(Last week was in California – town of Apple Valley, in the high desert, between Las Vegas & Los Angeles. Was made incredibly welcome at the Episcopalian church of St Timothy. Felt like part of the family, even though I was 5000 miles from home. Such is the reality of the family of the worldwide church – where in almost every community someone is praising God through Christ Jesus and the work of the Gospel is being carried on.)
Wherever we are, we are God’s chosen people – and as such, St Paul points out that we are required to ‘lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.’ Stressing that he is a prisoner, Paul doesn’t just ask the Ephesians - he begs them. They are to lead their lives 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.’
The Spirit binds believers together in unity, all over the world. Our job is to work out how to put this into practice here and now, how to let the spirit overcome our differences. We are blessed with different gifts & together we are strong. Together we can build up the body of Christ; the church. We need to work out what our contribution is, what is our special gift.
We are the body of Christ and we are called to build up the body of Christ. That means figuring out how we spread the good news of the Gospel beyond the church walls.
Now you might be thinking fantastic, yes, let’s get out there! Or you may be thinking; that’s all very well but I’m not really into that sort of thing and, well, as long as the Church sees me out, that’s good enough for me. These are words I have heard a little too often over the years. But such an attitude can lead only to tragedy for our faith. All the people that we meet on a daily basis might never know the love of God. Without God there is nothing beyond what we have on this earthly plain. But is that really enough? This void helps to explain why people want all the material things in life, ‘the food that perishes’ because spiritually they are unaware.
Ultimately, if we cannot spread the good news of the gospel we fail in our calling to build up the body of Christ. The community of faith will shrink. And the consequence of that is not just church buildings turned into carpet warehouses or gyms or swish apartments: I well recall a sermon preached by a Methodist chair of district many years ago, who referred to the deforestation of the Christian memory. By this he meant that not only do people stay away from the church community and its buildings, but the whole concept of Christian faith, and the vocabulary of the Gospel is lost. And once lost, we enter a barren, deforested land, lacking in spiritual awareness, a land where the Gospel struggles to resonate and find acceptance.
So, as God’s chosen people we are all given gifts by God and it is our duty to discern those gifts, and then use them to build up the body of Christ. Paul adds in Ephesians that this building up of the body is for a reason: namely to 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.
Amidst the mass of words Paul uses it is easy to gloss over the word MATURITY. He adds: we must not be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by…their deceitful scheming…
One of the messages I like to get over at Christmas is that we must not stop too long with the shepherds, gazing in wonder at this baby. Yes, we do receive strength from the adoration of the holy child – but only for a while, or else we may forget that this child went on to teach and challenge and suffer and die for the sake of the world.
We risk forgetting that this child is the one who went on to inspire his followers to heroic deeds (just consider Paul’s own missionary journeys, for example);
…this child is the one who went on to challenge the powers of his day wherever they were leading people away from God;
…this child is the one who challenged his disciples to think, by teaching them in parables and letting them work out for themselves what his message meant for them.
So today, we are challenged and inspired, if we listen with open ears and mature minds. An infantile church is of little use in the complex world we live in, where everyone else knows better and the influence of radical secularism is as sinister as the perverted faiths and ideologies put forward by people who seek to destroy what is positive and affirming in the world today.
As mature Christians, we are called to be like Jesus – which also means to help the helpless, to feed the hungry and reach out to those who need the healing power of the Spirit of peace. Isn’t this as much what he means when he says ‘do this in remembrance of me’? It’s not just sharing bread and wine, but sharing in his work of compassion and challenge; about being a mature, spiritual presence in the world. As we receive the sacrament, we should be challenged, & transformed by Christ into mature Christians.
In the play The History Boys, the inspirational teacher Hector has a valuable message for his students, and for us as the Body of Christ today: ‘Pass the parcel. That's sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That's the game I wanted you to learn. Pass it on.’
We are the body of Christ: and belonging to the body is not just for our own benefit, but for others, known and unknown, here today and those yet unborn. Belong, grow, enjoy, and pass it on!