THE WORD Ephesians 4:1-16 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, 5 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.
CHILDREN’S ADVENTURE “The wind and the waves”
Let’s take a boat ride! I have to tell you that it will not be a smooth ride. We expect some rough weather. Our little boat is going to be pushed and pulled to and fro. The wind and the waves will be strong, trying to keep us from reaching our destination.
Do you feel the waves? How the boat is rising and falling in the water. I hope no one gets seasick!
And here comes the wind, stronger and stronger, pushing and pulling us from side to side.
This is an imaginary boat, but it is a lot like life, some days we have ups, some days downs, some days pushed to the right, some days pushed to the left.
MESSAGE “One” Rev. James Renfrew
In New York City there is an underground train called the subway. It runs below ground in tunnels under the streets. When I was a seminary student in New York City I rode the subway all of the time, on the #1 Broadway Local. Union Theological Seminary is on 120th Street at the north end of Manhattan, and during my time there I had a job near Wall Street at the far southern end of Manhattan, and later I had a church internship on 57th Street. The subway is the fastest way to get to where you are going. You could take a cab, but that’s expensive. You could take the bus, but it is slow. I once rode a bike from 120th street to Wall Street, and it was definitely cheaper than a cab, bus or subway, but it’s very dangerous with hundreds of cars and buses apparently doing their best to run me over! So I spent a lot of time on the Number 1 subway train.
On Thursday, I substituted for a friend on vacation who has a small evening religious service with farm workers. The participants all speak Spanish, so I had to preach in Spanish! The text I used on Thursday was the same reading from Ephesians that I am sharing this morning, only in Spanish “Ephesians” is “Efisios”. So just like this morning I began by talking about the subway, but I had to say what a subway is in Spanish. I looked it up, “subway” in Spanish is “el tren subterraneo”. And be sure to double that “r”! So now you know!
I’ve ridden the subway in other cities, like the Washington Metro, the San Francisco BART, the Boston MTA, the London Underground and even the subway in Moscow. The other subways run smoothly along those underground rails, but in New York, a subway that first opened in 1904, it’s always very bumpy. So you grab a strap or a pole to hang onto and off you go, swaying and bumping into the other passengers, sometimes you sway to the left, sometimes to the right, sometimes the subways speeds up and you’re falling backwards, sometimes it stops suddenly and if you’re not careful you find yourself falling into a stranger’s lap.
Maybe you can relate to the boat ride I took with children, maybe you’ve been on the bumpy subway. But in either case, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks not about boats or subways, but life. In life we are pushed to and fro, like with the wind and the waves, sliding to the right, shoved to the left, pulled down and yanked up, often without warning, and all we can is try to hold on. On the boat you can hold onto the gunwales, on the subway you can grab a strap or a pole, but in life we’re often scrambling with nothing obvious to hold onto.
The farm workers on Thursday knew what I was talking about. One day with money, another day without money. One day with family, another day without family. One day with a house, another day with nowhere to live. One day with a job, another day with no job. One day with friends, another day with no friends. One day with a car that runs, another day with a car that won’t run. One day having direction, another day no direction at all.
But the bumps and lurches can be even more serious than that. The Apostle is thinking “big picture” here, not just the inconveniences and obstacles that we face each day, but the more serious matters that leave us battered and afraid. Divisions between nations, divisions within communities, divisions within churches, and even divisions within families. These are the worst bumps and lurches of all. And since it’s life, not a subway, it’s not always clear what to grab onto. Some grab onto force, some grab onto weapons, some grab onto race, class or nationalism, some grab onto fear, some grab onto addictions, as if these things will smooth out the way ahead of us. I don’t need to tell you that some of the things we try to grab onto are not going to help us at all, and may make things even worse.
So the Apostle tells us what we should be grabbing onto. It’s not what I would have expected, and at first look it doesn’t seem very satisfying. But here’s what to grab onto when the bumps and lurches threaten to defeat us. The Apostle calls it a gift from God, and the gift is “unity”. That’s right, unity. Probably not what you were expecting. Maybe you were thinking “trust”, or “love”, or “hope” or “peace”. But the Apostle says the gift is unity. Unity is a gift that we need, unity is a dream to be achieved, unity is a plan to worked upon each day. It is an acknowledgment that we are all in this together, the best way to survive the bumps, twists and lurches of life is to seek unity with others.
Unity is God’s gift, it is God’s vision, it is God’s plan for each day. Yet this wonderful gift is frequently neglected, ignored, ridiculed and rejected. So it is all the more important for us to celebrate this gift of unity, and to begin living it, not as a vague hope for the future, but today’s plan for action.
You may be thinking, “sure, unity, a great idea”, but then you wait for others to come to you. Everything about Jesus tells us that God’s gift of unity is not a passive plan, waiting for all of the knuckleheads of the world to get on board. No this is an active plan, and it’s what Jesus did. He could have stayed home in peaceful Nazareth, waiting for the world to come to him, but instead he took initiative and risk to bring this unity to those who needed it most. He went to Jerusalem and the Cross.
There is so much to cover in this text from Ephesians, and I have given my attention to just one word, “unity”. But the Apostle goes further with it, to the very heart of theology, which is our language about God. In a divided world, the word “one” defines us as we experience our unity in Jesus Christ: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God for all. One.
Now back to the Number 1 Broadway Local. One time I was riding the #1 Local when it stopped dead in the tunnel during rush hour, when we were jammed in there like sardines, the ventilation fans stopped and the lights went out. We prepared ourselves for a long, sweaty uncomfortable wait. Then the conductor spoke over the PA, “Well folks, there’s some trouble up ahead and we’ve going to be delayed. Why not introduce yourselves to each other and have a chat!” In that hard to please angry crowd of people anxious to get home on a hot day what he said broke the ice, and for a brief moment we were in unity! I pray for more of these moments!