10th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 8/2/15)
first reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
second reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
gospel reading: John 6:24-35
I’ve been grieved and saddened by the chaos and divisions I’ve been seeing in the world and even in our own country lately.
Racial tensions are running high around the country, and in our national church there is great frustration over a newly released Pew Study, which finds the ELCA* is one of the least diverse religious groups in the United States. We came in dead last – 96% white. It makes me sad about what is, and the reality of the work ahead.
With all this swirling in my head, when I looked at the readings for this morning I was drawn to our passage from Ephesians. Now I know the writer of Ephesians was not thinking of racial tensions and religious diversity. The issues and problems for the people of Ephesus were internal.
But the beauty of Scripture is that we can look at these verses that were written for people in a different time and place, who were facing very different challenges than us, and still find truth for us here and now.
Like many of the early churches, the Ephesians were facing internal struggles that concerned the foundation of the faith itself. And the overriding themes for the writer of Ephesians were ONENESS and UNITY.
In our society today I think we have a very warped idea of what those things are. Too many people think oneness means “my way or the highway.” People think unity means “love it or leave it.” Problem is that those definitions are usually based around very narrow meanings of what “my way” and “love” are.
Oneness doesn’t mean we always look the same, act the same or even believe exactly the same. Unity doesn’t mean we always agree on everything and walk lock-step with each other.
What the writer of Ephesians lays out is a foundation for those things. Oneness is based on core beliefs, and unity is based on a common goal.
Around that basic structure there can be a world of differences! But we don’t like “difference.” It’s human nature. We’re creatures of habit.
But being creatures of habit means our world, our sphere of existence, stays very small. But Jesus doesn’t want our world to be small!
It’s hard to look at ourselves and realize we can change some things. Because change is hard, stepping into the unknown is hard. But you know what? With the Holy Spirit in us we CAN do hard things!
We can share our faith. Whether it’s at the senior center or Shop Rite, or the doctor’s waiting room, we can share Jesus. We can share Jesus with those who look like us, and we can share Jesus with those who couldn’t be MORE different – because Jesus is for EVERYONE!
There is no “my Jesus” or “your Jesus” – there is only “OUR Jesus.”
And that is the KEY! Our oneness and unity aren’t based upon any outward standards – not our gender or race or ethnicity or economic or social standing. Our oneness is based on our mutual confession of Jesus as Lord! Our unity is based on our working together to serve Jesus and our neighbor in Jesus’ name!
We’ve had good experiences here at Gloria Dei when we’ve had visitors worship with us. But let’s face it, we could do better. We could do a better job of actually INVITING people to worship, rather than just being happy when someone happens in the door.
Again, I know it’s hard. As an introvert, believe me, I KNOW it’s hard. But Jesus, through his own example, calls us OUT of our comfort zones.
Our faith is a beautiful faith. Our church is a beautiful church. Our national church and our theology are beautiful. Not only do we need to invite people to see HOW beautiful it is – you know what? THEIR presence will make it even MORE beautiful!
I know we’re older. I know that for some of us our social circles are small, but we can each do what we can, even if it’s only to pray for those of us out and about on our daily errands. (As if “only to pray” were a small thing. It’s HUGE!)
We are each called through our baptism to share Jesus’ love. Jesus gives us the IMPERATIVE to share the gospel. How we do that depends on the gifts God has given us. Ephesians lays out various gifts that are given to the community. We are not carbon copies of each other.
We each bring unique and wonderful God-given gifts with us when we come through these doors, and then bring them out with us into the world. And these gifts are used, as we read, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” and “for building up the body of Christ.” Problem is, when we don’t use our gifts, or invite or recognize the gifts of others, the body suffers.
Like I said, we do a good job here of welcome, but we could do a better job at inviting – being INTENTIONAL about inviting.
Our council and evangelism folks have some good ideas for things coming up when summer is over – and I encourage us all to take a look at how we can use these opportunities to INVITE people, not just to the events, but also to come and experience God’s love in this place.
For God indeed loves each one of us – with a love that was willing to suffer and die for us. And it is this love which compels us to share with others, those inside our comfort zone, but also with those OUTside that zone.
Because it is through sharing God’s love we realize that there really is no “inside” and “outside” – only ONE body.
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of ALL, who is above ALL and through all and IN all.”
*ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America