Gifts for the One Body

Preached by Michael Cheuk, August 2, 2015
Taken from Ephesians 4:1-16

body-of-christ_webThe human body is an amazing organism. I don’t think you have to be a biology major or a medical doctor to appreciate the complexity and beauty of the human body and its functioning. Each organ has its unique function and in order for the body to be fully healthy, every part of the body must do what it is designed to do. Did you know that:

  • By the time you turn 70, your heart will have beaten some two-and-a-half billion times?[1]
  • It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown?[2]
  • Human thighbones are stronger than concrete?
  • Your body uses 300 muscles to balance itself when you are standing still?[3]

Each member of the human body is different in its function, but each is needed for the full vitality and health of the organism as a whole. Perhaps that’s why the metaphor of the human body is used so many times in the Bible to describe God’s people, the Church. In our Epistle lesson this morning, the image of the body is used again to describe our life together as Christians. This passage highlights three characteristics of a healthy Christian body or community. We are called to maintain unity, acknowledge diversity, and strive for maturity.

The first quality of a healthy Christian body is the ability to maintain unity. Verse 3 states, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” It sounds great to maintain unity, but it is harder than it seems. We’ve all heard of people with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, or lupus, where the body begins to attack itself. Those are terrible diseases, and it is just as bad when a family, church, or group attacks itself through bickering and in-fighting. Many times, these attacks take place when the body loses sight of its mission and gets distracted by little things. The members fight about insignificant matters. That’s why the chapter opens: “I’m begging you all to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

Do you know what your life calling is? Is it just to be successful in life, and to make a lot of money? Or is there a higher calling that God is calling you to that is bigger than your life? Do you as a family know what God has called you all to be? Is it just to make other family members happy? Or is there a higher calling to look beyond your family and its comfort? Do we as a church know our unique calling? Is it just to serve our own members? Or is there a higher calling that looks beyond our walls to be the presence of Christ in our community?

When we have a compelling vision and calling from God, we have a better chance to rally around that calling and not pursue our own individual interests and agendas. But maintaining unity in the body of Christ does not mean that every member has to think, act, believe and worship in exactly the same way. The passage notes that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. This unity comes from the nature and character of God. But notice what this passage doesn’t say. It doesn’t say there is one age group, one social economic class, one set of opinions, or one worship style. Matthew Henry once wrote, “The nature of that unity which the apostle prescribes is the unity of the Spirit. The seat of Christian unity is in the heart or spirit: it does not lie in one set of thoughts, nor in one form and mode of worship, but in one heart and one soul.”

The unity to which we are called is the unity of our hearts to love God. When we do that, we can better acknowledge the diversity of the gifts that God has given to each on of us. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. And we must also realize that God graces us with gifts often in ways we do not expect.

When I was about ten, I walked into the kitchen and found a bag on our kitchen table. Curious, I opened the bag and looked inside. I smelled the delicious perfume of peaches, but as I looked inside, I noticed the peaches were all wrinkly and bruised. I yelled out, “Mom, where’d you get these peaches? They need help!” My mom quickly entered the kitchen and tried to shut me up: “They are the overripe peaches that your aunt handpicked for us, and she’s still here!” Later that night, when we had some of those peaches for dessert, they were the juiciest, sweetest peaches I ever remember eating.

How many times do we reject God’s gifts just because, like those overripe peaches, those gifts are not presented to us in ways that are perfectly wrapped to our liking? Every day, we are confronted with people and situations that are different than what we expected or hoped for. In life, we have to reach beyond what is different and unfamiliar or initially uncomfortable to experience the rich fullness – even the sweetness – of what God offers. As we heard today, the youth and adults on our mission trip this week accomplished great things while working in very unfamiliar circumstances with very different people; yet by the end of the week, they built connections and found common ground. May we, too, be open to the unfamiliar and new, investing our time and resources so that the larger body of Christ may be built up.

Maintain unity. Acknowledge diversity. Finally, we are called to strive for maturity. One mark of spiritual and emotional maturity is having the conviction of one’s beliefs and values, yet still remaining connected to the body without having to have everything your way. We need the conviction of our beliefs so that we are not tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching or every passing fad. But we also need to remain connected to the body through Christ, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, as each part does its work. There’s this classic image of children who don’t get their way on the playground: They take their marbles and leave. We’ve seen so-called adults do that too. But we are called to a higher way of remaining in fellowship with those who are different and difficult, for the sake of Christ and in response to His love.

An 11-year-old girl wanted her dad to accompany her and some friends to a Taylor Swift concert. Her dad was a professional musician with the symphony and, frankly, could not stand pop music. He reminded his daughter about his taste in music and told her to find another parent to chaperone. On the night of the concert, when the girl and her friends found their seats, she also found her father sitting in the row waiting for her. “Dad, what are you doing here? I thought you hated this music!” “Yes, I hate this music,” her father replied, “but I love you.”

Maturity means having clarity of one’s conviction and yet remaining connected to those in community with us. For each member of the body of Christ is made in the image of Christ.

A monk meditating in a hut in the wilderness opened his eyes to discover an unexpected visitor sitting before him – the pastor of a well-known church.

“What is it you seek?” asked the monk.

The pastor recounted a tale of woe. At one time his church had been packed, but now hard times had come. People no longer flocked there to nourish their spirits, the stream of young people had dried up, and the church was struggling. Only a handful of members were left, fulfilling their Christian duties with heavy hearts.

The pastor asked: “Is our trouble due to some sort of sin in the church?”

“Yes,” said the monk, “a sin of ignorance. A person in your church community is the Messiah in disguise and you are ignorant of this.” Then monk closed his eyes and returned to his meditation.

Throughout the arduous journey back to his church, the pastor’s heart beat fast at the thought that the Messiah had returned to earth and was right there in the midst of the congregation. Who could it be? The head of Deacons? A choir member? One of the youth? A Sunday School teacher? Maybe a visitor? No, not them; they had too many defects, alas. Come to think of it, everyone in the church had defects, including the pastor. Yet one of them was the Messiah!

Back in the church, the pastor assembled the members and told them what he had discovered. They looked at one another in disbelief. The Messiah? Here? Incredible! But one thing was certain. If the Messiah was there in disguise, they would not recognize that person. So they took to treating everyone with respect and consideration, welcoming them into the body and affirming their gifts. “You never know,” they said to themselves when they dealt with one another, “maybe this one is the Messiah.” [4]

 

We like our stories to have happy endings, so we wonder… Did this church return to the glory days of people filling the pews? Perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is the growth of a church where members, with love and joy filling their hearts, treated those inside and outside the church as the Messiah.

Where is the Messiah today? Christ the Messiah is here in our midst as we celebrate communion. As we take these elements, as we receive these gifts of the bread and the cup, may they strengthen the One Body of Christ, the church. As we take these elements, let us realize that the Messiah is also in each of us.

As a church here on West Main that is part of a church that extends around the globe, may the love of Christ within each of us overflow in our hearts so that we may mature in Him. As one body here and around the world, may we accept God’s gifts and live a life worthy of our calling. Amen.

[1] Assuming 70 beats/minute.

[2] http://www.teach-nology.com/worksheets/science/trivia/human/index.html

[3] http://www.funfacts.com.au/interesting-human-body-facts/

[4] http://anthony-de-mello.blogspot.com/2008/05/awareness-20.html