August 22, 2021
Ephesians 4: 1-16
One of the effects that the pandemic has had on the church is that it has elevated the challenges congregations faced before Covid was a word in the world’s vocabulary.
Congregations that were on the edge in early 2020 have had to close their doors … others that were struggling financially are struggling even moreso … congregations that were experiencing growth or beginning new ministries have seen their efforts stalled as health protocols have kept people apart.
There is a great deal of uncertainty as congregations near the resumption of in-person worship services as we are at LCOS. We’re faced with questions such as:
What will the form of worship be like?
Will people expect the clock to reset to pre-pandemic life?
How will communion work?
A big one for Lutherans is … Will there be singing? How will that work?
And … after more than a year and a half … the big question … will people return … will the church be able to grow?
We rejoin the Ephesians this morning after a two-week break.
It’s believed that Paul wrote the letter to the congregation from prison … which shows his level of concern for the people.
It’s a diverse congregation … composed of Jews and Gentiles. There are ethnic tensions within the congregation as more people are drawn into the faith community. Paul calls on the people to embrace the diversity as a blessing from God.
Let’s keep in mind that … just a few years before this letter was written … many of the members of these congregations were on the outside looking in … feeling that the words of inclusion rang hollow for them. … And for the people on the inside looking out … there was an expectation for these strangers showing up to gatherings.
As the church grew, people from different parts of the community … with different levels of affluence … all came together to create a sense of uncomfortable uncertainty.
Paul’s letter instructs the Ephesians to let go of such feelings … to recognize that God has gathered them together.
Today’s portion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is focused on church growth.
Paul wasn’t concerned with butts in the pews. He wasn’t concerned with how many people the church attracted into the faith community … or how flush with denarii the offering baskets were following a gathering.
Rather, he saw church growth in a different way than we do during modern times. Perhaps, it’s a perspective we should move back toward.
Paul was concerned with how the church equipped people to reflect the love they have received through Christ’s death and resurrection … of how that love is demonstrated through them … how the people are growing in Christ.
Such growth is more authentic and selfless than just counting the butts occupying pews.
In writing about today’s passage, scholar Thomas Yoder Neufield says:
“The church grows into the Christ who is peace to the degree to which it participates in the healing of the cosmos in all its dimensions.”
Such healing includes efforts to reconcile conflicts between peoples and reconciling those who have been alienated or left behind by the church or the community-at-large.
Diversity for a church … Neufield wrote … is necessary … is part of the new humanity that is the body of Christ.
Such diversity brings with it the understanding and empathy necessary for effective, compassionate missions in the world.
“A church that is insensitive to attempts at healing conflicts in the world and to the need for restoring a spoiled earth … that church is not growing into Christ. … On the other hand, a church callous to the fate of the unforgiven, unreconciled and spiritually unrestored persons is also not growing into the Christ whose peace-work opens up access to God, membership in God’s family, and the joy of worship in the presence of God.”
As we begin to emerge from the cocoons of isolation that the pandemic has forced us into, perhaps we can consider Paul’s letter as an invitation.
Like the members of the Ephesian congregation, we are invited into a conversation over whether or not we speak and live truthfully in love … whether we truly seek to heal … to work for justice and reconciliation … if we are unified in our discipleship … our outreach … if we are growing in Christ and mission.
… if we are can find joy in worship with its new elements … or do we simply want to mire ourselves in the past.
Through such a candid conversation … we can better articulate and better witness to the unconditional love … to the expansive grace … that we have received.
Through such a conversation … we can recognize whether or not we are truly welcoming communities that embrace the stranger … that embrace diversity … faith communities that seek out the oppressed and marginalized in order to be agents of reconciliation … agents of grace … that foster peace and healing.
… communities that are growing in Christ.