10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 2, 2015
Ephesians 4: 1-16 You can click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser.
What do you think of when we talk about body-building? I think of that woman body builder at the gym whose muscles flex into definition when she pulls down the lat bar. It’s repeated, targeted exercise that builds strength. Not everyone wants one of those ‘muscle-man’ physiques, but the people that I meet at the gym want their bodies to be healthy and responsive to the demands of life. So they work hard to lift and run, young and old alike.
Lifting weights may not be the first thing you think about when you read Ephesians, this letter to a first century church, even when the Apostle uses the image of building the body of Christ for the work of ministry. But he’s definitely thinking about the kind of discipline that makes for strong, healthy bodies. Our New Testament readings have been from Ephesians for a few weeks now, and I think Paul’s letter has a lot to say to us. The church in Ephesus was experiencing painful division between Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jews were pretty proud of their ‘chosen’ status and their long history of observing God’s laws. They thought of Gentiles as unschooled heathens and they looked on them with undisguised contempt. They didn’t want to soil their purity by associating with them. The Gentiles thought the Jews were arrogant and fussy, stuck in the past and ignoring the door to God that Jesus threw open to everyone. Gentiles were ready to turn their lives around and step out of the stratified system of the day to build a more just world. They didn’t care much about tradition, they just wanted to get things done.
As I read this letter, it sounds much like the church of our time, struggling with figuring out how to respond to the culture and how to hold out against it. Even Our Savior’s struggles with this. It’s not easy, but the one thing that the Apostle lifts up in today’s reading is unity. “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” You are of one body and one Spirit, you were called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. says the Apostle. This is the center of what church looks like. This is the heart of our mission and our ministry.
Paul says that each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift – some would be apostles and prophets evangelists, pastor and teachers, (I’d like to add, musicians, cookie bakers, people who stay in touch with shut-ins, and provide rides) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Paul calls us to “maturity” so that we will no longer act like children, but will speak the truth in love and grow up into the fullness of Christ, who is the head of the body we are. He envisions us knit together into a strong, healthy body, flexing its growth in love. What would that look like? Would that change how we talk to and about each other?
Paul’s letter began (as we heard a few weeks ago) “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” It goes on to say that he destined us for adoption, he freely bestowed on us his glorious grace, though we were dead in our sins, he made us alive together with Christ – by grace we have been saved, not the result of works, so that none may boast. We are all brought into communion by the blood of Christ, who is our peace. He wants us to be rooted and grounded in love, so that we may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, the breadth and length and height and depth of the power of that love and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. This is the basis for what comes next, so today’s reading begins: “therefore.” In the coming weeks we will hear more about what “Church” can look like when we are rooted and grounded in Christ and God’s grace to us.
So then, I wonder what we must do to speak the truth in love as a discipline of body building at Our Savior’s. How can we share one hope, one faith, one baptism as we come to the unity of faith? The Apostle’s vision compels us to look deeply at our own heath, to pray for the discipline that relies on sharing grace to make our body strong. It is the power of God’s embrace of each of us through the love of Jesus, for us and our world, which changes our hearts, and sends us out to love others. Our forgiveness frees us to act with mercy and to work for justice, just as those first congregations were called to act.
And so we pray:
Blessed be the God and Father of us all who has blessed us by calling us into community for his own purpose to testify to his grace to us. May the love that changes hearts open our own hearts to build each other up in faith and forgiveness. Amen.