Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Community: Growing together in faith," 11.18.12

Ephesians 4:17-32
17Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20That is not the way you learned Christ!

21For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

            When you think about Jesus, what are some characteristics that come to mind?
            Do you have a favorite story about Jesus that shows some of those traits?

            The church is the body of Christ in the world. In this passage Paul talks about how God gives gifts to the church to help the saints, that means all of us, grow into maturity. When Paul talks about saints he’s not talking about Christian superstars, special Christians who reach a different level of faith than the rest of us. He’s talking about all Christians, all people who follow Jesus. He’s talking about all of us becoming more mature in our faith. He goes a step further too. Paul says that maturity means “the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

            If you’re scratching your head about that phrase, you’re not alone. What Paul means is that as we grow in faith our goal is to be more and more like Jesus. We just talked about some of the most important things about Jesus, so our goal is show more of those traits as we become more mature. Growing in our faith doesn’t just mean learning the Bible better or praying more. It mostly means getting stronger in our trust in God, being more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, and learning to be a healing presence in the world.

            That sounds challenging, but it also makes sense. I want to be more compassionate. I want to be more forgiving; I want to be more loving; I want to get better at putting other people first, and I bet you do too.

            So while it can be challenging to mature in those ways, we want to do it. We also have the church to help us grow. In fact, a big part of the church’s purpose is to help us grow, to help us be more like Jesus.

So how can the church help us be more compassionate?

How can the church help us be more loving?

            How can the church guide us to be more forgiving?

The things we’ve just identified are for all of us to do as a church. As a church, as the body of Christ, we help each other to grow in faith and maturity. As brothers and sisters we help each other become more like Christ.

Each of us has unique gifts to contribute to that process, and our gifts, guided by the Holy Spirit, make the church what it is. Paul writes, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” When I think about my job as a pastor, this is the first passage I think about. My job as a pastor is to equip the saints, to empower all of us, for the work of ministry and to build up the body of Christ.

Sometimes we think the pastor’s job is to do ministry, but really, my job is to equip you to do ministry. I can’t do that on my own, though. I can guess what ministry God is calling you to do, and guess what you might need to be equipped for that ministry, but it works a lot better, and is much more fun, if we do that together. It works better if you pray and think about what excites you and how that passion might become ministry. It’s even better if we do that in conversation with other people discovering what God is calling them to do.

Once you have a sense for what kind of ministry God is calling you to, we can start thinking together about how to equip you, how to prepare you, for that ministry. If you feel God is calling you to use your gifts of healing to serve those in need, we can help you prepare and develop that ministry. If you feel like God is calling you to feed the hungry, we can think together about some good ways to start doing that. Each of us has a calling, maybe several callings, to serve others with God’s love. Working together we can equip you for your ministry.

I’m certainly not the only one with a role to play in equipping either. Raise your hand if you think God has called you to teach in some way, either here in the church, in a school, in your home, or somewhere else? OK. As a teacher in whatever format, part of your job is to equip saints, to equip God’s people, for ministry.

Sometimes that means teaching about the Bible, but often it means teaching other things. Teaching a child to read prepares them for any ministry. Teaching your child how to share prepares them to love others, which is a ministry for everyone. Teaching a friend to cook gives them some skills to help their family or friends eat better. Showing a newer coworker some tricks for doing their job better helps them feel more at home and more equipped to work with joy.

Our job as followers of Jesus is to use our gifts to serve God and serve our neighbors. Part of that is specifically in the church, but most of it is somewhere else, because we spend most of our time outside church. My dream for the church is for each of us to connect our faith with the rest of our life intentionally. We take our faith into the workplace, our homes, our hobbies, and we bring our questions about faith and life back to church so we could learn how to do even better. To me that’s what equipping each other for ministry is really about.

As a church, we’ve been doing New Beginnings, which is about figuring out what God is calling us to be and do as a church. A big part of that conversation is discovering how our church can use its unique gifts in ministry here and now. The same conversation could be going on in each of our lives at the same time. Who is God calling you to be? What gifts do you already have? How can you use those skills and interests in service? What excites you? How can the church develop those gifts to be even better? That’s our calling as Christians and as members of this church, and I can’t imagine a better calling.

Today we see our calling from a particularly exciting angle. We are welcoming new members into our congregation, but none of these members is exactly new. John and Jinny were members here years ago. God led them away to a different church and God has now led them back. Their energy is already making a difference as they reestablish old relationships and build new ones. Joyce has been worshiping here for a little more than a year. She’s decided to take the next step of not only joining the church, but having her son AJ baptized here. As a teacher and mom she brings a perspective that blesses us.

Marla grew up in this congregation. Though she’s not here geographically most of the time, she keeps connected through her mom and sister as well as through the newsletter, daily readings and email. She has connected with other congregations as her career has moved her around, but today she is reaffirming that this is her spiritual home.

Colleen first started coming to supper and scripture because her friend Ilona wouldn’t leave her alone. As she got to know more people, she started feeling more at home at Laurelton. She in turn encouraged her sister in law Amy to join her for supper and scripture. Amy and her daughter Michaela and her boyfriend Rodney have also made Laurelton their home. In different ways from New Beginnings to choir to the Halloween Party they’ve all found ways to participate and grow here. Today Colleen and Amy are making it official and our community is taking another step to tie together our different ministries.

Each of these new members brings their gifts to this community. We promise to equip them for ministry and they promise to share in the ministry of this congregation and find new ways of ministering to others. We are in this together. We are members of one body: Christ’s body. As we strengthen each other and reach out to others we each grow closer to maturity; we become a little more like Jesus each day.

Thanks be to God.

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