This sermon was preached at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village,CO on August 5, 2018 and can be viewed at http://www.bethanylive.org
The text is Ephesians 4: 1-16
We all know about growing pains in one form or another. Growing pains in teenagers as their bones and ligaments stretch, change and move to accommodate the new height and shape of their maturing bodies. My son in particular suffered from these as he grew into his 6 foot frame. And besides physical growth, we experience growing pains as we learn about ourselves, the world and relationships. Such as the growing pains in a family of a new baby or any relationship with a friend, coworker or spouse. We learn to give and take, to stretch ourselves for the sake of the other or to learn how our lives shift and are impacted simply by the presence of this other person whom no matter how much we love them, simply because they aren’t us. And I want to be clear, that I am talking about healthy mutual relationships and in the name of Jesus, hear that abuse of any kind, mind body or spirit is not ok. But most of our relationships are simply uncomfortable as we learn to accommodate each other. If we can be honest about the disappointment and the pain of the realization of imperfection, the relationship can grow deeper and stronger.
Spiritual growing pains are real as we encounter suffering, questioning, doubting. But these dark nights of the soul also have led me to transformation, growth and new perspective. Growth of any kind always widens our vision from our own narrow view-whether it’s concretely getting taller and acquiring more motor skills-to understanding that growing pains in our spiritual life and relationships can lead to authenticity, connections, joy and a new vision of ourselves and the world.
This growth isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to see the world with new eyes and an open heart.
The writer of Ephesians, maybe Paul, maybe not, is shifting the vision from the first three chapters which laid out the reality of the good news of a new creation, and of community where we are all connected through Jesus Christ. Yay! Seems so simple and now all we have to do is well, do it! Hmmmmm not so fast says the writer…here’s the reality of a new creation which at first blush seems so idyllic and all unicorns and cotton candy for all-is that it involves real people and so it’s going to be hard and possibly painful. Yippee! Oh we love that as human beings!
Chapter four opens with the reminder from the writer of being a prisoner. How does being a part of this new creation sound so far? You might be jailed for it. And for the next 16 verses he lays out that yes, we are united in the oneness of God: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all.
Then we hear of all the different types gifts that this one God gives us and it sounds like a job opening in any local congregation but we need to remember that my job as a paid professional didn’t exist 2000 years ago in the early Christian church-as a matter of fact Paul cautioned against it—as if one’s livelihood is tied to the gospel proclamation, how does that truncate the message? The gospel is good news for the poor, the oppressed, the suffering, the disenfranchised. It’s not necessarily good news for those who have something at stake in status quo and are very comfortable and not interested in change.
What we consider today as professional church jobs, were merely gifts that Paul knew that people possessed from God. And that all of those gifts were needed to work in concert for the revealing of God’s kingdom. Notice what those gifts are supposed to be used for: to equip the saints (all the baptized) and for building up the body of Christ. They’re for our neighbor both in and out of the church. Not for personal gain, personal preference, for one’s ego, status quo or security of livelihood or one’s financial future. This will mean some growth and maturity from those in the church.
And so here’s what the writer knows and we know: this kind of growth is hard and painful. As children, we only worry about ourselves, but as mature Christians, we are called grow beyond ourselves, we are called to exude humility, patience and kindness. We are joined and knit together, and it’s not a grandma knitted fuzzy, comfy blanket that gently swaddles us. The word “knit” from the Greek really means, “to set” as in to set a bone. How many of us have broken a bone and/or had to get it set? How did that feel? Like a comfy blanket? NO! It HURT! LIKE HE…Right? We are being “set” together as followers of Christ, we are being forced together in a new way for the health of the body and it will hurt! Because it’s not about only us as an individual anymore. The growth that we must experience will cause us some growing pains.
But this growth, just like when a bone heals, will cause us be stronger, and not stronger for our own sake but for building up the body of Christ in love. Our vision of what the community should look like will be broadened: who is included, who matters, who we should serve, who we should love, will be focused in God’s love. Our vision will begin to align with God’s vision. Unity will come from these growing pains, as we, like a kaleidoscope, will see all of the beautiful and diverse people made in God’s image, click together in a stunning mosaic of one community of love. We will catch a glimpse of what God sees: that all belong together, that all people matter, have worth and dignity. When we build up other people to live their gifts, we set aside our judgments and biases to be in relationship and to ensure that all people are valued and engaged for ministry.
There will still be the growing pains of realizing that human made doctrines, people’s manipulation of the gospel and their scheming of how this message of love can benefit themselves over others, is a reality even in the beloved community that God is renewing, as sin is still a reality in our lives and the world. But this is where we are admonished to speak the truth in love, to put aside our own need to be right in order to be in relationship with one another even if it’s hard. It does NOT mean being a doormat and allowing abuse of ourselves or others but speaking the truth in love, is a posture of confession and forgiveness. It means we continue to reorient ourselves to the grace of God through Jesus and to point to this grace for our neighbor. Speaking the truth in love is getting clear about saying no to those things that are sin in the world, saying no to anyone being harmed through our institutions. Saying no to sin of racism, saying no to violence, saying no to hate. Speaking truth in love is saying yes to inclusion without conditions, saying yes to accountability for our actions, saying yes to suffering for the truth of the gospel, saying yes to caring for our neighbor even if it doesn’t benefit us.
Through Jesus Christ, we are set together in unity, in love and in the “oneness of God”, and when we are together in this “oneness” we navigate the difficulties of life together as diverse and different people, made stronger in Christ’s love-love that transforms our growing pains into God’s vision of how we are to live together. God’s vision of this love for all people and creation is happening right with us, we are growing into it every day. Can you see it? Can you feel it? It might hurt, it might break your heart, but it’s worth it, because our neighbors, community, and world are crying out for God’s vision of unity and love to be made real. In God’s vision we are growing together in love, we are growing together in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. And all God’s people say: Amen.