Did you ever play a recreational team sport where the teams are selected by captains? Remember how exhilarating it felt to be called first? Or do you remember fantasizing about how great it would be to be called first?
We are called
This morning’s passage in Isaiah tells us:
- “Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.”
And it goes on:
- “the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Psalm 139 takes it even further:
- “you knit me together in my mother’s womb … All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Now THAT is being called first. Before we were born, before we did anything to earn it, God called us for His team. The God of the universe, the Holy One of Israel, has made mention of your name, He knows you, He chose you. He knows everything about you, and he loves you anyway. If you really stop to think about that, instead of just taking it for granted as something we say in church, it really blows the mind. Listen again: The God of the universe, the Holy One of Israel, has made mention of your name, He knows you, He Chose you. He knows everything about you, and he loves you anyway.
Last week as we celebrated the baptism of Jesus, we remembered our own baptisms. Real Minister spoke of how the water marks us members of God’s family. This week I want to look at what that means in how we live our lives, or as Paul puts it in Ephesians, as we “lead a life worthy of the calling”.
To be a team
To fulfill our calling, we need to first understand what the Bible says about WHY we are called. I hate to burst any bubbles, but we weren’t called so that we would have wealth, or power, or even so that our lives would be easy. Instead, Isaiah tells us we were called to be God’s servants.
Earlier in his letter, before the passage we read, Paul has told the Ephesians the same good news we just heard when he said “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” But he goes on in that same paragraph to say “we are .. created … to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So we are chosen totally by God’s grace, but he did chose us to DO something.
Now I can’t sit here and tell you exactly what God has called YOU to do, because I don’t know. There are certain types of behavior we are all told to exhibit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), but as for the actual works God has planned for you, you’ll have to ask God. But I can tell you that the answer is NOT the same for everyone. It’s not even the same for everyone here. The Ephesians passage tells us that we were each given grace and gifts to “equip us for ministry” and goes on to list a few, even more are listed in Corinthians. However, there are whole sermon series or multi-week Sunday school lessons on discerning your spiritual gifts: Don’t worry, I won’t try to cover it all now. I’d rather look at a different aspect: Teamwork. Paul speaks in this passage of building up the body of Christ and growing into the head which is Christ. In other words: We are to be the body of Christ. Arms reaching out, mouths proclaiming his love, those are the attractive things. But every body also has the less appealing functions: the spinal cord that carries messages throughout the body; the ligaments that hold things together, the bones that give us structure: without these things the body could not function.
Lets go back to that team for a minute: When we put together a team, we chose different skills for different positions. What kind of a team would have all goalies, all quarterbacks, or all receivers; certainly not a very good one! Even if everyone on the team could throw better than
Paul tells us that “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift … to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”. Everything we need is here—if we can get the parts working together.
But God didn’t say it was easy
Now Paul was not unwise to the ways of the world. He knew that folks don’t always get along. That’s why he spends so much time telling us HOW. Let’s take a look at Paul’s Rules for spiritual unity:
1. First HUMILITY. Humility is the opposite of pride. Now I don ‘t mean “pride in a job done well” which is really gratification. Humility is the opposite of smugness or arrogance. In Philippians, Paul tells us to “in humility, consider others better than yourselves.” I saw a T-shirt the other day that says “Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite.” That is NOT humility. We should NEVER think of ourselves as better than any of God’s other children.
2. We are also to handle one another with GENTLENESS. That is not a common trait in the public arena today. When someone cuts you off on the highway, would you characterize your response as “gentleness”?
3. With PATIENCE. Not of us reach the same conclusions at the same time. Some just move more slowly. Some of us need to try things to find out they won’t work. We tend to think of patience as waiting passively. The Greek is actually “long-fused”, contrast that with “short-fused”! the King James translated it better as: “long-suffering”.
4. in LOVE. The word here is not brotherly love or affectionate love. Its Agape love – The kind that comes from God; the kind we can’t manage on our own. An undeserved, sometimes even unreciprocated love. This kind of love is not a just a feeling, it is a decision to act for the true best interest of the other party.
5. making EVERY EFFORT to maintain the unity of the Spirit – This is an ongoing activity: It’s a present participle, not a past tense verb. This isn’t something you do once. It’s a decision you have to make everyday, every encounter, and every conflict.These rules are simple, but they are not easy. Paul says “we must no longer be tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming”. These principles are not intended to make us into doormats who put up with everything. We’re supposed to be mature in our faith, but humble, gentle, patient and loving with one another. We have a goal: to serve God, to grow into our roles. As Paul says “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, [That’s us!] as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” If we can pull this off, we could make a radical change in our relationships!
Paul tells us that “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift … to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”. I believe that within each community: each church, each presbytery, each synod – God provides the grace, the gifts, that are needed within that community to accomplish God’s purposes. But it’s up to us to make use of them and function as a body. God allows us to make the decision to sit quietly and let our gifts atrophy. He also allows us to argue and bicker instead of being one body. But it breaks his heart.
As we start a new year and as we ordain and install new elders at the congregational meeting next week, take some time to reflect on your role in this body. Ask yourself: Am I contributing as I have been gifted? But also ask: Am I making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Am I helping and building up my partners in the ministry we call country church Presbyterian? Beyond that, Am I leading a life worthy of my calling?
Let us pray:
Lord open our hearts and minds to the possibilities you have in store for us. Give us grace, compassion, humility and gentleness in our dealings with one another, building us in to a fit body worthy of your headship. Amen.