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Monday, August 24 2015
Pastor Randy Milleville
John 6:63-69; Ephesians 6:10-20; Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Sometimes – no make that a lot of times – we have to make choices, yes? We are making choices all the time. The first choice everybody makes every morning is this. “Am I going to get out of bed or not?” SO once you’ve said yes to that – you choose to get out of bed – or maybe somebody drags you out of bed – then you have another choice to make. “What am I going to wear today?” Nothing life threatening about making that choice. It might be a little embarrassing if the fashion police show up because your colors or patterns don’t match – but by and large – what we choose to wear is no big deal. Unless – of course – you’re going on a job interview, then what you choose to wear might be extremely important.
So we make choices of all kinds every day. And I want to suggest to you that one of the most important choices that you and I can make – comes from what we have heard – what we have seen – and what we have experienced. You’ve heard the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Here in this place – or a place like this. Maybe from a friend at work or at school. Maybe you’ve read about this man Jesus in an article, or in the Bible itself. Whatever. You’ve heard the call to discipleship – to come and follow this man Jesus.
SO here’s the choice. What are you going to do with this man Jesus? You’ve got a choice to make. Because no one – absolutely no one – can ram the stuff you hear in church down your throat. You are free to choose.
One of the classic examples of this is from our reading in Joshua today. I love this section of Joshua. Joshua is the leader of the people of Israel, the successor to a man named Moses. And I want you to listen again to his bold declaration. Speaking to the people of Israel he says, “Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua was making a choice that day – for both himself and his family – and encouraging the people of Israel to do the same.
In our Gospel reading from John’s Gospel, people are also making choices. Some good, and some not so good. A few weeks ago we heard the story of the feeding of the 5,000. You remember that one. Jesus fed 5,000 people with just two loaves of bread and two fish. The people were satisfied. The next day, the people wanted more. “Please sir – we want – more!” In fact, they want to make Jesus their king.
But Jesus declines their offer. He wants to be a king alright – but not the king of their country. What he wants is to be the king – the Lord – of their lives. So he says some things that they found difficult to understand. Things like, “I am the Bread of Life.” Things like, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day.” Well that sounds rather creepy! Cannibalism? Well, that’s what it sounds like to people who don’t know the whole story.
We of course understand that Jesus is already talking here about the bread and wine of what we now call Holy Communion – that somehow – someway – in, with and under the bread and wine – Christ is truly present – to the point where Jesus himself says of the bread and the wine, “This is my body. This is my blood.”
So because the vast majority of the people don’t get it – they make a choice. And the choice is to turn away from following Jesus. That’s when Jesus turns to the 12 disciples, and asks them, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter – good old Peter – gets it right. And I love Peter’s answer. Listen!
“Lord – to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe, and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Peter made a choice that day. Peter made the right choice that day.
Listen! I know that for some of you listening to me today – you’re struggling with this thing called faith. You’re struggling with this whole Jesus stuff. This church stuff. And I want to tell you that as I have examined the evidence for God – as I have examined the evidence for the life, death – and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ – I can only come to one conclusion. And that is that God is real. That everything the Bible says about Jesus Christ is true. I cannot prove that God exists any more than the sceptic can prove that God does not exist. But I’m not talking about proof. I’m talking about examining the evidence.
Because the evidence – all the evidence – points in the direction that what the church has to say about God and creation and Jesus Christ is all true. In fact, I find it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a believer in Jesus Christ. And if you’re here today, and you are a sceptic – if you’re placing your faith in the belief that God does not exist – then I want to have a conversation with you. I have a whole sermon series on why Christians believe what we believe that I want to give to you, and then we can talk.
So here’s the deal. We have a choice to make. So what choice – when it comes to Jesus Christ – what choice are you going to make? If you have come to believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God – what choice or choices are you going to make as a disciple of Jesus Christ?
You see, God has already chosen you. God has already chosen you to be his disciple – to be His beloved daughter – His beloved son – through the waters of baptism. But now, you have a choice to make. What kind of disciple am I going to be? Am I going to be a disciple who walks away from Jesus – or am I going to be a disciple who walks with Jesus?
Because, let me tell you, as a disciple I want to invite you to take a stand – to take a stand with your brothers and sisters who are in Christ. If you are a believer, I invite you take a stand for Jesus Christ.
Paul – the Apostle Paul – saw the importance of taking a stand. In our reading from the book of Ephesians, Paul encourages us to put on the whole armor of God and having done so, to stand. To take a stand against the enemies of the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ. Who are these enemies? I like to call them the big 3 – or what Martin Luther called sin, death and the power of the devil.
Did you catch in that reading from Ephesians where Paul tells us take a stand against what he calls “the wiles of the devil”? And he says that followers of Jesus Christ are to put on “the whole armor of God.” He was using the armor that a Roman soldier would wear as a metaphor for how a Christian ought to be equipped – the helmet of salvation – the breastplate of righteousness – the belt of truth – the shield of faith – the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God.
These were the things that kept a Roman soldier protected in battle. But the greatest protection came when that soldier stood shoulder to shoulder with other soldiers – try saying that three times real fast – they stood shoulder to shoulder with other soldiers with their shields locked together.
In other words – the Roman soldier was safest when taking a stand against the enemy –when he was connected – standing side by side – with other soldiers.
I don’t want you to miss this point. We need to be equipped with the spiritual armor that Paul talks about – but we are at our best when connected with – when we are standing side by side – with other disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s why church matters. By the way, I’ve got a sermon series on that too! It’s called, “Why Church Matters.” I’ll even give it to you free of charge!
Listen! Joshua spoke for himself and for his family when he said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Peter spoke for the other disciples when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Back to our fishing nets? Back to collecting taxes for Rome? Back to some other rabbi who can’t hold a candle to you? Back to our old way of life? No Lord! To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Folks – we all have this choice to make. Where will you go? To whom will you turn? Some of us have tried other things, and found them lacking. We’ve been to other places, and we don’t want to go back there again. Those other things and those other places just don’t cut it, do they!
So some come back – back to their baptism where it all started. For others – today may be a starting point – a point at which you’ve never been before in your life. A starting point as it is for Camryn – baptized into the body of Christ as our newest sister in Christ this weekend.
The point is – what is the alternative to Jesus Christ? What is the alternative? Well, there are many choices that could be made right now. You could have chosen to be anywhere but here. But where would you rather be? At the mall? By the way, did you know that there are more people visiting shopping malls on a Sunday morning than there are in church?
Hey! That’s their choice, right? Of course, maybe some of them went to church on Saturday night instead, right? But where would you rather be than right here, right now?
Where else are you going to hear Jesus say, “I am THE way, THE truth, THE life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Where else will you hear Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
I guess it all boils down to in whom or in what are you going to put your trust? In whom or in what are you going to place your faith – because you’re going to put your faith in something.
Let me share with you a story that took place several decades ago. “A group of Lutheran ministers were meeting in a Chicago hotel and a fire broke out. The clerics came close to panicking as flames and smoke blocked their normal escape routes through the corridor to the elevators and stairway. They went out onto a balcony to escape the smoke but were ten stories up so there was no escape that way. Then one of the ministers braved the smoke and went through the room where they had been meeting until he found an exit to a fire escape. As one of the ministers said later, ‘One cannot imagine the feeling of relief in hearing and seeing this man come back to us and say, ‘This way out. Follow me. I know the way.’”
Folks, that’s the Gospel message. Jesus is the One who not only knows the way, but He is the One who is the Way. He is the One who can save you. He is the One who leads you through this life and brings you safely to the life that is to come. SO he says, “Come, follow me. I know the way, because I am the way.”
SO what will you choose? The answer to me is SO clear. Of all the choices – of all the options – and there are many – and after examining all of the evidence – and I really want you to examine the evidence – BECAUSE I want you to make the right choice – I’ve gotta say, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Tuesday, August 18 2015
12 Pentecost B; John 6:51-58
Has anyone here held game nights with family or friends? Anyone still play some of the classic games, like Monopoly, or checkers, or Scrabble?
When I was growing up, we played board games a lot. And one of the games we used to play was a classic-- “The Game of Life.” Does anyone remember it or play it now?
For those who may not know, The Game of Life basically tries to mimic real life, in a board game format. You start with a game piece that’s a car, and some money, and you make your way around the board. Anyone who’s played before, what’s the goal of the game?? Right, to make the most money. So every decision you make is geared towards winning, by accumulating cash and “winning” at Life.
So during the game, you get to choose whether to go to University or not—which is a longer path, but you get paid more later. You want to become a professional—doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. because you’ll make more money. You get paid throughout the game. Other players try to take your money, and you try to take their money.
You want to get married in the game, because then you get—you guessed it—wedding presents and cash. And then you want to have as many kids as possible, because you get MORE presents! OK, maybe that part doesn’t mimic real life that well—we all know having kids means spending money too! But in the game, that doesn’t matter. Having more kids equals cash.
And landing on different spaces mean that “life” things happen. And the last square of the game that you want to get to is: MILLIONAIRE! Retire in style.
So that’s your goal— become a millionaire and retire in style. If someone doesn’t end up becoming a millionaire tycoon at the end, the winner is the one who gets bankrupt last. So it’s still the one who has the most money in the end who wins.
It’s a fun game. But if you think about it a bit, you kind of realize that this game is a bit skewed. It’s teaching kids what they need to do to “win” at life. If they want to be winners at life, they have to amass a fortune (sometimes at the expense of others!), get married, and have a passel of kids (not because they want to, but because they get more money that way)— and they do all of this so they can retire in style. That, according to the Game of Life, is the goal of life.
Weirdly, there is no death in this Game of Life. It ends at retirement or bankruptcy. But appropriately, once the game ends—regardless of who wins—where does all the money go?? Yeah, back in the box. So although the game teaches us to make a ton of money, it is very clear that at the end of life the money is gone. As some like to say-- you can’t take it with you.
And sadly, we ourselves tend to do the same thing—focus on those things that do not last. Jesus knew this—2,000 years ago, people had this problem as well.
Our Gospel passage today continues the discussion Jesus is having with the people who witnessed the Feeding of the 5,000. After Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people with just five small barley loaves and two fish, he and the disciples travel across the lake. The people who were just fed during the miracle follow them.
But Jesus knows the reason why the people followed him. It’s not because they want to hear more about God—they want another free lunch. Jesus tells them: “I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles. Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for food that lasts for eternal life. This is the food which the Son of Man will give you.”
Jesus knows that these people are focused on things that don’t last—rather than focusing on the food that lasts forever, that the Son of Man, or Jesus, will give them. They are looking in the wrong places, for the wrong things, to satisfy their deep hunger for what only Jesus can give them.
We know what that’s like. We, too, look in the wrong places and for the wrong things to satisfy our hunger. We saw in the Game of Life the pursuit of money. Alcohol, pursuing success, obsessions with anything and everything—sports teams, TV shows, celebrities. The things I listed are fine in moderation—I’m not asking you to give up your favorite sports teams or TV shows! But it’s when these things are used to fill that spiritual void in our lives that it becomes a problem.
Because, when we become so focused on these things that don’t last, we can derive our life’s purpose and meaning from them. It becomes why we live, why we are here. Our hunger becomes misplaced, and we are living for the food that spoils.
In the Gospel reading for today, it seems like the people continue to have this problem. Even though the conversation with these same people has continued throughout chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, Jesus still needs to clarify what’s important in life. He gives them a priority check.
And the priority check isn’t pretty. He tells them that they must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Reading this today, we can figure out that he’s probably talking about… what? Holy Communion, right. But the people back then didn’t have that frame of reference. They’re looking at a living man standing in front of them, wondering what he means by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It sounds really gross. They’re probably thinking something like, “Um, Jesus, gross. I don’t want to be a cannibal! What the heck??” But reading this now, we know that he’s talking about the sacrament at the altar—Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper.
And Jesus tells them: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus is showing them what’s most important. It’s not the free lunch that they had earlier, or those things that don’t last. It’s taking part in the real Bread of Life, in Jesus. It’s having a relationship with him.
Because when we have Jesus in our lives, we have spiritual life. We are able to live, because Jesus died for us. He gave up his life for the life of the world—so that the world—us-- could live through him. He died on that cross to give us new spiritual life. Being in relationship with Jesus changes everything— the spiritual part of us wakes up and lives. We aren’t just living for things that spoil, we are living for Jesus and wanting to share his love with everyone we meet. That’s the most important thing.
Having Jesus in our lives doesn’t mean that things will always be easy. Jesus tells us many times in Scripture that being a follower of him means that we will have to take up our cross and deal with obstacles. And when we are dealing with these obstacles and our personal crosses, sometimes it’s hard to see Jesus. It can be difficult to feel his presence.
But when we encounter Jesus through Holy Communion, this spiritual feeding, we are reminded of what Jesus did. We hear the words “the body of Christ, given for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you.”
Jesus died for YOU. Jesus gave up his life so that YOU could live with him forever. He tells us, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” Jesus loves you that much that he went to the cross for you—so that you could have the Bread of Life and have eternal life with him.
Jesus tells us: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them….whoever eats me will live because of me.”
And when we come to this Communion table, when we eat of Jesus, the Bread of Life, and taste the wine, his blood-- we know that Jesus is here, in the bread and in the wine. We can feel Jesus as the bread is placed in our hands. We can taste Jesus as we eat and drink. As Jesus said, he abides in us and we in him. Jesus literally becomes a part of us as we take Communion at this table.
And when we take Communion, as we will in just a few minutes, we experience Jesus’ presence in a special way. Jesus promises us that he is here, in this bread and in this wine. We meet Jesus in this food and drink.
So, knowing that it is sometimes hard to feel Jesus’ presence in our broken world—we also know that we will always meet Jesus in this Holy Meal. Whenever we feel like we need to reconnect with Jesus, we can always come to this table, knowing that we can experience Jesus’ presence every time we take Communion.
And since we know that we encounter Jesus during Communion, we can bring those things to Jesus during Communion that we need to bring to him. Maybe you need forgiveness-- for something you did, or to forgive someone else. Maybe you need healing for a broken relationship. Maybe you need help with an important decision. Maybe you need to have your spiritual life refreshed.
Whatever you need in this moment, I invite you to bring it to the table when you meet Jesus today in the bread and wine. Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 11: “Come to me, all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
So come to this table— come and meet Jesus, and lay your burdens down on the One who offers rest for your soul, the Bread of Life, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Come experience Jesus’ presence and be in relationship with him—the most important thing. Amen.
Monday, August 10 2015
Last week Pastor Becca preached on a reading from the book of Ephesians. I would like to continue that today. I gotta tell ya, I love the book of Ephesians. It is rich with good stuff – stuff that is at the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
One of the neat things about Ephesians is that it can be neatly divided into two almost equal parts. In the first three chapters the Apostle Paul lays out certain truths about Christianity that we all need to pay attention to. In the second three chapters he describes how Christians ought to live. So the first half contains truths that state, “Here is what we believe,” and the second half gives answers to the question, “How then shall we live?”
I want to suggest to you that the first three chapters are dripping with grace – you know what grace is, right? – God’s undeserved love and favor. By grace, God forms us – his church – into a holy community. By grace we are adopted as sons and daughters into this faith community. All the while, Paul wants us to know that we have this grace as a gift because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The second half of this letter focuses then on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It focuses more on lifestyle – on choices – attitudes and actions. And you can’t miss the transition between the first half and the second. You can’t miss it. Paul begins the second half of this letter with these words: “I therefore…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Wow! That sounds like a pretty tall order. You want me to live a life that is worthy? Worthy of the call to which I have been called, huh?
What I want you to see today is that Paul is urging the church at Ephesus – and therefore encouraging us too – to move towards maturity. In other words – as Pastor Becca told us last week – Paul wants us to grow up! – to become more and more like Christ in our thoughts – in our words – and in our actions.
And that is a process. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not something that’s automatic. It is a process. And it is a process that I would hope all of us would be involved in. And if not – well I just want you to know that it’s part of my job – it’s part of Pastor Becca’s job – to encourage you to grow up – and to learn what Christ-likeness means – and then to actually put it into practice.
So I don’t care how old you are – or how long you’ve been a Christian – you never outgrow your need to keep on growing – to keep on learning – to keep on becoming all that God wants you to be. Because there is a real danger – a real danger – when followers of Jesus Christ get too comfortable. It is possible to get too comfortable with this thing called faith.
So I guess a key question I could ask you today is, “How are you doing? How are you doing in your walk with the Lord? How have you changed – how have you grown – what difference has faith in Jesus Christ made in your life? Are you spending time with other believers? Because, let me tell you, your growth in Christ is going to happen most often when you are in the company of other Christians.
So the first half of Ephesians is just dripping with grace – grace that was lavished upon us. Grace that was given to us in baptism. So if the first half of Ephesians is full of grace – then the second half – again – answers the question, “How then shall we live?” Now that I am a baptized – adopted daughter or son – how then shall I live?”
Glad you asked. Our reading today from chapter 4 of Ephesians – gives us a slice of what that looks like. Easy to read. Easy to understand. Not always so easy to do.
Some of the stuff he talks about is pretty much common sense. These are the things we teach our children – and if we’re not –well, we ought to be. But here’s his list:
- Don’t lie.
- Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
- Don’t make room for the devil.
- Don’t be taking things that don’t belong to you.
- Don’t let evil talk come out of your mouth. You know! What did your mother or father say to you when you were a kid? Watch your mouth! Oh! Your parents didn’t say that to you? Oh, they did! So I wasn’t the only one?
Listen!In addition to the things I just told you, there are six vices that Paul wants us to put away.If you’re asking the question today, “How then shall I live,” here are a few things to stay away from: bitterness; rage; anger; brawling; slander; and malice.
Wow, that’s quite a list! Almost sounds like Paul has someone in mind. Some cantankerous so and so.
Let me tell you an old story about a cantankerous, crabby old man. His neighbors avoided him. His four boys moved away from home as soon as they could. You get the picture. His poor wife stood by him, but it was not easy.
One night he went to bed and just slipped away.
His four boys were called in. What should they do? “He was hard to live around,” one of them said, “and no one could get along with him, but he was our pa. We owe him a decent burial, out in the meadow beyond the field.”
So they went out to the barn and found some boards and made a casket, and put the old man in it. They put the box on their shoulders and carried it out past the barn. As they passed through the gate, one of the boys bumped into the post and this caused them to drop the box. The casket broke open and the cantankerous, crabby old man sat straight up.
He was alive! He had only been in a very deep . . . sleep!
Well, life got back to normal. He lived two more years, just as ornery and mean, cantankerous and crabby as ever. The boys could go back to their homes, but his poor wife had to stay and put up with him.
Then one night he went to bed and just slipped away . . . this time for good.
His four boys were called in. What should they do now? “Well,” said one of them, “he was hard to live around, and no one could get along with him, but he was our pa. We owe him a decent burial, out in the meadow beyond the field.”
So they went out to the barn and found some boards and made a casket and put the old man in it. They put the box on their shoulders and started out of the house. And as they did, their mother, the old man’s wife said sternly, “Boys, when you get out by the barn . . . be careful going through that gate!”
That cantankerous old man should have read our lesson for today, which says: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
How then shall we live? Well, there IS a better way. Listen to a second list Paul gives us. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
These I think are the things – as disciples of Jesus Christ – these are the attitudes and the behaviors that we value. And yes we’re going to mess up on these. But when we mess up, God forgives us. He picks us up and keeps us going.
And one last thing. We all have a picture of what a cantankerous person looks like. The person we don’t want to be around. The person we don’t want to be. So I think we can agree – the cantankerous man or woman model is not a model we want to follow. The good news is that Paul offers us a different model – a better model. He says, “Be imitators of God…”
In other words –be imitators of Jesus Christ. What I tell you all the time – learn what it means to be Christ-like. As I told you two weeks ago, learn to love as he loved, to show compassion as he showed compassion, to forgive as Jesus forgives.
That’s the gospel! That’s the good news! We are drawn to God –we are drawn to each other – not by cantankerous, loud angry words – but by words of love and forgiveness. By actions that come from love and forgiveness.
So how then shall we live? Now that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, how then shall I live? There is an answer. Listen once again:
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.
Wednesday, August 05 2015
Pastor Becca Ehrlich
“Oh, grow up!” Whenever my little brother would do something particularly annoying when we were kids, or when one of my friends did something I considered childish, these words would undoubtedly leave my mouth.
At some point in our lives—usually around middle school age—we start to figure out what is and isn’t grown up. It’s part of figuring out adulthood. Whether we DO what we’ve figured out is grown up, well, that’s another story!
Being “grown up” also applies to our Christian faith. We all know someone who is such an amazing Christian, so mature in their faith, that they just ooze confidence and maturity. If we aren’t like that right at this minute, it can make us feel like a child, like we’re in Sunday School, answering “Jesus” to every question.
The thing we don’t see is that even mature Christians don’t usually feel grown-up in their faith. They still feel like they have a lot of growing up to do when it comes to God and faith and how it all works. It’s like what Peter says to Jesse in the movie Liberal Arts: “Nobody feels like an adult. That’s the world’s dirty secret.”
And yet, all of us are called to have a mature faith. God doesn’t want us to have the same faith, the same way of thinking about God we had when we were five. This mature faith is always growing, always looking to learn more. And it’s available to all of us.
In the reading we just heard from the letter to the Ephesians, we hear about different spiritual gifts (we will talk more about those in a minute!) and then it says: “…until all of us come to a unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” God wants us to be mature in our faith, to be more like Christ, to grow up in how we see God and see the world through our faith.
So what does this mature faith look like? And how can we grow towards it? I’m so glad you asked! Actually our reading from Ephesians tells us a lot about what mature faith looks like, so we are going to dive into the text together. Feel free to pull out the Bibles that are in the pew racks in front of you and follow along in Ephesians 4:1-16. Everyone ready?
We start with verse 1 and go to verse 5: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
So all of us are in this together. We have the same God, and are called to serve that God, together. We all are called by God to work together towards our common goal—to serve God by loving God and loving others. I think I’ve heard that somewhere…. Oh yeah, our Mission Statement here at Zion. Anyone know it…? “Love God. Love Your Neighbor. Nothing Else Matters.” That’s what God wants us to do with our lives. Ever wonder about what your purpose is on this earth? It’s that simple. Love God. Love others. And God calls us to work together to do just that.
The problem can be the working together part. We are all special, unique people created by God. That’s awesome! But because we are all different, we sometimes come across difficulties when we work together. We looks at things differently, solve things differently, speak and act differently.
But what can help us when those difficulties arise is knowing that God is the one calling us together to work for our common goal of loving God and loving others. God is the one working through us and in us. God is the one helping us through, even when our human differences sometimes get in the way.
A mature faith is one that is able to recognize that we are all in this together. We are unified in God’s purpose for us. Even when we disagree, we still stand together in our common purpose. We are still able to work together in the name of Jesus, regardless. THAT is being grown up in our faith. Recognizing that there is no “us vs. them” but just one goal, to serve God and serve others, together.
Our reading in Ephesians continues with verse 7: “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And then in verses 11-13, we hear about some of these gifts: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until 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.”
This is one of the many times in the Bible we hear examples of the spiritual gifts God gives us. Spiritual gifts are special abilities given by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to each member of the body of Christ, in order to fulfill the mission of the Church.
The thing is, not everyone has the same gifts. We hear in our reading that everyone has different gifts. Not everyone is called to be a pastor—otherwise, all of you would be up here with me, and we’d all be talking over each other. Then where would we be??
That’s why everyone is given different abilities, different spiritual gifts, so we can serve God in different ways. If everyone had the same gifts, nothing would get done. In God’s infinite wisdom, we were given different abilities so everyone can do a wide range of things in order to serve the world in many, many different ways!
So although we all have a common purpose—loving and serving God and our neighbors—how we are gifted by God to work in that purpose looks very different. As Susan Hylen, professor of New Testament at Emory University puts it, “In Ephesians, unity is not the same as uniformity.”
Someone who has a mature faith is able to recognize what is and isn’t his or her spiritual gifts, and use them accordingly. You will feel energized and feel like you are serving God well if you are using your spiritual gifts. If you do not have the gifts for something and do it anyway, you are setting yourself up for frustration and burnout. God gave us spiritual gifts because God wants us to use them to share Jesus’ love with others. If you aren’t sure of the spiritual gifts God has given you, take a spiritual gifts inventory or try some different things to see where your passion is and where you fit best.
A mature faith is also able to recognize that everyone has different gifts, so not everyone will do something the same way you do. We can’t expect someone else to do something how we would do it ourselves, and that’s OK. In fact, we can learn from someone else with different gifts doing something differently.
For example, you don’t have to know Pastor Randy and I very long to know that he and I have very different spiritual gifts. Some of our gifts are similar—we both have musical gifts, we both are passionate about preaching and teaching about Jesus. But the rest of our gifts are pretty different. Which means that we do things differently.
Now that could be a huge source of stress, having two people working together who are very different. And it’s not always easy, of course. But when God brought me to Zion, God knew that Pastor Randy and I could learn from one another, and actually work well together BECAUSE of our differences. Being from different generations, with different types of life experiences, with different spiritual gifts, means that we are able to achieve much more than what we could do ourselves, or what we could do with someone exactly like us.
God giving us all different spiritual gifts works the same way. Having a mature faith is being able to work with people who are very different and see that God is working through them, too. All of us are given different gifts to serve God together, differently, so we can achieve more than we would individually.
Our reading from Ephesians has more to say, with verses 14-16: “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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit 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.”
So, having a mature faith means trusting only in Jesus. It’s so easy to get side-tracked and taken in by so many things in our world—the pursuits of money or of prestige, the accumulation of material things, the single-mindedness of pushing younger family members to be the best at everything.
But Jesus is the head of our lives—that is most important. He is the head, and we are all different body parts. The head directs the rest of the body where to go. That means Jesus knows where the body is going. And the rest of the body parts—all of us who are Christians in the body of Christ—work together to do what the head, Jesus, is telling them to do. Jesus knows where we are going—we are to listen and follow.
A mature faith is one that realizes that it’s not about me and what I want. It’s about Jesus and what he wants. Jesus is the one who leads us and directs us where to go. He equips us so that we can go where he wants us to go, do what he wants us to do.
And having a mature faith means that we continue to grow in our faith in Jesus while serving him. Reading the Bible, having faith conversations with other Christians, praying, listening for Jesus’ voice in our lives—we are better able to do what he’s calling us to do when we are connected to him and growing in our faith. A body part is useless if it isn’t connected to the head!
So, according to our Ephesians passage, the mature faith is one that is able to work with others towards the common purpose of loving and serving God and neighbors; one that recognizes one’s spiritual gifts and is able to work with people who have different gifts; and one that sees Jesus as the head and connects with Jesus and grows in faith regularly.
We can’t grow into this mature faith on our own. With Jesus as the head leading us, we are able to grow more into his likeness and be more like him. Growing up isn’t easy, but with our heavenly parent guiding us, we will stay on the right track and grow into maturity in our Christian faith.
How is God nudging you personally to grow more mature in your faith? God has been telling you ways to do that, for a long time, probably. Listen to those nudges, and then act on them! A mature faith is what God is calling us to have. Amen.