Sunday, August 5, 2018
"Build Up...in Love" - Sermon, August 5, 2018
Community UMC, Quincy
“Build Up…in Love”
Rev. Andrew Davis
August 5, 2018
Ephesians 4: 1-16
This past Friday, I had the honor of officiating my first wedding and am happy to say that everything turned out really well, even though it was a VERY small wedding and none of those whatever could go wrong would go wrong scenarios did not take place. There was a lot of love in the air both Thursday evening at the rehearsal dinner and in the service itself. Plus it’s appropriate we talk about love this morning as my parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary today. Like my parents wedding 40 years ago, our friends had their wedding at the Rio Linda UMC and am glad that there was air conditioning this time around, as my dad mentioned yesterday that on their wedding day, it was 108 degrees outside and there was no air conditioning in the church at that time.
While I could go on and on about love, we are going to be spending a month thinking about what it means to be “…in love.” Now before everyone gasps or thinks I’m creating a scandal here when I talk about love after a wedding or anniversary, we are talking about agape love, or brotherly/sisterly as we consider how our community of faith is built on love, particularly how love is “the key to communal solidarity.”[i] As we think about how love is a key to solidarity and unity as the body of Christ here in Quincy, how do we:
Build each other up in love?
Live in love?
Give thanks in love?
Then move in love?
According to Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, “Love is the ‘nature and name” of God”[ii] As we embark on a new series for the month of August, coincidentally called “…in Love,” we will be spending some time in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, one of the churches he addresses in Asia Minor. Throughout our series and our exploration of Ephesians, “there are concrete actions that Paul suggests [in his admonishments/advice], and they all have their foundation in the love of God.”[iii] I would even add love of neighbor, as it’s something that cannot be said enough, especially today. Of course, it’s up to all of us to build up the body of Christ in love, not just here locally, but in our world. And that’s where Paul is getting at in his letter to the Ephesians.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is working towards connecting the people in Ephesus (Asia Minor) together, even though they may have different moral compasses, understandings, or beliefs, as he is urging them to connect themselves together with Christ. Like many of Paul’s letters, Ephesians begins with his salutation, his prayer for the people he addresses, then his practical advice or admonishments. Unlike his letters, particularly to the Galatians or Corinthians, Paul isn’t quite as in-your-face in Ephesians, yet still gets his point across as he admonishes the Ephesians to live in unity and in love with God.
As Barbara just read for us, we hear Paul say what “very likely [was] an early baptismal liturgy” in which “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father of all, who is above all, and through all.”[iv] When he gets to his advice, or telling the Ephesians and even us what to do, the work ahead is work that can equip all of us who follow Christ to work towards living in unity and encouraging others to live together with love as its foundation. At the same time, we are being challenged to think about whether we “value our own preferences more than God’s unity,” as the challenge is whether our life together is Christ centered, or preference driven.[v] Likewise, Paul lists a number of gifts and using our various gifts is one of the ways of bringing people together and ultimately bringing about transformation and a new sense of hope for an anxious and hurting world.
So how do we use all of this and these different gifts in ministry to build up the body of Christ in love here and in his other letters, encouraging us to use those gifts to bring a new hope, and ultimately lead to the transformation of the world that our mission calls us to do. Ultimately, everything begins with love as a foundation. It begins “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4: 15) and holding each other to act in love. Our conduct is to be measured who God is and what God has done” and we show it through our speech and our actions.[vi]
A couple weeks ago, I decided to go down memory lane and pulled out my high school yearbooks, as this Fall marks 20 years since I began my senior year of high school. For all of us, I think it’s always interesting to look back at where we have been and where we are now and I think back to how I have changed and transformed from that time. It’s kind of like going up to the heritage room and looking back at previous church directories or photo archives, seeing the changes in people over the years, or when I first looked through, ask ‘who are half these people?’
It’s kind of ironic I’d want to go down memory lane and reflect back on high school. As I’ve shared before, high school was a mixed bag for me, although not always the happiest time of my life. Yet, I remember the friends who stood by me, along with a couple of teachers who believed in me, one who I keep in touch with regularly. I was not always one who acted in love at that time, as I put up some fortified concrete walls around my heart and was very guarded, something I do regret although I still put walls around my heart here and there. Even while being actively involved in church, I didn’t exactly have a notion of building up the body of Christ whenever I built those walls around my heart or wanted to exclude people I didn’t think were worthy of being in the church at the time. Maybe it was selective love, yet as I reflect on how wrong I was back then and our passage this morning, I realize today how essential we need to build up each other in love, not cutting down, because there are people who need a message of love more than ever today!!
As I continually study more into John Wesley’s theology and trying to perfect myself in love while honing and perfecting my skills in ministry, I realize that there is always that opportunity for redemption by God’s grace. Furthermore, we all have the opportunity of moving towards maturity in our faith, or sanctification while on our journey towards salvation by allowing God to tear down the walls that might be built around our hearts we work towards building up the body of Christ in love. Of course, it’s not going to perfect and we just need to do our best because each of us are a part of the body of Christ that Paul talks about in this morning’s passage.
As we prepare to come to this table, then go out to build up the body of Christ in love, I want us to reflect on a concept of building up each other called Ubuntu, a Nguni Bantu concept “which was popularized by Arichbishop Desmond Tutu and others during the work of transitioning South Africa from Apartheid to democracy.”[vii] As Bishop Tutu explains,
Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give someone high praise to someone we say “Yu, u nobuntu;” “Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.” Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong to the bundle of life. We say “a person is a person through other persons.” It is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather, “I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.” A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”[viii]
As we go into the new week, full of new opportunities, and full what are you doing to help build up the body of Christ in love?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say Amen!!
[i] Pheme Perkins, “The Letter to the Ephesians” in The New Interpreter’s Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 423.
[viii] Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 31.
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