The Bond of God’s Peace!

“The Bond of God’s Peace!”

Ephesians 4:1-6 (4:5) – August 1, 2021

            The Summer Olympics are going on right now – different athletes from countries all over the world coming together. Each country’s team competes for medals, yes; but they also compete individually in accord with the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger.

            The apostle Paul refers to sports several times in his letters to the churches. Not a new thing, at all! Many of the people of his day were great fans of different sports, too. We can compare the local church to a sports team – members have different abilities, different strengths. Each individual member provides their different God-given gifts in unique ways to make up the multi-faceted, multi-colored, multi-gifted congregations many of us know.

            The letter to the Ephesian church is divided into two parts. Paul ended the first section with Ephesians 3, with a prayer for an outpouring of Christ’s love. Paul wished the Lord might grant strength and power to the Ephesian believers, prayed they might experience the full-ness of God, and closed with a spontaneous doxology to the immeasurable praise and glory of God.

            Here at the beginning of the second section of his letter, Paul gets practical. He starts Chapter 4 with a description of the Christian walk – walking together, helping one another, and supporting one another. And, walking with our Lord Jesus Christ, as called believers.  

             Paul says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” It doesn’t sound to me as if the church Paul had pastored for many months (he did, you know – Paul was the pastor for what probably was over a year) was in pure brother- and sisterhood, and harmony. No, Pastor Paul uses the imperative tense. That means he is using commands.

            I don’t know if you know anyone this way, but when I hear about someone who barks orders, I sometimes pause, and take a step back to consider and evaluate. I want to know who is giving the orders, and why. But, when it’s the apostle Paul? Let’s take the example of a sports team, again. What if the sports teams you watch had minor, petty disagreements amongst themselves, on a regular basis? Even, all the time? There wouldn’t be much togetherness, or teamwork. Sometimes, disagreements do happen. On sports teams, between friends, in families, and in church congregations.  

            Let’s remind ourselves of what Paul says: we are “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Put another way, we are to put in the effort to maintain our relationships with each other. That doesn’t refer to just one area, like our family, and I don’t need to care about anything or anyone else. No! We need to strive to mend hurt feelings and negative vibes in all our relationships. It is then that you and I are stronger in our life together – our lives in our families, with our friends, and in our congregations. [1]

            Take this congregation. If we wanted to see a good trustee, someone who takes excellent care of the physical plant of this church, we look to Bob. For an excellent usher and caretaker for the morning services each Sunday, we would consider Al, for years and years. Now that Al has moved in with his son in Lake County, David has ably stepped up and is continuing the excellent usher duties. What about caring for hospitality in our congregation? I know we have not met together for coffee and fellowship after the morning services for over a year, but all our congregation thinks highly of Carol and Lois. And David, Bill and Pete? Assisting Bob with trustee business. What about Sunny? If there is anything creative to be done around the church, look to Sunny to head that up. Jieun heads up our music leadership for each Sunday service. I could go on and on. We have many facets of our congregational life together, ably represented.

            Paul goes on to say that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” In this shorter version of the gifts and graces God provides (expanded in other lists in other New Testament letters), Paul sets forth a number of different jobs, duties and gifts God freely gives to all God’s people.

            Yes, God has gifted each of us with unique gifts and abilities – those are separate and individual. Except, we are all called to be Christ-followers – each one of us, individually, and all of us, collectively, in a body. We are all called to be worthy of this higher calling, this Godly adoption, to live as God would have us to live.                

            I can just hear the objections now: “What, no disagreements, ever? What are we supposed to do, hold hands together and stand around singing ‘Kum-by-yah’ all the time?” Not in this imperfect world, no. Paul doesn’t expect us to always get along with one another, and he’d be the first to say so. God has also gifted us – that is, each one of us! – with the ability to repair and heal hurt, broken relationships, as we work through things about which we disagree.  

            Two simple, powerful tools for this? First, a genuine “I’m sorry,” from the heart. Second, a sincere, caring “How can I help?” These two phrases are caring ways to maintain unity and practice peace with our families, friends, and our congregations, too.[2] I leave us all with the exhortation of Paul: “Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  God’s peace passes all understanding, and it is God’s gift to us all. As I say at the end of each worship service, go in God’s peace – and, God’s peace is truly a gift for all of us to treasure!

(Many ideas from this sermon come from this lesson from Illustrated Ministries. Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for the use of their lesson for the 11h Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1]Illustrated Ministries, lesson for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.

[2] Ibid.

One Family of God

“One Family of God”

unity how good it is

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 – January 24, 2016

At this time of the year, many people get all excited about sports. Hockey, basketball, and especially football. The end of the football season is upon us! There are many different types of positions on a football team. I was wondering: how good would a team be if all of the players were big and bulky, like offensive linemen? Or, how about if all the players wiry and nimble, like wide receivers? How successful would a team like that be?

The Apostle Paul told the church in Corinth about another group, or team. Except, he called it a body—God’s body. God put together all the different believers into a team, or body called the church. God’s team. When we consider our passage for today, we can also see that God made different kinds of gifts, as well. God’s plan is for human beings to live together in one body. That is, with one another, in a great big community.

What on earth is Paul talking about? A body? Why is he mentioning a metaphor like that? Well, he was responding to a letter from the church in the city of Corinth. He had spent a number of months in the city, teaching and preaching. Then, he went on his way to other towns, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He was an itinerant preacher and missionary, after all.

I suspect Paul had a great number of people sending him letters, asking him questions, wanting his advice about continuing problems in the various churches he had founded. A number of things were the matter with the church in Corinth. In his letter, Paul tried to correct several issues, including this important issue about spiritual gifts, and unity in the church.

Reading from chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians again: “12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” That’s Paul’s main point! Yes, we in the church are one body! Yes, we in the church have different strengths, and roles, and gifts! Just like a body has many, many different parts. Those different parts do countless tasks. Certain parts of the body are versatile! And, other parts of the body do just one thing. But, that doesn’t make any smaller part any less a part of the body. Big parts, important parts, little parts, behind-the-scenes parts. All different kinds of parts of the body.

One of my favorite commentators had a radio program for years. J. Vernon McGee broadcast a show called “Thru the Bible,” in which he would do just that; methodically go through the Bible in five years, teaching and giving comments in his homespun, aw shucks kind of way. This Presbyterian pastor Dr. McGee had incredible insights!

Dr. McGee told several stories about this particular chapter from 1 Corinthians. On one occasion, Dr. McGee went to a school in Georgia to deliver a commencement address. Afterwards, he went to a doctor’s home for dinner. Quoting from his commentary, “[The doctor] asked me whether I knew which was the most important part of my body while I had been speaking. I guessed it was my tongue. ‘No,’ he said, ‘the most important part of your body today was a member that no one was conscious of. It was your big toe. If you didn’t have a couple of big toes, you wouldn’t have been able to stand up there at all.’” [1]

We all are probably familiar with a popular children’s toy. Put out by Hasbro, small children have played with it for decades. Made even more famous by an appearance in all three Toy Story movies from Pixar. Mr. Potato Head, accompanied by his partner, Mrs. Potato Head, of course. You remember how Mr. Potato Head works. A large potato. And, the separate parts of the body: eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Hands, feet. Reminds me quite a bit of the Apostle Paul’s metaphor of the Church, the body of Christ, doesn’t it? But what if our Potato Head had all eyes, and no hands? Or, all ears and no feet? What then? Would it be all lopsided? Wouldn’t work properly?

Just imagine if our local church, St. Luke’s Church, was all lopsided like this? Wouldn’t work properly? Not only is the Church meant to have unity, or work well together, it is also made up of diverse or different parts, on purpose!

Looking back at Genesis, we can see that diversity is definitely in God’s plan for humanity from the very beginning. The sheer creativity of God in creation is so big and so varied. A countless variety of individuals made in every size, shape, color, ethnicity. Having endless variations of gifts that God gave to each of us.

The only way I can figure this, is God is pleased when we use our God-given creativity in any one of a myriad of ways—inventing, designing, doing, helping, making, thinking, crafting, composing, giving. And when we use our God-given gifts, it plain feels good inside.

When we look at this chapter in 1 Corinthians, Paul stresses that the church—the group of believers in Christ he was writing to—in all of its diversity, is a community. A great, big extended family, if that helps you think about it in that way. I know that can remind us of the whole topic of the families each of us were born into–and some people don’t want to go there—with in-laws, out-laws, black sheep, and all the rest. But biblically speaking, this is God’s family. Unity? Yes! Diversity? Again, yes!

There is a wrinkle in this happy, unified picture the Apostle Paul paints for us. I suspect you are already thinking about it.

The missiologist, Donald McGavran of Fuller Seminary, talks about it. “If you expect people to convert and churches to grow, said McGavran, you must appeal to a common denominator around which they can gather — ethnicity, language, level of education, and so on. And homogeneity is what we mainly see when we look at churches — black Pentecostals enjoy their lively worship, Episcopalians prefer their quiet formality, some people like the organ, others like praise bands, and never the twain shall meet.” [2]

I know the Apostle Paul didn’t study different approaches to mission or worship, like people in seminary do today. He was more immediate, and I suspect more of a nuts and bolts kind of guy, for all his education and fancy titles. He talked in our passage today about the unity of the Body of Christ. He knew about diversity, since many of the groups of believers he preached to were just that—diverse, with people from all different strata, coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t matter whether we have obvious differences, or an infinite number of variations. God calls us to unity; the unity of Jesus Christ, and to a diversity without division. To the church in Colossae Paul writes, “There is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Scythian, slave or free, male or female, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Yes, there is diversity! Yes, we are all different from each other. And, yes, we are all one in Christ Jesus. We can celebrate that blessed reality today!

Just imagine. Just imagine what a marvelous job each Church could do, if each member used what God had given to each one, to the best of their ability! What an opportunity for ministry! What an opportunity for outreach!

What possibilities lie before us as a church, as the Body of Christ in this place? May each of us prayerfully ask what God would have us to do with the gifts God has given each of us, today. Amen, alleluia!

 

[1] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians—Revelation (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers: 1983), 60.

[2] Epiphany 3C, The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself, Daniel B. Clendenin, Journey with Jesus Foundation, 2013. http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20130121JJ.shtml

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!