Sunday 2 August 2015

Advice to Ephesians

Address given on Sunday 2nd August 2015, the 9th after Trinity, at Templederry & St Mary's, Nenagh

Today’s OT reading (2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a) is a shocking story, isn’t it?
We heard the first part last week - the great King David, whom God has so favoured, arranged for Uriah the Hittite to be in effect murdered because he lusted after his wife Bathsheba. This week we hear how David takes her into his harem. Word of this wicked deed has got out, and the prophet Nathan confronts David, accuses him and tells him to his face that God will punish him. But David confesses his sin, and Nathan pronounces absolution, saying ‘The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die’.

You may feel shocked that David was let off so lightly for such a wicked act. However, that is not the end of it - we are told later in 2 Samuel that David was later publicly humiliated, both by family strife and by his son Absalom openly seizing his concubines, much as Nathan had prophesied.

But the truly shocking truth is this: it is the very nature of our God to forgive even the most heinous misdeeds of those who truly repent. That is shocking, because it is so unlike our own nature, but it is also comforting to us as sinners. But notice - even though we may be forgiven, we do not escape the consequences of our evil deeds.

What I want to talk about today, though, is the advice Paul gives to the Ephesians in the 2nd reading (Ephesians4:1-16)
Paul urges the church as a body to make ‘every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, while urging individuals to behave ‘with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love’. Put that way it sounds easy, doesn’t it? But the history of the church over 2000 years has shown just how hard it is!

Paul points out the variety of gifts that have been given to the church: ‘that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers’. I wonder if we have come to expect our parish clergy to display all of these gifts at the same time in the one individual. It must be a very heavy burden for them to bear, and perhaps we should not expect so much of any one person.

Paul goes on to describe the purpose of these gifts: to equip the saints’ - which in this context means all church members – for the work of ministry’ – that is, serving others - in order to ‘build up the body of Christ’  - the church as a whole.

Paul calls the Ephesians ‘to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ’. ‘We must no longer be children’, he says, ‘tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming’. Instead, ‘speaking the truth in love’, we must grow together to work like the church body Christ means us to be, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped’.

Don’t you just love that image of the church as a living body, with Christ as the head!

I believe this advice is just as relevant to us today as it was to The Ephesians.
First, let’s relate it to our own parish. We are very lucky that God has sent us Rev Lucy to be our pastor during the vacancy. In due course we will receive a new Rector, and of course a new Rector always brings change. Most of us are suspicious of change - some changes we like, and some we dislike, and different people like and dislike different things.

I feel strongly that Paul’s words have a message for us in this context: with humility and gentleness, speaking the truth in love, we are called to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace within our own parish, both during the vacancy and amid the changes a new Rector will bring. We should be careful not to make mountains out of molehills, and not to over-react to the changes we experience.

Second, let’s relate it to our Church of Ireland and the Anglican Communion. I’m sure you, like me, have been reading and hearing in the public media about dissensions in the Church.

In all of this, I think I detect some of the things Paul warns us of: winds of doctrine, trickery, and crafty scheming. It is clear that in many churches of the Communion, including the Church of Ireland, there are those who are preparing for schism. The immediate issues are those of LGBT relationships and equal marriage. But underlying these issues are profound differences in how Anglican Christians perceive the word of God, and the role of the Spirit in interpreting it.

Whatever our own views may be, I feel each of us would do well to respond to Paul’s words, to resist being tossed to and fro by the winds, to speak the truth in love, and to refuse to countenance the dismemberment of Christ’s body. We do not all need to believe exactly the same things, and I for one consider myself in communion with all who confess Jesus’s name.

Let me finish with a prayer for the whole of Christ’s church, by Canon Frank Colquhon:
Heavenly Father, whose will it is
that your Church should be one visible body,
so that the world might see and believe:
draw us and all your people closer to him
who is the one Head, Jesus Christ,
so that we may come closer to one another;
and unite us all in a common concern
to share your good news with others
and further your kingdom here on earth,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord: Amen