The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Where is the Love?

How are we supposed to live in love the way Jesus did if we avoid the people he loved?

by Russell Rathbun

Epistle Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20

For Sunday, August 19, 2012—Ordinary 20

The five little verses that the Lectionari-eers have carved out of chapter 5 of Ephesians for us this week are nice. They are sweet, pleasant—they sound like instructions from a prim and proper Sunday School teacher—be careful now dears how you live, don’t go around with those naughty people, be wise and make the most of your time, don’t be foolish, don’t let spirits intoxicate you, but be filled with the Spirit and make a joyful noise unto the Lord and give thanks for everything!

There is nothing wrong with wisdom and some sober singing. I like being filled with the Spirit making melody to the Lord with my pals, but the dark side of this pleasant scene is the rest of the chapter these beatific verses are pulled from.

The Dark Side

Chapter 5 starts out with a call to be imitators of God as beloved children (maybe the mention of beloved children is where I am getting the Sunday School vibe). We are to live in love, as Christ loved us. That’s all good—imitating God, loving like Christ loved—but then there is the turn.

Fornication, impurity of and kind and greed too, must not even be mentioned among you for proper saints wouldn’t speak of such things (Sunday School teacher is back), obscene, silly and vulgar talk is entirely out of place. Be sure that none of those bad people have any place in the kingdom of Christ and God. Do not even be associated with those horrible sinners. It is shameful to even mention such people.

Sequestered For Jesus?

So are we to sequester ourselves away in the Sunday school room singing sober melodies, not mentioning or associating ourselves with the vulgarities of humanity? Do we seek out like-minded good and proper folks to let into our beloved children’s choir?

It is a good thing that Mother Teresa didn’t take this verse seriously.

The Hardest Question

How are we supposed to live in love the way Jesus did if we avoid the people he loved?

Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Kay says:

    Thank you!!! Glad I’m not the only one who was asking this questions of Ephesians 5.

  2. doug henkel says:

    Good start. But please keep going. Don’t be so quick to assume that Mother Teresa did not take this part of Holy Scripture seriously. She did what she did through prayer and perseverance, not by staying drunk. Her compassion for the poorest among us was birthed in the presence of the Holy Ghost in her heart and life. That seems to be plucked right from this passage. I think that you suffer from one of the greatest errors of the Church in the late 20th and 21st centuries. You presume that social justice and compassion are somehow divorced from attention to personal righteousness (what archaic words I use). Mother Teresa and Jesus of Nazareth are the two greatest examples I can think of about how holy living is actually done among tax collectors and sinners. We love and show compassion to those who worship with us but still struggle. At the same time, we do not allow the values and life choices of the those who are struggling to become the values and life choices of the people of God. I think that is a good way to take this passage seriously. What do you think?

How do you read?