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Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

To Each One Grace Has Been Given - August 2, 2015 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: Ephesians 4:1-16

In our Old Testament reading for this morning in the midst of the grumbling and complaining, in the midst of the sin of the children of Israel, we see God provide for them by raining down manna for them to eat. In the Gospel lesson we see God, in the person of Jesus, provide physical food for the people to eat, in order to satisfy their physical desire and hunger. You may have noticed the people were not too interested in the spiritual food the Lord was giving, simply in having their stomachs filled. In our Epistle lesson, our text for this morning we hear God provide for the distribution of spiritual food in the giving of the office of Holy Ministry for the distribution of the gifts of God through the means of grace as well as in the teaching of the saints in order that they might be able to be vessels for the distribution of the gifts of God through the means of grace. As we are reminded, every good and perfect gift comes from above. And we may notice that God provides these gifts, even in the midst of our sinning and refusing and rejecting the gifts He has to give. To each one of us God has abundantly poured out His grace on us, giving us all the good gifts and blessings He has to give, even giving us to be able to respond to that grace by, with the help of the Holy Spirit, living our lives according to His good and gracious will. With that in mind we move into our text and read how Paul tells us this bit of good news.
 
We begin at verse one of our text. Paul writes, “1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager 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 that belongs to your call—5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (v. 1-6). This is quite a tall charge Paul puts before us. As Christians we are to live as God’s humble servants. As Christians we are not to boast about our great faith, rather we are to humbly serve others while trying to help build each other up as brothers and sisters in the Lord. And of course, as Paul well knows, we fail miserably in this task. We simply cannot be the people God calls us to be. We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much in thought, word and deed. As our Lord reminds us, every inclination of our heart is evil.
 
Paul also talks about the unity of the Spirt as well as the fact that we have one Lord, one faith and one baptism. There is much talk going on in our world today about denominations uniting with other denominations. Even our own Missouri Synod is continually in talks with other denominations in the hopes of reaching what we call altar and pulpit fellowship. And here I might add that the word fellowship has been so misused, even by myself at times, that it has become a misunderstood word, especially in the church. True Biblical fellowship is that fellowship which has its basis in faith in Jesus Christ alone. Outside of faith in Jesus Christ alone, we cannot have true fellowship with anyone. Getting back to our text, Paul does not tell us to go out and try to unite with others, rather Paul tells us that as Christians we are in union with one another. This fellowship is not something we strive for, it is something we have through faith in Jesus Christ. Notice that Paul says we are to “maintain the unity.” We are to work to maintain what is already there.
 
At this point two definitions are in order. The first is to define the word “orthodox” which means to be true to the faith and teachings of the church. The second word is “heterodox” which means to not be in agreement or parting from the true faith and teachings of the church. Because we are sinners and because we live in a sin filled world, there are no true, 100%  pure orthodox churches.  Not until we reach heaven will we again have true 100% orthodoxy. Meanwhile we strive to keep our teachings as pure as we can. Personally I believe that our synod, at least up until recent times, is the closest to pure doctrine, otherwise I would be elsewhere.
 
With those two definitions established we move on to see that Paul does not advocate unionism, which we might define as an outward human unity, rather he advocates that we have a unity in Christ. In other words, we have two things going on in our text. We can strive for a human unity, this is an outward unity, which is not necessarily a unity of teaching but instead is really a false unity. This is what we get when we have sinful human beings working for unity. On the other hand, we have what Jesus gives to us and that is a true unity. This true unity is not something that we see, but is what Jesus gives and is in our hearts. This true unity is based on a purity of doctrine, in other words, true unity is not based on human compromise and democratic vote, but true unity is given to us by Jesus and is maintained by, in as much as we humanly can as sinful human beings, working to keep the teaching of the Bible as pure as possible. Here again, apart from Christ, His Word and teaching, there is no true unity.
 
Continuing on with our text, Paul explains from where this unity comes, reading at verse seven, “ 7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” (v. 7-11). In these verses, once again Paul reminds us that everything comes from God especially all our spiritual gifts. God has given each one of us grace according to our need. Paul is not necessarily speaking of the grace of forgiveness, we all have that and more, rather he is speaking of the office of Holy Ministry. And notice here that there are not many ministries, but only one Ministry.
 
So Paul reminds us that our church workers are gifts from God. Our church workers are not people we hire and fire according to our own whims. Our church workers are not people we treat with disrespect and contempt, even if we disagree with them. Our church workers are people for whom we pray; they are people for whom we give thanks; they are people we support and encourage.
 
Moving on to verses twelve through thirteen, Paul continues to tell us about our church workers and here I will just speak about pastors. Paul says that in particular, pastors are, “12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 12-13). Our pastors, the pastors of our churches, are called to do works of service. Yet, our pastors are not to merely tell others what to do, they is to work side by side with the members of the congregation. They are to lead by example and by on the job training.
 
And here, let me speak of myself as your pastor, I am to prepare you, God’s people, for works of service. This is like the old proverb which says that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime. Likewise, if it is left up to me to do all the work then very little gets done, but if I am able to teach of you how to do the work, then over 300 times as much gets done. And we can all readily admit there are those who are doing their part as well as those who are not.
 
Together Paul reminds us that we are to build one another up. Rather than wasting our time bad mouthing other members, especially those who absent themselves from Word and Sacrament, we are to spend our time building each other up. Instead of talking bad about the brother or sister who is not here, why don’t we call them and see how they are doing, or if there is anything we can do for them, again, as some of you are doing.
 
The ultimate goal Paul places before us is that we are to strive to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, which we will not attain until we reach heaven. The whole measure of the fullness of Christ is perfection, that is why we will not attain it until we reach heaven. Until we reach heaven we do strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit to become more and more Christlike. We do this by being in worship and Bible class, by having family and private devotions, by being in the Word and by partaking of the sacraments. And by encouraging others to do the same.
 
It is our being in the word which will move us to be as Paul describes in the last verses of our text, “14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (v. 14-16). As we strive to strengthening our faith then we will not be confused by every nice teaching that comes from other church denominations as well as our society. Then we will be able to distinguish between what is from God and what is from the world. Then we will be better equipped to maintain a unity of faith that is a true unity, based, not on outward human thinking, but based on the pure teaching of Jesus.
 
We strive for strengthening of faith so that we will better be able to speak the truth in love to our erring brother or sister. We strive to strengthen our faith so that with the help of the Holy Spirit we might stand firm in our faith, so we do not falter, so we do not compromise our faith, and so that we might bear witness to the importance of our faith as a witness to our brothers and sisters in Christ, which, again, will help maintain a true unity of faith.
   
 We strive for strengthening of faith so that we will grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. In other words, we work together as individuals to build up the body of Christ as a whole, not through compromise or democratic vote, but through the one true Word of God.
 
We strive for strengthening of faith so that we will be able to each do our part. As usual, by ourselves we can do no good thing. Thus, we continually pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to work in and through us so that with His help we might be able to do the good works which He has prepared beforehand for us to do, to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.
 
So, what does all this have to do with us? What does this mean? It means that first we realize that we are and continue to be sinners. It means that we realize that Christ has given us everything. It means that we especially realize that it was through the cross of Christ that He has given us everything, including forgiveness of sins, faith, life and salvation. It means that we realize that our unity of faith is only accomplished as Jesus has His way with us, not as we have our way with Jesus.
 
It means that we never compromise our faith nor do we ever flaunt it, rather we live it humbly to the glory of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit. And so, finally it means that we praise the Lord for all His good gifts and blessings.
 
Once again we see the hand of God moving in our lives. Once again we see that God is doing it all. God gives us life at our birth, He gives us faith and new life at our Baptism, He gives us forgiveness of sins, faith and strengthening of faith through His usual means, the Word and the Sacraments, and He gives us His Holy Spirit who works through the Word and Sacraments to  move us to do good works, to live our lives according to His good and gracious will so that God’s kingdom might be extended, so that we His people might be strengthened in our faith, so that we might be able to do good works, and so that praise and glory might be given to His holy Name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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