August 1, 2021
Our second reading comes from Ephesians… and let me put it to you this way… if there is a scripture passage worth reading at the start of everyday… a passage to orient your heart and mind and spirit for the coming day… a passage that works as that plumbline for your own daily discipleship… this is definitely one of those passages. Truly God is speaking to us today from Ephesians 4:1-16.
READ Ephesians 4:1-16
I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Scriptural exhortations don’t get any better than that. Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. As Presbyterians this should be lighting up every little nerve ending in our theologically shaped brains. Like fireworks going off in our heads. Our little frozen chosen hearts should beating rapidly after hearing these words from Ephesians. Who knows… there might even be a little excited wiggle dance going on because we can hardly contain our theological glee!!! Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
Let me explain why this one simple sentence is so important to us… in case you’re not feeling it… in case you’re not on fire! First, this illustrates so well our understanding of what faith is… what our faith is about. As Presbyterians we don’t start with the believer… we don’t start with us or our decisions. It’s not about you. I know you’ve heard me say that time and again. We always start with the one who calls… the one who chooses… the one who gives us purpose and points out the way to us… gifts us… and sends us off on this journey of faith. We are gifted with faith. Faith is not of our own creation or our own choosing. We are gifted. We are called into faith… into community with others through that faith. We are imbued with purpose through the Holy Spirit according to the will of God. As Presbyterians our theological true north goes like this. First there is God… sovereign, complete, free acting, independent God. Then there is revelation… the acts of God revealing God to us. Finally… there is… in our limited understanding… a response on our part where we fit that revelation into acts of daily discipleship… where we try to live into the calling by which we have been called.
You see… ours is not a transactional faith where we approach God in an effort to receive something from God. Our journey of faith is not to earn God’s favor or to gain a reward for ourselves. In our passage this morning from John’s gospel, Jesus quickly calls out the crowd who has been fed on the five barley loaves and two dried fish… “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The crowd sought Jesus out to receive something more for themselves. And Jesus tries to point them in a different direction. How would you… if you were a part of the 5,000… how would you take that revelation from God… that insight into God’s character and will… how would you go and incorporate that into your daily discipleship. How does being fed inspire you to then feed others in return? To seek only to receive… you may be satisfied initially, but that hunger will return… and that hunger will grow… and that hunger… that desire to receive more… will define your faith in ways that will take you further and further away from the servant’s purpose of the one who calls… because that faith does not give life to the world. That faith takes… it does not give.
Ours is meant to be a purely responsive faith. We respond to who God is… how God has been revealed in Christ Jesus. We respond to the great act of grace and God’s steadfast love. These do not perish. God’s steadfast love endures forever. How many times is that phrase repeated in scripture? We try to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. In John’s own way of using gospel language, that is what Jesus is telling the crowd when he encourages them that the work of God is believing in him whom God has sent. Christianity was never meant to be a passive form of belief… an acknowledgement of a particular concept. Belief must create an active response in the believer… a response that reflects, even if imperfectly, the one in whom the believer believes. If you believe Jesus is the Christ… if you believe Jesus is the best and clearest form of self-revelation by God… then that belief has to have an effect on how you see not only yourself… but your relationship to others and the world. To use the gospel language of the writer of Ephesians, this is what it is to be the body of Christ… the living, resurrected body of Christ. Not a passive body, but a body that is working to grow into him who is the head. In our fancy reformed theological language… that is what we call sanctification.
And the fruits of sanctification are to be clear and easy to discern. It’s not some great mystery or secret knowledge. Humility and gentleness. Patience. Bearing with one another in love. Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Building up the body of Christ. Speaking the truth in love. Growing into Christ. Joined. Knit together. Working properly and building up in love. These are the attributes… these are what defines a life worthy of our calling. When a Christian community is lacking such attributes… something is wrong… something is seriously wrong. When a Christian community is defined by attributes that negate or are the complete opposite of these words given to us through this passage in Ephesians… then that body is not growing towards Christ… it’s growing towards something else… something else is acting as the head of that body.
Historically speaking… scholars feel that Ephesians was not written by Paul. It is very likely that this letter was written sometime after Paul’s death. And if that’s the case… what’s interesting in reading this letter… is how we get to see what of Paul’s theology had really taken root within this community of faith in Ephesus. We get to see in this letter of encouragement and direction… their response to God’s revelation. What they valued and struggled with in their own faith in their own time. Consider this from the second chapter of this letter… “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Do you see the picture of community those words create? Do you see those bold brushstrokes? Grace as a defining characteristic of not only God, but those who follow and believe. Grace which can’t exist without being rich in mercy. The riches of grace… impossible to express outside of kindness. An acknowledgement of God’s actions within that community that creates a self-awareness that they are different than they once were… that they are to be moving further and further from the world’s values that had defined them… and closer and closer to the love of God that claimed them and gave them new life through and with Christ.
The church in Ephesus clearly began as people who were divided by the world. Jew and Gentile. Rich and poor. Slave and free. Male and female. These are the categories Paul used in his teachings. Divisions fueled by enmity. Enmity feeding pride. Pride fueling inequity and a belief in privilege. Inequity bringing death through the diminishment of others… through the devaluing of another’s humanity. These are the passions of the flesh. This is the fruit of children of wrath. Gods of vengeance and wrath have followers who believe in and practice vengeance and wrath. In Ephesus, Paul planted a seed of grace and through the gift of faith given, the people cultivated and grew that seed. They ate and were filled by the fruits of the tree that seed became. They planted a whole grove of trees that came from that single seed of grace. A tree of peace. A tree of humility. A tree of patience and kindness and unity. They aspired… fell short… and aspired greater because they were once dead but now alive in Christ because of the mercies of God… they dug deeper and worked harder… reminding themselves again and again of the richness of that first tree of grace that God through Paul had planted among them.
This is the spiritual pattern that has been set for us to follow all these years and believers later. Times have changed. Context has changed. But Saints, trust me. This pattern is still viable and needed. So… I 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. Amen.