This is the message I preached on Sunday, September 2nd, at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC I hope it blesses you! If you find yourself in or near Pittsboro, please join us! Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.
“Be the Church: One at Baptism and the Table”
This Sunday we continue our series from the book of Ephesians exploring what it means to “Be the Church”, looking for what values can be a compass guiding us on the path God has for us as a church in the midst of change and transition. These values also challenge us not to simply look to serve ourselves but open our eyes all around us, to see those in need in our communities.Today we start with Ephesians 4, beginning in verse 1. I will be using the New Living translation. Feel free to read along in your own Bible in the translation of your choice, read along on the screen with the translation I am using, or just close your eyes and listen, imagining yourself within the story. However you best experience it, let’s read God’s Word together.
Ephesians 4:1-16, New Living Translation
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.
7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. 8 That is why the Scriptures say,
“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Let us pray.
Still-speaking God, whose word echoes not just in the flashy fireworks of miracles that shake our hearts, nor just the pages of Scripture, but who speaks in every ordinary bird and bush, in elements as simple as water, bread, and cup, and in each person sent along our path, open the eyes of our mind and ears of our heart, so we can hear and see what Word you have for us in these words of Holy Scripture, Amen.
Before I share what stands out to me from Ephesians 4, I wonder what values of Be-ing the Church you hear in this passage?
There’s something about certain sensations that always bring us back home, reminding us of who we are and where we came from. I bet if I asked each of you, you could name something. For some of you perhaps it is the smell of sawdust reminding you of your dad’s carpentry table; or the feel of a spring breeze through the leaves reminding you of a family reunion each spring; or the taste of a pecan or apple pie cooked just right which reminds you of your momma or grandma’s best home-made masterpiece, or the sight of leaves changing reminding you of an autumn trip with family to the mountains. We each have something that calls us home.
I was reminded of mine shortly after beginning serving here. A few Sundays into preaching here this Spring, I joined the Sunday School and was shocked to find ladybugs crawling on me during the lesson. That Sunday was a tough one for me — I came ready to preach, but a relationship important to me hit a rough spot, and I was worried it would distract me. But having ladybugs all over me reminded me of my mother who passed last summer. I remember suddenly in a moment, leaning down with her as a little boy, getting my knees and hands muddy in helping her in her garden as she had me help her plant and water all kinds of plants. And, of course, gather up lady bugs that she would have me sprinkle on her flowers and vegetables, telling me to always be kind to lady bugs because they were good luck, guarding her garden from all kinds of insects that could harm them. In that moment, it was like momma was wrapping her arms around me, telling me “I’m proud of you, boy. And you’ve got this”.
Whenever I see lady bugs I remember I’m Franny’s boy, raised by this woman who loved to be close to the earth, loved to make things with her hands, and loved to add beauty to the world. And whenever I bite into a fresh garden tomato, I remember the taste of the tomatoes she grew and feel I am, for but a moment, returning home, reminded of who I am and whose I am.
Sometimes we deeply need this kind of reminder. When Paul writes to the church of Ephesus, how much he and they need to be reminded where they come from, who they are, whose they are, and where that means they are headed!
As Paul reminds us, he writes in chains, on his way to be executed. If there is ever a time you might begin to question who you are and where your life is headed, surely your journey to your beheading is that time! No doubt the Christians in Ephesus were shaken by this news too.
Paul encourages them and, through them, each of us, that when life shakes us and makes us fear we might become distracted and lose our way, to connect back with who we are, whose we are, and where we are headed. Paul encourages them to remember their own calling from God and how it ushered them into one Body of Christ, one Spirit of God, one great hope for this life and the next, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. In the United Church of Christ we talk about this call to remember where we have come from, whose we are, who we are, and where we are going, in terms of living as people “one at baptism and the table”.
Just as having those lady bugs falling all over me that one Sunday here reminded me what it meant to be my mother’s youngest boy and all the faith she had in me on a day I needed such a reminder, so as Christians we bathe ourselves with water and have the name of God — Father, Son, and Spirit — spoken over us at the start of our Christian journeys, as a way of claiming who we are in God’s eyes: God’s beloved children, in whom God takes delight; ones for whom Christ came, for whom Christ died, ones whose lives have been made new through his resurrection, ones called to be his hands and feet, his body, in this world by working to share his love in word and deed, and working to help find healing for all that is hurting and broken in God’s world. Martin Luther, who helped start the Protestant Reformation, used to say “Remember your baptism”. Luther challenged people, whenever they wash their face in the morning, to pause and remember it, because doing so called to memory these essentials of who we are and who we are called to be. “Remember your baptism” invites us all to recognize our baptism is our commissioning to do God’s work. It is not just ordained pastors with titles and degrees who have a calling but each of us have callings we live out too: in our day to day jobs, our care for our families, our care for friends and neighbors, our social activism. Our baptisms have given us our own ministries in those moments and contexts, our own callings no one else can answer yet which we live out whenever we do such seemingly ordinary earthy work and care for the glory of God, and in ways that point others to Christ’s love and build justice and compassion in our community.
Similarly, just as the taste of fresh plucked tomatoes reminds me I am this son of a woman who liked to live close to the earth and fill God’s world with beauty, so when we take bread together we have broken and drink from a shared cup together as we do each communion, we are reminding ourselves of the very same truth. We are reminded too, in that bread and cup that even when we feel broken, and our life feels poured out and near empty, we remain Christ’s Body, God’s hands and feet in the world. Each of us, no matter how seemingly weak, broken, or different, have a part to play in God’s work.
These practices call us to lay aside those distractions that keep us from living into who Christ has called us to be , so we can embrace again who Christ says we are, asking afresh how to walk as Jesus walked. They call us as a community to lay aside our differences. We can become so caught up in our differences in backgrounds, in whether the other person who sits next to us in the pew works the same kind of job as us, went to the same kind of schools as us, talks like us, shares our skin color, shares our politics, dates or marries the kind of person we think they should, or has a family that looks just like ours, that we forget that they, like us, also share this same calling. Baptism and communion call us to quit quibbling about these differences, to lay them aside, and instead roll up our sleeves together, busily doing the work of being Christ’s Body in this world, loving and serving others, and working together for the healing of all that is broken around us.
I think it is important to notice, too, this Labor Day Sunday how these practices also call us to pay attention to the earth and the struggles of working people. A part of what was revolutionary about baptism when Jesus and John the Baptizer first began to baptize people is that water falls or flows naturally and freely from God’s good earth. Instead of having to go to a temple, paying costly for fancy sacrifices or rituals, now God can be reached by the least financially successful as freely as they can dip into the water flowing in the creek out back. And the bread and cup we bless is the common meal shared by rich and poor alike; and also is a gathering of the fruit of honest work: the grain and fruit of the wine grown in the soil of God’s good earth, the fruit of the labor of hands in the fields that plant, water, harvest, prepare, until it is ready to go to our table. In these ways, it is also a reminder of our connection to each other, and to God’s earth, and our call to care for each of these well.
What are thoughts you have about how people can live out this value of “being one at baptism and table?”
Any further thoughts about ways we have been living out this value?
About new ways we can live it out?
I invite you to close our sermon time with these traditional words of prayer for communion, as our prayer:
Grant that, being joined together in You, we may attain to the unity of the faith and grow up in all things into Christ our Lord. And as this grain has been gathered from many fields into one loaf, and these grapes from many hills into one cup, grant, O Lord, that we together with your whole Church may soon be gathered from the ends of the earth where we are often scattered into one in your kingdom, especially here on this your good earth but also ultimately when we are all gathered home to you on resurrection morning.. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Amen.