By David Baumann
A Reading from Ephesians 4:17-32
17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Years ago a member of my parish gave me a picture that his daughter had made in an artistic style I had not seen before: pointillism. The picture was not made with strokes of pencils, pens, or brushes; it was made entirely of dots. In pointillism, shades and contrasts, spaces and shadows are made only by dots arranged in lines or in heavy or light concentrations. From several feet away, the picture is clear; from very close up, you see only dots.
It occurred to me later that growing in the Christian life can be an awful lot like pointillism. It is made up of millions of little decisions and experiences that very gradually assemble the shape of a life. Probably very few of us can remember much about the sermons we’ve heard, books we’ve studied, classes we’ve attended, conversations we’ve shared in, projects we’ve been part of — or daily devotions we’ve read like these. But each one of these has created a dot in our life, and the shape of our faith is being formed slowly but steadily.
In today’s lesson, Paul’s urging is about daily choices and behaviors. He says, “You were taught to put off your old self… and to put on the new self, created to be like God.” The follow-ups are all about ordinary, daily activities: they are about speaking truthfully; not letting anger become sinful or lasting; sharing with those who are in need; avoiding unwholesome talk; building others up with words; ridding oneself of bitterness, rage, slander, and malice; and forgiving others. Are you an old crank? A constant complainer? One who habitually finds fault with others? Or do you look for the good in others? Do you give thanks? Are you a blessing or a burden to get along with? How we place the dots in our life shows, eventually, the shape of our faith.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Isiala-Ngwa (Church of Nigeria)
All Saints Episcopal Church, Winter Park, Fla.