Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pentecost 11, 2015: Accepted, fed, and sent

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 18:5-9; 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35-41,51
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

One of the blessings of being Episcopalian is that we recognize and honor when Scripture is poetic. An example is the letter to the Ephesians which is more of a poem, than an encyclical, filled with words and phrases that probably came from hymns used in worship at that time.

It is what’s called a “circular letter” meaning it wasn’t written to a particular church but was meant to be circulated around the newly forming churches. There was great diversity in these new communities, with Gentiles and Jews living and worshiping together. They have to figure out how to navigate and blend their differing practices, beliefs, habits, and perspectives.

This letter was written to remind them that they are called to unity: “one body, one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (4:4-6) These words are also found in our Rite of Baptism (BCP, 299) so they apply to us too.

The epistle begins by recounting the many blessings afforded those who live as members of this new Way – the New Covenant of Christ – then it moves to their responsibilities as a diverse people living and worshiping together. Imagine what was like for Jews and Gentiles to learn to live together after generations of excluding one another. Conflicts were bound to happen. They had totally different approaches to life and worship. How would they decide which traditions would be present in their worship, ministry, even their daily lives, and which ones would be set aside?

The epistle advises them to go about this forgiving, loving, and imitating God in Christ. Simple, right?

Actually, they can’t do this – no one can - not on our own. As our Collect reminds us, our very existence is a gift of God and it is only by the grace of God that we are enabled to live according to God’s will.

It’s important to remember that this discussion isn’t about us as individuals. It’s about us as members of the body of Christ, the church. The church is built, strengthened, and maintained by worshiping God. We talk about this in our Inquirer’s Class. In TEC what binds us together is our worship – the BCP being the symbol of our unity. We don’t sign covenants - we pray together.

When we gather to share this sacred meal of Holy Communion we are at once strengthened and transformed as individuals and as a body. It’s why we don’t have private Communion anymore – it makes no sense because we live as a body of uniquely gifted individuals, intentionally brought together by God who has a purpose for the particular configuration of people and gifts present here.

When conflict arises, and it will, because the diversity that is our gift will inevitably lead to disagreement – we can look to this letter to the Ephesians for guidance. It tell us to speak the truth to one another knowing that what is so apparently true for some at any moment may not be as apparently true for others. Jesus, who is the Truth, will guide us who believe into the truth – together. He leads the way, not any one of us.

We will get angry, so when we do, we must be careful not to let our anger disrupt our relationship. When anger divides (which is what sin is) we are advised to address it immediately. The longer it waits, the harder that it is to reconcile.

The letter also suggests that people give people room to grow and be made new. The epistle talks about a thief giving up stealing and finding honest work, but if that thief is never treated as anything but a thief, the community has failed them. We will all be made new at moments along our common journey, and we have to have the freedom to live into that newness of life. The body of Christ (the church) must be willing to welcome change and transformation among our members and in the community itself.

Apply the Thumper Rule, that is: speak only what gives life. Creating dissention and division in a community is sin - it’s making room for the devil – the tempter who distracts the community from its holy purpose.

Put away bitterness, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice. These are poison for a community and, even when they are directed at an individual or individuals within the community, they do harm to the whole community. What happens to one affects the whole.

Instead, the epistle writer tells us, be kind, gentle, tenderhearted – and most of all – be forgiving, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

This letter is asking us to practice a way of living that is out of step with what the world does. Tenderheartedness, forgiveness, and circumspection in speech are not qualities we see much out there in the world - I give you the current political scene as an example – but they define our Savior, Jesus Christ, and therefore they must define us as followers of Christ.

No amount of strength or strength of will can enable us to live like this. We can’t do what’s right and live according to the will of God without the help of God, who we find right here, in a real and manifest way in our Holy Eucharist. That’s why The Holy Eucharist is, as our Prayer Book says, the “Principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.” (BCP, 13)

Each Sunday we gather together from varied and diverse lives and experiences. Some of us have children at home, some of us are single. Some are unemployed, some are overworked. Some are conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Independent, non-political, gun owners, or tree-huggers….

We are a diverse group intentionally made one by the Holy Spirit of God.

When we gather to worship on Sunday we begin by blessing God, then we pray the opening Collect – bringing all of our diversity into one place, focusing ourselves on one thought…. “Grant to us, Lord, we pray….”

Then we give glory to God and settle in to receive the nourishment offered by Scripture. After reflecting on how the Word speaks in our lives, we stand and proclaim together what we, the church, believe.

Then looking beyond ourselves, we lift up prayers for the world, certain that our prayers make a difference because we believe that God hears and answers them. We say a corporate confession to remind ourselves that, as individuals and as a body, we will fall short and need to repent.

In celebration of our redemption guaranteed after our confession, and our continual restoration, we share the peace of Christ with one another, engaging our bodies in a ritual of unity, restoring our friendships, setting aside whatever differences or disagreements we have, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us.

Then recognizing that we are one body, one spirit in Christ, we make the holy food of Communion. Joining in a song of praise with the whole company of heaven, we give thanks to God, as we bless, break, and share the flesh and blood of the living Christ.

In this moment, we who are believers, are sharing in the eternal life of God in a very real way. And we don’t lose ourselves in this experience, we expand ourselves. We are one with all that is, all that ever was, and all that will be.

In this moment, all we hunger for is satisfied. Our dry and withered souls spring back to life, moistened by the blood of the Lamb.

Renewed and strengthened by Word and Sacrament, we offer our thanks together in prayer, reminding ourselves that, by the grace of God we are accepted, fed, and sent into the world to love boldly and courageously in the name of Christ.

This is why we gather each Sunday. Not to check off our “I’m a good Christian who went to church” box, but to be continually transformed by God as individuals and as a community, and strengthened to answer the holy calling of God to love and serve in the name of Jesus Christ.


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