A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Growing Pains Sermon on Ephesians 4: 1-16 August 5, 2018

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.

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You Belong Here! Sermon on Ephesians 2

You can watch this sermon on http://www.bethanylive.org. It was proclaimed on July 22, 2018 at Bethany Lutheran Church at Cherry Hills Village, CO.

The text is Ephesians 2: 11-22

Have kids come forward

You belong here. Those are words that we all ache to have said to us. We want to be known and to know others. We want to have all the parts of us that we like and those parts of us that we don’t, loved all the same, no matter what. It’s a basic human need. We all have stories of times when we deeply belonged whether it was family or a social group as well as stories of when we knew that no matter what we would never belong. Worse yet, to think that you belong to group only to find out that you really don’t. This need to belong drives us in many ways. It can drive us to build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt by rejection.  To build walls around institutions that we love to ensure that nothing will harm it or change it. We build walls to give ourselves a sense of safety and identity in what seems to be a chaotic and lonely world. We yearn to know exactly where we belong.

Kids, I have two tables of duplos here. Choose which table you want to be at, but you can’t all be at the same table, you’ll be in two groups. This group is named “Echahd” and this group is “ena.”  Ok, with these duplos on your table, build something together while I keep talking with the adults. I’ll check in with you in a minute. You can build anything you want as long as you work together. Does that sound good?

So the children just quickly sorted themselves into groups and science tells us that even at this young age, they probably sized the other children up and if we had time to go deeper with them and if they could even articulate it, sorted themselves pretty well into like-minded groups. We could probably find something that they have in common. We do this all the time consciously and unconsciously.

 

And once we find that niche of people, our tribe if you will, we rarely look outside of that group, or more specifically, we almost never ask, “who is missing from our group?” “Whom should we let in?” Most of the time, we belong to closed groups, this is who we are, these are the people who belong and that’s that.

But the flip side is of course, at one point your now best friend or spouse was at one time a stranger to whom you gave a chance. You opened up and risked getting to know them and connecting with them. What was created was a new relationship, a new partnership or a new family. When you risked learning about one another you discovered pieces that were in common, pieces that could be a foundation for the new created relationship.

We are continuing our Ephesians sermon series this week and in Ephesians 2, we read about the real struggle of forging a new community. There was apparently a separation problem, those who were Jewish followers of Jesus and those who were Gentile followers of Jesus. To be Jewish was a very specific identity. It involved more than just belief but your whole way of living. It wasn’t only about going to synagogue or Temple, no it was what you ate, what you wore, where you went, what you touched or didn’t touch. The Jewish converts really accepted Jesus, but being human, still held on to their embedded traditions about how one lives as a believer and how one belongs to a faith tradition. In case you didn’t know, change is hard! Change in how you worship, live and think about God? Well, how many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Why would we change it? We like the dark! Seriously…

(Give kids a one minute warning.) And then you had the Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. They lived very differently and followed none of those prescribed actions. The Jewish people had been taught to tolerate the Gentiles to a point, maybe more to pity them that they aren’t Jewish, but to maintain a safe distance to not have them rub off on them, as they didn’t really belong. Sort of like how as parents we teach our children know that they should love everyone, but subtly let them know that if they don’t want to invite that kid who always breaks stuff over to play, you’re fine with that, as your kid will talk to him at the bus stop and that’s good enough. Now the Gentiles weren’t always so fond of their strict new brothers and sisters in Christ either. I would imagine that the Jewish followers of Jesus would seem well, draconian and a serious buzzkill to any get together in this fledgling Christian community called The Way. The Way was radical community, radical generosity, radical collaboration, radical inclusion, radical love, which would blow the mind of any good rule follower!

How can these two groups learn to live together? Ok, kids, how are the creations coming? Let me see group “Echahd” : Tell me how you all worked together?  Ok Let’s look at group Ena: Tell me about how you worked together? These are great! Ok, pull the tables together and now I want you to take these two creations and make one creation together. Using every piece of the two existing creations, so you will probably have to take some of what you already built apart. Ok go!

Jesus wasn’t a rule freak, he didn’t care about the religious rules, the civil laws, Jesus only cared about people. Jesus cared so much that he wasn’t afraid to come near to our messiness, our brokenness and our sickness. In Mark we read when Jesus saw the people coming to them on the countryside, he had compassion for them. Compassion means “with suffering.” Jesus suffered with them in their desperation, as they were separated from the community, sheep without a shepherd they were aching to belong and be known, but their physical diseases, their brokenness and being outside the religious rules kept them from belonging. The scandal of Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus takes people whom the world says don’t belong together and makes them one. It’s more than coexisting, which is simply tolerance. The Coexist bumper sticker we’ve all seen doesn’t quite get it right. Jesus is about more than tolerance. Jesus brings people who are near, far, rich, poor, healthy, sick, Jew, Greek, slave, free, male female, rural, urban, black, white, native, immigrant, straight, gay, and pulls us all together as the cornerstone of a new community that abolishes all labels and shows us another way-the new beloved people/body of Christ where all people belong. Cornerstones not only connect two dimensionally, but connects the structure to the foundation. Jesus as our cornerstone connects us not only to one another but to God our foundation, the foundation of the One Body of Christ.

This is what makes us truly one, we are one in the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of a God who crushes all divisions. No matter how many walls that we put up, Christ with compassion, breaks down. Over and over again. Not someday in the future, but right here right now. The cross of Jesus is strong enough to break walls of fear and hostility, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls of our egos, the cross of Jesus is strong enough to break the walls around our hearts wide open for compassion and solidarity of our neighbor. When our hearts are broken open by the cross, Jesus can take those pieces and tightly connect us like these duplos, who need one another, to build the kingdom of God where every piece belongs. A holy place right here on earth where God dwells in our hearts, in our homes, in our community and in the world. God dwells here because we dwell here with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.

The names of the groups I gave the children are the words echahd “one” in Hebrew and Ena-“one” in Greek. They took their separate “oneness” and combined to be one new creation here in Christ where each duplo piece had a place and belonged. I love what you have built! This creation reminds us that together we build love in the world for Jesus and tell everyone that they belong to God. How can you show or tell your friends that they belong to God?

In the cross of Jesus, walls are broken, hostility ends, peace pervades and love, well, love builds us as One In Christ and God proclaims: YOU BELONG HERE. And all God’s people say: Amen.