II Samuel 11:26-12:13, Ephesians 4:1-16
August 6, 2006
I thought this would be a good sermon title if we had a sign board outside! There are a lot of people into body building. Or at least you’d think so looking at your TV! Just flip through your channels and you’re bound to see commercials for exercise equipment. You know the ones I’m talking about! The fitness products which are being modeled by people who you know didn’t use that fitness product to get that fit! But that’s what they want you to think!
Anyway, that’s not the kind of “body building” I’m talking about today. When I’m using that term, I’m talking about it in the sense of the “Body of Christ.” That’s what we are here. We’re the Church – the Body of Christ! We are members one of another. It’s no coincidence that Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the body of Christ. In fact, I read recently that this word “member” which we use for parts of the body, was first used to refer to the connections between people in the Church, not the other way around like we might think.
That’s how important our connection is with each other in the body of Christ. We are all in this “body” together. To the Corinthians, Paul said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (I Corinthians 12:21) Each part needs the other! Then, back to Ephesians he says, We are all part of the same body “knit together by every joint…” So that “when each part is working properly, it makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”
My friends, that is the goal of the Church! Bodily growth, and upbuilding itself in love. And it is my challenge, it is my prayer, it is my pleading with you that we make it our goal as well! And I’m not alone in pleading! Paul “begged” the same thing of the Ephesians!
Paul saw that factions in a Church were a big problem. And they had them in his day. Again in I Corinthians, we find another appeal by Paul that they be united as a Church. “For it has been reported to me…” he writes, “that there has been quarreling among you.” In other words, “You are taking sides!” “One of you says ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Peter,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’” (I Corinthians 1:11-12) Paul saw that they needed to be one!
As you ought to know by now, I’m with Paul on this one. Actually, I’m with Paul on a lot of things. But I’m really with him on this one! And most of this book of Ephesians is about Christian unity. It is perhaps his strongest appeal for unity in all his writings.
So someone asked me the other day, “how do we achieve that unity?” Well, I don’t know that I have the definitive answer. I do know that it isn’t easy! But I also know that we need to keep talking about it, again and again. It doesn’t happen through one sermon alone, or through a number of sermons. It doesn’t happen through one conversation, or one meeting. Those things are certainly part of it. But it’s also going to need prayer. It’s also going to need a willingness to practice unity. And most of all, it’s going to take an intentionality in choosing unity! Because it doesn’t happen all by itself! And of course, we need to look to biblical principles of unity. And I’m going to keep at it! I believe that’s my calling here in this Church.
I don’t know, maybe I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this. (Or a skipping CD!) But it’s so important! And before we go any further, I want you to note one thing. Unity does not mean that we have to agree on all things. What we do have to do is to be “agreeable.” That fact is, you are more likely to be at odds with someone if you don’t know them, or if you distance yourself from them. When you are united with a person in some way, when you choose to have the attitude of respect, then you are much better able to be agreeable, and unified. Though not necessarily in agreement!
Look at this passage from Ephesians 4. Paul tells us that we should “live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” And what does he say is at the center of the “life worthy of our calling?” Guess what! Unity! We are living the life worthy of our call when we are striving for unity! That’s a huge connection Paul is making! And ask your self this! If we find our selves divided, are we then living a life unworthy of our calling? I don’t think we can escape that conclusion!
Look at the attitudes he tells the people they need to have in order to live that worthy life. He says “I beg you (…there he is begging!) to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” how? “…with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”
Lowliness and meekness! Is he kidding? Do we even know what those things look like in our world? Certainly they are not looked on with favor. Ever since our society has distanced it self from it’s religious foundation, it has promoted more and more a “culture of the self.” The building up of the self is everything! (Hence those fitness machine ads!) Lowliness and meekness are not thought of positively in any way. In our culture, “meekness” is equated with “weakness.” and “Humility” is equated with “humiliation.”
Yet, we follow a savior who said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” How do we reconcile that in our world? What could he possibly have meant by that? Actually, if you think about it, the word “inherit” implies that the meek will “get the world when the others have gone.” So is the idea that the meek will wait off by the sidelines while the strong do each other in? Or will the meek actually end up being the stronger because they were the ones who learned to handle life not having to dominate everything? And does it really matter which!
Paul would tell us the latter, that lowliness and meekness are a sign of strength, not of weakness! And don’t get me wrong. This is not a matter of putting ourselves down. As Rick Warren said, “Humility is not a matter of thinking less of ourselves, but rather thinking of ourselves… less.” Do you like that one? And that means thinking of others more, doesn’t it? And that is a choice! And making that choice is one huge step toward unity in the Body of Christ.
Two more important words follow. Patience and Forbearance! Wow. Talk about two really lost words in our culture! We who cannot run at 400 megahertz, so we upgrade to 600 megahertz! (Which makes a difference of seconds!) We who live in a culture where I can’t shift into first gear at a green light and let out the clutch, without someone honking at me from behind! People in our world don’t have time for people, let alone time to have patience with people!
And forbearance? That means “bearing with” someone with whom you don’t agree. People in our “culture of the self” are so insistent on their own point of view that they don’t know how to let someone else have a different point of view without thinking they have to change them! We in the Church know better! But again these things are choices we need to make. And Paul would tell us that we need to make them in order to live a life worthy of our calling by God!
We need to make those choice and to model those choices, remembering that we follow a savior who modeled this the best of all. He may not have agreed with those to whom he reached out. He might not have liked some of the things the tax collectors and sinners did or stood for. But he loved, he reached out to them, and he affirmed their worth as people. He drew them to himself. He loved them into the kingdom!!
We need to choose to do those things with each other. We don’t necessarily have to change to be like those other people around us. Or we don’t have to change them to be like us. But we do need to chose to love and affirm and even encourage them. And then as Paul says, we should be “passively open to maintaining the spirit of unity in the bond of peace.” No he didn’t! He said we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” We need to choose to be eager for that unity. We need to pray for it constantly! We need to live it actively!
I know that’s not easy. Paul never claims that it is either. But as I said before, he sees unity as a huge characteristic of a healthy Church. And he sees disunity as a major stumbling block. I hope we see those things, too. And I hope we make the choices to upbuild, to forbear, and to have patience with each other. I hope and I pray that we do consider these kinds of things to be, as Paul tells us, part of the very call of God on our lives!
It is my hope that you appreciate my efforts to help this Church reach for its greatest potential. It is my prayer that all of us will be open to that effort. Patty and I keep talking about you all in such glowing terms! You have so much here! There’s so much potential! Let’s keep taking positive steps forward, looking for and praying for God’s guidance. After all it’s his kingdom we’re building here!
Eternal God, we are so glad for this congregation and all it’s people. We know that each one of us is an important part of the Body of Christ in this place. Help us to choose to upbuild, to promote unity, to love and affirm one another as your beloved children. Prosper us, we pray, and fill us with the joy of your spirit. For we ask all these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.