The 10th Sunday after Pentecost August 13, 2006
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
2, 467, 767 (TLH 465), 464
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift…
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
In Christ Jesus, the Cornerstone of the Church, dear fellow Christians:
Chances are there are many different churches in your community. Some may be made of brick and stone and may have stood for a century or longer. Their traditional, graceful spires may tower over the other buildings in the neighborhood. Other churches may be more recent and modern in construction and make use of glass and steel. Some may be massive buildings accommodating thousands, many may be on a much smaller scale. But of all the church styles and sizes, which is the best of all time? Is it the biggest or most ornate? Is it the elaborate Old Testament temple Solomon built? Is it the altar and pillars Moses constructed at the foot of Mt. Sinai or the open air church of Jesus out in the countryside (as we heard about in the Gospel lesson)?
When we think of “church” a specific building or location often comes to mind, but God sees things differently. When He looks over your city, or when His eyes scan the entire world in a split second, He sees just one Church—the Church He designed and built. Without question, it is the best Church ever!
We know how the typical church is built. A design is chosen. Materials like lumber, brick, and cement are purchased and then a contractor puts them all together. But the materials God used for His Church are not typical. He uses people, not lumber and brick. What is more, He does not pick and choose just the best. He is not like a contractor who chooses only the 2x4s without knots and bricks without cracks or chips, and rejects the rest. No, God takes broken, warped, flawed sinners like us. We are all alike. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We deserve to be passed by like a pile of inferior building materials waiting for the dumpster. But instead, God chose and called us to be His Church. Peter writes: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4 NIV).
God built us into the best designed Church ever. When a congregation is deciding on the architecture of a new building, there is always lively discussion as to what is best. Hundreds of years ago almost every church was built in the shape of a cross. The altar was placed at the head of the cross. The cross-bar area was for the choir, and the long pole was where the congregation sat. God has built His Church around the cross too. He has united us into one body by the Holy Spirit’s call to faith in Jesus as our Savior from sin. We all alike have been pronounced perfect and fit for God’s Church by Baptism. The Almighty God is our Father who is in us and works through us. It is an amazing act of God’s grace that we are united as one with God and with one another in His Church.
But we are just one tiny little part of it. The Holy Christian Church is made up of all who believe in Jesus all over the world. We don’t know all those people. We can’t see them all. But God knows all those who are His. He has made us all one with them. God makes us holy through Jesus’ death on the cross.
A church stands out from other buildings because it looks different. The cross-shaped building, a tall spire with a cross on top, or a large cross on the property points to Jesus. Likewise, believers, as living stones in God’s Church, point to Jesus by living differently than the world around them. Those in the world put self first. They don’t hesitate to take advantage of others or look down on them or gossip about them. It’s different in God’s Church. St. Paul was in prison because He was living for Christ, not for himself. He encouraged the Ephesians to “walk worthy of the calling to which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” [vv.1-3]
We too show that we are God’s grateful Church when we work to preserve the unity He has established. We show that we are Christ’s when we are humble and realize that we are no better than anyone else and need God’s grace just as much. While the world sees gentleness as a sign of weakness, we want to be kind to others as Jesus is kind and gentle toward us. As Jesus shows us unlimited patience and continues to put up with all our failings and faults so we in love for Him want to work hard at being patient and forgiving with one another, rather than losing our temper whenever someone fails to measure up to our standards.
That attitude of love, that bond of peace, is the cement which holds the Church together. It is the best Church ever, because it is designed by God, built on the cross of Jesus, and made up of all believers of all time. By God’s grace we are part of that magnificent spiritual building!
The building of a church takes many different people from carpenters and brick layers to plumbers and electricians. Afterward, too, there is always maintenance and repair work to be done and possibly remodeling and expansion. All of this is good, otherwise a church building deteriorates. The Holy Christian Church, made up of believers, is the same. It is always under construction inside and out. Jesus Himself provides the people needed to carry it on. “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” [vv.11-12]
The Apostles were sent by the Lord to preach what they had seen and heard while with Jesus. Through their words the Church grew as many more came to faith. Through their words recorded in Scripture, the Holy Spirit continues to add to the Church.
Prophets are spokesmen for God. In the Old Testament they were people like Elijah and Jeremiah. Today pastors and teachers are God’s spokesmen to their congregations and classrooms. There are also evangelists who reach out with the good news of salvation to people who haven’t heard it yet.
As important as these people are, they are not the only ones building the Church. Their job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. In other words, pastors, teachers, and church councils are not to do all the work. Their responsibility is to help organize and prepare all of us to work. We are all ministers of Christ.
During the construction of a church, many members may stop by after work and on weekends and lend a hand any way they can. That is the kind of spirit the Lord wants in His Church all the time. We all have different gifts from Him for that work. What gifts has He given you? Can you teach a Sunday School class or raise your own children to know Jesus? Can you be an evangelist and share the news of a Savior with friends, and invite them to worship with us? Can you make visitors feel welcome at your church? Can you pray? Can you be an example of Christ-like living? Can you encourage a young person to consider going into the public teaching or preaching ministry?
When we who are one in Christ use our various gifts together, the Church is built up and strengthened. It is strengthened within as we help one another grow in our understanding of Scripture. In Sunday School, Bible class, worship services, and informal conversation on spiritual matters, all involved grow in what matters most. Every individual has something to offer, as well as the need to listen and learn. By using our gifts together, the Church continues to expand. The Word can reach out in ways and places that would never be possible for us individually. We as individuals could not take the gospel to Africa, India, and a dozen different places here in the U.S. But working together as a congregation and synod, we can. And remember, the Church is not just our congregation or synod, it is all believers everywhere. And whenever they preach and teach the Word, the Spirit is continually expanding His Church.
The best Church ever is a work in progress. There is always strengthening and reinforcing to be done within and expansion to plan without. The Lord has given each of us various tools to use in that work. If you have many gifts don’t boast about them because they are gifts from the Lord. Don’t feel bad that you don’t have the same ones or as many gifts as someone else. Each gift is important for the work. Don’t leave the “tools” lying on the ground unused. Let’s pick them up and learn to use them skillfully, not for our own glory, but for the building of God’s Church. The Church that God builds stands solid and strong, and is able to survive the test of time and the storms of false teaching.
The best Church ever cannot be seen from miles away like the spires of some can. Yet it reaches higher than any other. It does not rest on even a small piece of real estate, yet it is bigger than any structure on earth. It is not made of stone, steel, or brick, and yet it is more permanent than any of these. The best Church ever is the Holy Christian Church—God’s spiritual building made up of believers. It exists everywhere the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered. It is built on the cross of Christ, and it is continually growing outward and upward.
One day this building will be completed. The last brick will be mortared in and the final nail hammered home. The scaffolding will be torn down and then we will finally see the Church in all its glory. All believers will be together to sing their praises to the God of their salvation. Until then, may we as members of that Church work together with one another in patience and love to build up the Church inside and out. Amen.
Church of God, elect and glorious,
Holy nation, chosen race;
Called as God’s own special people,
Royal priests and heirs of grace:
Know the purpose of your calling,
Show to all His mighty deeds;
Tell of love that knows no limits,
Grace that meets all human needs.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.