Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit.
It’s nice to travel and see so many wonderful things in other places, things in nature that testify to an amazing creator God.
It’s great to go to other places and see the accomplishments of humanity – the great monuments that have been built over the centuries – castles, cathedrals, cities and villages – some with a very modern look and others that take you back to medieval times and beyond.
When I go into some of the very old cathedrals and village churches I like to sit in the pews for a while and try to imagine the people who walked in and sat or stood on the nave of the church say 600 years ago. In some places it’s clear that kings and queens, knights and royal courtiers would have entered and taken their places while the merchants and the families, the wealthy, and the commoners would have filled the rest of the cathedral. I would like to think there was no class distinction amongst the worshippers in the cathedral but somehow I doubt it.
In the small village church, the situation would have been different. In my mind’s eye, I see farmers, shop-keepers, tradesmen and their families, the poor, the town’s leaders and maybe a local lord or landholder walking down the aisle and taking their seat. No silks and fine embroidery. Just ordinary people coming to worship – solemn and appearing sincere.
Well it’s always nice to try to imagine who
walked within the walls of those old churches long before we did, but whoever
they were, they came together for the same reason as we have come here today.
They lived in a different time, sometimes in terrible times of famine and war.
They wore different clothes to us and they had different levels of literacy and may have had limited knowledge of the Bible because they didn’t have access to the scriptures as we do today.
They lived in a very different country to ours.
But regardless of all these differences, one thing that was impressed on me as I sat and gazed around either a magnificent cathedral or a village church, those people whose names I don’t know and have long since passed, were and are as the apostle Paul says, “citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God”. They are part of the sacred temple that Paul talks about “built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together” (Eph 2:20). Their lives and customs were so different to ours and yet they are part of the temple dedicated to the Lord as much as we are.
The apostle goes to great lengths to highlight that regardless of who we are – what century we live, what gender we are, where we come from, how old we are, what rank we have in society – because of the love of Jesus and his saving act on the cross, God’s grace is for everyone. No-one is excluded.
Surrounded by the grace of God we are brothers and sisters in Christ with those who have gone before us, those who will come in the future and especially those with whom we are sharing the journey right now. To be joined to Christ in our baptism, to share Christ in Communion, to be in and with Christ in his death and resurrection is a very personal and wonderful thing but it also means that we belong together with everyone else who is “in Christ”.
This is what grace does. It brings all of us sinners together into the sunshine of God’s grace. The church is the creation of the Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit who has called us into the “one holy Christian Church”. Sometimes we say “the one holy catholic church”. That word catholic gets across the idea that the church is bigger than our congregation, or denomination or century – it includes Christians all over the world from across the centuries past and future. We may have our divisions but as far as God is concerned there is only one church.
And so, in spite of
our differences in age, gender, interests, background and denomination we are
all members of the same family.
We share the same Lord who died for our sin and gave us the promise of eternal life, we have been given the same Spirit to guide us in our Christian walk.
We share the same heavenly Father who has adopted us into his family.
Paul says it like this (note how many times he uses the word “one” to get across his point), “There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It follows that if for some reason there is division and the oneness we share in Christ is somehow shaken, every effort needs to be taken to rebuild what has been shattered. Understanding, listening, reconciliation, forgiveness, compromise, compassion and love are key qualities that need to be fostered to enable the unity we have in Christ to grow, give us vision for the future and work together to seek what is good and pleasing according to God’s will for his church in the community.
Every brick and stone and piece of timber and nail in a building has its place and any weakness in one of these can have a terrible effect on the rest. We are all part of the sacred building dedicated to the Lord and have our unique part to play in the building. We are built together into a place where God lives through his Spirit (verse 22).
Garfield, the lazy cat from the comic pages, gets up one morning and still half asleep, looks in the mirror. Seeing his face he says, “Boy, do I need a shave.” In the next frame you hear the electric razor buzzing. Garfield is shaving and then he has a frantic thought, “Wait a minute!”
In the final scene, John (
Just like Garfield, sometimes we forget who we are.
We forget that “together
we are part of the body of Christ”.
We are part of the body of Christ so we work together, help one another, encourage one another especially when the going is tough. We work together to face difficulties and confront challenges.
It is the Spirit who has given everyone different gifts – there is no reason to be critical and resentful when others do their best?
We belong to Christ and joined together in the body of Christ – holding grudges and unkind criticise erodes the togetherness we share?
A magazine wrote about superstar tenors Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti performing together in Los Angeles. A reporter tried to press the issue of competitiveness between the three men and the fact that their different personalities could lead to disharmony and unhappiness.
Placido Domingo told the reporter, “You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music; you can’t be rivals when you’re together making music”. (Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2.). That’s also true about unity in the church. When we are embraced by the music of God’s grace and we are focussed on Christ and our togetherness in him, the music will lead us to sing in harmony as we do God’s will. In other words, unity and joy and peace will flow from the union we have in Christ.
Paul tells the Ephesians and us, “Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together” (Ephesians 4:3,3). In other words, be guided by the Holy Spirit and not any selfish individualistic ideas that “my way is the only way”.
A choir conductor once gave this advice to the group of singers she was leading. “If you can't hear the voices beside you - you're singing too loudly.”
In other words, your voice isn’t the only one in the choir. A choir is a group of voices singing together, working together, all have their parts but there is harmony and beautiful music.
This text from Ephesians has come at a very important time for our congregation and for our synod as we begin the second half of the year. We have a number of challenges ahead of us that will require us to remember that Christ has bought us with his own body and brought us into his sacred temple that we know as the church. Together we are God’s people; together we are citizens and members of the family of God. Together we will resolve the challenges in front of us and work through the issues with understanding and love and peace will be tested.
So what happens when we forget like Garfield the cat who we are and whose we are, and unhappiness and disunity and unkind criticism and stubbornness prevail?
We live in the grace of God. We know God loves us and we are happy to repent of our wrongdoing. Own up – acknowledge that we’ve messed up – listen to the advice of others – come to God with empty hands and a simple prayer, “Have mercy on me, Lord”. Reconciliation, renewal, peace, harmony, change will strengthen our unity in Christ.
Sometimes there are some hurts, words and actions that wound deeply and we think we can never forgive. Yet the One, who hugged the leper, accepted the sinner, cuddled a little child, welcomed the cheat, wrapped his crucified arms around the thief on the cross, takes away all of the filth of our sin makes us clean and new. Jesus still calls us his brothers and sisters. He knows and understands what being hurt is like and we can trust him to help us face the challenge of being the person he created us to be and the church he has called us to be!
It is a church – sacred temple made of people dedicated to God. Together, in the power of the Spirit, we are the body of Christ. Together we will face some important challenges this year that will enable this church to continue to be a beacon of God's grace in our community and to bring God's light into the darkness of people’s lives.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th July 2015