Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 13)

August 5, 2012

Text: Eph. 4:1-16

St. Paul celebrates unity, not diversity. Diversity is a sacred cow of our society, but it’s not on the list of biblical values. We 21st Century postmodern Americans are virtually hardwired to “celebrate diversity.” And certainly if we mean celebrating the good things from other cultures around the world, that’s all fine and good. But when it comes to what we believe, teach, and confess, and our life together as the one body of Christ, the holy Church, diversity is not a virtue. There’s another word for diversity in the doctrine and life of the Church. That word is “division.” And division in the Church is not good. It is sinful. It is evil. It is the devil’s delight. Division is caused when we are not eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, when we are not humble or gentle or patient with one another, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2), but instead biting and kicking one another, needlessly quarrelling and criticizing, stepping on one another to get our way and get to the top, and holding one another’s sins against each other. Division is caused when we are tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning and craftiness in deceitful schemes, or in other words, by false teachers and false doctrine, by pop-Christian fads and church growth programs that deny the power of God’s Word and Sacraments and drive the church by the personality of the preacher. These things create factions. One person believes one thing, another person believes something entirely different. One congregation communes only those who have been instructed in the Christian faith. Another communes everybody and their brother, even the unbaptized. One church body ordains women and homosexuals and dismisses what the Bible has to say about it, because that’s the politically correct thing to do. Another church body seeks to be faithful to her Lord’s commands. St. Paul does not celebrate this kind of diversity in the Church. He calls us to repent of our divisions. And in our text, he confesses what we know only by faith, not by sight: that the Church is, in fact, though not in appearance, united, one, holy, Christian Church, under Christ, her Lord.

You’re united to one another, beloved. You’re united to one another in this congregation, and in this church body that is the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and with all Christians in the holy Church throughout the world and throughout history, those in heaven and those on earth. And this union is deeper than any other union on earth. St. Paul says that we Christians are “one body,” the body of Christ (v. 4). Listen again as he describes the Christian Church in a series of seven “ones” in vv. 4-6 of our text (ESV): “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Notice first of all that the unity of the Church is grounded in the unity of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. We have a backwards Trinity of sorts in this passage: One Spirit, One Lord (namely, Jesus Christ, the Son of God), and One God and Father of all. God Himself lives in community within His divinity. He is Three in One and One in Three. And He desires communion with us, His Church, and that we live in community with one another. And the communion is described, as I said, in a series of seven “ones.” The number seven in the Bible is a complete number, describing God’s gracious interaction with His people. The number 7 appears all over the place. For example, the seventh day was the day of completion for God’s creation, the day upon which God rested from His work. The sin atoning work of Jesus was complete by the 7th day of Holy Week, thus He rested in the grave. And on the 8th day, the first day of the week, of course, our Lord rose from the dead, ushering in the new creation and giving us eternal life. Seven “ones” in our text, complete. And this is an indication of what God has made us to be as His new creation in Christ Jesus. We are one body, the body of Christ. Each of us is individually a member of it. We’re still individuals. And yet, we form one body. When one member suffers, we all suffer. Just like when I hit my thumb with a hammer and my whole body hurts. When one of our own is hurting, we hurt with them and seek to relieve their pain or their need. When one member rejoices, we all rejoice. Just like when I bite into a juicy bacon cheeseburger and my whole body rejoices with my taste-buds. When one of our own has reason to rejoice, we join our voices in giving thanks to God. We have one Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He is the soul of the Christian Church. We live in one hope, the sure and certain hope of eternal life which we already possess now by virtue of our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, and of our own bodily resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. We live under one Lord, Jesus Christ, our Savior. We confess one faith, and here we’re talking about the doctrine of the Church. We believe, teach, and confess, what has been revealed to us by God in His inspired and inerrant Word, the Holy Scriptures. We are all baptized with one Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, where all our sins are washed away, we are made God’s own child, born anew by water and the Spirit, united to the death and resurrection of Christ, and covered in His righteousness. And so we have one God and Father, our Father who art in heaven, who loves us, speaks to us in His Son, the Word made flesh, loves to hear our prayers, delights in us because of Christ, forgives all our sins by the blood of Jesus, and calls us His dear children and Himself our dear Father.

One. We are one. A sevenfold unity grounded in the Holy Trinity. It’s a gift of God. We can’t create such unity. God gives it to us. Christ has made this happen by His sin atoning death and victorious resurrection. Now, our Lord Jesus doesn’t just abandon us to try to run this whole thing called the Church on our own. That would be disastrous. Division happens when we try to do that. No, Christ rules His Church. Christ Himself, the head of the body, has ascended into heaven to rule all things at the right hand of the Father, thus leading us out of captivity to sin, death, and the devil, and filling all things in His divine and human natures. He rules and governs His holy Church. And He has given the gift of the Holy Ministry to His Church, to tend and keep the Church in His Name. He gave apostles, the writers of the New Testament. He gave prophets to speak His Word. He gave the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to write the four Gospels so that we could know and believe the Good News about our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection. He gives shepherds, pastors in Latin, and teachers to proclaim His Word to the Church and administer the Sacraments, to shepherd the flock of God in this dangerous world; to equip the saints, you, beloved, with the Word of God for your Christian life; to do the work of ministry; to build up the body of Christ in Word and Sacrament, so that the body can grow and mature. And here we aren’t simply talking about growing numerically, though, by God’s grace, that does often happen. We’re talking about the growth of the Church in grace and faith and in the Word and in all good things.

And we’re not to put up with divisions or diversity in doctrine. “Rather,” says Paul, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (vv. 15-16). This is an amazing statement. So much for the old cliché, “doctrine divides but love unites.” Paul says the truth (doctrine) and love go hand in hand. We are to preach true doctrine, to speak the truth in love, and in this way we grow up into our head, Christ Jesus. In this way we are joined and held together by every joint with which the body is equipped (I’m convinced Paul means by this the Word and the Sacraments which the Lord has given His Church). In this way each part of the body, which is to say, you individually, begins to work properly so that the body can grow and build itself up in love, do good works, love the neighbor, serve the community, do evangelism and missions, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and all the other wonderful things our Lord Jesus calls us to do.

We’re one body, beloved, baptized into one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, holding one faith and one hope. That means we’re part of one another. That means we are to love one another and serve one another. We’re to live in humility toward one another, considering the other better than ourselves. We’re to be gentle and patient with one another. We are to forgive one another and bear with one another in the self-sacrificing love of Christ. The Gospel empowers us to do this. We’re a community. We’re a communion, the communion of saints, knit together by the Spirit of God. This is what it means to be the Church. The Church is not just a voluntary organization, a club, a thing to do on Sunday morning. The Church is a living body. And you, you are a member of that body. And it’s not just any body. It’s the living body of the living Lord Jesus who has made you His own by His blood. You need the Church and the Church needs you. We need you to be here, and you need us to be here. Because we are all members of one another. God has made it so in Christ. And in the end, all the divisions of the Church will cease. In the end, when our Lord returns, we’ll all believe the same thing, because we’ll all believe the truth and we’ll all be united in love. In the end, there won’t be diversity in the sense of division. There will be perfect unity. Our Lord Jesus will do it. He will perfect us in union with Him and with one another. Beloved, this is a unity worthy of celebration with nothing less than an unending Feast. So come to the altar, where with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, as one Church, we receive the gifts of Christ, and laud and magnify His holy Name. It is a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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