May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.
As the parent of an independent 8 year old, I often hear the complaint that we don’t treat him like a big kid, that we don’t trust him or let him make his own choices. This often concerns what he watches or plays online, or very commonly when he doesn’t like dinner.
In essence it means, we don’t let him do what he wants to do or eat anything he wants to eat. The difficulty, we explain, is not that we don’t trust him, but that it is our job, as parents, to give him the experiences and the teachings to enable him to make the best decisions. In other words, to equip him to grow into his best self.
That same sort of analogy is used in Ephesians today
“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.”
As children, we often demanded what we desired in any particular moment, our thoughts were innocently self centered. We want ice cream for breakfast and to play games all day long. We were influenced easily by whatever will help us get what we want. We, as children, were led astray and easily deceived; because our goal, our desires, were intrinsically focused on our own selves. It is the same in the gospel reading. The crowds, we read, went looking for Jesus, and when they found him Jesus remarked:
“‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
The crowds are fixated throughout the gospel reading on getting bread, on their immediate needs and their individual wants.
‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ What sign are you going to give us then? What work are you performing?
Ironically, they demand a miracle like that of Moses and the miracle of the Manna, when Jesus had just given them the miracle of feeding 5000. They are like children not able to see beyond their own needs. They are deceived, tricked by their self centeredness, into focusing on their own desire for a moment’s satisfaction. Whereas Jesus calls them to focus instead on the true bread, the bread of life.
27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,
It is much the same in Ephesians. We are called to grow into Him who is the head of body, moving from impulsiveness to a more balanced life, a life that is worthy of the calling to which we have each been called.
Not just one of us, but all of us…the whole body of the church:
”joined and knitted 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.”
Not in one area only but in all.
The body of Christ, the church, does not consist of individuals and an individual’s needs, but is a true body…many pieces working together in mutuality to promote health and wholeness.
Each of us is invaluable to the health of the church and each of us has a role to play, so that we may all grow into “him who is the head, into Christ.” We are told that each of us has been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
…11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until 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 .”
Each of us has been given a gift, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit on one another…to equip the saints. Not big ‘S’ saints, St. Andrew, St. Bridget…but small ‘s’ saints…you, me, your neighbour. We are all gifted. But we, in the church, have made that challenging to see.
We read of pastors and imagine the priest dressed for the job and in a place of authority. We read of apostles…and we think of James and John. We read of prophets…and think of Elijah and Nathan. We read of evangelists and think of St. Paul, or even Billy Graham. We think of people that we set apart. We think of special people, we don’t often think of ourselves.
I believe that this is, in part, because these are words we, as Anglicans, don’t use in everyday life. Language is important. If I said that you were a prophet…I bet you’d balk at the thought, but if I said you were a teacher…you’d likely say thank you. We know teachers, we are familiar with teachers, we understand and use the word. But prophet, evangelist, apostle? Those words are not in our daily lexicon as Anglicans.
But perhaps they should be. What is an apostle except one who Christ sends into the world to do God’s work? That is all of us. What is an evangelist except one who tells others of the grace God gives? I bet most of you have done that in word or deed. What is a prophet except one who speaks truth to power in love? That is someone we all know, if not ourselves.
Priest, teacher…these are words we know and use. But why not the others, apostle, prophet, evangelist? Each of us need not be all things to all people (and friendly reminder that includes the priest, thanks be to God). But we are each are given a measure of Christ’s gift…not for our own benefit, but to equip the saints. To build each other up. It is not the job of the priest to do all the work here. It is not the job of the Sunday school teacher to be the only teacher. We are each given a calling…not always the same as our ‘day time’ job, but something that speaks to us.
As I get to know each of you, I hope I will be able to recognise those gifts in each of you. Meanwhile, I’m sure that you can help me find those gifts in yourself and others. Those who speak out, sounding God’s word in situations that no one else dares to…the prophets in our midst. Those who find it exciting to talk about how God is at work in their lives, their church and the world around them. The evangelists in our midst. Those who by their quiet, devoted faithfulness do God’s ministry in the organizations, workplaces and schools that they are a part of…apostles all. Those who cannot help but teach whereever they are…seeing God at work in the world and showing others…the teachers. Those who comfort and listen…natural pastors and pastoral care givers.
Everyone has a calling and each calling has a purpose, to build up the body. To help give others the tools to see their own calling…and fulfill their own calling. Not everyone has the self awareness or confidence to call themselves a prophet or evangelist, even if they do that ministry daily. That is why we need each other, to help see the God given gifts we all and name them to each other and encourage one another. We need to reclaim those words so that we would be just as proud to be called an apostle as a teacher.
So, that we can all reach the full stature of Christ, to recognise the true bread that is given to us and will feed us eternally. This is something we can all work on…something we are called to and called to equip others to live into. In humility, gentleness, patience and most importantly bearing with one another in love. Making every effort to maintain the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace. This can be difficult work, and prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers and priest often speak words we don’t want to hear. But spoken in love…spoken in hope…to ears that are open to hear and hearts that are open to Christ, we can lead a life worthy of the calling to which we each have been called.
Our call is to mutual growth, communal growth, …we do indeed grow individually, but not as an end in and of itself, but so that each ligament with which the body is equipped, that is the body of the church, will grow building itself up in love.
There is no self centeredness, no childlike focus on one’s own needs, no exclusion of the rest of the community.
“4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. “
There are many gifts, but one church. Many ligaments, but one body which grows together in love, each part helping the other, each gift building up the other. Until there is healing and reconciliation for all creation. Until we are truly are one in Christ. amen