|Exotic Animals, Sutter Buttes, CA: May 2014|
Monday, October 5, 2015
World Communion - Called to Be the Body
Preached on September 4, 2015
Scripture readings: Ephesians 3:7-21; Ephesians 4:1-16
A man was walking by a mental hospital. The grounds of this hospital were completely surrounded, and completely hidden, by a high wooden fence. Now, this man heard voices chanting on the other side of this fence. They were chanting, “13! 13! 13! 13!” The man was overwhelmed by curiosity. He just had to know what was going on.
He spotted an open knothole in the fence and peeked through the hole, and all at once someone poked him in the eye. The man screamed and then he heard the chanting begin again: “14! 14! 14! 14!”
It’s possible for the Lord’s people to become like the mental hospital, with strange people saying strange things that no one understands, cooped up behind high walls, poking people in the eye.
But that is not the job that God has called us to do. Each one of us is called to do a job. Being a Christian is not just a matter of being saved, or receiving inspiration, or being nurtured and fed in the faith.
These things are important. But it is just as important to know that being a Christian is a matter of being called to do a job.
Paul knew he had a job to do, and he called his job a gift from God, or a grace from God. The word grace means a gift. Paul says, “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ…” (Ephesians 3:8)
Paul means, “By the grace of God, I was given a job.” In fact grace means an unearned gift, a gift you could never work for. You could never prepare yourself for it.
We receive a lot of gifts like this in life. For instance how could you ever really prepare for a thing like marriage? And how could you ever prepare to be a parent? A mother once confessed: “I took a parenting class that taught us three theories of parenthood. Now I have three children, and no more theories.”
Marriage and parenthood are both jobs. They are constant, real work. And they are also blessings, gifts, graces. And it goes without saying that you don’t deserve them! Although, once you have been given the gift, it behooves you to rise to the level of the gift.
Now, it is the same with the fact that God has a calling for you; a job for you. What is your job? You and I all have the same job. To bring God glory, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
The famous first question of the old Westminster Catechism sums up our job. “What is the chief end of man?” That is, what is the primary purpose of all human life? And the answer is “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”
That is why we are alive. It is tempting to say that giving God glory (showing how great God is) is our job, and our enjoying of God is our reward. But the chance to give God glory is also a great gift, and the enjoyment is also our job.
We are called to enjoy God and the life God has given us. In Philippians (4:4) Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!” You might say that we are commanded to be happy; at least we are commanded to be as happy as it is decently possible for us to be, under the circumstances.
Paul describes God’s plan. “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.” (Ephesians 3:10) Paul tells us that his message, and ours, is meant to be seen by every nation. This message is meant to be shared by everyone all around the world. The world would be a different place if everyone could experience the wisdom of God that is found in Jesus.
“That, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.” “Manifold” means taking many forms. “Manifold wisdom” means that the proof of God’s wisdom takes many, many forms.
God’s wisdom here refers to God’s great plan. God’s plan is to change human life by coming into our world, in Jesus Christ, to give himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and for our sins, on the cross.
Was that a wise plan? Was that the smart way to do it?
Well, I guess that is what we are trying to figure out when we ask what would have happened in our own lives if there had never, ever, been a body of God’s people somewhere around us, worshiping, and praying, and working together in love to share the glory of the Lord with others.
The church makes the many forms of God’s wisdom known, because the church is made up of many proofs of God’s wisdom. Just as the Bible is a collection of many books, and many, many stories; so the church is a collection of many, many lives that tell a story.
They are all examples of one great story; the story of the one, true God, who comes down into our world, with a sacrificial love, searching for us; searching for people everywhere. We are called to lives that tell the story of the difference that Jesus makes.
(Ephesians 4:1) Paul says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” And he doesn’t mean to make yourself good enough for your calling, because the Lord’s calling is grace. It is an un-earnable gift.
In fact, the need for being humble is built into the job. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) We, as a church, can never expect to glorify God unless we are “completely humble and gentle.” We can never hope to glorify God together, as a church, unless we can “be patient, bearing with each other in love.”
Your calling, and mine, is not just to talk, or to be a good talker. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the good news any way you can. If necessary, use words.” Sometimes you have to speak, but speaking is not enough.
Words are never enough because there is something about the message that only has power when it becomes visible, when it is seen in action within the involuntary relationships of a community of people like us.
We are not a voluntary organization. We are an involuntary organization. We are a family and you can’t choose your family. It’s the world that tells Christians that they can choose their family. This world is wrong.
The calling of God is for you to be in such a community, and Paul tells us that the Lord created the church to be that community. That is our job.
Paul isn’t talking, here, about the wisdom of God being shown in your individual life, although the wisdom of God may be shown there. For Paul the manifold wisdom of God is shown in our involuntary relationships within the church. Paul doesn’t say, here, that the glory of God will be revealed in you as an individual, although it may be revealed there. But Paul says, “To him be glory in the church.”
It comes from the miracle of God being able to create a team of people who are “completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love.” To be like that, to be seen like that, people have to work as a team, together, on purpose, with commitment, not giving up and not walking off the field. But this, too, is a gift. It is an empowerment that comes from the Holy Spirit. Pray for the Spirit to give you this gift.
God’s plan is to draw all people together into one family; through the cross of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. If we believe that this is part of the message, and if we believe that we are the messengers, then we have got to live the message in togetherness.
All Paul’s talk about individual gifts serves to teach us that each one of us has a different way to do the same job. Not one of us is like any other, in terms of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each one of us is needed to help the others. And each one of us needs help from the others. Because none of us has all the gifts we need.
Paul says that, as we share the message in love, we grow in our connection to Christ, and we become the people the Lord has designed us to be. Paul says, “Speaking the truth in love (that means, speaking the Lord’s message of love, in the language love) we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Spiritually, Jesus is everywhere, and he fills everything. But Jesus wants to have a body on earth, a body of people who are committed to serving and working together.
The thing about a body is that it must be someplace, sometime. Wherever Christians worship and work together, they are the body of Christ then and there. When we gather to worship together, and plan together, and learn together, and work together, then we are the body of Christ here and now.
Christ wants to work, and Christ wants to make himself known, here and now. Every place on earth, every city and town, every tribe and nation, is a place where Jesus says, “I want to be here, now.” And he calls his people, and says to them, “Work side by side to make me known here and now.”
The Lord’s Supper is one of the ways in which the Lord makes himself present with his people. Here he tells us about his body nailed to the cross for us, and his blood shed for us. At this table he tells us what he did to make us members of his body together.
All around the world the bread and the cup are being shared today to remind the people of Jesus that we are now his body on earth, and that we have been called together to serve him and bring him glory here and now, and we are doing the thing that our brothers and sisters are doing (all around the world) when they gather together. We are all working on the same great job.b