Sermon Transcript ~ Preparing for What is Truly Precious is a Community Project
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Ephesians 4:2-6 ~ Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019
Teammates of the late Willie Stargell called him "Pops" because of his leadership both on and off the baseball field. In 1979, when Stargell led the Pittsburgh Pirates to their second World Series title, the team was nicknamed "The Family" because of their close relationship.
"We won, we lived, and we enjoyed as one," Stargell said. "We molded together dozens of different individuals into one working force. We were products of different races, were raised in different income brackets, but in the clubhouse and on the field we were one."
To what degree does this kind of description fit us as a community of Christ followers? As the Apostle Paul thinks about God’s people, true unity fills his thoughts. With that on his mind he encourages God’s people: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (4:2). In just a few words, the Apostle share some incredible insight into how to live in unity. Let’s take some time to unpack and understand what he’s saying.
“Be completely humble.” Humility says, "I don't have to have my way." Humility says, "Things don't necessarily have to please me, because what I want is not the deciding factor; what is good and God-pleasing, what is good for meeting the needs of others is what matters to me." That’s humility! It isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. It frees you to focus and spend your energy on others, on what they need, on how you can help.
Add to humility, complete gentleness, Paul says. In Paul’s day, the word gentleness was used of horses that had been broken. The animal still has its strength and spirit, but its will is under the control of another. You might define the word gentleness as "power under control."
One of the best ways to demonstrate gentleness, to show that your power is under control, is practicing patience. Literally, the word means "long-tempered" or as one person has suggested, "long-fused." This is all about how you respond to frustrations, inconveniences, delays, aggravating people, and unwelcome circumstances. Though tempted to tear other people down when they don’t do what you want when you want as quickly as you want, you resist the urge. You’re not quick to write people off when they don’t see things your way. When things aren’t happening in your preferred time frame, you hang in there rather than throw in the towel. You practice patience among God’s people because you believe what James writes: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires" (1:19-20).
And finally Paul says: “bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Literally, this means putting up with people. It's kind of a messy word for people that make your life more difficult. This is as real as it gets. Jesus himself is an example of this. In Luke 9:41 he is modeling this quality when he says: "You unbelieving and perverse generation! How long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” Things were not as He preferred, yet he stuck around and stuck it out.
"Bearing with one another in love" means enduring other people's differences, quirks, irritating habits. It means realizing your pastor isn’t perfect. He doesn’t always pick up on the fact that you’re hurting, or know how best to serve you, or understand your expectations of what you want him to be or do or say. It means embracing the reality that the people around you in this congregation aren’t perfect either. Someone will probably say something that gets under your skin. Others will do things that you don’t really like. Still others will critique what’s being done and it may feel like the criticism is a personal attack. Or someone else is up to something and you feel like you need to say something. These are hard and difficult situations. In the midst of such circumstances, Paul calls us to “bear with one another.” He isn’t asking us to pretend like sin isn’t real. Rather he’s instructing us on how to live in the real world, among real sinners, with their real struggles, their real weaknesses, their real rough patches, and their real blind spots. And to do so fully aware that this description isn’t just an accurate assessment of everyone around me, but it’s also true of me too. And so it’s not just me who is called to put up with others, but I’m the one who others are being asked to patiently and lovingly put up with too!
Are you feeling the weight, the magnitude of the challenge Paul is calling us to? How can you feel close to someone who doesn’t even know your name…or has forgotten it? How can you keep on caring about a person who hasn’t always said kind things to you? Or a person who expects all kinds of things from you and everyone else yet doesn’t seem to want to help provide those very same things to you and to others? Or a person who has a different idea of the way ministry should look like and be like than what you envision? How can you be unified with someone who is critical of you, or grumpy whenever you make an effort to greet them, or seems to think their problems and concerns are the only problems and concerns that really matter? How can there be unity among a group of people when some like to talk about others behind their backs? Still others who seem to be really good at reading the worst possible motives into anything that church leaders or other church members are doing? How do you experience unity with people like that, you know, the kind of people that make up the membership of Christ the King Lutheran Church? How can we experience unity and peace with one another instead of becoming hostile and cold toward one another, estranged from each other?
Start here: think about every one of the attitudes Paul mentions in this section. They are rooted in and lived out in relationships. You can't talk about humility or gentleness without being with people. You can't practice patience or forbearance unless you're interacting with and depending on others. Why does that matter? Because it teaches us that God is intentionally and deliberately drawing imperfect people together into community in order to grow us. He gives us one another, warts and all, providing us opportunities, as difficult, uncomfortable and awkward as they may be, to keep on growing and maturing us as His people! You see, the Church is God's classroom where spiritual maturity is cultivated and brought to bloom and flourish!
So how does that work exactly? Maybe this will help. Have you ever worked at a job where you felt a strong bond with your co-workers? Perhaps you were united by a sense of mission, or by a respect for your boss, or by the belief that a prosperous company will benefit everyone financially. The more points of agreement among members of a group, the more they will be unified, the better they will perform, and the less likely they will be to fight among themselves.
Paul provides that to us as believers in the family of God. He focuses us on the reasons that unite us. First and foremost, notice how Paul describes our connection as: the unity of the Spirit. In other words, what binds us together doesn’t come from us, isn’t caused by us, or created by us. It comes from the Spirit of God! And what the Spirit of God gives us is a built-in list of unifiers that are designed to give us all the reasons we need to continually work together with humility, patience, love, and long-suffering! In verses 4-6 Paul spells out seven uniting "ones." Think of how helpful they are to us as a family of believers at Christ the King:
One body—we are a single family, God’s family, unified by Him for one purpose
One Spirit—we all have the Spirit, God’s Spirit, as our power source
One hope—we all look forward to the same future, the future God’s Son purchased and won for us with his life, death, and resurrection
One Lord—we all trust and follow the same Leader
One faith—we all trust Jesus, we believe He is the sacrifice who has made us right before God
One baptism—we all have the same identity: washed from our sins, adopted into the family of God
One God and Father—we all share the same source of our existence
The basis of our unity as family under God rests on the oneness of God, the oneness of faith in Christ, and the oneness of baptism into that faith. Because this is true, we who are imperfect people, truly can unite in worship, in service, in life together as a community.
Embracing this vision, not just as individuals in our own personal relationship with God, but as people united by the Spirit who actively live in community as God’s family is both awe-inspiring and challenging; clarifying yet messy; inviting yet intimidating. I’d like to take a few minutes and share with you some reflections from a lady who was at one time a member of the congregation where I previously pastored in South Carolina. She wrote recently about what she has discovered as she has returned to church after a time away. She writes:
The past several years I’ve been so turned off, bitter, jaded, untrusting, cynical and frankly, [angry] with organized religion that I wasn’t sure I’d ever allow myself to get involved with a church again. Make no mistake my faith and trust in the Lord is as strong as ever; I just stewed over church politics and hypocrisy.
Excuse after excuse for why I hadn’t found a new church home led me to do some soul searching. I’ve always been a “church girl.” All the traditional southern church girl roles, I think I’ve had them all. So why was it so hard for me to start over and just go? ... anywhere? I don’t know. I just wasn’t ready maybe. Maybe, like in many areas of my life, I was waiting on the *perfect* church. Maybe I was afraid of being deceived or manipulated. Who actually knows why but it wasn’t out of apathy or unbelief that’s for sure.
But not long ago I did start hearing about this evening service at [a local church]. And with each mention I considered it more until I pretty much stopped myself in my own tracks and decided to quit knit-picking and realize NO church is going to be PERFECT because we are ALL sinners, even the church leaders. I told myself … it was time to rip off the bandaid and go.
My fiancé and I started going to [this local church] and it has become my favorite time of the week. We usually meet there both frustrated and exhausted from work, the traffic, kids, and life in general but for that one hour we know it’s not about us; it’s about Him. It forces us to slow down, breathe, reflect and worship.
[The church] is simple and raw and diverse. I am so happy and BLESSED … [and] … I can really say, it is well with my soul.
What she has discovered reinforces why being connected to a family of believers really matters. Yes, these relationships are good for my soul and for yours too! The clearer we see each other in this light the more we will embrace one another! For through each other God is giving us ongoing opportunities to grow and learn and become: “Completely humble and gentle; … patient, bearing with one another in love.” Life together with one another as the family of God in this world may not always be what we think it ought to be. But trusting that it is God who draws us together, focusing on all the unifiers his Spirit provides that bond us together, we discover that God supplies us with all we need to “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). And that, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, truly is a blessing from God, a blessing we get to live in and live out together because we are family together under God! For that, for you, for this family of believers, I am truly grateful! Amen.