I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 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. 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.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 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. 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. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
MESSAGE: “The U in Unity” James R. Renfrew, Teaching Elder
So the big day arrived. The day to remove the training wheels from my granddaughter’s bike. She’s just turned six years old, about to enter first grade, and it’s an excellent time to learn this valuable skill. I won’t go into detail about what happened, except to say that she was very brave to try this and that we’ll keep working on it.
I remember my own day when the training wheels came off. I have vague memory that I had a red bike with big fat tires, coaster brakes, and handlebar tassles. More certain is another place where red could be seen – my knees and elbows. Because I remember falling more than a few times until I got it right. We live fairly close to the canal in Holley and it’s a great place to ride bikes. I’m looking forward to taking our granddaughter on her first canal bike ride. Once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget. And, in case, you’re wondering, I’m still riding a red bike (but no tassles). Her bike is purple. Maybe she will want tassles?
I suspect nearly everyone attending worship this morning learned to ride a bike without training wheels at one time or another. Am I right? Can you share any memories of it?
In the practice of our Christian faith there are moments when we have to remove the training wheels. For example, those moments when we need to set out into the world on our own. We have high school graduates beginning their first year of college. That’s a “remove the training wheels” moment. Last weekend two people got married here at the church, and that, too, is a “remove the training wheels” moment. Not just the young, some of you have retired or are preparing for retirement. That’s a “remove the training wheels” moment, too!
The Letter to the Ephesians reading talks about our Christian faith maturing, about learning to live as Christians without training wheels. It’s one thing to belong to a church family like the one we have here with lots of love, care and support. But it’s a “remove the training wheels” experience to practice our faith in the wider world where there may not be as much love, care or support. When I moved from a small town near Binghamton in 5th grade I looked forward to making friends in my new Connecticut town like the ones I’d left behind. It’s a simple process making friends: smile, ask if you can join the game others are playing and – voila – new friends. It shocked me when one of the kids I smiled at threatened to slug me during art class. Such moments put the words we heard in the Letter to the Ephesians at what appears to be an impossible distance.
There’s a lot in this sixteen verse reading, each verse could lead to a separate sermon. But my usual preparation is to read the text several times and see what jumps out at me. This time it was the verse about unity “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Unity and peace are surely signs of mature Christian faith. They seem so close you can touch them and hold onto them, but there are times when unity and peace seem nearly impossible.
Sometime before I arrived in Byron I volunteered one summer with a neighborhood organization in Rochester to teach boys peaceful approaches to conflict. It was a challenging group of boys, squirming and bouncing off the walls in that storefront space like any group of kids in too small a room. But they came faithfully every week for the program as we practiced peaceful problem-solving, mediation skills and building group unity and pride through training, role plays, art, and games. The last day of the program I handed out a special award to each boy, recognizing what they had accomplished, and celebrating each one’s unique skills in peaceful problem solving.
One of the other volunteers in the program was an elderly woman by the name of Kay Jordan, and she was so proud of these boys, as if they were her own children. I learned that Kay had been married to the first African-American doctor in Rochester, Dr. Anthony Jordan. You may have heard of Anthony Jordan, because a network of health centers in Rochester is named after him.
I thought about Kay this week because of the horrible drive-by shooting that took place on Genesee Street in Rochester, three young men dead, and four injured. The shooting took place within sight of an Anthony Jordan neighborhood clinic at 480 Genesee Street, one of the places named for Kay’s husband. And not far from the storefront where Kay and I taught peace skills that summer years ago. I haven’t seen Kay in many years, but I am sure this would have broken her heart, so close by to the place where we were trying to stake out our peaceful vision for the children in that neighborhood. It has affected people beyond count. Even my granddaughter is upset about it.
The verse in this morning’s reading encourage us to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. I admit that I feel deeply discouraged about prospects for peace and unity after such a tragic event.
It gets added to lots of other discouragements that I’ve felt when I see so many other tragic events. But, at the same time, I admit that I am ridiculously optimistic. I would say this or any other tragic event becomes one of those “remove the training wheels” moments for Christians. It’s not a time to retreat, it’s a time to move forward.
It’s not a time to concede defeat, not a time to build higher walls, not a time to set stronger locks, not a time to buy more weapons, not a time to live in cynicism or despair, but a time to take off the training wheels. If there are children growing up headed toward violence, not just in Rochester, but anywhere including around here, all the more reason for us to take this up as our challenge and purpose. The worst thing we can do is conclude that violence is someone else’s fault or someone else’s problem. Unity begins with you!