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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Not Literally

Grace-Full, Living the Easter Life

A 6-week Easter season sermon series from Ephesians, week 4 of 6

Preached May 16, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship


Its our last Sunday of this Sermon series from Ephesians Caitlan and I called “Grace-Full, Living the Easter Life”. So, let’s turn to the last chapter of Ephesians, and listen for the word of the Lord…


Scripture Ephesians 6:1-17

6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord,[a] for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: 3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”

4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline(s) and teaching(s) of the Lord.

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as (if) to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with God there is no partiality.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of God’s power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you all might be able to stand against the deceit of the liar. 12 For our[b] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you all might be able to resist on that evil day, and having done everything, to persist.

14 Persist therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of justice. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the liar. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.


When Jill and I started parenting, we started a list of rules, to help us be consistent and to remember what we agreed to. It grew longer and longer for a while, as we faced decisions we didn’t anticipate. By the time Michael, our third, was about three, we simplified that long list all the way back to three “house” rules. 1. Be nice. 2. No whining. And 3. Do what Mom and Dad ask the first time.

Ephesians reminds children, “Honor your parents.” The Gentiles may not have known this rule as a Jewish commandment, but their own culture understood children were to honor parents. It was obvious, though not always obeyed. They are children, after all. Ephesians points out something even the Jewish among them might have missed. This commandment is the first commandment with a promise built into it. Honor your parents, so that, as God promises, life will be good and full for you.

Then Ephesians does something no one expected. Its says Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger. Raise them in the disciplines and teachings of the Lord. For eons, scripture has been used by those in power to force those not in power to obey. Fathers were over everybody, especially children. But here, scripture begins to undermine that inequality, and to put responsibility on those over, the father, to honor children, to consider and respond to the feelings and thoughts, the needs and dreams of the younger ones.

Notice, also, the disciplines and teachings of faith are not a choice for children or youth to make on their own. The responsibility to raise children in the disciplines and teachings of faith in on the adults. The adults are commanded to raise children and youth in the knowledge of God, and to raise them in a community that models the practices, the disciplines of faith. Adults are commanded to model and practice those disciplines themselves in front of the children.

The Easter Life changes the way grown-ups, adults interact with children. Once upon a time, the older, the parents, especially the males, got what they wanted and the children had to suffer it. This scripture says, no more. Parents, grandparents, adults, older ones, recognize and adjust to the needs and passions of the younger ones. Do not frustrate them. You, the older ones, are responsible and accountable for creating a community where children and youth are excitedly raised in the disciplines and teachings of the Lord.

When we baptize a child, we, as a congregation, become responsible to those children. We become coparents of them. We, as a congregation, assume with the parents the considerable responsibility to model and instruct younger ones in the practices of Jesus and teachings of God. We are not to hammer it into their brains with force, coercion, manipulation, or shame, but we are to recognize the unique gifts and passions in each child and youth, and nourish them, encourage them, and help them grow into God’s purposes. We fail when we provoke anger or rebellion, frustration or apathy in the children and youth.

The Presbyterian Church of Chestertown is being called, even now, to walk beside children in the ways of the Lord, and not just the Jarvis or McIntires, or the youth group which graduates 8 from its number today. This year, especially since the news of Ms. Terri’s retirement at the end of May, the Session has been discussing and discerning God’s vision for the future of this church, and we are hearing God’s call to make sure this church is one where parents feel supported in raising children and youth in the practices and teachings of beloved community. We want to make sure this church is the kind of community where children and youth are not bored or judged, but are encouraged to be and become themselves, and to lead us into making the world more and more like God’s kingdom. We don’t know yet what that will look like, but I imagine there will be resources of time and monies needed to grow new ministries, and I am praying we adults, the grownups, will gladly generously respond to this calling.

There’s another relationship Scripture addresses here, between Slave and Master. For thousands of years, many followers of God used Holy texts, like this, to justify owning fellow human beings as slaves. For eons, scripture has been used by those in power to force those not in power to obey and maintain the privilege of some over others, the status quo. The words of Scripture here, read literally, were used to protect the industry and economy of slave owners, who were often the largest donors to the congregations and the largest taxpayers to the state.

Leeds Wright successfully escaped with fellow slave Abram Tilison in 1857. Wright was owned by Reverend John Wesley Pearson, a Methodist pastor here in Kent County.

Thomas Hicks, from the Eastern Shore, said slave owners had a right under the "Constitution to recover their property," and was elected Governor of Maryland in 1858.

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, said at his inaugural address in 1861… "[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments...”

Read literally, scripture has lead Christians not to follow God, but to justify prejudices and biases, unjust economies, biased cultures or traditions. Pro-slavery pastors used the word of God as proof they and their people were being ungodly in owning other children of God as property.

They liked using half of this scripture, the “slaves, obey your master” part. But, the scripture also commanded masters. Masters, do the same to them. Do not threaten or harm or punish them. In God’s beloved community, all are equal and free, and that’s what Christians work toward. This scripture never supported slavery. It undermined it.

Those who seek to live the Easter life find ourselves regularly challenging the ways things are, the ways things have been. We find ourselves taking power back from those who have it and use it over others, who lie, who use deceit to keep their power. That’s why Ephesians nudges us toward a life worthy of our calling… a life of unity in the body of Christ, of equality between genders, of responsibility and compassion toward children, of honesty and humility from those gifted with the responsibility of power to use it FOR others, not OVER them. This is a very different life, this Easter life, and living it will get push back everywhere we go.

That’s why Ephesians tells us, put on the full armor of God. Notice, everything about this armor is defense, not offense. We do not go into the world to attack other human beings, it says. Our struggle is not against blood and flesh. Our struggle is against the systems, the institutions, the rules and authorities who defend and enforce the broken systems. We resist and confront those who repeat lies or empower liars. We expose deceit, or the misuse of power. We will need armor as we do so.

The full armor of God is not license to battle and defeat other children of God. It is protection as we put ourselves in the midst of lies and try to bring truth. It is comfort as we demand justice and equality into unjust laws. Its reassurance for us as we try to bring peace into what feels like permanently broken relationships.

The armor starts with the belt of truth. Truth holds all the pieces together, and protects us from the greatest enemy, hypocrisy. Truth is never an attack, and no one with God will struggle against truth.

The breastplate of justice gives us courage to walk into unjust, uneven conflicts bravely, knowing our core is protected. Justice is never an attack, and no one with God avoids or resists true justice.

Shoes. There are no specifications here, only whatever will make us ready go with confidence, ready to talk plainly about boldly about peace. Peace is never an attack, and no one with God makes excuses in order to keep fighting and delay peace.

Those who bring truth, justice, and peace will get attacked, sometimes from unexpected places, like our friends, family, neighbors. So carry the shield of faith. Faith is not a weapon but a shield. Use faith to deflect attacks, and keep speaking truth, seeking justice, and preaching peace.

The helmet of salvation protects our mind. It is not meant for attack, but defense. The most harm church can do is to threaten others with salvation, wholenes being dependent on them coming around to the right thoughts or beliefs. This helmet of salvation is meant to protect our minds, so we remember, the sacrifice made by God in Christ is enough for us and for everyone.

We are given the Sword of the Spirit, the word of God. This is our only tool of attack. The word of God is sharp. To wield it haphazardly can do irreparable harm, as we’ve seen in the misuse of scripture for slavery. But, the word of God is the only instrument God gives us to cut through the lies with truth, the unjust with justice, and the violence with peace. Wield this sword, the Word of God, carefully. Think of it as a scapel, not a sword, a delicate instrument to handle with a light touch, and use it to remove dangers and diseases from the body of Christ, so we can heal.

To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.


Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown

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