Equipped for the Task
Sermon Series: Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family
By: Donnell Wyche – February 17, 2019
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.
We are in part five of our sermon series “Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family.” We are making way together through Ephesians, learning about Paul’s view of the family of God and the work that Christ performed on the cross to remove the barriers to God’s family so that we can be given over to good works.
We Must Grow Up – What the Church Needs
Joining a new family is wrought with all sorts of feelings. How ever we join this new family, in the back of our minds are lingering questions, ‘Will I be accepted? Will I be loved? Will I know what to do?” As a teenager, I joined a new family as the oldest child. This transition was full of all sort of conflicts, some known immediately, others only discovered much later. As I look back, I can see how much fear dictated my actions and behavior. I was afraid that if I stepped out of line, I would be rejected. “I’m not their child, so I have to always be on my best behavior because if I disappoint them, they may reject me.”
I was learning about love. I still am. At the time, I didn’t realize that love is also a choice. This new family was choosing to love me, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. There’s something powerful about being chosen, about being known, about being loved. Paul has been really clear about where we are and what the problem is. Paul also has an unique view on us; scholars credit Paul will the creation of the Western individual because he viewed the individual as unconditionally precious to God. And this is the God who has been working within creation in forming a new family. And Jesus who ascended into God’s presence descended with gifts, gifts to help build, maintain, and grow this new family.
11So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
This new family will need resources to ensure that the community that is being formed and created in Jesus will survive and thrive, so Jesus is distributing gifts. On the surface it may seem as if these gifts exists for their own sake, as if the main point here is that there are gifts within the church so that the “special” people would emerge. But that’s not the point at all, these gifts (which isn’t an exhaustive list) are being given precisely to empower the entire community, so that each member of the church might be equipped for their task.
Let’s consider what roles are present in this list Paul gives, why they were needed at the establishment of the church, and how these roles are needed today as the church continues to grow and expand. The apostles were the first-hand witnesses to resurrection of Jesus, and they are still needed them in order to testify first-hand of the resurrection power of Jesus. New churches were established by apostles because new people needed to hear the testimony of a crucified Messiah who help reconciling humanity to the creator again, and we continue to need new churches in new places to reach new people. The prophets, prompted by the Spirit, spoke in the name of the Lord to rulers and authorities about the mistreatment of the people. Prophets are needed in every generation to speak truth to power; to condemn the ways that people are mistreated, abuse, and marginalized; to call the people of God back to life again; to help distinguish between what God desires and what the Empire demands. Prophets remind us of our moral center giving us a clear-eyed picture of God at work in creation. and prophets call us to repentance. Evangelists carried the message of the Gospel. They announced what the apostles witnessed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, the true ruler of the world. This message of Lordship was more than just an announcement; it was an invitation to reorder the world.
“Love your enemies. Love you neighbor as yourself. Sell your possessions and give them to the poor. Live in the world that God created not as it is, but as it can be. Reflect the image of God. Bear witness to God’s goodness.”
Pastors and teachers in the early church cared for the young Christians, they took up the mantle from the apostles who established new churches, they stayed behind to help a community grow, develop, and transform itself into the people of God. Pastors and teachers today serve a similar role announcing good news, that there is peace to those who are near and those who are far. They invest in local communities, they serve in the places of deep pain, and they teach and remind the people of God how to order their daily lives.
More than Babies – We are Called to Service
All of these roles are needed in order help us grow into maturity and individual Christians, but also to grow as a community.
14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Just as it was in the early days of the church, it’s still the same today, that there are lots of doctrines and authoritative interpreters who toss the community of Christ back and forth. Jesus sent these roles into the church to help us anchor ourselves, to ground ourselves, to establish the church as a witnessing community. Before the church is anything, the church is a witnessing community. There’s an arrogance we have to watch out for, this idea that we know better than others, that we ALONE have the corner on exactly what God is doing and how we are supposed act, instead of living in a way that keeps our hands open, our hearts tender, and willingness to die every present. We are at risk of missing God. This is why we need the whole church and the Holy Spirit.
As Dr. Alonzo Johnson says, “The church must address the existential, socio-economic, political, and cultural powers of bondage and destruction through the liberating power of the Holy Spirit.”
Let me encourage you for a moment — we have been trying to discern for months how we should as a church fill in the gaps that we see in our community. Especially in the places of deep pain among those who are held in bondage in our community, those who trapped, terrorized, and victimized. One of the ways we quickly discovered that we could serve was by filling in the gap in our early childhood education system. There are free programs for 2s and 3s, and early 5s, but there’s a gap if you are 4 years-old. Last month at Cultivate, we started our conversations about launching a free preschool for 4 year-olds. This evening, we will continue that conversation at Cultivate Vineyard by engaging our consultant and starting the process of giving shape and form to this idea. But here’s the thing, we would have missed those of you in the community who also care about this issue if we hadn’t paused and invited you, the church to help us discern our next steps. Each week, we discover people in our community who are called to those who are at the margins in our educational system and those who want to link their faith in Jesus to acts of justice. As a church we have a half dozen areas of social engagement that we are considering, and tonight at Cultivate we will spend some time discerning together how we should move forward. If you didn’t get your invitation already, you can let us know you would like to join us by registering at this link: https://bit.ly/cultivate-vineyard. Paul tells us that the gifts, passions, and deposits from the Holy Spirit in our lives are for service.
A New Commandment – Do Not Walk in Darkness
Last week, I noted that when Paul is writing Ephesians he’s in the shadow of some of the greatest Roman and Greek philosophers of antiquity. They had a view of the human experience that concluded that life was meaningless, pointless, and worthless. Then comes along Pail who had this significant encounter on the Damascus road with the crucified Messiah Jesus. In that moment, everything clicks together for Paul. If God is acting in this way in history, then God is revealing the blueprint from the very foundation of the earth, that God’s purpose was to bless creation, to create a new multi-ethnic family, and to give us over to good works. But more than all of that, God is communicating something significant. Paul says it this way, that the individual (you and me) are unconditionally precious to God. Why else could God act in the way God did in Jesus? If God is acting within history, God is also communicating our worth, our importance, and God is helping us answer the question, what is the meaning of life. Paul’s answer, to become like Jesus. That we would be humble, gentle, patient, and loving. That we would gather together in community, caring for each bearing witness to the work that Christ performed on the cross to reconcile us to ourselves, God, and each other, so when Paul says in Ephesians 4:17,
17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. (Ephesians 4:17-19)
He’s unpacking a lot here. He’s condemning the Greek ideal for perfection that is only discoverable in the mystery cults. Paul is condemning the excesses of the Empire, a attitude that says everything goes. There is nothing that you abstain from or reject. We have to read Paul in context, remember that Paul had to remind the people of God that their participation in orgies were out of bounds. Now, to a modern listener, we might blanch at such a need, but for Paul in his context, he was helping the people of God to redefine what it meant to be human and giving yourself over to every desire or indulgence was out of bounds. Paul says that the purpose of life is found in Jesus, it’s not meaningless, worthless, or even pointless. Remember, Paul says, you are being seated in heavenly places with Christ. You are co-heirs with Christ. If you want to pursuit perfection, then become like Jesus and cultivate the four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Surrender and accept the gift of grace that God is offering through the cross of Christ. There are limits on your freedom, you are to become cruciform. This is the same message for us in the church today. Paul would have words with us, Paul would remind us our calling and ask an important question, are you living in a manner worthy of your calling in Christ. Have you conflated the Empire with the Kingdom? Have you forgotten that you follow a crucified Messiah.
Let me push in on what Paul is doing here when he says that “they are darkened in their understanding and are separated from life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
First, pay attention to Paul because he is arguing that ignorance is not an excuse that will get you very far. This is an echo of what happens to those before the King in Matthew 25, both are ignorant in when they were serving or for that matter not serving the King. Paul echoes Jesus here because even in their ignorance, the Gentiles, Paul says are separated from the life of God–that’s what is at stake friends, the very life (zoë) of God. It’s easy for us to look back and maybe have a laugh at the Gentiles expense, but remember that unless we cultivate the four graces of humility, gentleness, patience, and love, we may find ourselves in the same situation as the Gentiles, callous, and given over to every sensuality, greedy practice of every kind of impurity.
We can fight about exactly how to define every kind of impurity, and depending our what our internal struggles are, we may find ourselves more or less lenient when we come to define what is and isn’t impure. But let me offer that we aren’t very good at diagnosing ourselves, which is why the community of believers is helpful. This is why Jesus gave gifts to the community to help pastor, teach, and prophetically remind us our moral center. To remind us of calling in Christ Jesus and just what is at stake, the very life of God in us.
Jesus says these words in John 14:6.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus resets our understanding of truth. Jesus defines the truth, not as some abstract concept like the Greek and Romans might, but a person. Jesus is the truth, the way, and the life, and our understanding of truth needs to be filtered by him and him alone. Anything else misses the mark.
This morning, let’s collective repent of missing the truth. Let’s collectively repent of giving ourselves over to our desires and our idols (sex, power, lust, money, safety, every way that we seek find life outside of God, which invites us to indulge in every kind of impurity, becoming full of greed.
Let’s pray the Jesus Prayer together
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.
There is freedom for: those dealing with feelings of rejection, freedom from fear that hinders you from moving forward in the gifting Christ has given you. Also someone desires reconciliation within a family or with a family member. God wants to heal someone with gastro-intestinal problems —someone with left foot pain, — someone with low back pain that sometimes radiates up under their left arm.