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.
Readings: Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16; Matthew 2:4-6 (Following the Narrative Lectionary)
Video: Part 2 of “Te Rongopai – 200 years of the Gospel in New Zealand, 1814- 2014” with Dr Stuart Lange
Available here: http://nzchristiannetwork.org.nz/te-rongopai-dvd/
So what is so attractive about Jesus?
- For New Zealand
- For Maori
- For us today
As the 200th year of the gospel in NZ approaches, what can we say about the heart of the message?
Samuel Marsden writes in his journal: After reading the service, during which the natives stood up and sat down at the signal given by the motion of Korokoro’s switch which was regulated by the movements of the Europeans, it being Christmas Day, I preached from the Second Chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, and tenth verse: “Behold! I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”
And then he says this: In this manner the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand; and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more.
What made this message so attractive for the Maori who were part of the first generation who heard it?
Perhaps the answer is muddled – yes there were benefits of having these settlers and their missionary message – a written language, education and skills development, and tools and guns.
The truth is that many people come to Christ seeking other things while at the same time seeking Him! Look at these examples:
- The so called “Rice Christians” are a good example – people who come to faith while being helped in poverty or other practical needs.
- Young people who go to church to meet the girls or boys (marriages ensue – they did in the past anyway and still do).
- Immigrants come to make friends. And to learn English!
- People are served in Mission (for example mainly music and Messy Church families) who may come along at first because of their children and a programme – and God willing, they may come to believe.
- And we are not exempt. We sometimes focus on what we need or can get. Sometimes our prayer lists are like shopping lists!
We go straight into prayers of supplication – praying for God to meet needs, heal people, and bless our programmes and services.
The acronym about prayer that has been around a long time is A C T S
- Adoration 2. Confession 3. Thanksgiving 4. Supplication Asking for needs to be met and programmes to be blessed, (supplication) or praying for others, is at the end. Adoration, Confession and Thanksgiving are sometimes conspicuously absent!
- And people come to church because they’re lonely – and they find family and community.
AN ATTRACTIVE COMMUNITY
I think it was the change in COMMUNITY that made the message so attractive when the gospel was first preached in New Zealand. Just as it does today.
And at the heart of that community is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for his sheep! The Good Shepherd who forgives those who kill him because “they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34 – And Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.)
This Jesus the shepherd King is a very attractive person.
What, then, was the impact of Christianity on life in NZ? How did things change?
- It ended the ceremonial eating of enemies – because the Gospel values the life of all people – as does the Old Testament. We are all created in the image of God.
- It presented forgiveness – which ended the revenge killing or UTU that they saw as a form of justice. The story we heard today about the man whose daughter was killed and he sought forgiveness rather than revenge is a powerful case in point. The results of that one incident were remarkable.
- It offered a relationship with Jesus, the good shepherd, who lays down his life for His sheep, and who ultimately is also the judge of all. It’s a different kind of accountability.
- God ultimately would be their shepherd king. It’s a different kind of kingship.
We’re strong on the shepherd today – and sometimes weak in our understanding of Christ as King or Ruler.
Ezekiel 34 today speaks of a coming Messiah who will rule. He is the shepherd King. The New Testament passage today – when the wise men as Herod where to find Jesus – this is what they say.
Mat 2:4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
Mat 2:5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
Mat 2:6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”
We need the shepherding part – we get that – but we also need to do things right! We need justice – fairness – discipline and accountability.
Over the past weeks we have looked at the mess of the Old Testament and the kings that looked after God’s people, under Saul, David and Solomon – and then those various kings of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.
Douglas Stuart, an OT specialist who writes a commentary on Ezekiel, has this to say:
Throughout the Israelites are referred to as God’s flock, and the special focus of the allegory is on the kingship (here “shepherds”) in Israel. The history of the monarchy was not a proud one. Of forty-three kings from 1051 B.C. to 586 B.C., only David, Hezekiah, and Josiah were solidly, consistently loyal to God in their leadership of the nation. Eight or nine of the other forty did some good, while the majority were rascals.
In order for the new age to come, one absolutely necessary development had to be the abolition of the monarchy as it had functioned historically and the establishment of a new kingship that would truly carry out the Lord’s wishes.
This passage, then, is antimonarchical—not in the sense of being against kingship per se, but in the sense of being a rejection of the kingship that Israel had known for so much of its history. A new age was coming. The old monarchy had to go. A new Davidic kingship would characterize the restoration.
In verses Ezekiel 34:1-2 it is evident that the problem with kings in the past is that they were selfish. In the allegory of the passage, they “fed themselves” as opposed to the flocks (the people of God). Living off the people’s productivity and wealth (Eze 34:3), they did not seek to help the nation, but rather ruled as despots for their own advantage (Eze 34:4).
Well that was quite a long quote! In short – It’s not surprizing that the prophet Ezekiel’s words condemn the leaders of the nations of Israel and Judah. They were in it for themselves often.
Christians today are also accountable when they don’t live out the Gospel message.
And let’s face it. Jesus – the shepherd king – descendant of David – models a self-sacrificing kingship. A servant leadership.
We need to model our lives on his humility (see Philippians 2) and his servant-hood (Mark 10:45).
We are not part of a physical Israel today.
But the church is the NEW ISRAEL – not with a promised land but a Kingdom that we are to usher in through our lives, message, and example, living under the shepherd-king Jesus.
And as leaders we too are accountable – we need to do what is right! Otherwise we are no better than those abusive shepherds of Ezekiel 34.
Our leaders are to be the right kind of shepherds of God’s people today. (One can understand the rage of people against abuse by religious leaders who carry a shepherd’s crook as a symbol of their role of protection.)
It’s important to remember that elders in our church tradition also have a shepherding role as co-shepherds with me as the pastor.
I know that people refer to me as a teaching elder here. It’s quite a dated model really. The biblical model in Ephesians 4 is that of pastor/teacher. And if you were here at my induction, you would know that I was inducted into a pastoral charge. It’s a challenging role. I am pastor first. The feeding and care of the flock is my responsibility, with others to share the load.
As an aside – sheep can sometimes be quite difficult.
ACC figures early this year give an indication of claims by people who work with animals in New Zealand.
Guess where most injuries to farmers come from? Cattle first. Sheep second!
BY THE NUMBERS:
❏ Cattle: 2262
❏ Sheep: 1612
❏ Deer: 86
❏ Horses: 1285
❏ Other: 721
❏ Animal Carcasses: 52
So when we meet later today to nominate new elders – let’s remember the calling to be like the shepherd king Jesus. We are his co-shepherds.
Not only should the gospel be good news to us – but we need to be good news to others as we care for them. As we seek to protect them too. And most importantly as we help them to allow the Word of God to be fruitful in the lives of those we care for.
Paul’s most challenging line to elders in the New Testament is when he leaves the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.
Act 20:25 And now, behold, I know that you all will see my face no more, among whom I went proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Act 20:26 Therefore I testify to you on this day that I am pure from the blood of all.
Act 20:27 For I did not keep back from declaring to you all the counsel of God.
Act 20:28 Therefore take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.
Act 20:29 For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Act 20:30 Also men shall arise from your own selves, speaking perverse things in order to draw disciples away after them. (MKJV)
The NIV translates verse 28 as follows:
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
As we move closer towards the celebration of the arrival of the Gospel in New Zealand 200 years ago on Christmas Day 1814, let’s give thanks for those missionaries who taught, nurtured and shepherded those early converts to Christianity.
We thank God that the story of the Good Shepherd impacted their lives and brought about communities of harmony and restoration, of forgiveness and mercy. We also give thanks to those many Maori in the early years who shared the good news throughout this country.
May our lives continue to reflect the love of Christ, the ruler and shepherd of His people.