Being the Church – 8/02/09 – Ephesians 4:1-16

I need to start on a personal note here.  As I was looking through the calendar this week and doing some planning for the months ahead I realized that as of right about now Abbie and I have been in Cincinnati for three years.  It was the beginning of August, 2006 when we rolled into town, with our moving van, and our seven month old Eve.  We were met with a crew ready to move our items into the house and also bash out the walls of our bathroom, which we did quite thoroughly.  I distinctly remember the feeling that Abbie and I had after that first day.  All of our possessions were piled up around the house that we had just purchased, our only bathroom in the house was fully dismembered, and we had signed the contract to pastor at Cincinnati Mennonite.  The feeling was something like – Well, there’s definitely no going back now.        

More than just an anniversary, the three year mark carries special significance, which I noted in looking at worship and sermon preparation work for the month of August – because we have this thing called the lectionary which we follow.  The lectionary provides, every week, readings from scripture – a gospel, an epistle reading, a psalm, and OT reading – that we draw from in worship.  The lectionary is divided into years A, B, and C, and when you get to the end of C, you go back to A.  A three year cycle.  Which means that after three years of ministry together and all that’s occurred over that time period, we’re right back where we started.   

This is indeed an interesting place to be.  That August of ’06 we were using a worship theme that was taken from the gospel readings from John 6 where Jesus talks about being the bread of life, the true bread who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  You may remember that series – it was called “Becoming Bread” and I believe every week for about 5-6 weeks we had different forms of bread as a part of the service.  It was a good series.  I still have it and the sermons on the file. Hmmmm.

Well, even though we’re focusing on the Ephesians texts rather than the John texts this time around, it’s caught my attention that it’s worth noting the direction that worship takes us.  If one is going to stick with this Christian worship thing throughout life, we’re going to keep looping back to these same texts, these same stories.  In a linear way of movement we’re not really going anywhere.  Jesus says “I am the bread of life” and we get to chew on that the rest of our lives. 

During the youth-adult joint worship service in Columbus Ted Swartz offered a memorable and rather funny monologue likening faith to cows in a meadow, ruminant creatures that they are, eating grass and chewing on it, and swallowing it, and bringing it back up, and putting it through another chamber in the stomach, and doing that for a while until it’s ready to be moved on through.  Which really just serves to fertilize more grass that eventually will be undergo the same digestive process.  The faith cycle and the cycle of worship.  His final line was something like, “faith – chew on it, and pass it on.”  Rather than being a linear progression, worship could be something more like those words that Rachel spoke to last week in the book of Ephesians – “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  This makes it sound like we are moving, perhaps expanding, every direction at the same time.  Better knowing the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ.

So that could be point one, which already hints at point two, the main point.  Point one, we’re not going anywhere and the ground we’re on now is old, but fertile, terrain.  Point two, we are going somewhere, there is movement happening in all directions, and Ephesians has some things to say about the vehicle that is supposed to be carrying us along.   

Alongside the John 6 Bread of Life readings are also readings from the book of Ephesians, which is a letter that speaks to what it means to be the church.  What is it?  What does it look like?  This summer has held a number of different gatherings of the church meeting together and worshiping and reflecting on its own life, so it feels fitting to follow through with a number of weeks on “Being the church,” which will be our August theme.  We are many generations removed from Paul and Ephesians, but the questions persist: What is church?  What does it look like?.  Keith’s sermon a couple weeks ago and the youth and Rachel’s reflections last week I feel did a great job of getting us started on this path.

Before we turn to the Ephesians passage I want to tell about some of my first encounters in Asuncion, Paraguay, after getting off the airplane for the Mennonite World Conference.  After getting my visa checked and passport stamped, and needing to use bits of my broken Spanish to get by, I was relieved to see people holding up signs that read Mennonite World Conference.  I walked toward the sign and was asked to stand in a group that was waiting for a bus to take us to our hotels.  I then began what would be an entire week of meeting the church.  In that group was Luke Gascho, director of the Merry Lea Center that works with issues of environmental sustainability in conjuction with Goshen College.  One of their buildings at Merry Lea was one of the first 50 LEED certified buildings in the nation, platinum level, for sustainable construction.  I met a group that seemed mostly to be from Canada that would be part of a group doing presentations on indigenous spirituality.  I also talked briefly with a seminary librarian, Brent Koehn, and a writer, Gordon Houser, whose name you will see often if you subscribe to The Mennonite magazine.  Helping all of us get where we needed to go were youth from the church in Paraguay who were bilingual and well-informed about the logistics of the day.  On the ride to the hotel I met a man who had worked most of his life helping lead new churches in New York City.  He was accompanied by his teenage granddaughter from rural Georgia.  These were some of the people with whom I could speak.  There were others in those first hours that I heard speaking other languages and being instructed where to go in their native tongue.

That we come into this with difference and diversity is a given.  The first half of Ephesians takes on one of the key differences that the early church worked with – that between Jew and Gentile.  Irreconcilable differences it would seem, as irreconcilable as whether to play Rook High or Rook Low, those who do it the right way and those who do it the wrong way.  I didn’t grow up playing Rook, so I don’t have an emotional attachment to either one, but Keith’s metaphorical haiku-ing still rings true to me.  How in the world are we going to work all this out?  How is this coming together going to happen?  Different cultures, different languages, different convictions and senses of what is true….Ephesians’ answer – through Christ Jesus, we are all members of the same body.  And then the verse that never fails to floor me – in Ephesians 3:9-10 “to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”  The mystery is the coming together of Jew and Gentile, insider and outsider, the rich variety of God’s creations, and the place where this happens, the vehicle for this journey with cosmic significance is, surprise, the church.    

The difficulty of this work is what sets the tone for Ephesians 4.  What Paul has to say now, he says in the form of a beg.  “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, 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.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father/Mother of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

Being one church is a miraculous event and it takes some Spirit given ingredients to even be possible.   “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 body of peace.”  Those words humility, gentleness, patience, love, peace sound to me like the same stuff as the fruits of the Spirit that Paul mentions in Galatians 5 – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  “making every effort.”  Christ has done the groundwork, but it still takes every effort of our own to remember that we are all a part of one baptism.

Historically, the church has done a pretty lousy job at this.  One of the things I’m fascinated with is to see how different groups interpret different events differently.  Two of the major church ruptures in the last 2000 years have been the splitting of the Eastern Church and the Western church – the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic church in the 11th century, 1054 is usually the date that gets assigned to that – and also the breaking apart of the western Roman Catholic church in the 16th century through the Protestant Reformation, of which we are heirs.  There are a couple different pictures I’ve come across to illustrate the view of this that I find pretty fascinating. 

The first one is this that I’ll pass around.  I have this from seminary days and it comes from the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox.  It wouldn’t speak for all Orthodox, but it would be one picture of their own self-understanding.  It’s a picture of a tree, with Jesus and the cross symbolically in the middle, and this tree is called the “tree of life” and it is the true church, which is the Eastern Orthodox Church which is the continuation of the church of the apostles.  At the bottom of this tree there are some little branches which have fallen off which would be the early heresies of the church, but the major thing going on here is this strike of lightning that has broken off a large branch.  This branch is labeled the “Roman Catholic Church” and the lightning is the great schism of 1054.  So this branch is no longer a part of the true church of Christ.  And then, you’ll notice, this branch that has broken off has leaves on the end of it which are falling off of it.  This is labeled “The Protestant Reformation, 1517.”  One of the leaves is Lutheran, one of them Anglican, Reformed, Baptist, etc.  Mennonites don’t have their label – maybe the closest to us is Brethren – so we might be one of those anonymous leaves that are mounting up on this large leaf pile underneath the broken branch in the West.  This is a picture where the unity of the Spirit has certainly been severed – a certain perspective.

Another image that has been used for the church, from early times, has been one of a boat.  The church is like a boat, something like Noah’s ark, that sails across the storms of the world with the survivors safely inside.  I wasn’t able to find this picture, so I’ll describe how I remember it and hope that I don’t completely screw it up by remembering it wrong.  This painting would have been done in the years after the Protestant Reformation and it shows a large boat on the sea, with the pope and other faithful inside, and then there are several people who are trying to escape on life boats.  The life boat people are labeled Luther and Calvin and Zwingli.  What I can’t remember is whether this grand ship is sailing just fine and these people in the lifeboats are leaving the mother ship, in which case it would be the perspective of the Roman Catholic church.  Or whether this large boat is actually starting to sink, and the leaders in the life boats and the one’s who are saving the church to stay afloat, in which case this would be the perspective of the Reformers.  What I do remember, is that there are also several church leaders who are floundering around in the water without any boat and that Menno Simons is one of those leaders.  So, whatever perspective this painting was from, we are definitely still sunk.   

These pictures have some humor in them for us, but they are also pictures of deep pain….

More recently the ecumenical movement has tried to pull together some of the scattered pieces – the leaves and the branches and the tree, or the little independent life boats and those of us who are close to drowning — and bring out some of the commonalities that we continue to hold. 

I’m encouraged by this direction and thinks it takes us in a more healthy way of thinking about the church of Jesus Christ.  Where the ecumenical movement has headed, and where this passage from Ephesians heads is what I’d like to emphasize.  And this is it.  Rather than treating difference as a threat or as an automatic sign of unfaithfulness – we are asked to accept difference as a gift.  Oneness of Spirit in the bond of peace does not mean uniformity, it means a wide collection of giftedness held together by the love of Christ. 

So after mentioning one Spirit, one body, one hope, Paul moves on to say that we have each been given a different grace, a different gift.  And the purpose of all these gifts is for the building up of the body of Christ that we might all come to a maturity in our growth. 

Ecumenically, a book that reflects this is this Introduction to Ecclesiology by guy whose name I probably won’t pronounce right: Veli-Matti Karkeinen.  His chapters talk about the different perspectives on the church that each tradition brings, their ecclesiology, and how we can learn from one another.  So the chapters titles are  The Church as an icon of the Trinity: Easter Orthodox ecclesiology; The church as the People of God: Roman Catholic Ecclesiology; The Church as Just and Sinful: Lutheran; The Church as Covenant: Reformed; The Church as the Fellowship of Believers; Free church ecclesiology – that’s us: and The Church in the Power of the Spirit: Pentecostal/Charismatic ecclesiologies.

In the church, with a big “C,” every person, every community, every tradition, carries with it a difference that contains giftedness.      

I’ve tossed out a lot of metaphors and without really sticking to any particular one – faith and worship in the church being cyclical like a cow chewing grass in a meadow, the church as a vehicle that takes us somewhere even if that isn’t a linear path, the church as the body of Christ, as a tree with many branches (and leaves), a boat on the sea.  So as a closing, I’ll mention one more metaphor.  One that sums up what I believe this passage is saying and also carries a flavor we at Cincinnati Mennonite can identify with.  The unity of Spirit to which we are being called, if it were a song, is not a melody.  We are not all asked to sing the same notes, at the same time, in unison.  We can think of it more as a harmony – many parts sung together, each adding its own texture, it’s own pattern, giving the song more richness, nuance, and beauty.  The one who makes all this possible is the Creator who is the composer, the conductor, one of the singers, and, who is, mysteriously, the song itself.

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8 thoughts on “Being the Church – 8/02/09 – Ephesians 4:1-16

  1. ah themes
    bread of life
    what else was in the sermon
    that started a chain of thought…

    well first tho
    i dont know fully why
    but the ole goosebumps
    and moved to tears
    welled up some place
    about hmmmm
    someone especially dedicated
    u mentioned…

    so might as well hit the first point
    bread of life…
    and my usual symbolic metaphysical ramblings
    flesh and blood
    flesh or muscle symbolic of the conscious mind

    blood of the subconscious or habit mind
    that is determined in nature in many
    ways by the habits that come from the kind
    of conscious choices one makes…

    problem for the sin nature of humanity
    that has to major obstacles to maturing
    in spirit …. the carnal man
    and the natural man[kjv language there]
    that remain as kinds of thorns in the flesh
    till one matures to a perfected saint..
    which i think john the beloved achieved
    in his life…

    the bread then as flesh
    is about achieving full oneness
    of consciousness upon perfection of the soul

    also i suspect st francis of assisi sp?
    might have been a perfected saint…
    and a lot more of the early christians
    were perfected saints than tends to be the number of modern christians…

    oh back where there was something else
    in the sermon that started off a chaing of
    thought … eastern orthodox…
    of the modern denominations it seems to me
    to have the deepest understanding of aspects
    of scripture …an example on how they
    make a big point about the dynamics
    in genesis of man being created in the image
    and likeness where lots of other churchs
    as i recall say that it just a repetitive
    wording and there is probably nothing
    really added in terms of the relationship
    of image to likeness…
    ahhh image is more the conscious mind
    or the flesh ..in hebrew it is a masculine
    noun
    and likeness , a feminine noun in hebrew,
    is more the receptive or subconscious
    or feminine aspect of the soul…
    or the blood or the heart…

    i made mention in an earlier post
    how old testament makes a point of saying
    the spirit is in the flesh
    and the soul in the blood…

    okay got that kinda covered
    now tho to find the part that moved me
    with goosebumps and welling of tears…
    oh my now i dont remember if it was
    gascho or the nameless guy u met on the bus.
    that for some reason the sense of lifetime
    dedication in one or both that someway
    gave me the goosebumps… which i consider
    often to be my guardian angels or spirits..
    saying pay attention 🙂

    ah now on the theme of flesh and blood
    … another symbolic aspect that i have
    previously poster on probably
    jew can have a symbolic level of
    a more conscious awareness of god’s laws
    and gentile of the instintive awareness
    kinda like what paul says in romans..

    Romans 2:7  To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
    8  But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
    9  Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
    10  But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
    11  For there is no respect of persons with God.
    12  For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
    13  (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
    14  For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
    15  Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

    bringing down the dividing wall the separates jew and gentile…
    as the work of the holy spirit that
    teaches all things and if one
    is fully perfected then heart and mind
    at all times can access one’s being
    one in the mind of christ …otherwise
    it tends to come more in fits and starts
    till the soul is perfected and until
    such time as perfect love castes out all
    fear then the fear of god is a kind
    of protective force against the carnal
    or natural man from redeceiving the soul
    and backsliding into one’s old nature more

    hmmm i think kinda covers me main
    thoughts that the sermon brought to mind
    for me 🙂

    oh perhaps one more thing…
    how a perfected saint
    can enter the kingdom of god
    and have full oneness with god the father
    otherwise good souls not yet perfected tho
    dont yet get into the kingdom of god
    but rather probably
    the kingdom of heaven…
    and require more incarnations to be perfected

    oh and in looking at the great pyramid
    as that pillar god raised up in the middle of egypt as said i think someplace in isaiah
    and the great pyramid as hitting prophetically such things as when moses received the 10 commandments and when jesus
    was crucified and the world wars …oh also
    when the first power incarnations of high level saints started to drop off and the church thus became more static as about 150 a.d.
    so i am not quite done yet 🙂
    what else…there was something 🙂
    i think

    oh how that the thousand rule of christ
    might not start till the end of this millenia
    but a kind of kingdom of heaven period
    is going on this millenia…
    some of this book from book called i think
    THE GREATE PYRAMID DECODED
    by a french guy
    peter lemesurier … it be translated into english…
    hmmmm oh he suggests that the pit times
    started 2004 plus or minus 3 years
    where the babylonian or materialistic
    based societies of the world
    will be runnin into a lot more problems
    and 2014 plus or minus 3 years
    when mankind will reach a spiritual lowpoint
    possibly
    till sometime in the 2030’s

    okay now i think that covers main things
    for now 🙂

    oops maybe not the peter guy
    also things that the time of st francis
    was an especially redeeming time
    for the church ….
    gotta live that st francis guy:)

  2. not sure if i could used reply in my previous post… to correct one typo at the end
    typo was where i said
    gotta live that st francis guy
    should been gotta love that st francis guy:)

  3. ahh
    image and likeness
    as i recall now
    seems like it was
    we all have the image or mind within
    but cannot access it cause of our sin nature
    and thus not using the mind of god
    our likeness is tainted

    romans 1:28
    (WNT) And just as they had refused to continue to have a full knowledge of God, so it was to utterly worthless minds that God gave them up, for them to do things which should not be done.

    paul elaborates on this aspect i think
    in chapter 7 of romans

    Rom 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
    Rom 7:15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
    Rom 7:16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
    Rom 7:17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
    Rom 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
    Rom 7:19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
    Rom 7:20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
    Rom 7:21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
    Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
    Rom 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

    THE INWARD MAN IS THE ORIGINAL IMAGE
    THAT STILL IS THERE
    BUT IS BLOCKED BY SIN
    and as believers seek to express more of
    a likeness to jesus who gives us his examples and teachings in the holy spirit then we gain access to the source of the likeness …the imaginations of mind that are one in the mind of christ ….

    as i have mentioned here in other posts i think
    the sin state mentioned in romans 1, i think came in most souls before the sin of adam in romans 5th chapter and it was that souls were already in this state of sin that thru adam’s sin … death entered it world AND DEATH PASSED TO ALL COZ THEY WERE ALREADY SINNERS thru the state souls brought to themselves as spoken of in chapter 1….
    IF THIS IS SO , ONE MIGHT WONDER WHY IT IS NOT MADE MORE CLEAR..
    AH BUT THEN THERE IS proverbs 25:2
    the glory of god is to conceal a thing,
    the glory of the king is to search out the matter…

  4. oh my
    my typos
    kind of abounded a bit..
    and cant
    as far as i know
    edit my posts…
    so good luck reader
    figurin them out

    i might help out my posting
    some edits of some parts of my posts

    • i think i can use the reply part of a post to add corrections and edits..
      i will see where this reply post pops up in the sequences of comments

  5. hmmm i will call it speaking in tongues
    that needs some interpretation
    of the tongues:)

  6. uhoh
    thinking outloud again:)

    bout humans still haveing the image of god

    i just found this at a site
    that goes along i think with
    what i was talking about

    Can man still be in the image of God? Yes, the image is still there. Paradoxical though it may seem, man could not be the sinner he is, if he were not still God’s image

    the url for the site is
    http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/123

    the site was looking at heb 1:3
    God…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person

    now of the two
    brightness of his glory
    and
    express image of his being…
    which i think is king james
    i think image might be a confusing
    translation in some ways
    as express image i think is more likely
    the likeness aspect
    and the brightness of his glory
    more likely the image component..
    of image and likeness…
    thus it seems to me that another translation
    might more clearly show this..
    CEV) God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like him in every way

    it has to do with the greek word translated
    in the kjv as image…
    from thayers dictionary … this..
    the exact expression (the image) of any person or thing, marked likeness,…

    qed:)?
    well works for me for now:)
    on my major theme things of spirit and bible

    in terms of bread from the sermon…
    such is the mind or image power of consciousness
    that projects the likeness component…
    if one does not properly use the mind
    then the likeness will fail
    tho as said one never loses the image aspect of the divine
    is what i think
    but it can be thwarted by god
    so that one does not do further damage
    by abusing its power
    and god has the power to do this
    by way of what i was saying from romans 1
    now as to when the bible says in genesis 6

    (MKJV) And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

    i would tend to think that imagination of the thoughts is the likeness resulting from the mind that indeed not every thought is evil but on the whole when a positive thought and deed is done that it is not sufficient to overcome the sinful overall nature of the soul….
    this too i might have posted on here elsewhere as relating to the symbolic use of men and women in eccl 7

    Ecc 7:28 Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.
    Ecc 7:29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

    the one man among a thousand would be when someone has the right thought and deed and
    that not one woman …. would be woman as the habit mind of a soul and one good deed of a thousand is not enuf to cleanse the soul of its sin nature but the blood of jesus is the most powerful agent for cleansing the soul to produce things of good likeness not by one’s words but by one’s faith in jesus but if one then accepts all the teachings of the holy spirit thru proper devotion and action then
    what results i think is what i see suggested by jesus in the last supper discourse of john…

    Joh 16:25 These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.
    Joh 16:26 At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you:
    Joh 16:27 For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.

    this i think also is part of what jesus says later in chapter 17 of john

    Joh 17:9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.
    Joh 17:10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
    Joh 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are

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