a sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13)
Since the earliest times,the Church has been walking a delicate balance between the ways of the world and the ways of God. But God is shaping us and forming us to be a reflection of the diversity of the community around us. Not simply for the sake of being a diverse church in the suburbs, but because the fullness of the kingdom of God is only realized through the fullness of the body of Christ.
The other day, a friend of mine was sitting on a park bench, feeling sorry for himself. After a while a man came up to him and asked, “What’s wrong?” My friend said, “Nobody loves me.”
The man said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?” My friend said “Yes.”
The man said, “Are you a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew?” My friend said ,”I’m a Christian.”
The man said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” My friend said, “Protestant.”
The man said, “Me, too! What denomination?” My friend said, “Baptist.”
The man said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” My friend said, “Northern Baptist.”
The man said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
My friend said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
The man said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist, Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist, Eastern Region?” My friend said, “Northern Conservative Baptist, Great Lakes Region.”
The man said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912?” My friend said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
“GODLESS HERETIC!” the man screamed, and he walked away. (variation of a joke by Emo Philips)
So much for Christian unity!
In today’s second lesson, we read part of the letter to the Ephesians. Ephesus was one of a string of ancient cities where the apostle Paul founded a church. All of these churches were started in coastal cities which were major urban areas of their day. They were places of great diversity of trade, commerce, religious groups, philosophies, races, cultures, and social status. Ephesus was a particularly important city because it had a huge temple dedicated to the Artemus, the goddess of the harvest. It was also the seat of the pro-consul of Asia Minor.
So for someone to claim that there was “one body and one Spirit….one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” he or she would be making a pretty outrageous claim. How could there be One God, in the midst of so many? What does it mean to be One body, when clearly there were a great many differences among the people? And who would have the audacity to claim there was One Lord, in a city where the governor ruled with absolute power? Add to this the fact that the number of Christians in Ephesus at the time had to be miniscule, probably not more than just a few families.
In spite of all this, the Christians in Ephesus are called “to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” to live in humility, gentleness and patience, and to bear one another in love.
Ahhhh. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it.
I wonder what it would be like to live in a nation where there is such a wide range of people – different colors and genders and ethnic backgrounds; different religious beliefs and education levels and economic circumstances. I wonder what it would be like to be a Christian in a place as diverse as Ephesus? And I particularly wonder if I could, as this passage so clearly suggests, live my life worthy of my calling as a Christian?
I have to admit, I get a little worried with the Bible talks about worthiness. Because if some are worthy, that implies that others must not be, and that flies in the face of what I want to believe about Jesus Christ.
But as this text points out, the Church is always walking a delicate balance between the ways of the world and the ways of God. Back then, there were a great many new believers who came from pagan backgrounds, who were unaware of Israel and her beliefs and practices to maintain a faithful relationship with God. Why, they wondered, was it necessary to celebrate the Passover, which had nothing to do with modern city life. At the same time, the Jewish Christians felt that the new Gentiles were too quick to conform to the ways of their culture.
The same is true today. Some Christians feel that the old teachings of the Church – teachings about sin and death, resurrection and the virgin birth – are quaint old stories that have little to offer a post-modern world. Others believe that without these and other strict teachings of the faith, teaching about whose sin is worse, about who is worthy and who is unworthy, then we might as well pack up our bags and go home.
Fortunately, God doesn’t worry about who of us is worthy and who might be unworthy, because as far as God is concerned, none of us is worthy in and of ourselves. All of us are broken, all of us are sinners, all of us have missed the mark. All of us, you might say, are united in our unworthiness. And yet all of us are also redeemed and restored to God through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is Christ who binds us together as one body in one spirit. It is Christ who is our one Lord. Christ is our one true faith, our one true hope. Though him, we are baptized into the one true baptism.
St. Simon & St. Jude is has become a church where all are welcome all the time. We are church that is open seven days a week to people from every walk of life. The vast majority of the people who come to this church are visitors, guests who come during the week as they work out something going on in their lives. Maybe it’s to kick an addiction to alcohol or to drugs, maybe it’s to learn how to improve their domestic relationships, maybe it’s to learn to grow into a more responsible adult. All of these people are welcome, here. And, there are lots of different kinds people here on Sunday, too – men and women, right wingers and left wingers, straights and gays, toddlers and infants and older folks, blacks and whites, folks who believe everything the bible has to say without question, and folks who struggle to figure out how it applies to their lives. I love how we are an open and creative place that welcomes us all.
But, I believe that God is doing something more here. I believe that God is shaping us and forming us to be a reflection of the diversity of the community around us. Not simply for the sake of being a diverse church in the suburbs, but because the fullness of the kingdom of God is only realized through the fullness of the body of Christ.
If this summer teaches us anything, it is that God is at work in Christ, bringing all sorts of people together into a new, unified body. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God has brought together many warring tribes, cultures, and traditions. And through Christ, God is bringing together people of many different points of view and persuasion, both here and in other communities.
This kind of unity isn’t something that “just happens.” It depends on our hard work and our “making every effort.” This kind of unity requires us to be willing to give away some of our own ways of doing things to make room for someone elses. It requires us to give more than a little grace and quarter to one another when we disagree. It requires us to “speak the truth in love” with one another and to listen to one another without trying to win every argument on style points. Most of all, this kind of unity depends on us remembering that regardless of where we stand, we all kneel before the same altar of God, eating the same bread and drinking the same wine.
The Church is the body of Christ in the world, and Christ is the head of that body. But it is only when each of us is joined together, that the hard work of building the kingdom of God will ever become a reality.
Thanks be to God.