Monday, August 06, 2012

Sermon on Ephesians 4:1-16, for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Body of Christ"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Simplest definition of the church: “Lambs and believers who hear and follow the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.” Paul mixes and blends metaphors of body and building to describe the church. Here focus on the body, its internal health and unity, its growth in love.
2.      Listen to the “body language:” “11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until 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, 14 so 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. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from 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.” Analogy to human body—growing, maturing, childhood, adulthood, knowledge, equipped with joints, energized to work together under the direction of Christ our head—built up in love.
3.      unity makes the body work together smoothly—GE Olympic commercial of athletes training and competing--muscles hard at work, joints bending and flexing smoothly and powerfully. “The whole body is joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” For those who have had joint problems--a cartilage tear, a bone deficiency, arthritis, torn ligament or tendon, know how painful or even impossible it is to walk, run, or sometimes even rest with an afflicted joint. So it is also in the body of Christ. When we are not practicing the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, and are not eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace--then we make for aching joints and poor competition. The whole body suffers. The body struggles to run the race and live out its calling.
4.      As individuals, we have a worthy calling to our respective places in the body--our own duties that are given us, and not another. But we also participate in a greater purpose and calling that is fulfilled by the body as a whole, working together. A knee joint has the “calling” or purpose of bearing the body’s weight, and creating the powerful leverage to propel the body forward as all the parts--muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone—flex and work as a powerful hinge. But as you can see, even the knee is not independent of those things that surround it. It is the integration with bones above, below, in front; tendons, muscles, ligaments; nourished by blood (& vessels); responds internally to the mind, externally to the world through nerves.
5.      Traumas and injuries, but resiliency to recover and repair. Sometimes medical intervention is needed, and the skill of a surgeon or therapists are needed to repair damage beyond the body’s ability to heal itself. So also the church, as the body of Christ, is built up in love, is healed, repaired, and strengthened as Christ our head pours out His grace and forgiveness upon the members. He acts as the Great Physician of Body and Soul, mending broken and wounded joints, knitting them back together through love and forgiveness. Even joints damaged beyond our capacity for repair—Christ the master surgeon works reconciliation and forgiveness. We are fed and nourished by His blood in the Lord’s Supper, for the forgiveness of our sins. Word and Spirit give guidance from the head (Christ), speak the truth in love and act in the fruits of the Spirit to those around us.
6.      Christian church is not a work and creation of man, but a work and creation of God. It has its unity and integrity as a result of God’s grace and giving, not as a result of our efforts or achievements (pretty sorry as they are!). Paul says: “4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” One and not many God’s; one and not many faiths; one Lord, not many lords. Names Spirit, Son, and Father here, reminds of Athn. Creed: “There are not three Gods, but one God…and there are not three lords but one Lord.” God alone sees and knows all who are His own.
7.      God’s love guides and directs our internal interactions with each other, as well as our external relations to others and to the world outside the household of faith. Internal unity: Humility—to submit to each other in love—not lording it over each other. Gentleness: gladly serving and giving, rather than demanding from others. Patience and bearing with each other in love: not easily embittered by the faults of other Christians; bears with one another’s peculiarities and weaknesses—not insincerely, not with pride or a show of superiority that reminds the brother that we are “putting up with their faults” or that they are a burden to us. But out of genuine love and an eager seeking of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Takes effort, but humble effort, not self-serving, but serving the body. Free of self-righteousness. Alternately, health is threatened by “Pride, snobbishness, and opinionated selfishness” or being quick to criticize those we don’t like. All create division. (this section is paraphrased from Stoeckhart’s Ephesians commentary). Instead, let us eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
8.      Internal health also comes from a steady diet of the Pure Word of God. Not malnourished, not eating tainted food, but Christ feeds us His healthy Word (competition of false doctrine and human schemes with the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God). God gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to build up and encourage the body (Roschke call). “Until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Kept in that faith and knowledge for the growth and health of the body.
9.      Christ’s body inside and out. God’s love also shapes all our external actions. Speak the truth in love. Healthy, working body accomplished much in love and service to the neighbor and greater community. Voice of the church is always to speak of Christ, because the body has no life apart from the head. We are nothing without Christ, our Head. We exist in Him. Christ is the giver of all gifts, the One who triumphed in His cross and empty grave over the spiritual powers of sin, death, and hell. Church’s voice goes out to all the earth with the free message of forgiveness of sins in Jesus; of His death on the cross for us; His life is our new life. Always remember and live by the knowledge that He is our Head, our life is in Him, and that we are His new creation. Only by His grace and supply do we continue on to grow and be built up in love. Only His forgiveness and Spirit restores the sick or injured body and members. Only with Him as head can we be united in the one faith in Him. Truly, in Him, the body of Christ “lives, moves, and has its being.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Paul urges us in Ephesian 4:1 to “walk in a manner worthy of [your] calling.” What is your calling as a “saint” or “holy one” in the Lord? What is a “worthy manner of life?” Colossians 1:10; Philippians 1:27; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3; 4:12-19.
  2. What fruits of the Spirit or virtues does Paul name in Eph. 4:1-3 as essential to the life of a Christian as a member of a congregation? How do they serve the unity and building up of the body? What are the contrary works of the flesh that are destructive to the same? Gal. 5:19-26.
  3. In verses 4-6, what are the seven “ones” that describe the unity of Christ’s church? How is that unity founded and established by Christ Himself? John 17. How are spiritual gifts given in different measure to different Christians? Eph. 4:7; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:12-31
  4. What “ascent” and “descent” did Christ Jesus undergo for us and our salvation, and what sort of victory and triumph did He display as He rose and ascended to God? Psalm 68:18; John 1:51; Rom. 10:6-8; Col. 2:15
  5. What special callings does Christ supply His church with, to equip the saints and build up the church? Eph. 4:11-13; Rom. 10:14-17
  6. How do Christians individually and also as group (in the body) go through stages of maturity and growth? What supplies our growth? Eph. 4:12-16; 1 Peter. 2:2-3; Heb. 5:11-14. What can threaten and unsettle those who are weak in the faith? Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 1:3-7; Matt. 24:22-27
  7. How does the human body physically depend on healthy nourishment and the smooth interaction of its parts? How is it harmed or affected by malnutrition or injury? How does it repair? How do these analogies apply to the healthy growth and functioning of the Christian Church? Why can’t the body survive without Christ, its head?

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