Revised Standard Version (RSV)
4 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager 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 that belongs to your call, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
8 Therefore it is said, “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? 10 He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11 And his gifts were that some should 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 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 fulness of Christ; 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
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 knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
A wedding is an amazing thing. Most of them are planned for months, if not years, in advance. Coordinated outfits are ordered, flowers are fretted over, and enormous quantities of food are ordered. Everyone is excited, a few people get nervous, but almost everyone is optimistic on a wedding day. No obstacle looms too large when it comes to the wedding day.
But then, once the wedding day is over, the marriage begins. Somewhere, around 3 to 4 weeks into a marriage, a realization slowly dawns on both people—the other person isn’t leaving. They’re here to stay. And their stuff is everywhere. And they have all these annoying habits which weren’t disclosed beforehand. And I can’t believe he eats that.
Before the wedding, it all seems so easy. But once the wedding ends and the marriage begins, we realize that it’s not so easy, and it takes a lot of work to figure it out.
The same is true of parenting. When the kid is still inside the womb, you think about what kind of parent you’ll be, about how supportive and patient and loving you’ll be. You plan out the developmental stages of your child and imagine them getting a scholarship to Harvard because of your great parenting. You watch other parents struggle with unruly toddlers and you promise that won’t be you. You see a parent dragging a screaming child across a parking lot and you assume they are inferior parents. Then, the first night you bring the baby home from the hospital and you realize there is no nurse to take the baby to the nursery and you’re on your own, the rubber meets the road. You toss all your plans out the window and realize that there is much hard work to be done, there is no manual, and you feel completely alone and isolated, held captive by an 8 pound bundle of energy that breaks your will after a week. Soon, you are the bleary-eyed parent dragging the screaming child through the parking lot wondering what happened to all those plans. It all seemed so simple…
Friends, life often seems easy from a distance. When we’re a long way off, things can seem easy. When things remain in the future, we can imagine how we’ll deal perfectly with a situation and how everything will turn out fine.
But life doesn’t remain at a distance. It doesn’t dwell in the land of the hypothetical. Life shows up on the front porch, barges in through the door after barely knocking, sits down on your couch and starts cleaning out your fridge, and you’ve got to figure out what to do with it. You don’t get to live life from a distance.
The same is true of the religious life. Let me suggest this—it’s easy to listen to a sermon. It’s easy to attend Sunday School. It’s easy to come to worship, to sit in a pew and to observe. It’s easy to live the religious life from an emotional distance.
What’s hard, though, is wrestling with faith, the way Jacob wrestled with the angel in the midst of the desert. What’s hard is trying to figure out what this means, to be a people of faith, to be a resurrection people in the midst of life’s biggest questions. It’s easy to listen to a sermon—it’s a lot harder to figure out what faith means when you’re struggling at work or when a marriage is scuffling or when tragedy strikes us. It’s easy to listen to a sermon—it’s hard to live out your faith.
This, friends, is when fellowship comes into play. Because we need each other. We need one another to help us figure out how we live out our faith. We need other people to help us figure out what this means for us, here and now, today. It doesn’t help if our faith remains something proclaimed in church on Sunday that doesn’t make any sense for Tuesday—we need people to come alongside us and help us interpret our faith for our everyday life.
Fellowship is more than just saying hello on Sunday morning. It’s more than just knowing each other’s names, and I’d suggest it’s more than just hoping for the best for one another.
I think fellowship is messy. What I mean is this—true fellowship is a relationship in which the other person wanders into the mess of your life and is willing to help you sort it out, deal with it piece by piece, and to walk with you through the deepest valleys and highest mountains of your life. True fellowship is noticing when you don’t feel quite right on Sunday morning and calling you on Monday afternoon to see how you are. True fellowship notices when you are absent or just not yourself and being willing to engage, rather than just forgetting about you and going on with your life. True fellowship requires work, and it requires sacrifice, and often we end up going farther with another person than we ever involved, because once we get involved with each other’s lives we realize how critical it is that we share this burden of sorting out the stuff of life through the lens of faith. This is not something to do on our own.
So we’re called to share our lives with one another. We’re called to share the joys, to let them lift up the entire community. We’re called to share our sorrows, to let the community gather around us to mourn together. We’re called to share our big questions, the things we’re wrestling with, so that we as a community can interpret what it means to live faithfully in light of what you’re dealing with. If you hear a great sermon, go home and don’t think about it again for the rest of the week as you go about your business, what good is that? If, however, you hear a great sermon and then discuss with a trusted friend how God is calling you to live as an employee, parent, friend and spouse, then you’re diving into the deep waters of a faithful life, rather than just dipping a toe into the curiosities of religion. A faithful life takes work, and it takes a community willing to embrace one another, no matter the sacrifice.
And being a faithful community takes work and sacrifice. So much of the New Testament is dedicated to helping communities live peacefully together. We like to imagine them as idyllic communities, but the reality is that when you get a bunch of people together, we don’t always live well together. Sometimes, we disagree. And yet, isolating ourselves is not the answer.
This is why Paul is calling us, here in the words of Ephesians 4, to bear with one another in love, to be humble, gentle and patient with one another as we strive for unity and peace. We are all in this together, but we have some rough edges on our personality, and we’re likely to injure one another as we bounce around in life. The temptation is to withdraw, to save our skin from the wounds of others, to withdraw lest we be injured by the brokenness of another.
But that is not the answer. That’s not how we live in community. That’s not the way it’s done, because when we isolate ourselves, we’ll struggle with the big questions of faith, and we’ll do so alone, and it’s always easier to give up when we’re alone.
Also, the community needs you. It needs your voice. There are people in this room that desperately need you to reach out to them, to help them along, and some day they will return the favor. If we withdraw out of fear of damage, then we’ll miss out on that opportunity to serve one another.
Is it worth risking the hurt?
Jesus shows us that. He spent 3 years with Judas as one of his closest friends, despite knowing all the time that Judas would betray him. The other 11 disciples weren’t a whole lot better—they all ended up abandoning or denying him, sometimes both.
But Jesus nurtured the community as a group, knowing they would need each other. And when Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit, to ensure that we would never be alone.
We walk this life of faith together, for Christ has called us into a unity of faith, that we might encourage, support and love one another as we try and figure out what it means to be a resurrection people in a world surrounded by death.
May we remind one another of the new life in Christ Jesus.
Let us pray