Equipping the Saints – August 12, 2018

Equipping the Saints

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

August 12, 2018

Main Idea: God give us gifts to share.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Last week I shared with you the unexpected adventures of my trip out West but I did not share much of the amazing and beautiful things that we saw. We were in awe of the great diversity of natural environments which make up our nation; prairies, high peaks, deserts, lakes, rolling hills, farmland, cities, and wilderness.  In Yellowstone Park alone, there are four distinct areas which seem completely different; the Lakes region, the Geysers and Hot Springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and the Lamar Valley with its wide open plains covered with bison.  The park actually sits on the world’s largest super volcano which provides its great diversity of hydrothermal features; geysers, hot springs, steam vents, mud pots, and travertine terraces.  The multi-colored hot springs were, to me, the most amazing.  Their colors come from the water and a diversity of micro-organisms which each live in a specific water temperature; the hottest water is deep blue, then yellow, orange, green, and brown communities of thermophile bacteria ring the center, as the water gets cooler, the bacteria communities change.  Each pool is a microcosm of diverse organisms combining to make a stunningly beautiful whole.

This morning I would like us to think about the diversity of our congregation and how our differences contribute to the strength and the beauty of our community.  This unity in diversity is what Paul is talking about in today’s text from the Letter to the Ephesians. Paul lifts up that which connects us, namely God, while recognizing that we each bring different gifts which can strengthen the community when shared.

Today’s text picks up right where we left off last week and in it Paul moves from praying for the community to giving guidance about how the community can live together. He models the very humility and gentleness that he prescribes, writing, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”(4:1)  This “calling to which you have been called” is not a single, specific job.  It is an embrace of life lived in the love of Christ. It is a relationship which grows over a lifetime. This life is a gift from God and Paul tells us that our response to this gift should be “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”(4:2-3)  This gift of life is not just for our own benefit, it is a gift given to share the love of God with the world.  Sharing love with the world is not easy, being in community is not easy, but humility, gentleness, patience, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” make life in community better.

The goal is to maintain unity but not uniformity.  Because, God gave us not only the gift of life but also “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Each one of us has been given gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”(4:12).  Our skills and abilities are not of our own creation nor simply for ourselves.  Each one of us, each person in the world, has been given gifts to share.  Now Paul lists some of the gifts given; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Some of you might say “I’m not any of those things!” Maybe your gift is ease with numbers, you can use that to help organize resources.  Maybe your gift is imagination, you can use that to develop new programs or works of art.  Maybe your gift is empathy and observation, you can use that to listen to those in need and create welcoming environments.  Maybe your gift is righteous indignation and you can use that to advocate for societal change (that would make you a prophet, by the way!).  Every one of us has a gift “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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.” (4:12-13).  Remember the phrase from last week “filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19)?  This phrase ‘Until all of us come…to the measure of the full stature of Christ” is a similarly extraordinary statement.  We are to use our gifts until all of us, all of the world, reaches the full stature of Christ, in complete and perfect union with God.

This all sounds great until folks with a lot of good ideas try to work together.  “I think we should do this!”  “No, I think we should do that!”  “We’ve never done that before!” This is the challenge of unity in diversity.  Maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” requires the humility, gentleness, and patience Paul lifted up at the beginning.

Unity in diversity also requires that we grow in maturity in our faith and our dealings with each other.  Paul writes “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.”   We must grow in our faith and understanding so that we are not arguing about foolishness nor lulled into thinking that nothing can change.  Outside of these walls, our wider society is increasing divided rather than diverse.  We are encouraged to retreat among those who think like us, those who act like us, those who look like us.  Instead of unity we lean toward conformity, everyone of our group, thinking, acting, and looking the same.  Ironically all the groups, made up of very different people, act with the same insular behavior, taking care of those within the group while fearing and demonizing the others.   Social media and politics amplify this.  These behaviors are not of God.

Paul tells us that “speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (4:15).  Using the beautiful image of the Body of Christ, Paul reminds us that all of our unique gifts work together and are joined and knit together by God’s love which “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (4:16b).  Each one of us has a gift to share in the Body of Christ.

So how is First Baptist living out its calling to which we have been called?

We are a diverse community with many different backgrounds. Some of us are 10th generation Vermonters and some of us are just learning the English language. Some of us grew up Baptist and some grew up Catholic and some never entered a church until just recently. Some of us voted for Hillary and some of us voted for Trump and some of us voted for Bernie just because.   Some of us have been a part of this congregation for decades and some have come to worship today for the first time.  All of this diversity, all of these gifts are blessings to us, to God, and to the world.

This congregation has been gifted with a building and a location one block from the most walked street in the state. We have the blessing of two New American communities that are in ministry with us.  We have many gifted individuals who have given countless hours of their time, their love, and their own resources so that we might exists as a community of faith.  We are in the process of updating our organizational structure to be more flexible and more responsive to people’s gifts and people’s needs.  Next Sunday we will share our ideas for our future and discern priorities for the year ahead. I hope that you will attend and participate.

Right now I invite you to think for a moment about what is the gift God has given you.  How might you share it within this community and with the world? In the coming year we will be asking each one of you to share your gifts by participating in ministry teams; on Sept 9 we will roll out the ministry team opportunities.  Perhaps your gift is to participate in one of our many ministries, perhaps it is to bring a new ministry to life.

Paul tells us “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the 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.” (4:4-6)   All of us, in all of our diversity, we are unified in our one God who loves us with an unending love.  Thanks be to God.

Let us pray,

Lord of All, we praise you.  Empower us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called.  Encourage us to share ourselves with the world.  Amen.