The Letter of Ephesians provides us with seven important ways to have a varsity faith. This week’s focus is on lettering in Spiritual Gifts. (Ephesians 4:1-16)
Today’s reading comes from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4, Verses 1-16 (NRSV).
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 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. 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.
7 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.”
9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 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. 14 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 knit 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.
I’ve been wearing a different varsity jacket each Sunday from someone in the congregation. We are focusing on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians during these summer Sundays.
In his letter, Paul offers us six ways for us to have a varsity letter type of faith. We are called to letter in each of these areas to help us be followers of Jesus.
Just a disclaimer. Last Sunday, I wore our District Superintendent’s varsity jacket. I said that he lettered in volleyball, but it was really soccer. So, if Dennis attends a church picnic where we’re playing soccer or basketball, you will definitely want him on your team.
Today’s varsity jacket belongs to one of the Sloan twins. We’re not exactly sure if it belongs to Melissa or Amy since it doesn’t have a name on it. Both Amy and Melissa ran track in High School and lettered in that sport.
Today’s varsity jacket represents the importance of knowing and using our unique spiritual gifts.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? An astronaut? A police officer? A movie actress?
Recently I was reading a child’s response to this question. And he listed three things that he wants to do: First thing is that he wants to have a restaurant near a river and call it, “River’s Restaurant.”
And the second thing he wants is to have a food store next to it. And the third thing he wants to do, is to invent, in his own words, the first totally bumpless sock, because he can’t stand those bumps in socks.
And not just that, these bumpless socks will have pictures of Scooby Doo on them. And he’ll have a store that sells these bumpless socks and it will be open 24 hours a day.
He says that when kids find out, they’ll bring their parents there to buy all their socks. And in this store, he will also have a room where he can give foot massages since he wants to go to school for massage therapy.
As I read this, I was a little envious that this child knew exactly what he wanted to do as an adult. I hope he grows up quickly so that I can buy a pair of those bumpless socks!
But it’s not always that easy is it? For most of us, it can be a difficult struggle in determining what we are suppose to do with our lives. And I think that’s because of a couple of things.
The first thing is there are just so many options out there. And sometimes there’s a little voice in the back of our mind that says, “Oh, you don’t want to do that, because it may be better to do this. Don’t commit to anything because you need to keep your options open.” And sometimes, we end up at a standstill because of the many possibilities that are out there.
But I also think that the process of deciding what to do with our lives can be a struggle because we’re not sure if we have what it takes to do what we are feeling called to do.
I was conducting a funeral service several years ago, and in the course of the service, people were invited to share a brief memory or thought of the person who had died. And a member of the family stood up and shared a remarkable heartfelt testimony of the impact her loved one had on her life.
She said how there was a time when she was taking courses toward a degree and one day she was feeling overwhelmed with all of the reading that was required, so she took the book she was reading and threw it down out of anger because she didn’t think that she had what it took.
And she said how this member of her family, noticing that she was feeling really low and down, said to her, “Dear, I believe in you. And I know you can do it. Don’t give up. You can do it.”
Those words were just what she needed to hear in order to continue in her studies. “Dear, I believe in you. And I know you can do it.”
There wasn’t a dry eye at that funeral after that testimony.
Deep down, I believe that most people want to make a difference in this world. We want to be the people that God has called us to be.
This morning, Paul addresses this important area of our faith. How do I live out who God has called me to be?
I would have to say that as a pastor, this area of our Christian faith comes up most often in the conversations I have with people in the church.
“Robert, I want to be more involved in the church. I want to make a difference in the lives of others, but I’m not sure of what that should look like. How can I discover what God wants me to do?”
That question about discovering what I’m supposed to do with my life really centers on our topic today of lettering in spiritual gifts.
It’s interesting to me that in our scripture reading this morning, Paul doesn’t approach the question of what we’re supposed to do with our lives from a self-fulfilling point of view. We live in a time in which people are seeking self-fulfillment. For Paul, that’s the wrong question.
The real question has to do with what does God want? And to express this, he uses the word, “calling.” Paul says, “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” But what does that really mean?
Isn’t it great when a delicious meal is being prepared and someone from the kitchen finally calls out, “Dinner’s ready! Time to eat!” Those are some of my favorite words! We are called to the dinner table. We come because we have been called.
I think of those first disciples and how Jesus called them to follow him. These disciples responded to a calling that came from beyond themselves. They responded to an outside voice calling them to leave behind their personal wants and follow him.
When Paul talks about a calling, he’s not talking about us getting in touch with our inner selves. He’s talking about God’s voice and God’s prompting that tugs on our hearts and minds to follow Him.
I was reading about one of the ancient Christian saints from England, who’s name was Augustine, not to be confused with the more famous St. Augustine, who was the great theologian from the 4th century. But this Augustine who lived in the 6th century, was called by the Bishop of Rome to proclaim the Christian faith to the pagan Anglo Saxons who had invaded England.
And so Augustine set out from Rome and headed to England. But along the way, he began to hear stories of how the Anglo-Saxons were a brutal people. And he also heard how treacherous it would be to cross the English Channel.
These fears led Augustine to head back to Rome. And when he arrived back, the Bishop said to Augustine. “Oh no. You’re not going to let those fears prevent you from doing what God is calling you to do.”
And so, Augustine set out again on his journey to England. While in England, the Bishop of Rome had to continually encourage Augustine to fulfill the task for which he had been sent. Under Augustine’s leadership, the King of the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity and the good news of Jesus Christ spread throughout all of England.
In one of his letters to Augustine, the Bishop of Rome wrote these words of encouragement to him: “He who would climb to a lofty height must go by steps, not leaps.” That was great advice for Augustine who almost let fear get in the way of his calling.
When we think about how we can make a difference in the lives of others, Paul says that it’s about being faithful to an outer calling. It’s this outer calling from God that will sometimes take us out of our comfort zones where we have no choice but to rely on God’s grace and strength.
A church member once said to me, “You know. It’s amazing how God works. Somebody asked me to consider serving in a ministry through our church and my first reaction was to tell that person, ‘No’ because I didn’t think that particular area of ministry was my thing. But over the next several days, I couldn’t stop thinking about that ministry.
I started to wonder, ‘Maybe God does want me to serve on this ministry for some reason. Maybe this is my calling to serve in this way.’ So I called that person back and I said, ‘I believe that God is calling me to serve in this area for some reason. If it’s still open, I’m ready to say, ‘Yes.’”
Sometimes, God’s calling has us do things that we would never have chosen to do if left to our own preferences. And this is why Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called.
And then Paul goes on to say something amazing. He says that to each one of us has been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. To each one of us has been given gifts.
Paul names a few of those gifts in our scripture reading. He says, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
There are many spiritual gifts listed in the Bible and these are just a few of them. But the point is that God has given each one of us at least one gift to use not primarily for our own self-fulfillment, but in order to faithfully live out God’s calling in our lives so that we can make a difference in our church and community and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Paul says this is what spiritual gifts are all about. Their purpose is to build up the church so that we all become mature in our faith, so that we can have a varsity faith.
And Paul ends this wonderful scripture passage in Ephesians by saying, “We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit 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.”
I am so grateful for your many gifts here at Athens First. I’m thankful for your musical gifts, your heart for children’s ministry, your compassion for the poor, your gift of prayer, your gifts of service…through all of these ways, you are making a difference in our community and world for Jesus Christ.
As we seek to reach out to our university community, my hunch is that God will be calling each of us to step out of our comfort zones. During these past few weeks, this has been on my mind a lot.
What would it look like if we would offer an additional worship service this fall that is designed primarily for college students? What would it look like if we would welcome students back to campus by handing out free bottles of water? This is something that our Trinity Sunday School class mentioned last week.
What would it look like if we would begin a new small group ministry this fall that would help people in our church to get to know each other and provide encouragement and support on a regular basis?
How is God calling us to step our of our comfort zones and to be the church that we are called to be in this university community? As I’ve been thinking about this, God has been reminding me of something very important from our scripture reading this morning.
God not only calls us to make a difference by stepping out of our comfort zones, God also gives us the gifts that we need to make it happen. God has blessed us with everything we need to step out in faith and be the church that God has called us to be.
So let me ask you the question that I asked at the beginning of the sermon. Do you know who you want to be when you grow up? I’m still trying to figure that out and I’m 52!
The exciting thing about being part of a church family is that we are never done growing up because there is absolutely no limit to what God can do through us when we respond to God’s calling in each of our lives. There is no limit!
What if we grow up to be a people who lead lives worthy of the calling? What if we grow up to be a people who use the gifts that God has given us to build up the church and to be a blessing to others?
Who do you want to be when you grow up? May God equip each of us to have a varsity faith and to be the people he has called us to be, a people who use our spiritual gifts to be a blessing to others.