Sermon: Pentecost 14, 26 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 26th August 2018

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

(1 Kings 8; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69)

Over the past six weeks, we have been thinking about Paul’s very significant letter to the church at Ephesus and the surrounding region. The theme that runs through the letter is God’s great plan: a plan on the grandest scale. This plan centres on Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of all. God’s purpose is, through Christ, to bring together people of all races and backgrounds and stories into a unique community, sharing together in God’s eternal blessings. The church is this community at the heart of God’s great plan, and we have a share in these blessings through God’s amazing grace, which we receive through faith in Christ.

But being part of God’s church places us under obligation. We are to express our unity by our mutual love and care, and by seeking to build each other up in our faith and faithfulness. We are to live new lives that reflect the goodness and love of Jesus our Lord. We are to relate to each other in love and in mutual submission and service in our church life, as well as our lives at home, at work, and in the community. And we need to remember that the church is not simply our parish or our denomination, but the community of Christians throughout the world.

As we come to the end of this series, you might like to read through this letter again, and perhaps even to check out some of the sermons on the letter on the parish website. There are also copies of some of the sermons at the back of the church.

Now living as a follower of Christ, and as a member of his church, has plenty of challenges. And in today’s reading which virtually closes the letter, Paul focuses on those challenges, where they come from, and how we need to handle them.

A couple of today’s hymns are of a style that is not popular in some parts of the church. “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus, as soldiers of the cross” uses militaristic language, as does “He who would valiant be”, and a number of other hymns which used to be very popular. Some people say that we ought to avoid this sort of language, and sing about peace rather than war. They say that these hymns are too easily misused to justify armed conflict, too easily misunderstood. I see the point, but feel that it is overstated. And I believe that these hymns have something helpful and important to say. Hence I think they are still worth singing, especially since their imagery comes from the scriptures.

For the picture of the soldier in battle is a helpful picture of what it means to live the Christian life. Of course it is not the only helpful image, but it certainly says something important. The letters of Paul and Peter insist that Christians are involved in a war: a spiritual war against an enemy who can’t be seen.

You know what I’m talking about. The devil: that creature clothed in red, with horns on his forehead, a hook on his tail, and a pitchfork in his hand. Well actually, if that’s the devil, I don’t believe in him either! However, Jesus and Peter and Paul believed in the reality and the power of the devil, and I am willing to believe them. They describe the devil, Satan, not as a fun figure: he is the enemy, a spiritual being of great but limited power, who has turned against his Creator, and seeks to overthrow God’s plans and undermine his purposes. That makes sense to me. However, many Christians believe that this language about the devil in the scriptures is pictorial rather than literal. That is not how I understand it, but I don’t get into debates about it. Either way, the important thing is to see that a consistent Christian life involves struggle, rather than just sauntering along behind Jesus. Whatever you believe about the devil, a faithful Christian life will involve discipline and struggle. There is a battle to be fought.

 

Today I am going to take Paul as he describes the Christian life, this spiritual battle to be faithful to Christ, to resist the devil and his unseen

forces. This week in politics should have reminded us that a politician’s enemies do not always sit on the other side of the chamber: they are not always where you might naturally expect to find themfor them! Neither are our spiritual enemies! Paul wants us always to be spiritually on the alert. Temptation can be obvious, but it will often be subtle. If you’ve never read “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis, you will find it both entertaining and insightful on these issues.

Paul sees temptation as an assault from the devil. But we do well to see our problems as challenges to be faced, our temptations as tests to be passed, our difficulties as opportunities to be faithful. We mightn’t be conscious of the battle going on: but Paul has no doubt of its reality. Our opponent has great power and great cleverness. How can we possibly defeat him? Paul gives the answer: we can’t. Not by ourselves.

But there is a way to be victorious in the battle of Christian living. For help is available: nothing less than the help of Almighty God. To fight without his help is not bravery but foolishness. We can’t win the war on our own.

But Christ has already won the decisive battle: the real war is won, and Satan is mortally wounded. But here and now, before the final conclusion of the war, before he is finally brought down, he wants to do as much harm as he can, while he can. And he’s very happy for us to help him!

However, we have help available in our struggle against the devil. God provides spiritual armour to protect us and help us in the battle. And we will need it if we are going to stand firm in that battle.

The belt of truth reminds us of the truth of God’s message, the Gospel of Christ. On that message and on Christ himself we can rely. But it also reminds us to be people of truth: honest and trustworthy ourselves.

The breastplate of righteousness reminds us that through Christ we are not yet perfect, but we are here and now right with God. But it also challenges us to reflect more and more God’s righteousness in our lives.

The Gospel of peace reminds us that we indeed have peace with God: we are indeed his beloved people. But as Paul uses the image of shoes in connection with the Gospel of peace, we are reminded to be always ready to go forward and point others to the message of the Gospel that brings peace with God.

The shield of faith reminds us that we can indeed trust God who is faithful, and will keep his promises of forgiveness and salvation. But it also reminds us to express our faith by seeking to be faithful to Christ.

Faith points us away from our own inadequacies to one who is more than adequate. Imagine Mr Weakling walking along the beach when some smart Aleck kicks sand in his face and shapes up for a fight. Mr Weakling calls out to his friend, who just happens to be Mr Universe. Suddenly the smart Aleck apologizes and quickly backs off. Sometimes it’s not what you know, but whom you know. That shield of faith reminds us whom we know: Jesus, who has already won the crucial victory over evil and the evil one. He is our helper. When temptation comes we need to look to him.

Next, Paul writes of the helmet of salvation, that assurance that we have been saved, that our salvation is assured, and that God will be faithful to us even though we will let him down at times. We belong to him.

And then Paul writes of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. In his time Paul will have been especially thinking of that divine message of the Gospel, which he found prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures. We can’t listen to the original preachers of the Gospel, but we have their message and the message of Jesus himself recorded for us in the scriptures, which we can rightly describe as the written word of God. We need to keep growing in our understanding of those scriptures, not only through our services and sermons, but through our own personal reading and reflection, as well as the other opportunities we have in our parish life.

But as well as all this equipment which we can use to stand firm and follow Christ, Paul points us to prayer. He doesn’t actually describe prayer as a weapon. But it is through prayer that we open up to God’s help and guidance and strength to enable us to live as his people, and to resist the temptations of the devil. Paul calls us to pray consistently, regularly, at all times. To pray with every prayer and supplication, not just as a token gesture or a last resort. To keep alert in prayer, so that our prayers are purposeful and meaningful, not just empty words. To persevere, and not just forget or give up: to keep on asking, keep on seeking, to keep on knocking.

And we are to pray not only for ourselves, but for all the saints, and for the witness of the church, as Paul sought prayer from his readers. We are a parish that sees prayer as central: in its significant place in our worship, through “In the Loop” as we pray for those in special need, and in our personal use of our monthly “Thoughts for Prayer”. Let us be people of prayer.

So the Christian life is a kind of war. We are more like soldiers in arms together, rather than sightseers on a bus. God has provided us with the weapons we need, but we need to make use of them.

So let us indeed march onward as Christian soldiers. Let us stand up for Jesus. Let us fight the good fight. The victory has been won, and Christ invites us to follow him forward to share in the victory celebrations. Amen.

Paul Weaver

 

Sermon: Pentecost 13, 19 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 19th August 2018

LIVING IN THE LIGHT

(I Kings 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:8-20; John 6:51-58)

When I was at Moore College, Sarah and I lived in a terrace house owned by the college in Newtown. It was great being part of the college community, but there was a down side. We shared our houses with thousands of tiny cockroaches, so that whenever we arrived home after dark, we would turn on the kitchen light and see lots and lots of tiny cockroaches scuttling around on the bench trying to get out of sight before I came down on them heavily to get rid of at least some more of them. We never did find a way to get rid of them, but when I read in the Bible words such as those words of Paul about the effects of light in today’s reading from Ephesians, I am reminded of them. Cockroaches are creatures of the dark. They prefer not to be exposed by the light. And indeed that exposure could be quite dangerous for them.

Light shows things as they are. It can help us see faults and flaws and cracks: things that need to be corrected or dealt with. These recent Royal Commissions have been trying to shine a light on various forms of wrongdoing. Those who do wrong prefer to do it out of sight: they don’t want to be seen in the light. But on the other hand, light also helps us to see clearly and see the way forward.

Paul tells his Christian readers: “Once you were darkness, but now you are light.” Remember how Jesus told his followers: “You are the light of the world.” We are to show the light of Christ to a world where the darkness of sin is so powerful. And Paul goes on to say to his readers and to us: “Live as children of light.” We are not to take part in the works of darkness. As I said last week, we must be prepared to be different: not by being “holier than thou”, but by reflecting in our own lives the love and goodness of Christ. Remember that Christ lived a holy life, but was still loved by people of all kinds, including those who were regarded as sinners.

Paul also tells us to try to find out what pleases the Lord. Of course we have a pretty good idea of that: we have the scriptures, and our own knowledge of God’s purposes and character. We have God’s truth; so, as Paul says, we can live as wise people, who understand what the will of the Lord is.

Paul tells us to make the most of the time, for the days are evil. We need to demonstrate a different way to live. It is not that Paul wants us to feel that we must be rushing around every minute of the day, worried that we might waste a second. We are people who need rest and refreshment, and we cannot serve God effectively without it. But let us take the opportunities we get to serve God, to bear witness to his love, and to serve others in Christ’s name.

In the verses leading up to our passage, Paul points out one of the areas in which he observes how evil the days are, and it is characteristic of society today also. People’s attitudes to sex then were very different from the purposes of God, just as they are now. The idea that sex is a beautiful and loving expression of a relationship between husband and wife is seen as outdated. Sex today is seen just as a desire to be fulfilled, or an appetite to be satisfied, or an experience to be enjoyed, in whatever way supposedly works, regardless of the couple’s relationship, or lack of it. Its meaning and significance have been trivialized, and guess what? There is so much hurt and pain associated with sexual activity and expectations! We have lost the plot these days, missed the point. No, it is not for us to go round lecturing people about their “immorality”, but perhaps at times there will be the opportunity to point to a better way.

Paul points out another area which was problematic back then as it is today. “Do not be drunk with wine”, he says. And he would certainly see the need to say it today. The scriptures do not condemn the drinking of alcohol, but they warn against its dangers, and they make clear that drunkenness is contrary to God’s will.

Indeed it is a denial of our true humanity. For as humans made in God’s image we are responsible for our actions, and we are called to make wise decisions. We certainly can’t do that if we are drunk, or for that matter, if we are under the influence of other mind-altering drugs. Clearly, as Christians, if we say “Yes” to a drink, we also need to know when it is time to say “No”.

We are not to be filled with alcohol, but instead we are to be filled with the Spirit: to allow the Holy Spirit to be in control of our lives and our actions.

And what happens when we are filled with the Spirit? We will be “singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”. Paul’s words remind us that there are different kinds of spiritual songs we might be singing. There are those we sing to each other, stirring each other up to faithfulness and Christian service. Next week at the Patronal Festival, for instance, the congregation will sing “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”. That is what Aidan our patron saint certainly did, and it is what we are called to do.

In our hymns we can encourage each other to be faithful followers of Christ. But we can also sing our praises to God, acknowledging his power and goodness, and giving thanks for his kindness, and seeking his help.

Paul tells us to give thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ at all times and for everything. I don’t think he is saying that we need to give thanks for the evil things that happen to us or to other people. But it can be healthy to recognize that God is with us even when things go wrong, and to give thanks for that, as we seek his help in our struggles.

At the end of our passage, Paul writes one more important command. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That may sound a bit strange. To be subject to someone suggests that they have power over you. How then can people be subject to one another? Paul’s phrase tells us that this command is not all about who has power and who doesn’t have power.

There is a sense in which we can indeed be subject to one another, to submit to each other. It is by giving priority to each other’s needs and well-being. It is putting each other first, rather than putting ourselves first. It is another way of saying that we are to love each other, to serve each other. Remember that Jesus Christ, who is truly Lord, became a servant, our servant. And so we are to be willing to serve each other in love.

The verse following our reading raises hackles for lots of people. Having written about submitting to each other, Paul goes on to say: “Wives, submit to your husbands.” If we don’t see this command in the light of Paul’s call to submit to one another, we will miss the point.

As I said, this is not about power: it is about loving service, and that is part of the way a wife is to relate to her husband, especially if the husband does what he is called to do a few verses later. Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church: a husband is to love his wife sacrificially, as Christ gave himself sacrificially for his people. So husbands and wives are called to love each other, to serve each other, to put each other’s needs and desires ahead of their own. That is what a healthy and a godly marriage is all about. Being there for each other.

To use any part of Paul’s words about submission to justify violence or abuse is dealing with Paul’s teaching in a dishonest and ungodly way. Love each other: that is the message, and when a couple truly love each other, truly seeking each other’s welfare, truly valuing and appreciating each other, there indeed is a happy marriage.

So there it is: this new life which we are called to live. Living in the light, the light of Christ. It is different from the self-seeking life, the life taken up with easy results and short cuts to pleasure. It is life led by the Holy Spirit, who seeks to fill our lives. And it is life which seeks to reflects the goodness and love of God.

As Jesus put it: we are the light of the world. May our light so shine before others that they will see our good works, recognize our faith and our direction in life, and give glory to our Father in heaven, and perhaps even come to follow Jesus themselves. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 13, 19 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Darkness and Light- Ephesians 5

-While Jenn and I were in Jerusalem we went on a tour of the City of David,

-And I went through the Hezekiah tunnel.

-This was a shaft ordered cut by King Hezekiah to divert spring water from the upper Gihon,

-To deprive the invading army of Assyria a water supply.

-About 100 metres into the tunnel the person I was following’s phone light stopped working.

-In that short time before I got my phone out we were cast into pitch darkness.

-That can sometimes freak people out,

-But when I was younger I used to go caving and it was one of the rituals with any new cavers,

-To get everyone to turn out their lights to experience what is a total absence of light.

-I never really asked,

-But I have wondered how many people opened and closed their eyes to see if there really was a difference.

-I can assure you there is no difference.

-Part of the exercise with new cavers,

-Was to demonstrate how impossible it would be to navigate your way out of a cave system if you lost your light.

-But the other astounding thing about total darkness,

-Is how even the smallest of lights can dispel its immobilising power.

-A single match could illuminate a large cavern.

-Even the screen of my mobile phone,

-Was enough to eliminate the darkness of Hezekiah’s tunnel till I turned on the torch.

-The gospel of John opens with that memorable picture of the incarnation of Jesus;

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:5

-It’s a theological statement of a physical reality,

-Where there’s light there’s no darkness,

-Light dispels darkness.

-Later in John Jesus announces;

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

-In Ephesians 4 Paul has introduced his readers to this theme of darkness and light,

-With the negative description of their Gentile background;

“You must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:17-19

-The darkness that holds the Gentiles in its thrall,

-Can be seen in their alienation from God,

-The ignorance of their minds,

-And the hardness of their hearts.

-Paul says they’ve lost all sensitivity,

-Which is an interesting metaphor given their state of darkness.

-There are cells in our eyes that are sensitive to light.

-If those cells lose that sensitivity,

-Or something impedes or blocks the light hitting those cells then we’re blind.

-Paul is alluding to a moral blindness that has occurred in the lives of the Gentiles,

-And because of this loss of sensitivity,

-They’ve abandoned themselves to licentiousness,

“Greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:19

-In ch5:8 Paul again reminds the Ephesians that once they were in the exact same position.

-At the beginning of ch2 he’s described their condition;

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2

-There are real dark spiritual powers at work in the universe that lead humanity astray.

-In ch6:12 Paul reveals the identity of these forces arrayed against us;

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

-The darkness we see all around us in this world has its roots in the demonic forces at work in our world.

-But Paul doesn’t want to dwell on the negative so he now exhorts his readers, vv8-9;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Ephesians 5:8-9

-Chapters 1 to 3 of the Ephesians letter are explanations of how God has moved us from darkness to light,

-From death to life,

-From ignorance to knowledge.

-Our relationship with God is now changed from alienation and wrath,

-To family and blessing.

-And with that changed status comes a changed life.

-Paul gives four exhortations to live this new life beginning in Ephesians 4:1;

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1

– 4:17

“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.” Ephesians 4:17

– 5:1

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

-And from our reading this morning 5:8;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-” Ephesians 5:8-9

-In celebration of their 200th anniversary the Bible Society used the slogan ‘Live light’.

-In the new colony of Australia,

-Christian leaders knew it would take more than government to build a nation.

-It would need people of hope,

-People who live light.

-And so the Bible Society was formed.

-Live light,

-Live as children of light.

-The Bible Society and Paul are just picking up and practically expanding,

-What Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount;

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

-Even a single match can dispel total darkness,

-But Jesus and Paul are not calling us to be a single match.

-As cute as ‘This little light of mine’ may have sounded in Sunday School,

-We are to be a people who shine on a much greater scale.

-Just listen again to the language Jesus uses,

-‘You are the light of the world.’

-‘A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.’

-This is not a little light he wants us to be.

-So how do we live light?

-Look at v10;

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:10

-This isn’t a difficult task.

-In the preceding verse Paul has already said;

“Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Ephesians 5:9

-If God is light,

-If Jesus is the light of the world,

-Then whatever is good, right and true would have to be pleasing to the Lord.

-But there’s a rider on that.

-In a narcissistic culture like ours in the West,

-What is ‘good and right and true’ is what is ‘good and right and true’ for me.

-Just look at the issue of euthanasia being raised again in federal parliament,

-Under the guise of a territory’s right to legislate.

-Here is Senator David Leyonhjelm’s argument;

“To Liberal Democrats, to libertarians, the right to control your life, and not have the Government say you can or you can’t do things with your life, is fundamental to us,” Senator David Leyonhjelm

-So old people, sick people,

-Even people who are just tired with life should have the right to end their own lives.

-He would see that as ‘good and right and true’,

-And according to the proponents of assisted suicide,

-So do 80% of Australians.

-But following that same logic,

-Why shouldn’t a teenager have the exact same control over their own life?

-The rider comes in v11;

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

-And then again in v17;

“So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17

-Paul is calling the followers of Jesus to be wise in how we live.

-Remember how the end of ch4 focussed on the renewal of our minds,

-The intellectual reformation that allows us to understand what’s pleasing to God?

-Rather than conforming to what the world says is good and right and true,

-We need to follow Paul’s direction to the Roman Christians;

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

-The world says ‘only you decide what things you can or can’t do with your life’.

-But God says you need to think carefully about these worldviews.

-Let me jump back to the euthanasia assisted suicide debate.

-Research has shown that there is,

-And I quote;

“a process by which exposure to the suicide or suicidal behavior of one or more persons influences others to commit or attempt suicide” https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm

-This is what’s known as suicide clusters, ‘contagion’ or more colloquially, copy cat suicide.

-Now if you’re attracted to the idea that the terminally ill,

-Or just plain terminally tired of life,

-Should have the right to kill themselves when they choose,

-What message does that send to a depressed teenager,

-If our culture says there are times when it’s perfectly acceptable to kill yourself?

-What goes through a young person’s mind who is constantly exposed to that message?

-If one persons’ actions had no influence on any other,

-Then maybe a libertarian, utilitarian worldview is good and right and true.

-But remember what Paul has said about the unity that God has created us for.

-It’s no wonder that he says in v15;

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,” Ephesians 5:15

-How you live will affect the lives of others.

-That comes out in a rather remarkable way in vv13-14;

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light.” Ephesians 5:11-13

-The first part of this verse is pretty straightforward.

-As a follower of Jesus you should no longer do the works of darkness you once did,

-Rather you should expose them for what they are,

-Evil behaviours that destroy relationships and devalue life.

-Paul has given a list of those negative behaviours at the end of ch4 and beginning of ch5,

-Put away falsehood,

-Stop stealing,

-No more malicious talk,

-Get rid of bitterness, wrath, slander,

-Fornication, impurity, greed,

-Even obscene, silly and vulgar talk,

-And here in v12 he says there are even some behaviours too shameful to even mention.

-But if a light gets shone onto these thing,

-If people can clearly see how negative those behaviours are,

-How destructive to life those actions are then something remarkable happens;

“. . . everything that becomes visible is light.” Ephesians 5:14

-I have to confess it took me a while to get my head around this,

-But it’s that little poem that hints at the transforming power of light;

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

-Paul is suggesting that when you shine a light on a negative behaviour,

-When the person sees their life for what it is,

-Dead in transgression and sin,

-They’ll repent and be saved.

-The light that Paul is calling us to live is not just an ethical reorientation,

-‘Oh yeah I’ve been living badly now I’d better be good!’

-That’s what Paul negates when he states;

“Even when we were dead through our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:5

-No, when the light of Christ shines into the dark corners of our lives,

-We are redeemed,

-We’re taken out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light.

-Were no longer aliens and strangers to God and each other,

-Now we’re part of God’s family with a whole new orientation, v8;

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” Ephesians 5:8

-Can you see the gravity of those words?

-You were darkness,

-Not you were in darkness.

-You were darkness itself!

-But now you are light,

-Not just in the light,

-But you’ve been transformed by the light into light.

-What an amazing transformation that is.

-It’s happened to those of us who follow Jesus,

-And it can happen to those whose sins are exposed by the light of Christ and our witness.

-We sometimes underestimate the power of the life we live.

-We underestimate what others are seeing in our lives,

-And the transforming power that can have.

-When we turned off our lights on those caving trips,

-It was to show the impossibility of escape,

-And the desperate straights a person would be in if their light went out.

-That’s how we are before God when we live for ourselves in the spiritual darkness.

-But when Jesus shines his light onto our lives,

-When the light of Jesus shines out of our life onto others,

-We’re shown the way out,

-Then people can clearly see and will be able to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call;

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

Sermon: Pentecost 12, 12 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Think- Ephesians 4:17-5:7

-It’s funny the little rabbit holes you often fall down when you google one piece of information.

-‘I think therefore I am’ popped into my mind as I was preparing this sermon,

-But sadly the philosopher’s name didn’t.

-So I googled it and the name . . .

-Descartes came up.

-So I brushed up on ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ and was encouraged to know,

-That if I ever begin to doubt my existence I can take comfort in the thought,

-That the mere act of doubting means I must exist.

-Well that led me to the Scottish philosopher John MacMurray who rejected the ‘I think’ idea,

In order to place action at the centre of his philosophical system.

-He argued;

“The reliance on thought creates an irreconcilable dualism between thought and action in which the unity of experience is lost, thus dissolving the integrity of our selves, and destroying any connection with reality.” Wikipedia

 

-I quite liked MacMurray’s argument,

-Because after reading Ephesians ch4,

-My mind was more attuned to actions rather than reflections.

-I’m sure Latin is a much more precise language than English,

-So Descartes’ proposition probably said nothing more than ‘if you can think then you must exist’,

-Or at least your mind does!

-But English can be a little sloppier.

That I think might prove I exist,

-But what I think will seep out into what I do,

-Who I am.

-‘I think therefore I am’ screams out,

-‘I am what?’

-Like MacMurray says,

-If you just focus on thinking,

-Then you divorce your thoughts from the real world of consequence and experience.

-And that truth is evidenced in our reading from Ephesians for today.

 

-But before we jump into vv17ff we need to back up to vv14-16 where Paul sets up a contrast;

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:14-16

-Paul has argued in ch4 that after Christ ascended to heaven,

-He gave a number of spiritual gifts that give every follower of Jesus,

-The ability to serve others so that all of us together will grow in maturity,

-And attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

-Jesus wants us to be mature in our faith,

-Spiritual grown ups not babies.

-The contrast here is between a mature person,

-Whose mind is shaped by their knowledge of God and his truth,

-And the immature who are intellectually buffeted by false doctrines,

-Tricked and deceived by crafty schemers intent on destroying God’s good purposes.

-We live by faith,

-But not credulity.

-There can be no faith without engaging our minds to the facts that separate the faithful,

-From the fool hardy.

 

-We’ve been created as rational beings,

-Given the ability to engage intelligently with our environment and our Creator.

-Our lifestyle and our thinking, however, cannot be separated.

-Notice that in vv17-19;

“Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practise every kind of impurity.” Ephesians 4:17-19

-Futility of mind,

-Darkened in understanding,

-Ignorant.

-Each of those words highlights the intellect,

-How the Gentiles were thinking.

-Or maybe more accurately how the thought processes of the Gentiles were governed.

 

-I’ve been reading the theologian Alistair McGrath’s book ‘Inventing the Universe’,

-And he describes how as a young atheistic scientist;

“I happily accepted the Enlightenment’s worldview of the constant improvement of the human condition through science and technology. I do not anymore- not because I have lapsed into some kind of irrationality, but simply because the evidence so strongly suggests it is wrong.” ‘Inventing the Universe’ pp.130-131

-Human beings are not getting better and better,

-And twentieth century history should disabuse even the most optimistic humanist of that belief.

-McGrath explains his thinking now,

-Is founded on an appreciation of the notion of ‘original sin’.

-‘Original sin’ is not about personal fault or guilt;

“. . .  but affirms the uncomfortable insights that human nature is wounded and damaged and thus prone to think and act wrongly.” P.133

-Calvin described that same ‘uncomfortable insight’ as ‘the total depravity of sin’.

-That’s not to say we human beings are slavering immoral beasts,

-But rather every aspect of every element of our human nature,

-Heart, mind, soul, will,

-Has been twisted, bent, corrupted from the good and perfect condition of our original creation.

-It’s this twisted and bent condition which raises the frustrating experience of humanity,

-That we’re capable of both incredible acts of goodness,

-And the most heinous of evils.

-And because of the fallen character of our minds,

-Our darkened understanding and ignorance,

-The way we think leads every human being,

-Not just ancient Gentiles,

-To lose all sensitivity and abandon ourselves to the pursuit of our own self-indulgence and gratification.

-‘I think therefore I am what I think!’

 

-But,

“That is not the way you learned Christ!” 4:20

-Remember back in ch2 Paul’s description of his readers’ lives;

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses,” Ephesians 2:1-3

-But;

“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

-We’ve been saved.

-We’ve been adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God.

-We’re now part of Christ’s body the church.

-We’re God’s workmanship;

“Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10

-And just as vv17-19 described the thinking of the Gentiles,

-So vv20-23 contrast the Christian’s mind and thinking to the Gentiles’ behaviour;

“That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,” Ephesians 4: 20-13

-You learned Christ,

-You were taught,

-Your minds were renewed.

-What was twisted has been straightened,

-What was corrupt has been purified.

-So now certain behaviours are required,

-‘I think therefore I do.’

 

-In Romans 12:2 Paul writes;

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

-Notice Paul says to be different to the world around you,

-Don’t conform to it,

-But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

-Because it’s only with a transformed mind that you’ll be able to discern God’s will.

-In Ephesians 4:30 Paul puts that in a negative form when he says;

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30

-The Holy Spirit is grieved when we fail to keep or even discern God’s will.

-But with a transformed or renewed mind we’ll be able to see what God’s will is,

-We won’t do things that’ll grieve his Spirit.

 

-Now throughout Ephesians,

-Paul has alluded to the new life we have because we now belong to Christ.

-Just think of some of the big themes we’ve been introduced to.

-Paul opened his letter with the address;

“To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:” Ephesians 1:1

-Then in v10 he declares God’s plan;

“To bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Ephesians 1:10

-Beginning with God’s holy people,

-Jesus’ faithful followers,

-God will bring unity to heaven and earth.

-The church is that foretaste on earth of what will finally be heralded in for all eternity.

-That’s why Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:3-6;

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:3-6

-God’s will is that we would have unity amongst his people.

 

-This unity originates because the Gentiles;

“Also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Ephesians 1:13

-When the Gentiles learned the truth about God,

-When they were taught the truth that’s in Jesus,

-As opposed to the myths and superstitions of their previous pagan world,

-They became united with Jewish believers in the body of Christ.

-Truth is another major theme in the book of Ephesians,

-Which is not surprising given Jesus’ frequent references to truth and specifically his words that;

“‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

-And that claim was as affronting to the Jews of Jesus’ day,

-As it was to the worshippers of Artemis in Paul’s time in Ephesus.

-And it is just as confronting to our modern world where truth is whatever you want it to be,

-Where ‘what is true for you is not true for me’,

 

-That belief of course brings great comfort in a narcissistic hedonist society,

-Where any lie will be believed if it permits me to indulge my every desire.

-But Paul reminds the Ephesians that that was the lifestyle they were rescued from,

-A lifestyle that was an affront to the holiness of God.

-Remember that descriptor in Paul’s opening address;

“To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:” Ephesians 1:1

-God’s holy people.

-Three verses later Paul reminds his readers;

“He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Ephesians 1:4

-In ch.2:21 Christians are described as ‘a holy temple in the Lord’,

-And then in ch5 Paul says Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

-To make her holy and blameless.

-Holy means separate or different.

-God is described as holy because he’s separate and different to his creation.

-The church is called holy because it’s separate and different to the world.

-We’re called ‘holy’ and ‘to be holy’,

-Because we’re to be separate and different to the world around us.

-That’s why if we’re no different to the world,

-If we continue to live in our old worldly ways,

-If we conform to the world rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds,

-Then we’ll grieve the Holy Spirit.

-Unity, truth and holiness is what we’ve been called to.

-To fail to be these things will grieve the Holy Spirit.

 

-That’s why Paul has so focussed on our thinking,

-Because what we think,

How we think will directly impact our hearts,

-And ultimately control our behaviour.

-That’s the warning down there at v18 where the Gentiles darkened understanding and ignorance,

-Has resulted in hardness of heart,

-An unwillingness to even consider obeying God.

-But that’s not how Paul sees his readers,

-Who’ve been renewed in the spirit of their minds, v23,

-And clothed with the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness, v24.

-Now we’ve been given the power to live differently,

“Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10

 

-That way of life is described very practically by Paul in a series of triplets beginning at v25.

-And they’re significant because when we live this way,

-We will we protect unity, truth and holiness,

-We will not grieve the Holy Spirit.

-So then,

-Put away falsehood and speak the truth,

-Because we’re members of one another.

-Be angry but don’t sin,

-Because that will make room for the devil.

-Stop stealing and work honestly

-So that you can share with the needy.

-Don’t let evil talk come out of your mouth but only what builds up,

-So that your words will give grace.

-Put away bitterness, wrath, wrangling, slander and malice,

-And be kind, tender hearted and forgiving,

-Because God in Christ has forgiven you.

-There shouldn’t be even a hint of sexual immorality, greed, obscene, silly and vulgar talk,

-But let there be thanksgiving,

-Because there will be no space in the kingdom for those behaviours.

 

-Let me leave you then with these other words of Paul from Philippians 4:8;

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Sermon: Pentecost 12, 12 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 12th August 2018
A DIFFERENT WAY TO LIVE
(2 Samuel 18; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35,41-51)

Business ethics has become a big issue these days. Small business owners who knowingly underpay their workers, particularly if they are vulnerable migrants. Financial executives who approve and even encourage dishonest processes, with the aim of maximizing profits. Gambling establishments that deliberately encourage people to spend and to lose more than they can afford to.

Now I suspect that many of the people who do these things think of themselves as reasonably good decent people. They probably don’t think of themselves as criminals, although many of their actions are not merely unethical but actually criminal. However they convince themselves that these very questionable practices are necessary, normal, and certainly the sort of thing that everyone else is doing.

But Christians are called to be different: not to be just like other people, for we are to be the light of the world, pointing people to Jesus, the true light of the world, and reflecting the light of Jesus in our own lives. We are God’s people, God’s holy people. And to be holy is to be different.

In his Letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul has written about God’s great plan to draw people into a community of love, forgiving them and calling them to a new way of living: loving and caring for one another, and showing that love in our daily lives and our relationships. In today’s reading Paul calls us as Christians not to live as the Gentiles live. Theirs is a futile approach to life; they miss the point of it all. This merely human and therefore sinful way of life is reflected in those examples I mentioned a few moments ago. And it is seen also in the trivializing of sex, the justifying of violence and self-centredness, the legitimizing of hatred and division as has become so much a part of life today. This is life apart from God. This is life lived in the dark.

Oh yes, people will do the right thing at times, but it will not necessarily be for the right reason, or on a sound basis. People more often will simply do what they think works for them. And far too often that will be contrary to God’s will, God’s laws, God’s standards.
But as Christians we are called to live a new life. As Paul keeps insisting, this new life is not in order to get into God’s good books: it is a response to God’s love shown to us in Jesus Christ.

This is not just turning over a new leaf: new leaves easily get caught in the wind, and good resolutions easily get broken. Paul is talking about a new life, a new direction, arising out of a new relationship with God, and also a new power to live the life God wants us to live.

And so Paul calls us to put off our old self and our old way of life, to be made new in our minds, and to put on the new self. I used to have a special set of clothes that I wore when doing dirty jobs in the garden. It included a really daggy old check shirt, an ancient pair of patched jeans, and a half-collapsed pair of joggers. It was my scungy outfit. For filthy jobs it was just the thing, but it was not exactly glamorous.

When I had finished in the garden I would take these clothes off, have a good shower, and then put on some fresh clothes. There was a definite contrast between the “before” and the “after”. I now looked more or less respectable. And I was not totally unpleasant to be near, as I had probably been before. I had put off the old clothes, been refreshed and cleansed by my shower, and now my new clothes were suitable for the other things I was going to do.

And so Paul says to take off those old clothes, those old ways, those old standards which give people the excuse to live in selfishness, sinfulness, and compromise. We are to get rid of them, to have nothing to do with them.

And we are to clothe ourselves with the new self: to be made new in our minds. Of course we can’t do that for ourselves. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to do it for us and in us. We need the Spirit’s help to become the people God wants us to be, to reflect more and more the character of God in our lives. That is certainly necessary if we are going to be imitators of God, which is the standard Paul sets before us. Of course it’s beyond us to truly imitate God: but this is the goal, and right now it is to be direction of our lives: seeking to live our lives reflecting the love of Christ, reflecting the goodness of God.
After all, we have become God’s beloved children: ought we not to seek to reflect the goodness of our heavenly Father? And we have God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us in this challenge: it is for us to be open to that leading and to the strength which he offers to us. The question is how open to his leading we really are! Do we follow his leading or do we grieve him?

Paul wants us to see how the new life works in practice. So he picks out some areas of our lives, to show us how God wants to live, how the Spirit calls us to live, how we are to relate to people.

He talks about honesty. We are to put away falsehood, and speak the truth to one another. Why? Because we are members of one another. We members of Christ’s church are family: we need to be able to trust each other. But even beyond that, as human beings we are all made in the image of God, and we know the problems that arise because people do not, cannot trust each other. It is so easy for us to stretch the truth, to embellish, to omit awkward parts of it, so that we look better or stay out of trouble or make sure that things are comfortable for us. As God’s children, we are to speak the truth to one another.

Paul then turns to the importance of self-control. Yes, things do happen that make us angry. Jesus was certainly angry at times. But we are not to let that anger lead us into sin. We are not lash out in anger physically or verbally. Our feelings are not sinful in themselves: sin comes when we respond to those feelings in the wrong way. We need to find a healthy way to be real about what we feel, and why we are angry: we may be able to do that with the person themselves, or talk it through with someone else.
Ignoring our anger doesn’t help. Neither does losing our temper or nursing grudges. Hence Paul tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger. Ultimately our aim must be to resolve the problem, to forgive the other person, recognizing that we also may need to be forgiven and even to put things right ourselves. When things get us angry, let us handle it in a godly way.

But Paul turns to another type of honesty. The thief is no longer to steal. Instead he is to find an honest way of earning his money. But the aim is not simply so that he doesn’t steal from others: the aim is that he will be in a position to be generous to those who need his help. The new life is not just an honest life: it is a generous life. So we are to use our honestly-acquired money not only for our own desires and purposes, but to look for ways it can help others, who may well need it more than we do.

And then Paul writes about helpful talk. Christians are not immune to temptation about the things we say. Do we spread gossip? Do we spread discontent? Do we criticize others behind their backs? Do we put people down? Do we use offensive language? James in his letter points out that the tongue is a small member of our bodies, but it is capable of doing immense harm.

Paul here makes clear that the things we say, the conversations we have, are to be helpful, not harmful. They must seek to build people up and benefit those who hear us. Is that true of the things we talk about?

And Paul talks about kindness. We are to get rid of those attitudes that put up barriers and do harm to others. We are to be people of compassion. Being generous and helpful to others. Trying to understand people and their needs, and responding with warmth rather than coldness. Forgiving others as God has forgiven us. Kindness needs to demonstrated in our words and deeds.

Honesty. Self-control. Generosity. Helpful talk. Kindness. These are the things which show the difference in that new life that God has given us in Christ. These are the things that demonstrate the reality of our faith. These are things which show that we are genuinely seeking to be imitators of God.

Billy Graham once challenged an audience about the reality of their faith. “Think about the way you live, the way you act”, he said. “Think about the words you say. Think about what you do with your time. If it was illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Would there? Do our lives truly reflect our faith, and our relationship to our heavenly Father who loves us so much? Are we really living new lives, walking each day in the light of Christ? Amen.
Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 11, 5 August 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 5th August 2018

SERVING TOGETHER IN CHRIST’S CHURCH

(2 Sam. 11:26-12:13; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35)

In our 10am service this morning, I will be baptizing little Emily Wickham. Before the baptism can take place, however, I will need to ask her some questions: these will be answered on her behalf by her parents and godparents. Will Emily turn away from sin and evil? Will she trust in God and seek to live as Christ’s follower? For baptism is an expression of Christian faith and commitment. As we place our faith in God’s grace, and in Jesus who died and rose for us, we receive God’s cleansing and forgiveness, and we receive new and eternal life: blessings symbolized by the water of baptism. Of course, our prayer is that later on Emily will own these answers and these realities for herself. Baptism is more of a starting point in the Christian life, than a graduation ceremony from Christianity.

But the service of baptism also expresses the important reality that as we trust in Christ, we also become members of God’s family, the church. That is why it is so appropriate that baptisms take place where possible at our regular Sunday services. Baptism is a personal thing, but it is not a private thing. And so, as part of the service, Emily will be welcomed into the church family by all who are there.

These issues which are expressed in the Baptism service are the realities of which Paul has been writing in the first part of his Letter to the Ephesians. Paul has been explaining God’s great plan to bring people who are sinners from darkness to light, from condemnation to acceptance, from death to life. It is God’s gift that we receive as we trust in Jesus – we don’t have to try to earn or deserve it. In other words, it is all by grace.

But God’s purpose is not simply to save a lot of individuals: he has a much bigger plan – to gather a community of love, and ultimately to bring about a transformed creation of praise and righteousness and love. And the wonderful and the amazing thing is that the church, with all its frailties and failures and divisions and misunderstandings, the church is right at the heart of this wonderful plan. Church matters! Christian faith is not just about me and God: it is equally about us and God.

Over the past three Sundays, our lectionary readings have taken us through the first half of this letter, the first three chapters. Over the next four Sundays, we explore the second half of the letter. In a sense this is the practical part: mind you, chapters 1-3 had much to say that had very practical implications, as chapters 4-6 have much truth to teach us. But here is where Paul spells out those practical outcomes of his message.

Through Christ we have been brought into God’s kingdom. But if that is the case, we need to live like it, we need to show it. As Paul puts it, we need to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called by the God who is love. And he is not so much telling us things like “be good, keep the rules”, or even “go to church”. Those are fair enough, but it is not what Paul wants to emphasize here. He focuses on our character: things like humility, gentleness and patience. But these are not just nice qualities: they are expressed in the way we relate to people, the way we treat them.

We don’t treat people as if we are superior to them. We don’t push our own agendas too hard. We listen to people and show respect to them and even to their ideas. And we allow for our differences, and even those irritating qualities that so many people seem to have. It is all about maintaining the unity of the Spirit.

You see, church unity is not something we are to strive for. God’s church is already one, just as a family is still a family when there are squabbles, or where members are physically distant from each other. What God wants us to do is to express the unity of his church in our life together, to relate to each other in love as members together of God’s family.

But that raises the question of what the church really is. In Paul’s day, the church institutions and denominations that we are familiar with did not exist. In most places there were congregations meeting in people’s homes: no doubt they developed their structures and leadership, but that was not the important thing. Paul is first of all making clear to members of individual congregations that unity must be evident in their life together, as they relate to each other with love and humility and patience. And of course that is still an important part of our life together.

But Paul wants his readers not just to see how it works within the congregation, but to see the bigger picture. In a large city like Ephesus there were probably a number of “house churches”. There may well have been the temptation for members of a congregation to compare, to criticize, to judge possible weaknesses of another church, rather than to acknowledge each other as fellow Christians, as part of God’s wonderful family. Paul expects them to welcome each other, and treat each other with love and understanding and humility, expressing the reality that we are all members of God’s great family. And so when Christians came travelling from other places, Paul would have expected them to be welcomed and accepted, not treated with unnecessary suspicion by their fellow-Christians.

Our ecumenical relationship with other churches in Epping is an expression of what Paul is talking about. Some of our differences from other churches are simply that. Differences! We are not cardboard replicas of each other. Different churches have different stories, different styles and traditions, different emphases, different strengths and weaknesses. None of us has arrived yet, and of course there will be diversity: so in humility we need to continue to express our unity in Christ, and support our shared ecumenical activities and worship as we have the opportunity.

But let us also remember that there is an even bigger picture: for all Christians, no matter what their gender, their race or  skin-colour, their economic status, their church, their differences from us, are also members of the family of God. We must also express that in our attitudes and our relationships with each other. As Paul puts it, there is one body; one Spirit – the Holy Spirit; one great hope we share; one Lord, our Saviour Jesus Christ; one faith, even if we sometimes have different understandings on certain issues; one Baptism, even when we have different customs and traditions; one God who is Father of us all. Unity is not uniformity! We are all part of God’s wonderful plan for creation, and for his church, which is not limited by denominational boundaries and varied traditions.

Unity is more than anything about loving one another, being committed to one another, even with all our differences. God is a God of variety. Yes, Henry Ford told his customers that they could have any colour as long as it was black. But our Creator has made a world of variety, and something of that variety is seen in his church family. We can be suspicious of differences, or we can be open to consider them, and even to learn from those different approaches and insights. Yes, sometimes we shall believe that another person or another church has made a mistake: but we shall be careful about easily making judgements or condemning others, particularly when we may have misunderstood or missed something significant.

Variety is an important part of the life of any church. Each of us is an individual, with our own contribution to make. Paul talks about the gifts God has given to his church. In other letters he refers to the gifts as different forms of ministry: teaching, leading, giving, serving. Here he describes apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors themselves as God’s gifts to his church. In a sense Paul is indicating it is not just the ministries we offer that are God’s gifts: we ourselves are God’s gifts to each other. Next time we are inclined to take someone for granted or put someone down, perhaps we can remind ourselves that we all are God’s gifts to each other!

Those who have gifts of leadership and teaching do have a particular role, and Paul describes it in a significant way. We who are pastors are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”. So Ross and I and others who preach and teach and lead are not there to be the ministers: our purpose is to help us all to be the ministers, to encourage and even equip us all to serve one another in love.

As Paul puts it, part of the church leader’s job is to help us to grow to maturity in our understanding and character and service and love. Part of our job is to help keep us all on track in our faith and understanding, so that we are not led down the garden path. I was watching a program on “Compass” on ABC-TV about an American Bible teacher who convinced his followers that the world would end on 21st May 2011: you may even have seen posters about it displayed in Sydney. But the scriptures give no encouragement to us to try to predict the date of Christ’s return: they encourage us to live as people who are always ready for the great day simply by living truly Christian lives. Of course the preacher got the date wrong, but he also confused many people, and made many people more cynical about the faith, no matter how sincere he was. We do need to grow in our knowledge of the scriptures, so that, as Paul says, we will not be carried about by every wind of doctrine, like those confused ideas about Judgement Day. Our various small groups can be very helpful that way.

Truth matters. And the truth of the Gospel is worth holding on to. Paul tells us to “speak the truth in love.” People can speak the truth harshly and arrogantly: that is not love. People can avoid speaking uncomfortable truths, thinking that this is loving, whereas sometimes it is just taking the easy way. Truth and love are both vital.

We are members of Christ’s eternal family. Let us all play our part, relating to each other in love, serving each other and accepting each other’s service, and growing together in our understanding and maturity, so that our church, God’s church, can go forward playing its part in God’s wonderful and eternal plan for his people. Amen.                    Paul Weaver

Sermon: Pentecost 11, 5 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Unity and Diversity- Ephesians 4:1-16
-I stumbled across a quote from a book I’d read a number of years ago by Bill Hull.
-He wrote in ‘The Disciple Making Pastor’;
“The evangelical church has become weak, flabby and too dependent on artificial means that can only simulate real spiritual power. Churches are too little like training centres to shape up the saints and too much like cardiopulmonary wards at the local hospital. We have proliferated self-indulgent consumer religion, the what-can-the-church-do-for-me syndrome. We are too easily satisfied with conventional success: bodies, bucks and buildings. The average Christian resides in the comfort zone of ‘I pay the pastor to preach, administrate, and counsel. I pay him, he ministers to me. . . I am the consumer, he is the retailer . . . I have the needs, he meets them . . . that’s what I pay for.”
-That is really a scathing commentary on modern church life, isn’t it?
-Hull goes on to say that we see this most clearly in the American megachurch.
-The bigger it is,
-And the more it mimics the American entrepreneurial spirit, the better.
-The measure of greatness of these churches is the number of people who turn up.
-If there’s three thousand people filling the pews,
-The snap judgement is that ‘this is a great church’.
-Bigger is better.
-More is definitely the merrier!
-But Hull says the measure shouldn’t be ‘how many people are present?’
-But rather ‘what are these people like?’

-Paul begins Ephesians 4 with these words;
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1
-Like Bill Hull,
-Paul’s concern is not with numbers but with character,
-What he wants his readers to be like,
-How they are living,
-How they’re relating.
-And that standard is to be ‘living a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called’.
-It’s taken Paul three chapters to describe that calling beginning in the very first verse:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:” Ephesians 1:1
-To the saints.
-Don’t be fooled by that word,
-A saint just means a follower of Jesus.
-But Paul shows how significant that idea of being a follower of Jesus is when he says in vv3-5;
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” Ephesians 1:3-5
-Can you see how Paul is laying a foundation for the answer to,
-‘What are these people like?’
-What should a people be like who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing?
-Chosen to be holy and blameless?
-Destined for adoption as God’s children?

-Well Paul’s not ready to answer that yet because he still has to remind his readers,
-That this was not how they always were.
-In fact once;
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath,” Ephesians 2:1-3
-Once, even the saints, the followers of Jesus,
-Were spiritually dead,
-Enslaved to evil,
-God forsaken.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5
-We’ve been saved.
-We’ve been moved from enemies of God,
-To children in his family,
-Members of his body the Church.

-Now it would be very easy to think that those first three chapters of Ephesians are about you and me.
-But they’re not,
-They’re about us.
-Bill Hull has rightly assessed the nature of the modern church as individualistic, spiritual consumers.
-I once got an email from someone leaving a church because, they wrote;
-‘I am finding that Saint Dot-dot-dot’s no longer gives me the spiritual nourishment I require.’
-Notice the focus on ‘I’ and ‘me’,
-My requirements.
-But for the first three chapters of Ephesians Paul talks about we, us, youse.
-And just to drive home the significance of this new community,
-He reminds his Gentile readers that this new body, the church,
-Is made up of two groups that once had an implacable enmity,
-Jews and Gentiles.
-But now both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
-Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled in Christ to form a new society, the church.

-And to life in that new society Paul now turns with his opening exhortation in ch4:1;
“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
-Humility, gentleness, patience, forebearance, love.
-To show how radically different this new society the church is,
-From the old societies both Jews and Gentiles have come from,
-Paul begins with ‘humility’.
-To a certain extent we accept humility as an honourable virtue,
-We hate arrogance and posers,
-But in the ancient world humility was seen as a weakness,
-As something to be avoided.
-They equated humility with humiliation.
-But with the coming of Jesus,
-These values are turned on their head.
-Jesus humbled himself,
-The Son of God descended to the human realm in order to die for our sins.
-That gives a whole new meaning to humility.

-Maybe surprising to us,
-‘Gentleness’ or meekness was seen as a virtue in the ancient world.
-Gentle Jesus, meek and mild sounds very weak and wishy washy to our ears,
-But to Aristotle and other Greeks meekness wasn’t weakness,
-But rather strength,
-A strength that navigated the narrow path between being too angry and never angry at all.
-Gentleness is strength under control.
-The meek don’t fly off the handle,
-But will energetically defend the weak against the powerful,
-Truth against lies.
-Humility with gentleness is a potent combination.

-As is patience and forebearance.
-Whenever any group of humans get together there will be friction and misunderstandings.
-Throughout the Old Testament God is said to have been patient with the failings of his people.
-Paul argues that a life worthy of God’s calling will reflect God’s character,
-The follower of Jesus will reflect his patience with our weakness.
-In Romans 12:18 Paul writes;
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18
-That is a direct call to exercise patience and forebearance.
-In order to live together peacefully we need to make allowances for others’ shortcomings.
-There was a reason Jesus said,
-‘Before you take the speck out of your brother’s eye,
-‘Remove the log in your own.’

-With humility and gentleness,
-Patience and forebearance,
-Then the foundation of our life together will be evident,
-Love.
-In ch3:17 Paul prays for his readers
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Ephesians 3:17
-Now he urges them to live that way.
-In our narcissistic society,
-Love has been reduced from the powerful sacrificial love,
-Demonstrated in Jesus’ death on the cross for those who put him there,
-To an emotional sensation that strokes personal desire.
-Love in the Bible is other person centred,
-The romanticised love of Western culture is self-centred.
-And what comes next is a direct challenge to that individualistic, consumer culture we breathe in,
-As Paul calls the followers of Jesus to make;
“every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:3-6
-Paul again is stressing the unity we have as the people of God, the Church.
-It’s a unity that lies in the Trinitarian nature of God,
-Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
-We’re one body because there is only one Holy Spirit.
-We have one hope because there’s only one Lord, Jesus,
-We are one family because we have only one God, the Father,
-Who is above all and through all and in all.
-That unity raises us above the petty individualisms that mark the self-centred life,
-We’re called to live for others.

-And only after laying that foundation of unity does Paul move from the corporate to the individual,
-Because unity doesn’t mean uniformity.
“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’” Ephesians 4:7-8
-Notice he says to ‘each of us’.
-Now Paul is going to get personal,
-As he tells his readers that each and everyone one of us has a unique contribution to make to the life of the church.
-He quotes a verse from Psalm 68 that pictures God as the victorious king,
-Returning to his capital city with the conquered people and captured booty,
-In a huge procession.
-This would have been a picture citizens of the Roman Empire would have been well aware of.
-But here the allusion is to Jesus,
-Who after conquering sin and death on our behalf on the cross,
-Rose from the dead and ascended victoriously to heaven.
-And just as the Roman Emperor would share the victor’s spoils with his people,
-So Jesus gives gifts to his people.
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us 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.” Ephesians 4:11-13

-These are spiritual gifts that come through the Holy Spirit for building up the church.
-Apostles were not just those first disciples who saw the risen Jesus.
-The word apostle means ‘one who is sent’.
-In this case sent to begin or contribute to new ministries.
-It’s a leadership function.
-Similarly prophets spoke forth the word of God in the Old Testament,
-It was an authoritative message spoken by God to the prophet.
-In the early church the prophets brought words from God,
-But the church was to test these words,
-They didn’t carry the same divine authority of an Old Testament prophet.
-Evangelists are specially gifted to give a compelling witness to Jesus.
-Pastors provide care and biblical support to others.
-And teachers open up God’s word to guide, reprove, correct and train in righteousness.
-There’s a good argument that each of these different roles are essential to the health of every local church.
-But again note why these gifts are given;
“To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12
-These gifts are not for personal use,
-They’re for serving,
-For helping others to be what they were created to be,
-With the end goal that we’ll all grow in maturity.
-What does maturity look like?
-It’s being united in the faith,
-Knowing Jesus more deeply,
-And ultimately becoming exactly like Christ.

-In a rather clever but pointed way Paul contrasts the mature from the childish.
-He’s spoken of maturity in the context of the unity of the body of Christ,
-But using the plural ‘children’ implies an immature individualism,
-That’s easily swayed by seductive doctrines,
-People’s trickery,
-And the Evil One’s deceitful schemings.
-The antidote to such immaturity is not just speaking the truth in love,
-But living a life that proclaims the reality of a changed life in Christ.
-And in saying this Paul has come full circle.
-Opening this chapter he’s begged his readers to live a life worthy of the calling of Jesus.
-This isn’t just an individual action,
-But a corporate lifestyle that encourages and strengthens each follower of Jesus,
-To live out that calling.
-As members of the one body,
-Through the gift of the Spirit and the spiritual gifts he pours upon the church,
-We work together,
-Loving and serving each other with the aim that as one,
-We will all come to the full stature of Christ.