Do's and Don'ts

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

One day somebody asked the comedian, George Burns, what he considered a good sermon. He gave this pointed answer: "A good sermon should have a good beginning, a good ending, and they should be as close together as possible."

Well, here's the beginning.

A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."

"Okay," the man says. "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on here, even in my heart."

"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "That's worth three points!"

"Just three points? Well, I attending church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."

"Terrific!" says St. Peter. "That's certainly worth a point."

"One point? Good golly Miss Molly. Well, how about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for the homeless veterans."

"Fantastic. That's good for two more points," St. Peter says.

"TWO POINTS!!" the man cries out. "At this rate the only way I'll get into heaven is by the grace of God!"

"Come on in!" St. Peter said.

That's right. Only by the grace of God. No matter how many 'do's and don'ts we add to our Christian list of proper behavior, it is still only by the grace of God that we are saved. We'd like to think it is by what we do, or what we don't do, but it isn't. That's a big part of Christian Evangelism: what you have to do to get into heaven and what you must not do in order to get into heaven. Each denomination has variation on the basic theme.

Now let's see if I can keep the beginning and the end of the sermon close to each other.

My sermon title is, "Do's and Don'ts." It's based on the portion of Paul's letter to the Ephesians that was read earlier. It's full of 'Do's and Don'ts." The fourth and fifth chapters of Ephesians are full of "Dos and Don'ts." Unfortunately, as with the rest of the New Testament, folks focus on the DON'Ts instead of the DOs.

And we especially do this with our children. Focusing on the DON'Ts is what we emphasize with them. We do this because we essentially lead our lives that way, making the priority focus to be on things we should not do. In fact that's the chief message of so many churches and so many Christians. No wonder the overall church membership in the USA, in all denominations, is shrinking. No wonder there are now more unchurched folks in the USA than there are Christians. What's the draw to come to Jesus, to come to know his love? We initially tell people they are sinners, and their life is full of doing things they shouldn't. Instead of focusing on the positive things they are DOING, and focusing on all the many other things they have opportunities to do, we focus on the things we think they SHOULDN'T be doing-we focus on "Don't do this, and don't do that."

That's sad, not only for our own lives, focusing on the don'ts, but it's sad also because it won't bring people into the knowledge of Christ and Christ's love for them.

Martin Luther, in his explanation of each of the Ten Commandments, always goes beyond the "Don't" of the commandment, and shows us that behind every 'Don't' there is a 'Do."

For instance, "You shall not steal." Part of that is a don't-don't take your neighbor's money or property-and part of this is a DO which is as much a part of the commandment as the DON'T we tend to focus on. Martin Luther says, "Don't steal from your neighbor, BUT also DO "help him improve and protect his property and means of making a living." Or to take another example, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." There is a 'don't' but there is a DO as well. Don't "betray, slander or lie about your neighbor." But DO "defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way." Or one last one from Martin Luther's Small Catechism. "You shall not murder." That is, DON'T "hurt your neighbor in any way." But DO "help him in all his physical needs."

Paul starts Chapter four of Ephesians by saying, "Here's what I want you to do." He shows the "old way of living has to go" so we can make room for a new way of living, a new way of doing things, instead of just focusing on the don'ts-don't do this, don't do that. We have to focus on our doing because there's LOTS to do.

Paul says, don't lie, and don't put on a pretense. DO tell the truth. Don't use any anger you might have as a fuel for revenge. Don't stay angry; don't go to bed angry; don't give the devil that kind of foothold in your life. But DO resolve your anger in a positive way as soon as possible; DO keep the devil at least at arm's length. DO stop stealing, and DO work honestly at your job so that you have something to give to the needy. And DO watch the way you talk. DON'T let anything foul or dirty come out of your mouth. DO make a break with all cutting, backbiting, and profane talk. DO be gentle and sensitive with one another. DO forgive one another as quickly and as thoroughly as Christ forgives each of us.

DO watch what God does and then do it, like children should learn appropriate and beneficial behavior from watching what their parents do. DO keep close to God because then you live in God's love. DO observe how Christ loves each one of us. And observing what you see that Christ does, do that. Don't be cautious in loving your neighbor, DO be like Christ and be extravagant in your love for others.

So do focus on the DO side of life rather than the DON'T side. And realize behind every DON'T there is a DO. Try to find that and focus on that. You will become more and more aware of how much of your life you lead out of the DON'Ts, and how much of what you pass on to your children or other children is in the DON'T category, rather than the DO category.

Rather than tell a child don't do something, demonstrate to the child how to DO something. Jesus was a DO kind of guy. His actions matched what he said. And his ministry was to show people how to DO things, how to LIVE one's life rather than how to NOT live one's life.

So, DO nourish your self in spirit through worship and Holy Communion and prayer and studying the Bible so you KNOW what Jesus told us to DO. The greater your spiritual nourishment, the greater will be your fullness of life and appreciation for that fullness.

DO think positively. DO act in a positive manner. DO love. DO have compassion. DO forgive. DO focus on and live your life out of the DOs of life. And DO help others get out of any DON'T rut they may be caught in.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie