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The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 5, 2012
The Epistle: Ephesians 4: 1-16
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, 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. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said,
"When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people."
(When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4: 1-16
Ah, vacation. It conjures up images of relaxing days on the beach, camping in the mountains, heading for family and fun destinations. For many of us baby boomers, raised in the Fifties and early Sixties, it can also reprise memories of being crammed into the family car, and enduring long, hot, un-air-conditioned and contentious rides to some popular destination, stopping at points along the way to see, say, the world famous Underground Gardens, (as seen on TV’s You Asked For It), or Oregon’s Thunderbeast Park, or the world’s largest ball of string and the like. For many of us, our earliest ideas of a “group vacation” meant fighting with siblings over who owned the back seat.
These days, though, group travel has taken on a whole new dimension. No longer is it just your average family with 2.4 kids that hits the road in a pack. Enter the concept of “togethering.” It is leisure travel that involves diverse but connected people in groups like extended families, neighborhood groups, book clubs or even just a gathering of friends. The idea is for all sorts of loosely connected groups of people to plan a trip to an exotic location for an extended period of time; like having a picnic on the beach in the Caribbean instead of in the back yard.
The travel industry has picked up on this togethering trend. Cruise lines have been especially effective and popular at this; such as Disney’s cruises where such groups can escape from the crowds to enjoy semiprivate catered events to watch nightly fireworks, or African-themed dinner parties. Holland America launched its “Togethering” program awhile back, with perks such as cabin upgrades, unlimited soft drinks for everyone, and a group photo.
A group togethering cruise is a great idea for bonding and memory-making. But if there’s any group that is really all about togethering, it’s that group called the church.
One of the first metaphors for the church was that of a ship. In most sanctuaries built with traditional ecclesiastical architecture, the place where the congregation sits is called the nave, which comes from the Latin word navis meaning “ship.” Just looking up at the ceiling here is meant to look like the struts and beams in the bottom of an overturned boat. Even while we are sitting down, this architecture calls us to launch out on a spiritual journey together. Think of it as the ultimate group cruising experience, with every Sunday being a new group adventure.
Our Epistle lesson from Ephesians this morning describes the nature of our group journey together. In this passage, Paul points out three qualities about the nature of our togethering. Understanding these qualities can really help us to be productive crew members on this ship. So let’s take a look into these cruising qualities this morning.
The first quality that Paul tells us about our togethering cruise is this: it’s communal. That is, we’re all in this together. First, we have a group bond as children of God. With the chains of his own imprisonment practically rattling in the background, Paul points us to yet another strong tie that binds us together; as he calls it, the “bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Paul lists what creates that bond of peace in verses 2 and 3: humility, gentleness, patience, dealing with each other with love and being unified in the Spirit. All of these virtues would be helpful for any group vacation, but they are essential for us; because our bond of peace with each other is created by them. Our cruise is communal; we’re in this together.
Here’s the second quality of our togethering cruise: it’s relational. Our spiritual life journey is centered in a relationship; a particular relationship with Christ. In verses 4 through 6, Paul rattles off a litany of creedal elements that point us to that relationship: that we are one body of believers, with one Spirit, united in one hope, by one Lord, in one faith, through one baptism, under one God.
Our togethering as a church centers our life and journey upon the one relationship we share in Jesus Christ. When we focus on our common bond with Christ, we can respond to Jesus’ call to follow together. Our journey of faith is not just an individual spiritual quest; it’s also a group travel experience where we help each other to join in the adventure more fully. Our journey is communal, and relational.
And it is one more thing: it is grace filled. We need resources for this excursion. That’s why God makes our togethering community a “graced” or gifted group. Paul says that “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7). There’s no doubt that God has graced this faith community. God has gifted us with the skills to keep the ship of faith afloat and sailing forward on the seas of our spiritual adventure. That’s what spiritual gifts are really about. The church is not a group of tourists crammed on a boat to sightsee. Instead, God equips and gifts people of all different ages, stages, cultures, and abilities to be the crew. We help each other on the journey. The gifts that Paul lists in verse 11 aren’t meant to be exhaustive, but they remind us that the role of all workers in the church is to use our gifts to grace, that is help and bless each other. That is your assignment and mine on this journey: to help each other discover our God given skills and talents, to develop them, and to use them to strengthen each other for the journey. They also enable us to push outward into the world. They move us to grace, bless, all those around us and transform the world. Our life together is communal: we’re all in it together. It’s relational: Christ is our bonding relationship. And it is grace filled: as we share the grace of our gifts with each other and the world.
Now every good cruise should have a destination. So what is our destination on this togethering cruise? It’s worth noting that there’s no mention here of Heaven as the ultimate vacation venue. You see, Heaven is our destination for the life to come; not our life now. Once this journey is complete, and we are gathered into the loving arms of our savior, and we are bid welcome home, then Heaven will be our goal fulfilled. But this quest has its own destination. That destination is spelled out in verse 13: to become like Christ, here and now. It is in the very act of helping each other grow our gifts that we not only strengthen each other, but each of us grows to become more and more like Christ in his love. That is the ultimate goal, the quest, the destination of our togethering in this life.
By now, you all know that when I use those three letters, USC, I’m not referring to the Gamecocks of South Carolina, but the Trojans of Southern California. Well, I was at USC’s School of Music one summer, when I got to know the resident piano tuner. It’s a full time job just keeping the vast number of pianos tuned and in good repair. The amazing thing is that, at anytime, any two or more pianos can be brought together from any place in the Music School, from any mix of buildings, and they will all perform perfectly in tune with each other. The secret, the tuner told me, is not some amazing computer tuning machine, but his own ear and the tuning fork he carries with him to tune every piano in the school. Any number of pianos, all tuned by the same ear, to the same fork, all are automatically tuned to each other. That’s how it is that any number of worshipers gathered together, each one’s heart tuned by Christ, are nearer to each other than they could possibly be looking anywhere else.
This quest to be like Christ pushes us outward, invites us to share our gifts, and engage in the great adventure of serving God. Focus on Christ. He is our destination and our companion and guide on the way. So shall we be a people where everyone knows that they are gifted and everyone knows that they belong. That is a joyous togethering, for an awesome journey of faith.