Sermon; Proper 13B; Ephesians 4:1-16
Ephesians is a letter that may or may not have been written by Paul, to a church or churches that may or may not have been located in Ephesus. Unlike the letters to the Corinthians or Galatians, there is no single event or crisis that is the reason or motive for writing the letter. It would appear that, more than anything, it is a letter to a new community (or communities) of believers, serving as a type of catechism.
Remember that this letter is structured like a funnel. It begins with the vast cosmic purposes of the eternal God, through the working of Jesus Christ his Son and the Holy Spirit, as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, established in the body and mission of the Church, being accomplished through the workings of you, the individual members of that body.
Whereas last week we had to play catch up and fill in a lot of gaps, we have no such issues today since today's reading comes immediately after last week's. We move directly from your role in the Church whose mission is to reconcile people to each other and God, break down dividing barriers, and being grounded in love, to a discussion of what that life looks like.
Last week I came across the idea that this letter served as a catechism for new believers. If that's true, the topics and format make much more sense, I think. How do you teach Christianity to new believers? Begin with God and move down to individual spirituality. The new believers are being instructed and re-socialized into God's mission and family. This letter guides them from their baptism into the life of a full-fledged Christian.
So . . . God – Christ – Covenant – Church – You. As members of this one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, how are we to live? This is what today's section of the letter deals with – how are we to live as Christians in the body of the Church?
First, remember that you have been called to this life by God. In answering that call, Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of that call. Live with humility, gentleness, and patience. Make every effort to maintain unity and bonds of peace.
We have been called by God to become members of this household, the Church. We have been adopted into the family and marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. And when that happens, we are reminded that there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all – which is still part of our baptismal rite. Through these acts, we have been called, baptized, and sealed into the family.
But we all know that families are interesting places. Families are bound in love, but they are also the source of some of our greatest battles. If we want the family to survive, we must bear with each other, support each other, have patience with each other, forgive each other.
The same is true for the Church. If we are to survive, we must live differently than the world around us. We must learn to be humble, gentle, and patient. We must love and forgive. We must do this as a reflection of how God behaves toward us. We and the Church are the reflection of God on earth. Since you are most likely how people see God, I beg you to live a life worthy of your calling.
After begging us to live worthy lives, Paul then goes on to talk about the varieties of gifts found in the Church. Some are apostles, some prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And all of these are to use their gifts to equip the saints (you) for the work of ministry and to build up the body of Christ in unity and maturity.
All of us have gifts. The body of Christ, the Church, is not dependent on one person. The priest is not the be-all and end-all of the Church. We all have gifts to use for the building up of the body. We all rely on each other. I rely on Bob and Katharine and Lou and Bruce and many others. People rely on me. And it is only through our interdependence, it is only through our mutual love, humility, patience, and forgiveness, that we will build up our particular body and the Church as a whole.
As we build each other up, we mature as Christians (or we should). We learn sound doctrine. We learn to speak truth in love. We grow in Christ, being grounded and rooted in love. And we represent the Church, Christ, and God in a manner worthy of our calling.
Ephesians is a catechetical funnel – it is a letter designed to teach/instruct new believers in the Christian life. It is saying that this new life has a different foundation than your old life, and here is what that entails.
That funnel begins with the wide opening of the vastness of the cosmological and eternal God. It moves to the plan of the Covenant being fulfilled in Christ. It draws together and unifies people who otherwise have no commonality in the body of the Church. It roots us and grounds us in Christ so that we may proclaim the breadth, length, height, and depth of that love. And it reminds us of how we are to live together in this new faith, this body of believers we call the Church.
As we ourselves work to become a beloved community, may we see the vast eternal plan of God reflected in our own lives and in this body. May we bear with one another in love. May we use our gifts to build up. And may we grow into Christ in every way so that we reflect the love of God to the world around us.