6/14 Sermon

Therefore

Beloved, there is an often-repeated sermon illustration that goes something like this. There was a man who survived a shipwreck and was stranded on a deserted island for several years. Finally, one day a boat sailed close enough to the island that he was able to signal it and be rescued. As the boat is sailing away from the island the man is looking back on where he lived for years and the notice 3 buildings on the island, so they ask him what he made them for. The man replies, “The one in the middle is my house. The one on the right is my church, and the one on the left is the church I used to go to.”  Now, this is a humorous story, but it is meant to point out an underlying problem, disunity in the church. Most of us are not currently attending the only church we’ve ever been a part of; for various reasons, some good and excusable, others less so. Many of us I’m sure have heard stories of churches splitting over trivial things like carpet color in the sanctuary or music choice. Others in our body joined because questionable theology divided their old church family. Whether we’ve been through a church split or just heard stories about them, the impact of the division is felt.

            This past week JD Greear, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention made an announcement to his denomination about unity during currently divisive times. In a heartfelt message, Greear urged fellow southern Baptists to acknowledge where they had sown seeds of disunity in the past. He brought up uncomfortable truths, like the SBC is a unique group in and of themselves, separated from the American Baptists over the topic of slavery. Specifically, whether missionaries could or couldn’t own them, to which the SBC fell on the pro-slavery side. But it was not just a message of admonishment, but one of recognizing hope. He spoke of the growing racial diversity in the church and how God was leading them back into unity. For while we need reminders and our actions matter, God is the one who unifies. 

This is the underlying message for our passage this morning. Paul has spent three chapters talking about how great God is! How God had a divine plan of reconciliation, how God has torn down barriers and how He is worthy of praise. This unity and this message of the gospel, this story of God drawing close to mankind that we might draw closer to Him and to each other in the process, is why Paul writes this letter from prison. It is a calling worthy of giving up his freedom for. A calling worthy of giving up his life for. Today we look at the turning point, Paul’s challenge for us to respond to the love, grace, and mercy of God. To respond as one, in light of what God has done, and is doing. To His love that surpasses knowledge and His ability to do immeasurably more than we think can imagine.

This is what the word of the Lord says: Ephesians 4:1-6

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

            Paul tells his beloved in Ephesus, as someone who has given his life for this calling, and since I cannot be with you due to my imprisonment for this calling, I urge you to take action! Not simply because I have asked but in light of all that God has done. The NIV translation uses the word “then”, but others use the word “therefore.” Therefore, implies action because of what came before. God loved; therefore, we love. God is one, therefore we are one. Our action is out of response to God. Not out of duty, or because we ought to, but out of the venturing deeper and deeper into the love of God.

Eugene Peterson wrote a paraphrase of the bible called the Message, which can be helpful at times for saying the same thing in a different way. This is his paraphrase of verses one through six.

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

Peterson emphasizes the word walk which is another way of interpreting the word live in verse one. Walk the walk worthy of our calling, take the necessary steps. But you, remember the collective you of Paul, “you” means the church, not the individual. “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together”, Peterson says. This is Paul’s message a continuation of last week, a tying together of the letter. If we as the church are rooted in love, to venture deeper and deeper into the immeasurably massive life of the Trinity. Deeper into community, deeper into selflessness, not out of duty but out of awe! Out of marvel, out of desiring more of God, then we will be traveling on the same road and in the same direction as Peterson says.

            Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less. It is taught and conditioned over time. Through living a life with others, a life for others. Gentleness is foreign to many of us but glaringly obvious in the life and work of Christ. We are conditioned by having Siri on our smartphones and no ads on Netflix to desire instant gratification, so patience and bearing with one another is difficult. But we are better at waiting on the things we want most, willing to put up with the delay if the reward is worth it. This is true of our walk with God too. The further we venture into the love of God, the more we desire Him, the more we appreciate Him. The more we love His kids (each other) for His sake, the longer we’re willing to be patient with each other. For the love of God, lived out in a community conditions us to love others and be patient with them. This love of others rooted in God and community makes us lovers of community and thus peacemakers and preservers of unity.

            We are unified as one body through the one spirit, or another way of saying it is because of the one Spirit that we all share we are one body. And we walk together with the same unified hope, which is found in the Lordship of Jesus and our allegiance to him. We have all died to our old self and were made a new in the victory of Christ and professed through the waters of baptism. Which brings us back to the one God, who is over all and through all and in all. Venturing into the perfect community and love of God together Beloved, with Christ as Lord going out ahead of us, and as God the Spirit keeping us together, we can be humble, gentle, patient, peacemakers, and unified. Not because we tried hard, but because God is humble, gentle, patient, peacemaking, and unified.  

This passage is one that is preached on a lot and one thing that seems to be missed often when it is taught is that it’s right in the middle of a full letter. We cut it out of its context and set it up nicely as a wakeup call for a congregation. Often treated as a list of things we ought to be, humble, gentle, patient, peaceful, seeking unity. While this is true, those should be the trademarks of the church; if our message is “go out there this week and try hard to be those things”, our end product will be preaching the same sermon a ways down the road. For we won’t be humble, gentle, patient, peaceful, seeking unity.  We lack the ability to walk that path alone. For it is God by His love and through His Spirit that brings unity and binds us together.

            If this gathering serves as nothing more than a glorified pre-game pep talk to make you feel good, then disunity is sure to follow. It’s like when I was in high school and we would play a big soccer game. Our coach would tailor our practices specifically for our next opponent. He would tell us before the game that we had put in the effort all week in practice we just needed to go out there and execute. Then our team captains would get us all fired up, feeling invincible we would take the field thinking not even a pro team could stop us that day. Then we’d lose. In the frustration of loss, we would be quick to point out the errors other players had made. I did my part, I put in the work and the effort, but you didn’t mark your man, or you missed that shot. Then Monday would roll around and we would have a practice where we watched the tape of the game and broke down what we all did wrong. Suddenly our teammates weren’t the only reason we lost. We’d apologize and get back to the cycle of prep, pep talk, eventual defeat, and blaming others, then the realization of fault and apology.

            But the cycle wasn’t ever broken, for it was built upon prideful humans. Too often this same cycle is seen in the church. Sunday is a pep talk for you to go live your best life now, and when things don’t work out, we are not humble, gentle, patient people. We are gossipers, finger pointers, and creators of division. So, let us not participate in a broken cycle dependent on us getting better through our own actions. But let us head in the same direction, lead by Jesus as Lord, held together by God the Spirit, surrounded on all sides by God the Father and venturing ever deeper into the perfect love and community of the Trinity. Praise be to God!