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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before August 2, 2015

Ephesians 4:1-16

4I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” 9(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

What I Am Learning:

Those who read scripture do it with a perspective of which we are not totally conscious.

Martin Luther was among the first work for clarity about his perspective. His perspective was to see the scripture as the Living Word of God. This Living Word comes to us as both “law” and “gospel.” The law is God’s challenge to humans who quite often reject God’s love and a life of love rooted in God’s love. This challenge comes with the intent that humans will comprehend our estrangement from self and God and recognize the Gospel.

The Gospel is “that which carries Christ.” Some parts of scripture carry Christ better than others and so have a higher priority in our practice of faith. Christ gave us and embodies the gospel, the good news of God’s free and unconditional love in Jesus Christ.

Luther applied these conscious perspectives to the Bible, looking for how God’s challenge and the Gospel of God’s love might apply to himself and his community.

One of the unconscious perspectives of our time is that the individual is all that matters. So when we read this week’s passage we think that the writer of Ephesians (probably not Paul) is speaking to individuals to “find their calling and gifts” and use them for the benefit of the church.

When the writer says, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” is speaking to the ministry of the whole church, not the calling of an individual. The verbs here are second person, plural verb forms. It is “you all “ not “you.”

The writer is encouraging the whole body of the church to find its ministry, to lead a life as a community that worthy of the calling to which they have been called by God.

What is this calling?

In Ephesians chapter two, the writer lays out the scope of this ministry. The writer says that the church in Ephesus and the whole Roman Empire was following “the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit” that is at work in the world. This is how the writer talked about the domination culture of his/her time. The writer says that all of them, including the writer, lived under the sway of domination culture, living lives of addiction (desires of flesh and senses) and violence (children of wrath.)

But God, the writer says, has raised them up out of the realm of domination, to participate in God’s life (sitting in the heavenly places). This is the writer’s way of saying that they have transferred their citizenship from the Roman Empire to God’s Reign. This transfer was nothing more or less than the full gift of God.

Because the church is no longer held under the sway of domination culture, but is filled with the hope and vision of God’s way of mutuality so it lives by a different vision from those around them. This different way is not, however about our status or superiority over others. The writer reminds the church that God’s way of mutuality is the birthright of all people, who are all part of God’s family. But the People of Roman are separated from their birthright. They remain captive to a culture of violence, addiction, exploitation and meaninglessness. But God’s love and peace and compassion belongs to everyone.

The church is an outpost of God’s way of mutuality, a seemingly alien community within the Roman Empire powered by the presence and power of Jesus.

18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

It is after all of this that the writer begins to talk of the church’s calling in the world. The writer invites them to see that in many respects the church does not have a mission, but rather takes part in the mission of God. Just as the love of Christ surpasses our understanding, so does the impact of God’s work through the church surpass our expectations.

And what is this calling? To take part with God in the transformation of a culture of domination to God’s way of mutuality.

My problem with some interpretations of this text in the church today is that they suggest that point of the text is the growth of the church. As long, they seem to imply, that a church is growing then all is well. All the gifts of individuals, they say, are to make the church grow. But church growth is not the point. The church’s faithful participation in God’s mission is point of the text. The church, then, is not the product that God is seeking to produce, but rather a vehicle for the transformation of human culture to become a culture of mutuality.

This underscores another unconscious perspective, that churches with or without buildings are what God is most interested in. All of Ephesians, as flawed as it is in some ways, is attempting to say that God’s mission is the healing and creation of the world. The church is the church not to the degree that it grows but to the degree that it does its part in this healing and creation.

In today’s passage, the writer talks about how individuals within the church can all work for the overall calling of the church without the competitive spirit of the Roman Empire. The writer envisions a church, engaged in in the transformation of culture to God’s way of mutuality, in which each person’s gifts are accepted and embraced as a part of the strength of the whole body.

Domination cultures pit one person against another. God’s seeks to restore us to a deep partnership with God and each other where we each know and understand our part, as a portion of the whole. This means it is okay that someone else prays more deeply, preaches a different sermon, offers a divergent perspective, brings other gifts to the community. Each of us has an important gift to offer to God’s work in the church and these gifts compliment each other.

Some people have official roles in the church. Some do not. All are a part of the body. The writer of Ephesians has a vision for the church in which it accepted that some have official roles in a church such as deacon, bishop or pastor. How well we fulfill these roles depends on how we encourage and equip the whole body as a part of the inbreaking reign of God.

But the point of the passage, and indeed the entire letter, is to help the church in Ephesus recognize their part as a whole in God’s inbreaking way of mutuality.

Let’s just remember that God works through us, together, not just as a bunch of individuals. God seeks the reconciliation of all people to each other, all cultures to each other, and all together in God.

God begins in this in the community of the church.

Recognition of our different gifts is an expression of God’s way of mutuality within the church, even as God works through us for the healing and creation of the world.

 


 

Ephesians 2

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All 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.

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Chapter 3

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.