside falsehood and fully embrace our identity, as members of the body of Christ. That said, we must also remember that the call is not just to receive, but to put aside falsehood and become as well.
St. Augustine, a teacher in the early church, issued the call to the table in the following manner: “Look upon what you are about to receive, Body of Christ, become what you receive, Body of Christ.”