Good morning! It is such a delight to be here with you all on our first official Sunday together!
We have some really good texts to dig into this morning. But I have to admit that one of them in particular just really reached out and grabbed me by the collar as I was preparing my sermon this week.
Our reading from Ephesians starts out: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” …Are you talking to me? That’s kind of an intimidating text to read as a first call pastor on your first Sunday! It’s humbling to be reminded right off the bat that the privilege of this calling carries with it certain responsibility.
But as you continue reading this text, it becomes clear that it’s not just talking about the calling of individuals; it’s talking about the calling of communities. This text is part of a letter written to the early Christian community at Ephesus – and something we lose in English is that the “you”s in this passage are plural “you”s, directed at a whole congregation of people. And the letter makes clear what it is that communities are being called to do: “with all humility, gentleness, and patience, to bear with one another in love and to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In other words, put up with each other and stick together!
That was a pretty tall order for a lot of these early communities, just as it can be for us now. Paul wrote similar messages of unity in Christ to several other communities, especially to those in Rome, Corinth, and Galatia. These communities struggled with how to understand and define themselves in the midst of radically changing times. They were a diverse mix of people who often disagreed over what the church should look like, what its rules and practices should be, and who should be in and who should be out. There was conflict especially between Jewish and Gentile factions in these congregations, who clashed over how much of Jewish practice Gentile Christians should be expected to adopt. And there was tension between people of different economic classes; rich people who gorged themselves at the community table and poor folks who came away hungry.
It seems like it is just part of our human nature that we find ways to divide ourselves. We seem to feel more comfortable when we can draw boundaries around “our” group – and hold ourselves apart from those other people out there. You don’t need to look very far to see this happening right now in our world. The division in our nation feels like it’s the worst it has ever been. The already huge gap between the rich and the rest of the country just keeps growing. And our political life has become so completely polarized that we can barely even talk to each other. Because the minute we hear that someone belongs to “that other political party,” we automatically tend to tune out everything they have to say.
And division reaches its fingers even into the hearts of our congregations. I’m sure you all have known what it’s like to experience division and conflict in this community, whether it be with fellow church members, neighbors, or even members of your own family. And I have no doubt that, as we start to walk this road together, we will encounter disagreement and tension somewhere along the line. I mean, I have seen a lot of your facebook pages, and I know a lot of you have seen mine. We already know there’s stuff we disagree on.
But this is exactly why the calling that we have received as a community is so vitally important. In a world torn apart by cultural, political, and economic differences, we choose to be together in love. That is a radical act of witness. God calls us to pull together as community with people with different gifts, with different cultural backgrounds and political opinions. We aren’t called to think alike or to agree with each other all the time – or even to pretend we agree with each other all the time! The call to community isn’t a call to conformity. Instead, it’s a call to be together, a call to dedicate ourselves to the work of loving one another and building relationships with people who are different from us.
That means being open and honest with each other, communicating with each other respectfully, even when we disagree. As this passage from Ephesians urges us, we must speak the truth to each other in love. And we must honor the place of each and every person in this community, in all our uniqueness and quirkiness, even when that quirkiness drives us crazy.
Because that is love, real love. Love is choosing to be together, to serve one another, to put up with one another, even when it’s hard. The love we share in community is about much more than just a feeling, much more than just being nice to each other. Love is a choice we make every day to show up for each other.
And we are able to choose love for each other because of the way that God has chosen to love us. The first three whole chapters of Ephesians are dedicated to talking about how God has chosen us and how much God loves us. God chooses us in love – not because we have done something special to deserve it, but because that’s simply who God is. Our call to be community in love is a call to be imitators of God, to be like Christ. We are called to love God and to love one another as God has first loved us. And we are able to love God and to love one another because God has first loved us. Our unity – our community – is a gift from God. We have been joined together into the body of Christ through grace, as a free gift. We are called to be stewards of this gift, and to grow more and more each day into the kind of love that reflects God’s love for us. We are called to grow more and more each day into the body of Christ.
There’s one last image I want to pull from this text to help us think about this calling. Part of this calling to be together in community is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The word in this passage that gets translated as “equip” in the original Greek actually comes from the word for “setting a bone.” Just like you’d set a broken bone and bind it to a splint or put it in a cast, we can think about Christ setting us. In the midst of our brokenness and division, he pulls us back together. Christ recenters us and binds us to himself and to each other so that we might grow strong in faith and in our love for each other.
We have been bound together in love, my friends. We have chosen to be together in community, in Christ. So let us take up the calling to which we have been called with joy, to be the body of Christ, to build ourselves up in love. Amen.