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Sunday message 30 April 2017 – building up the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:11-16; Acts 6:1-8

WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?

A story to begin: We took family to a favourite little restaurant out on the wine route out of Auckland. It’s a great little place just before you turn off on the way to Muriwai – to the gannet colony. We often take friends there too who are on holiday. A lovely young girl served us and when the water was finished (no the wine didn’t run out) we asked for another bottle. She came back with one and apologized that it was not cold. They had run out of cold water in the fridge. The only problem was that English was her second or third language, and she had picked up some kiwi expressions. So, she says to us –“this is all we have, so just suck it up.” We decided using glasses was ok. And we couldn’t help laughing – who could blame her? English is challenging.

Which reminds me of the story of the Norwegian au pere – a kind of a nanny or child minder – who heard these kiwi kids up in their bedroom wrecking the place – so she rushed up stairs and burst into the room and asked them quite loudly: “What are you doing on earth?”

That’s very different from “What on earth are you doing???”

“What are you doing on earth?” is a great question though. It applies to our lives as a whole. There are many people who are desperate these days because they no longer have a clear purpose. Life seems pointless. It’s a different generation from those ANZACS for example who stepped up because they believed in a cause greater than themselves. If we had an option to volunteer for war today, I doubt the young people would be convinced that anything would be worth fighting for and sacrificing their lives.

So when it comes to the church the question applies too.

“What are you doing on earth?”

Paul in Ephesians paints a picture of the point of it all. He uses the word “calling”:

Eph 4:1  As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 

Usually in his letters we can distinguish between theology (Romans 1-11) and practical advice (Romans 12-16). Galatians is the same: chapters 1-4 doctrine and 5-6 practical.

Ephesians is different. You expect chapter 4 to be about living the right life in response to what he has taught in the first three chapters.

But here there is doctrine in chapter 4 too: Eph 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; – is a clear statement of belief and teaching.

As are the verses on ministry. He talks about grace been apportioned to each of us by Jesus (verse 7). Grace means gift. There are other lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Ephesians 4 is the one that informs what ministry is more than any other.

The risen ascended Jesus – says Paul – is the gift giver: Eph 4:11  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. 

Our ministers fit into the pastor/teacher category. It’s a strong Presbyterian tradition to call the minister a “teaching elder”. There’s a lot of emphasis on training these people and equipping them for pastoral ministry. “Nationally ordained” ministers are vetted and trained for the minister of the “word and sacraments”. They are inducted into a “pastoral charge” which means that their function is to be a pastor.

“Pastor” is a shepherding model or picture – this person feeds and cares for the sheep. And elders also have a pastoral role too.

THE GOOD NEWS

Jesus gives people to be gifts to the church.

  • We don’t have official apostles – but the whole church is apostolic. It is founded on the teaching of the apostles, and like them we are SENT into our world to make disciples. Some people are church planters today and have apostolic gifts in that sense.
  • We don’t have “prophets” in an official capacity (with an office with a sign like “Prophet Jim” on the door.) But in preaching we have a prophetic role to speak on behalf or God into people’s lives and sometimes the community or the nation. And there is prophetic gifting (1 Cor 14:1 and especially 3).
  • We do have evangelists who are gifted to preach to people who are not open to the gospel – they are often gifted apologists too. They give answers to peoples’ questions.
  • We do  have pastor/teachers in our ministry.

These people gifts from Jesus are given: Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… 

And a more literal translation is good news because we are all implicated in this:  (NRSV)  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

How? In what way will we be built up? Maturity, stability, knowledge, functionality. The building up of each other is done in love.

Eph 4:13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:14  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Eph 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

And that makes a change in a world where people break each other down, tear each other apart, threaten to blow each other up, and actually do that.

And we – as we exercise our ministries or works of service – will grow up into the Head, who is Christ. That means we will be like him – and connected to him – and we won’t only reflect on his goodness, but we will in fact reflect his goodness! His grace, love and mercy. When you have a healthy vibrant church like that where people are equipped, fulfilled, and have a meaningful role, led by a caring pastor/teacher – well it grows! It grows up and it grows outward! Spiritual growth and numerical growth both happen. This is what we are doing on earth!

For the early church, however, there were other ministry forms to come.  What else were they to do back then? How does this speak to us? ACTS 6 is the key. 

In our second reading you see the next level of ministry people appointed by the apostles back in the early church – to solve the problem of feeding people. The 7 deacons appointed are also gifts from God – also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Many churches have deacons in ministry today,  and this is where it started.

But just to keep us on our toes, as it were, we see that God uses the first deacon Stephen in more than just these practical gifts (as He does today with anyone willing and open). We read:

Act 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

Stephen was never really to go back to waiting on tables. If you read the rest of Acts 6, his sermon in Acts 7 (most of the chapter) in a human sense it ends badly.

Act 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
Act 7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Act 7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
Act 7:58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Act 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Act 7:60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

The persecution that follows means that the believers are scattered, and as they go the gospel is proclaimed  through Judea and Samaria – which was Jesus’ intention. And the believers knew EXACTLY what they were doing on earth!

The word of God spreads and the church grows. And if this is strange and very far from our comfortable lives here in New Zealand, consider today what the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians is doing in Egypt now – what a witness as their families model forgiveness. So too the Christian Church in Syria. They know their calling too.

May the body of Christ be built up all over the world to His Glory.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday sermon 25 October 2015 – Monuments or Footprints

Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:26-13:3; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 16:13-19;

Message

Do you have your name on a monument somewhere?

There’s always a danger when it comes to monuments. Like memorials erected for great leaders or movements.

Ask Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Saddam Hussein. Personal monuments have a way of being toppled. (That’s not John Lennon by the way – the other one with one ‘n’. Vladimir. In time Vladimir Putin will also fall out of favour. Like Australian Prime ministers.) The best Vladimir Lenin can do here is a bar named after him on Auckland’s Princes Wharf. A vodka bar. 🙂

Some churches end up as monuments.

Not this one. If you show up on some days during the week – the church is not here at all.

You’ll find a building – but not the biblical church – the body of Christ.

And the building was never designed to be pretentious. More like a stable. Its beauty is in its people and their creative gifts – those that last on the walls and the thousands of words of prayer and worship, songs and musical notes that have floated off into space and eternity.

We’re not into monuments. God forbid that my photo be permanently on a wall at any of the churches where I have served.

Footprints are better – far superior. (William Faulkner said that – “monuments tell us we got so far and no further; footprints tell us we kept on moving”.)

A footprint means that people have passed this way on a bigger and greater journey. They leave their mark. But move on. In time we all do.

The movie sequel of Back to the Future had a day this week as the big day – 21 October 2015. It was great to see clips of the young Michael J Fox on TV this week – one of my most esteemed heroes.

That day – the back to the future day – has also come and gone.

And eventually we move on in a permanent sense – into eternity.

Eternity is a bigger concept. Some have moved on into God’s eternal presence.

Others who made life interesting for people here have also moved on – hopefully to happier places where they have been less conflicted with people and about things. (Together with footprints we sometimes leave dents. Sadly some have been badly dented too. Fortunately, we are in the forgiveness business. 🙂 )

Others – the far majority who have passed through these doors over these 50 years – have left a solid influence and foundation which we treasure and remember. Most have taken the good news of Jesus to other places where they have been led to live, work and worship.

We all move on in some way or another.

But we should all move forward.

The living body of Christ is the key.

The church – the body of Christ – is an organism first – and an organisation second.

It starts here – in Matthew 16 – with Peter’s confession:

Mat 16:18  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

On what rock? Not on Peter himself, but on his faith and trust in Jesus the Christ. “Revealed by my father in heaven” because you can’t get to that conviction by argument or logic. Peter like you and me on our difficult days, would have been too stubborn to be convinced by mere reason.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”- that’s the rock of a good confession. Paul puts it this way:

Rom 10:8  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: Rom 10:9  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Rom 10:10  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are savedRom 10:11  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

And to Timothy Paul writes:

1Ti 6:12  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The head of the church is not Peter or his successors. Paul again makes this clear when speaking of Jesus:

Eph 1:22  And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, Eph 1:23  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

And here in Ephesians, like 1 Corinthians 12 – part of which we heard today, there are gifts for the building up of the church:

Eph 4:11  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up Eph 4:13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:14  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Eph 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

  • We are to be founded on the rock – Christ the solid rock – in our faith in him as Christ and Son of God.
  • We are to move forward in growth in our faith journey – becoming mature (Ephesians 4:13)
  • We are grow up into him who is the Head of the body – Christ.

It is from Christ the head that we as church find the life and growth – we grow and build ourselves up in love as each part of the body does its work (4:16)

There are no monuments to the pastors of the church who have served here – or the elders – or the members over these 50 years. We are all parts of this body – this living organism.

In our series on Philippians earlier this year we looked at two difficult women who had issues with each other. Clearly they weren’t part of our church – ha ha! But look at what Paul says in his pleading for unity: 

Php 4:2  I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Php 4:3  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

No monuments – only footprints – as we trudge or stride out boldly towards the end – where our names are recorded – as Jesus says to the 72 in Luke’s gospel:

Luk 10:17  The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Luk 10:18  He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luk 10:19  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Luk 10:20  However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There’s only one list that matters. When the roll is called up yonder – that matters.

And that the legacy that we pass on in the next 50 years means that the next generation will need to hear the message about Jesus and come to know Him too.

WHAT IS REMEMBERED MOST

Here’s the irony. I learned this very quickly working in a school. I had issues with my colleagues often – especially when children were vilified and objectified – labelled and boxed. When it was all about statistics and conformity to the teacher’s way of thinking. I had to work hard towards better narrative counselling and restorative practices – sometimes it felt like we were dragging people along toward community.

Someone put it this way speaking to teachers (and headmasters): “People don’t remember everything you said or taught them. But they do remember how you made them feel.” 

Now I am not saying that all our sermons should be sugar or saccharine. The whole counsel of God must be proclaimed.

But the knowledge of the love of God and the power of his love (through the indwelling Holy Spirit) is the real deal (Romans 5:5). That’s how the forgiveness comes. That’s how we learn that there are some things that we can change, and some things we can’t. How we operate in grace rather than grumpiness.

That famous serenity prayer is still relevant:

 God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Of course the biblical version goes like this:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

Paul, talking about gifts in the church – the body of Christ which has the potential to suffer or rejoice as part of the one organic body – says this at the end of 1 Corinthians 12:

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

  •  1Co 13:1  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (Compare this to the humility of Jesus – Philippians 2:6)
  • 1Co 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (Compare this to Jesus’ emptying of himself – Philippians 2:7)
  • 1Co 13:3  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (Compare this to the real sacrifice of Jesus – Philippians 2:8)

You know the rest – which somehow gets reserved for weddings and these days – funerals – about love and what it is. Read it again in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It’s a great passage.

Hopefully Paul would have prayed this about St Cuthberts – about us – in the past and in the future: Eph 1:15  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saintsEph 1:16  I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. Eph 1:17  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you Simon…”)

You can’t do this church stuff by human strength and ingenuity. By God’s power – you can.

  • Knowing Jesus better – that’s moving forward.
  • Building up the living body of Christ in the power of His love, wherever we have landed up –  that’s moving forward.
  • Real forgiveness that leaves bold and courageous footprints giving others a reason to follow in our footprints – that’s moving forward.

It remains true: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6).

Amen.