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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 2, 2015

When I visit my family at Christmas, I have a feeling that is like no other. It is a feeling of belonging. We all share our stories and are made one by them. It is a feeling of love. We do not argue, but bear with one another’s quirks, welcome one another’s personalities and treat one another as equals. We are farmers and clergy and professors and IT professionals, yet we are all the same. I get to say grace. Lucy and Jamey supply the food. Joe fixes the computers. Jeff converses with those who share his interests in economics and other things. No one is more important than another; we just all have different gifts we offer to our small community. In short, during that 24 hour period, we experience the unity of peace that love brings.

In Ephesians, the author says the hallmark of the church is unity. This is a hard thing because all of a sudden Jews and Gentiles, who had been separated from one another, have become one in Christ. This is a hard thing because the Gentiles, to whom the author is writing, are used to many gods and following their own path with their chosen ones, trying to win their favor. This is a hard thing because there are other teachers out there, who are trying to discourage the Christian community from growing and thriving.

But unity is what the writer wants. It is the mark of a mature church, a church that witnesses to the world about how life in the kingdom can be. In the middle of all the separation of war, hierarchy and racism, he says, there is an alternative, and that is the church.

The author talks about unity in four ways. He has spent the first three chapters talking about what Christ has done for all people everywhere, and begins with “Therefore”, because Christ has done all these things, you have been called to a great calling. You who have been rooted and grounded in love and given peace through the Spirit, must make every effort to continue to live in that peace. You must be humble to be at peace. Humility means accepting yourself where you are and striving to become all you can be. It means not comparing yourself with others, even though some are higher and some are lower on the social ladder, even because some seem to be better connected with Jesus than you are, even though some seem to be on the fringe, never quite getting it. Humility puts everyone at the same level as children of God, dependent on God for everything and seeking God’s will. Gentleness is caring for one another gladly, with a spirit of love. There should be no harsh treatment in the Christian community. Of course there will be differences but they should be aired and reconciliation take place. Patience. We all know about patience, though sometimes more in the lack of it than in its practice. The Christians in the community have to be patient with one another’s lacks, knowing that they have lacks of their own. Bearing with one another’s faults and shortcomings in love is the final behavior the author encourages to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Next, the author stresses the oneness of belief. The Jews understand that, but the Gentiles perhaps not so much because they had a pantheon of gods to choose from. This Christian identity is about oneness. They are called to the hope of the resurrection and claim Jesus as Lord and God as their Father. This God is the only one – above all and through all and in all. Then there is one baptism, an initiation rite that all of them have undergone, a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This oneness represents the unity of the faith they share, and internalizing it in their hearts builds up the unity of the church.

Another unifying factor is equipping the saints for the work of ministry. Various gifts are given for the doing of that work – prophets, teachers, evangelists, pastors. There should be no jealousy about who is given what gift because Christ gives the gifts as Christ sees fit. The new church will be able to go out and preach the gospel and serve the people they are called to serve, so that all might come to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. Belief and its resulting ministry out of thanksgiving helps us grow up into Christ, to live our lives as mature Christians.

The author is worried about other people who claim to have the truth but are in reality false teachers and tricksters. He wants the community to be grown up enough that they are able to stick to the oneness of their belief no matter who challenges it, so he urges them to aim for maturity by working to unify the community.

The author wraps up his comments about unity in his metaphor about the body of Christ and growing strong in the body of whom Christ is the head, each person a ligament working to make the body strong. A torn ligament, one that does not espouse these principles of unity, makes the body weak. I know, not spiritually, but physically. I have a torn ligament in my right ankle. It is irritating when I exercise and my body is not as strong as I would have it be.

To grow up into Christ is to speak the truth in love. The truth can be spoken in harsh terms and perhaps only be one person’s version of the truth. Or the truth can be spoken in nothing but warm fuzzy feelings, but neither alternative is speaking the truth in love (Jaime Clark-Soles). Sometimes that hurts, but the unity of the church can survive that. Better the truth than a false  sense of niceness. Better the truth than to hide a division that needs to be aired and reconciled.

It is clear that the world is not like the church today, that we have not seem to have had a huge influence on what the world does. There is violence and hatred. Turkey has agreed to let the US use some of its bases to attack ISIS. Israel is afraid of the nuclear deal with Iran because in a few years Iran will be able to make bombs and they are afraid they will be the target. Civil wars are rampant, and nations live in defensive postures instead of working to build peace through non-violent efforts. There is hierarchical division between “the haves” and the “have nots”. The work of ministry has not yet been done to the fullest. There are divisions between the races. The immigration issues in the United States are a perpetual problem, and the racism under the surface in Ferguson and Baltimore and Charleston has underlined a division that goes back centuries.

It is also clear that the church is not as the church should be either. There are strong divisions between denominations and splits within denominations. Some churches condemn other churches for their positions on social issues and for being untrue to the Bible. 

In the middle of all of this still lives the church of Jesus Christ. We are still called to risk loving behavior to our neighbors, near and far. That includes our enemies. We are still called to one faith, with one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all. We still have the hope of the resurrection. We are still called to build up the saints for ministry. Those gifts are not just given to the ordained; they are given to everyone. We must all engage in mutual ministry to one another as pastors and teachers and evangelists, as well as to the outside world if we are going to enlarge our influence. And we must grow up. We must focus on our spiritual lives so that we can grow up into Christ’s body and serve as strong members to build up the church in love. In the midst of separation and alienation, it is unity we must seek, the unity given to us in the Spirit in the bond of peace. We must go a different way than the world and yet we must also teach the world. Let us all strive for the unity we have been given, so that as mature Christians, we may help change the world.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works Cited:
Jaime Clark Soles, Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 3, Exegetical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 307.