Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, December 10, 2018
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One Body?

Ephesians 4:1-16

“Lead a life worthy of your calling.” As Christians, we have an awesome privilege and responsibility: We represent Christ. And if we fail at our calling, then the world suffers. Many people will never be able to know what Christ is like, except through us.

So be humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, and all because of your love; that is, your AGAPE. I came across a definition for AGAPE recently that I liked: AGAPE is “unconquerable benevolence.” No matter what happens, we will do good for others. Nothing will conquer our will to do good. I like that definition, but it’s challenging.

“Be united in the Spirit and bind yourselves with peace.” We live in a society where bonds are considered optional. You don’t like your marriage? Leave it. You don’t like your responsibilities? Shirk them. You don’t like your commitments? Bail out on them.

But the life of Christ-following demands more. It demands we bind ourselves with peace. Peace in this context refers especially to right relationships. We are to live together rightly, not demanding our own way or ignoring the needs of others because we are one Body in Christ. We live under one Lord, one God, one Father, one Spirit, in one baptism, united by one faith, as we anticipate one future.

Within this one Body, we have a diversity of gifts, given by our own Lord. Paul quotes here from Psalm 68:18, which describes a victorious conqueror. Christ is our victorious conqueror over the powers of sin, death, and evil. In ancient times, a victorious conqueror would receive tributes from the vanquished, and from those tributes, he would give gifts to his soldiers to secure their loyalty. Christ gives gifts through his Spirit to the Church.

There are a variety of gifts given, but they are given for one purpose: To equip God’s people to do his work and to build up the Body of Christ.

I’m convinced that diversity is a strength for the Church. The Church benefits from having a diversity of people who think in different ways. In our society, the biggest divide we see on a regular basis is the one between conservative and liberal. In my experience, both bring something valuable to the Body of Christ. Those who think along conservative/evangelical lines tend to focus more on the call to personal holiness and the responsibility to share the gospel. Those who think along liberal/progressive lines

tend to focus more on the issues of a just society and on doing works of mercy. Both of those are necessary. If the church didn’t have both of those perspectives, then we might not do all the work God has called us to do. So I believe we need diverse perspectives.

But I also want you to see in this passage that there is a concern for the truth. “Hold to the truth,” Paul says. “Don’t be like children, forever changing your minds.” Wow. It’s like Paul knew my children! Children are typically much more likely to be deceived than adults. For one thing, they lack the extensive knowledge, experience, and practice at discernment that most adults, at least some adults, have.

And there are plenty of chances for people to be deceived out there. I was reading for this sermon, and I came across a reference to a study that someone did about the reliability of public information. These folks came to the conclusion that 50%, half of public information (television, radio, newspapers, the internet, and so on) was either outright false, or at least misleading. That study was done before the year 2000. I know that because the book where I read it was written in 2000, so long before the era of “fake news.” Think how much it is today! There are plenty of people who are out there to deceive others.

I think this whole chapter is very relevant to the current affairs in the United Methodist Church. For those of you who have followed them, you know that there are many out there who think the UMC is on the verge of a division. It’s not something that I’ve talked about much publicly for one simple reason: Nothing has been decided yet. Why talk about it if there is nothing to talk about? But perhaps this is a good time.

Of course, there is one “presenting issue” in this whole situation, which is the church’s understanding of human sexuality. But I think the truth is that there is far more going on. There are bigger questions: Who is Jesus? What is God’s will for the Church? Where do we find authority? How do we organize a life together?

Next February, a special session of General Conference, a global meeting of United Methodists, has been called. They are going to consider three proposals for the “presenting issue.” But if you ask me, I don’t think any of the three will be able to hold it all together.

And the real question, to me, is not “Can we stay together?” The real question is, “At what cost should we hold it all together?” If the cost of unity is sacrificing peace and truth, is it worth it?

I’m torn over the whole thing. I’ve been a United Methodist my whole life. It’s the only Christian tradition I’ve ever known. I hate the thought that in a couple of years, there might no longer be a United Methodist Church as I have known it.

But I draw encouragement from two things.

The first is from verse 13: “Until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of Christ that we will be mature.” If we lack unity, then perhaps it’s because we also lack maturity. Maybe we can’t have unity because we need to “grow up” in our faith first.

The second is the story of Paul and Barnabas. When Paul began his missionary career, Barnabas was his partner. After their first trip together, they separated over the role of John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, who had disappointed Paul, but Barnabas wanted to “give him another chance.” The disagreement was so sharp they parted ways.

But the result of the split was that the gospel spread even more quickly. And at the end of his life, Paul commended John Mark as a servant of Christ.

Unity is an essential of the Church. But union into the same organization is not. Paul and Barnabas were no longer “in the same organization,” but they were still united in the cause of Christ. Perhaps that’s the hope for us as United Methodists.

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