Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity - Eph 4:1-6

                                                                                                Trinity 17
                                                                                                Eph 4:1-6

            “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”  This saying captures a reality of life. We do indeed choose our friends.  We decide which people we like – the people with whom we want to spend time.  We meet people with whom we “just click” – our personalities and interests fit with each other and we enjoy being around them.  These are people with whom we choose to be friends.
            On the other hand, you have no choice in the members of your family.  You are simply born into a family.  Your father and mother are the ones who created you. They are your parents, and you have no say in the matter.  Likewise, any siblings you have – any brothers and sisters – are your siblings because your parents created them too. And beyond the immediate family, your grandparents, aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins are your family because of the connections of blood and marriage.  These connections of family are facts of life.  They are realities in which you have no choice.
            The amazing thing about families is that children produced by the same parents and raised in the same house can be so very different in their personalities.  Within this diversity it can be the case that members of the family don’t always get along all that well.  And of course as you consider the extended family, the potential for this simply grows.  Family members may have characteristics and habits that rub each other the wrong way and create tensions. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are still family.
            In our epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul addresses the fact that the same thing is true in the Church.  Now of course, for many of us, our family and Church are one and the same.  And if personality characteristics and habits can create problems among people who grow up in the same family, it’s not surprising that they also exist within the larger group of the Church.
            Paul had experience dealing with many different congregations.  He ministered for extended periods of time in settings such as Antioch, Corinth and Ephesus.  He kept in touch with congregations through his letters.  He knew that the Church was a collection of sinners – forgiven sinners to be sure in whom the Spirit is at work.  Yet in the struggle against sin, there were times when Christians failed and wronged one another. And beyond that, Paul knew from firsthand experience that sometimes the personalities of Christians just didn’t mesh all that well. Sometimes the issue was not sin, but just that Christians annoyed each other.
            And so Paul begins our text by saying: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  The apostle urges that Christians live in a way that is worthy – that matches – the calling we have received.
            He gives a description of what this looks like when he says that it is a life marked by humility and gentleness.  To live in humility is to put the needs of other before ourselves, rather than thinking only of what I want and what is easiest for me. To live in gentleness is to speak and act in kind ways, rather than reacting brusquely by doing and saying whatever comes to mind even if it harsh and likely to offend.
            Paul says it means being patient with one another.  And then he explains what this involves, it is “bearing with one another in love.”  You can just as easily translate the Greek here as “putting up with one another in love.” Christians will sin against one another.  Christians will rub each other the wrong way.  We will not always have personalities that are a perfect fit with one another.  Yet the apostle says that are to put up with one another in love.  Love is to cause us to forgive.  Love is to cause us to overlook and ignore the source of these tensions. And finally, Paul says that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  The Spirit worked unity of our life in Christ is maintained as we live in peace with one another.
            Paul says that this life is “worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  The apostle talks about how we are to live with one another as Christians.  But he reminds us that the source of this life is not found in us.  Instead, it is based in the God’s gracious calling – our election and predestination by God in Christ. Paul begins this letter by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
            God called you.  He chose you.  He elected you from eternity in Christ. This is the ultimate demonstration of his grace. Before you could do a thing, God chose you in Christ to receive salvation.  As Paul goes on to say, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”  It was God’s grace that sent our Lord Jesus Christ to die as the sacrifice for our sin.  It was God’s grace to call you to faith through his Spirit.  It is God’s gift from beginning to end.  As Paul says in the second chapter of this letter, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
            You didn’t choose your family.  And you didn’t choose the Church. God chose you.  He did it because of his great love.  Paul tells us, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ.” 
            Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has given you forgiveness and hope.  He has applied the forgiveness won by Christ to you when he sanctified you by the washing of water with the Word in Holy Baptism.  God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to his right hand.  Because you have been joined to Christ through faith and baptism, Paul says that God has made us alive together in Christ – that he has raised up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.
            Now through this gracious work – through his calling – God has united us together.  The apostle emphasizes in our text the many ways God has joined us together when he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
            God has done this for you in Christ through the Spirit.  He has graciously called you to this salvation that we have in the Church. And so Paul says in our text, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 
            Because God has done this for us and joined us together in this way, we now seek to walk in a manner worth of this calling.  Christ humbled himself to the point of death – even death on a cross – for us, and so now as those who are in Christ we humble ourselves as we serve and help others in the church.  We seek to put the needs of others before ourselves, just as Christ put our needs before himself.  We live with gentleness towards others as we show care and compassion, knowing that God has treated us this way in Christ.
            And we as live in the Church we show patience, bearing with one another in love.  There are times that we have to put up with one another in love.  We are still fallen people.  We struggle with sin.  We sin against one another.  But because of Jesus Christ we do not look to take offense or to hold on to a grudge.  Instead, Paul says later in this chapter, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  The forgiveness that God has given us in Christ is the forgiveness that we pass on to one another.
            God called you to be in his Church, just as he has called all those who sit around you this morning – and that includes the members of your own family.  He has called people with many different personalities.  Some you might not choose to be your friends in the world. But it is God who has called us of us together in Christ. He has united us as one body through the work of his Spirit. And so now as we live together in the Church, we do so “with patience, bearing with one another in love eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 
            We overlook the shortcomings of others, and choose not to focus on those things they do and say that annoy us.  We put up with one another in love.  We do this because of Christ. For Paul says in the next chapter, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
            These are all things that we do as we live with one another in the Church.  We are humble and kind.  We are patient and bear with one another in love. We seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit on the bond of peace.  But this life of faith is always the response - it is the life prompted by what God has done for in Christ.  It is a response to God’s gracious saving election that he carried out in Christ before the foundation of the world.  And so as Paul exhorts, we seek to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.





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