Sermon by Betty Hayes 01.08.2021

Holy Communion 1st August 2021 – St Mark’s

9th of Trinity

Sermon by Betty Hayes

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.

This passage that we’ve just heard is the middle of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – and it comes just at a turning point in the content.  In chapters 1 – 3 Paul expounds his detailed argument for and explanation of what Christ has achieved for us on the cross.  Our doctrine of faith if you like.  We are redeemed by God’s grace for eternal life.  I, and you, are forgiven the mess we have made and do make of our lives.  When we stand and say “Jesus is Lord”, then we become a child of God and a member of his beloved family.

So then” or in some translations “therefore” Paul begins this section of his letter – because we say “Jesus is Lord” he says “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”  In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 

So this letter to the Ephesians can be read as a handbook for living as a Christian.  In chapters 4 – 6, we read a description of what our walk or journey as a Christian should look like.  We’ve been invited by Jesus to this job of being a faithful follower of him and now we are to behave accordingly.  There are 2 sections to this passage – who we are & what we do.

He starts in with a big challenge about who we are – no hanging back for Paul – “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Big ask isn’t it?  Be like Jesus, in other words.  Or perhaps more realistically, try to become more like Jesus.  When preparing this talk, I found myself stopping here and wondering how many people I know that I would say live up to this list all the time.  Most of us know that this is how we should live.  Many of us do try and are some of these things some of the time.

When we walk this talk and these things are seen in the way we live, they are so counter-cultural in our contemporary society, that they make people stop and ask why?  As if we’re wearing our love for Jesus on our sleeves.

My first question for us today, here cosily sitting in our pews at St Mark’s – is do we see these characteristics in ourselves – you might like to take stock in your own heart:

Humility = lowliness of mind in some translations – means having no arrogance or pride – Jesus emptied himself and took the form of man, becoming a servant – C.S. Lewis wrote “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less” – how do you rate yourself?

Gentleness = meekness in some translations – this is not a weakness – it is knowing and being confident of who you are under God so that you can serve in any situation – are you gentle of heart?

Patient – sometimes translated long-suffering or having forbearance – this never means being a doormat but it does mean copying Jesus’ example by not returning evil for evil – when someone does you a bad turn – how do you respond? – what if it is repeated? – again and again?

Bear with one another in love – this is what it says on the tin – Jesus’ long teaching in John’s Gospel – church family is God’s family – he loves us unconditionally – we have no choice but to love one another – however difficult that sometimes seems in the moment – how do you handle relationships within this lovely family here at St Mark’s?

And thinking of how you rate yourself against this list – how will you carry these forward into the exciting time of regeneration in store when Gareth & some St Peter’s people join you here? – will you humbly & gently welcome them into your family? – will you be patient as together you build a renewed community? – will you love unconditionally your brothers & sisters even if things around you change and you find yourself in a strange & uncomfortable place?  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever – but ways of being church have evolved and changed continuously throughout Christian history – our world is a very different place than even a year ago, let alone 10 or 50 years ago.  How will you rate yourself against this list in a years’ time?

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

This is the other side of the coin – this is the “what we do” part of the passage we’ve heard – here as elsewhere in his writing, Paul tells us that in becoming by grace a member of God’s family we are gifted for service.  After talking about unity earlier in the letter, now he reminds us of our diversity.  This list happens to be about leaders, but other lists Paul writes (1 Cor 12, Rom 12) include many other ideas, even admin & serving!

There are 2 key points that are common to all the lists. 

Firstly, to each one of us – we all are gifted by the grace of Jesus – it matters not whether you’ve studied long and hard so that you can stand up here or are shining the candlesticks so that they gleam in the sunlight – not whether you read prayers beautifully or you welcome people to your home – we are all gifted to serve our Lord in some way that is unique to us – you can’t be me and I can’t be you – unique to way that God has made us to be.

Secondly, the purpose of the gifting is to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up – we are not made to be leaders or pray-ers or candlestick cleaners for our own edification or to make us feel good about ourselves in front of others – God’s purpose in making us who we are, is that what we do builds up the people of God, encourages and equips his own family – and in the end enables us to be people of light spreading that unconditional love that into the wider world, shining into the darkness around us and showing Jesus to people by who we are and what we do, so that they might join our family and cry out with us “Jesus is Lord”.

And so, to sum up – at the beginning of chapter 4 in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul lays down a marker for how we should live as Christians: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  It is perhaps salutary to occasionally sit down in prayer and talk to God about how we’re doing by this measure?

He goes on, as he does in other letters, to say that each of us is gifted to serve in ways that equip the body of Christ.  Each of us has a unique gift and when we are using them, then the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

We demonstrate our love by serving one another; love is the glue that holds our church, our community together; it is what knits us into the body of Christ and in the end allows us to reach two goals – the goal from John 10:10 of living life to the full and the goal from Matthew 28 of going out into the world and making disciples.

Paul urges us to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  How do you hear your calling today?  Amen.