Ephesians 4:1-16 Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert 2 August 2015
Christian body-building! A ripped, muscular Jesus breaking free from the cross is not exactly what Paul has in mind. But the body of Christ is a common New Testament metaphor for the church. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Hebrews, there are references to the church being the body of Christ. (slide)
And this passage calls us to building up the body of Christ, in love. It calls us to preserve the integrity, the unity of the body, by humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance until all of us grow into the calling to which we have been called.
There is no better piece of scripture to tell us who we are in Christ and what we are to do than this one. There is no better guide for living in families or in churches than this. This is the definition of Christian community – understanding ourselves as one body, committed to the health of every part of that body, appreciating the gifts of each part, committing to the well-being of each part until all of us together grow into the full measure of Christ.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." 9 (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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. (NRSV)
Paul begs the Ephesians to lead a life worthy of their calling. That’s what a preacher does every week. At least I think that’s what I’m supposed to do each week – beg you to live as who you are called to be. I am here to plead with you, to try to inspire you, to try to find a new way every week to help you see that living like Christ, growing up into Christ, is the very best thing to do and is worthy of your constant effort, your renewed commitment. Yes, grab that spiritual bar bell and do some repetitions with me. That how we build a church. Read this scripture with me. Struggle with it for an entire week, reading it every day and trying to figure out what it means. That’s what we’re all called to do – to struggle every day to be little Christs – to move closer and closer to his likeness, to his loving embrace and his way of loving others. We are not just going to church. We ARE the church. We are to BE the church. Being the church takes some spiritual muscle.
It begins with a recognition of the gifts we have been given in Christ – this grace given in the measure of Christ’s gift – that God is above all and in all. It continues with our appreciating our oneness. We belong to one another in serious way – that’s why we take these church relationships so seriously and make promises to one another. We are connected and need each other to become our best. I need your gifts. You need mine. But not only do I need your gifts.
I need even your weaknesses to become my best self. Let just think about one of the virtues named in this passage. How am I to develop patience, or as it is sometimes translated, “long-suffering”? By suffering a long time –
usually because of someone else’s weakness. For instance, you can learn a lot of patience when you care for children. Well-fed babies crying non-stop in the night, toddlers destroying your house just because it’s fun, children unwilling to share toys or go to bed, teenagers defying your authority because they are experimenting with independence. As body-builders say at the gym – no pain, no gain.
You can learn all kinds of patience by adjusting in marriage to another person’s perspective. You want to buy what?! You can learn patience serving on a committee with people who think differently than you do. You can learn patience by building relationships across cultural, racial, ethnic, or economic barriers. You can learn patience by being a Stephen Minister and testing your ability to listening patiently, instead of talking and trying to fix other people. We learn patience not by having things go our way. We learn patience by being tested by waiting and struggling with our own impatience, trying to exercise self-control. We learn patience by waiting for God when God seems to have a different time-table. Don’t pray for patience and don’t pray for humility – unless you really want to grow. How do we develop humility? By humbling experiences, by suffering embarrassment, by failure, by not achieving everything we want, by experiencing losses as we age, by really listening when someone else points out our faults, instead of defending ourselves. Humility often comes when we pick up more weight that we can really handle, and everyone is watching and we just cannot get it up, and we collapse under pressure.
David experienced great humility by dealing with his own weakness. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, tried to cover it up and failed miserably, then forced a murder to cover up his failed cover-up. Then he was confronted by Nathan in a very humbling way. Nathan told him a story about an abuse of power, to which David recoiled, and the Nathan then spoke the truth in love by saying to David, “You are the one.” You are the abuser.
David wrote Psalm 51 in response, the most penitent of all the psalms. Create in me a clean heart, O God…Against you, you alone, have I sinned. Of course, he had sinned against Bathsheba, against Uriah, and against all whom he pulled into the horrible saga. But he remembers that it is God, above all, whom he has offended with his sin. David comes to appreciate that it is a humble, broken spirit, a contrite heart that God desires – not a heart full of self-aggrandizement, self-defense, self-serving satisfaction at the expense of others.
During WW2, a church in Strasbourg was destroyed. Nothing remained except a heap of rubble and broken glass, or so the people thought till they began clearing away the masonry. Then they found a statue of Christ still standing erect. In spite of all the bombing it was unharmed except that both hands were missing. Eventually rebuilding of the church began. One day a sculptor saw the figure of Christ, and offered to carve new hands. The church officials met to consider the sculptor’s friendly gesture—and decided not to accept the offer. Why? Because the members of that church said: “Our broken statue touches the spirits of people, but that He has no hands to minister to the needy or feed the hungry or enrich the poor—except our hands. He inspires. We perform.” (slide)
St Teresa of Avila makes a good point, even if she uses hyperbole, taking it to the extreme to make her point: Christ has no body now on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look at Christ’s compassion to the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.
You know, it often bothers me that we have no glorious church structure into which we might attract the masses because I know how lots of people do a drive-by and decide not to give us a try. But they don’t know our church by just driving down the path to Peace. After all, we cannot boast of having thousands of worshippers every week-end like other local churches. We do not offer all the exciting programs that you might find at another church. But do you know what we can say? We can say that we are motley group of imperfect people who are committed to being the body of Christ together. We can say that we are truly seeking to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. That’s our mission – it’s on the wall and it’s in our hearts. We are practicing speaking the truth in love, and we are working to help one another grow up into full maturity in Christ. We can say that when we have a problem with another, that we honestly try to work it out, to be gracious with one another because we know God has been gracious toward us. We are trying to be aware of people who are different from us, that we value diversity and openness, that we are an affirming congregation, and that we are very slow to judge another, but try to love and care, as Christ would. We are practicing patience, humility, and gentleness – not because it’s fun or easy but because it is good.
We are trying to equip the saints for the work of ministry, whether the saints are five year-old children in this church or fifteen year-old teens, whether they are forty-five year old farmworkers at Beth-El, or seventy-five year old residents of Westminster Communities. Whether they are of European, Asian, or African descent, whether they are gay or straight, male or female, rich or poor, sophisticated or simple-minded, no matter who they are, we are an open church, ready to equip the saints. I hope that as we move into a new school year and a new season of life at Peace Church, we will take this equipping the saints for the work of ministry even more seriously. I pray that we will each commit to be part of some group that very intentionally builds up the faith of others here at Peace or in your neighborhood or circle of friends. (slide) Being the church, not just going to church. We are body-builders in the eternal love of Jesus Christ. It’s like the little four year-old boy who when asked what is love? He said “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Or it’s like the six year-old girl who said, “If you want to learn how to love better, you should start with the friend that you hate.” Those kids understand what it means to speak the truth about love. They are heavy-weights in the body-building of the Christian life. We are part of that growing body that exists to fill all the earth with the fullness of God’s love. It is not a frail body but a pulsing muscular body of oneness as together we discipline ourselves with repetitions of heavy-lifting, heavy loving of others.