17th Sunday After Trinity September 21, 1997
224, 423, 477, 429
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are 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. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who calls us to true unity in His Name, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“Stick together!”—That’s what the coach told his football team at halftime when they were down by fourteen points. “If you don’t stick together and play as a team, we haven’t got a chance of winning this game.” It’s good advice—not only for a football team, but for any group of people who are striving together to reach a certain goal or accomplish certain results. The best results can only be achieved when there is solidarity, unity, togetherness among all the members of the group.
But nowhere is unity—or togetherness—more important than among Christians. A congregation that doesn’t have it can never survive; a congregation that does have it can never be defeated. In our text for today, the Apostle Paul describes two kinds of Christian togetherness: the kind we can and should have in our local church, and the kind every believer has in the Universal Church. Our theme for today is…
Anyone who wants to “stick together” with a group of other people will soon find something out: you can’t do it without making sacrifices. Nobody knew that better than the Apostle Paul. That’s why he draws attention to the fact that he is a “prisoner of the Lord.” In his efforts to promote Christian unity among the people he preached to, no sacrifice was too great; not even when he was literally thrown in jail for his faith! So Paul knows what he’s asking for when he says, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”
Those words weren’t aimed just at the Christians in Ephesus, they’re aimed at you, too. You’ve been “called” just as much as they were. When the Holy Spirit brought you to faith in Jesus Christ, He called you to a whole different lifestyle. Christians are supposed to be different; and it’s really more than that—we simply are different, because that’s the way God always makes believers! Peter says, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” I Pet 2:9.
We’re a special people, with a special job to do: spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Paul urges us to “walk worthy of that calling.” If we’re going to do that, we’ve got to be united. Ascension Lutheran Church has got to stick together!
How does that happen? Paul tells. On the local level, we are united by a bond of peace in this visible church of like-minded believers. The Apostle says, “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.”
You probably think you’re sitting still right now. It may surprise you to learn that you’re not! You’re actually going in a circle at about a thousand miles per hour; that’s approximately how fast the earth is rotating on its axis. At that speed, the centrifugal force would send each of us spinning off into outer space if it weren’t for one thing: gravity. The force of gravity is what keeps us bonded solidly to the earth.
In the same way, there’s something that keeps Ascension Lutheran Church from flying apart…the Apostle calls it “the bond of peace.” Like gravity, this bond of peace holds us together as a close-knit group.
When’s the last time you said a prayer of thanks to God for this congregation you belong to? Can’t remember? Just think of what a blessing God has given you! The Holy Ghost has brought you in out of the cold and placed you within a group of believers who all share your same faith in Jesus Christ. In the words of King David, God is “…A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows…He sets the solitary in families.” Ps 68:5-6. You never have to wonder what’s going to be taught from this pulpit; At Ascension, you know that, week after week, you’ll hear the sweet Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ alone. Here we teach the Word of God in it’s truth and purity; nothing added, and nothing taken away.
And it’s the same all across our Church of the Lutheran Confession. Wherever you go in our CLC—from the seminary in Eau Claire WI, to the biggest churches with hundreds of members, to the smallest rural parish—you’ll find that we are completely united in doctrine and practice. I wonder if you realize just how rare a blessing that is! A couple of months ago I read an article by a pastor in the ELCA—the most liberal Lutheran church body. He was boasting about the diversity to be found within their fellowship. I suppose that’s one way to put it! In the ELCA, you’re free to believe and teach just about whatever you want. Some pastors believe in the miracles of Christ, some don’t. Some believe in the inerrancy of Scriptures, most say the Bible has mistakes in it. Some hold to the Scriptural truth that homosexuality is an abomination before God, others say it’s “a legitimate alternate lifestyle”…and even want to allow gays to be pastors! “How wonderful it is,” the fellow wrote, “that we in the ELCA have been able to find peace and unity in the midst of such diversity!” But when you’re not faithful to what the Bible says, any so-called “peace” is just an illusion. God said through the prophet Ezekiel, “My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine lies…because, indeed, because they have seduced My people, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace.” 13:9-10.
Certainly, the unity we enjoy in our CLC—and within this congregation—is reason to give thanks to God. And we shouldn’t just be thankful for it, we should work hard to protect it and improve it, especially here in our local congregation. Now, you can add to the centrifugal force if you want to; you can stand up proudly for your rights, you can insist on having your own way in the church, you can gossip about other church members and point a self-righteous finger at their weaknesses. But that’s not what God wants. The Lord wants us to be humble and gentle toward our fellow believers. “Bear with one another in love,” Paul says. Don’t wait and see if everybody else is showing Christian love—you do it! If you can keep the peace by giving in to what somebody else wants, then do it. If someone is lonely or sick or shut in, then by all means go visit them. If someone has strayed into sin, go privately and talk to them about it in a caring and loving manner. If you have to sacrifice your pride or your privilege to do it, then rejoice that you’ve got something you can give to Jesus. He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it to Me.” Mt 25:40. This love, this consideration and concern for our Christian brothers and sisters, is our “bond of peace.” It’s the glue that helps to hold our congregation together.
But Christians stick together in more ways than one… Up till now we’ve been talking about the visible church—our congregation here in DuPont. But there’s also an invisible Church of which we all are members, and that’s a unity that Paul also addresses in our text. He says, “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.” Besides being united with the other members of this visible congregation, we are also united by a common faith in the invisible Church of all believers.
Our group here is pretty small, I guess. In fact, it may be the smallest Lutheran church in the area. But don’t ever forget—you are also a member of the biggest Church in the world: the Church of all believers. This Church knows no national or denominational bounderies. It has many names… We call it the “universal” Church, because every person in whose heart the Holy Spirit has worked saving faith is a member. In the Bible, it’s called the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ, and the Heavenly Jerusalem, among other things. In our Apostles’ Creed, we call it “the Holy Christian Church—the communion of saints.” We also call it the “invisible” Church, because only God knows who all the members are.
We don’t have the ability to look into people’s hearts like God does, but we can see the outward signs of this Church. What are they? Paul tells us what to look for: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Wherever the Christ of the Bible is preached and believed, that is where the Church is. And notice I said, “The Christ of the Bible.” There are plenty of folks who are ready to believe in a watered-down Christ—a Jesus who was a good man and nothing more. “He was a fine moral teacher,” they say, “and He set us a good example to live by.” But that’s not the Lord Jesus you believe in. That’s not the faith you’ve learned from the Bible, and that’s not the Savior into whose name you were baptized. Your Lord Jesus is much more than that—He was and is the Almighty God who took on human form to buy you back from the power of sin. He’s your best Friend, who actually laid down His own life to save yours. He literally loved you to death, and the cross that adorns our altar reminds us of that love. Jesus is the One who has opened for you those doors that you could never even have come close to opening for yourself—the doors of heaven. It’s faith in that one Lord Jesus that unites you with every other believer in the universal Christian Church. Rejoice in your Church membership! In this Church, nothing can separate you from the all-forgiving love of your Savior. In chapter five of this letter Paul says, “Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” 5:25-26.
In the words of the old song, “United we stand, and divided we fall.” In other words, if you stick together, and stay together, there’s nothing that can defeat you. Well, our text has shown us today that Christians do stick together…so let’s stay together! Let’s each do what we can to strengthen the bond of peace that unites this congregation. Let’s continue to stand up for the pure teachings of the Bible, and stand against all false doctrine; knowing that, with the gift of Spirit-worked unity, we can never fall. At the same time, may each of us Christians learn to cherish our membership in the Universal Christian Church. We can’t see it now, but it exists. And one day, in Heaven, we’ll know just how big it is! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
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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.