Sermon for Reformation Sunday 26/10/2003
Based on Eph. 4:1-6
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, AB
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Today is Reformation Sunday. It’s a day we remember and celebrate our heritage as Lutheran Christians. It is also, in this twenty-first century, a time for us to take more seriously the accomplishments as well as the failures of the ecumenical movement. Yes, we have travelled a long way towards Christian unity as Lutheran Christians. Yet, at the same time, we still lack unity within Christendom. There are still several divisions among us. The sad thing is that there is always the temptation for us Christians to become rather smug and even hostile towards further Christian unity, content to shut out others and live in our own little world. The following story illustrates our tendency towards smugness and hostility quite well:
In a discussion involving Ole Olson, an old Norwegian, who grew increasingly irritable during the early stages of conversations between Lutherans and Anglicans, the topic of bishops came up. Ole would not stand for bishops in the Lutheran church. However, Ole’s family could not quite figure this out. “But dad,” they said, “you’re an atheist!” “Ya,” Ole admitted, “but I’m a Lutheran atheist!” J
Stubbornness, arrogance, self-centredness, impatience, “doing one’s own thing” at all costs is not helpful ways to live together in Christian unity, says the author of Ephesians in our second lesson today. There is here in today’s second lesson a sense of urgency to live out our calling as Christians in such a manner as to promote the unity of the church. Unity is not an option, it’s a necessity. If you don’t believe that, then I ask you to read John chapter seventeen, where Christ himself prays for the unity of all Christians. As Lutherans, we teach that the church is always—that means constantly in this world at least—in need of reforming. The Spirit of God is still at work among us to bring about continuing re-formation.
The Holy Spirit as the promoter of koinonia—i.e., community/fellowship—(2 Corinthians 13:13) gives to those who are still divided the thirst and hunger for full communion. We remain restless until we grow together according to the wish and prayer of Christ that those who believe in him may be one (John 17:21).
In the process of praying, working and struggling for unity, the Holy Spirit comforts us in pain, disturbs us when we are satisfied to remain in our division, leads us to repentance and grants us joy when our communion flourishes. 1
In order to make such aspirations of Christian unity a reality, our second lesson identifies some vital marks or characteristics of Christians practiced in the life of the Church.
First, there are humility and gentleness. Of course, immediately the example of Christ himself comes to mind. He epitomises true humility and gentleness. He practices humility and gentleness so often throughout his life and ministry. He is born not in the castle of a king, but in a lowly stable. He lives and works among ordinary people. He heals the sick, welcomes and eats with tax-collectors, sinners and other social or religious outcasts of his day. He does not intimidate or overpower others by abusing his authority. Rather, even the smallest of children come to him to be welcomed and blessed. His kindness touches the hearts and lives of so many who had been rejected or ignored by other leaders. If the humility and gentleness of Jesus teach us anything, surely it is that we learn from him how to be servants. In a selfish, take, take, take world, we learn from Jesus how to be unselfish by serving others and giving, giving, giving freely of ourselves. Is it not true that in the world of business, great service is the key to success? How much more so then is it true that humble, gentle servanthood reveals the love of Christ and promotes the unity of the Church.
Next, the marks or characteristics of Christians and Christian unity are patience and bearing with one another in love. In our present world of microchips, jet planes, and superhighways, we live such fast-paced lives that impatience is no longer a vice, but a virtue. Today in our larger cities amid traffic jams, people develop “road rage” and fist fights break out due to the impatience of motorists. Ours is a world of instant gratification, we want and expect results right now without delays. In contrast to this, the biblical concept of patience involves a persevering; a sticking with others in the face of frustrating and difficult obstacles; a slowness to become angry with others. It has been said that a pearl is a garment of patience that enclosed an annoyance. In practicing patience, Christ is able to make something very beautiful out of us by transforming what we regard as offensive and irritable. Along with practicing patience, we are called to bear with one another in love. As human beings we are all created in God’s image and we are all unique. That means, as Paul so aptly describes it, we are, as a Church, a body with many different parts. Often times we feel threatened by differences. Or we tend to compare differences and make judgements—in an attempt to put down some and praise others. What or whom we don’t like because of differences, we tend to criticize, avoid, or reject. Yet, it is in Christian love—agape—that we are able to love others and seek out the highest well being of others. Even though we may not like someone because they have different interests or approaches to life than we do; as Christians we are still called upon to love them. Here again Christ himself is our Perfect Example of this love. He taught us to love even our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, to give away our possessions without expecting anything in return, to pray even for those who persecute us; to forgive even those who mistreat, hurt and abuse us. There is nothing as powerful as this love when it is put into practice; such love is indeed able to conquer the world.
This leads us to the last mark or characteristic of the Christian listed in our Ephesians passage, namely, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Note those two words every effort. In other words, there is a tone of utter urgency here in the author’s appeal to the Christians at Ephesus and to us as well. The author is saying: “go out of your way, do all things necessary, discipline yourselves as much as possible, be completely committed to” living in the unity of peace, which binds you together thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit. Living together in peace as members of Christ’s Church means living in right relationships with each other and removing all walls and barriers, which divide us.
Author C.S. Lewis, in the following words, gives us a picture of what living in peace looks like:
One of the great demonstrations of the truth of Christianity is the way it breaks down barriers that it takes a convert from Central Africa and teaches him to obey an enlightened universal ethic and takes a twentieth century academic prig from England (Lewis referring to himself) and tells him to go to a mystery and eat the body and drink the blood of the Lord. The two have little to draw them together but they are brothers. They are brought together as a gift of God’s spirit. 2
If we seek to live together in right relationships with each other, the Holy Spirit will work to unite us and help us to be reconciled with each other and to forgive each other, so that Christ’s peace fills our lives. When this peaceful living, and reconciling, forgiving power is at work among us there’s no telling who will be drawn into the life of the Church and how Christ will employ us to accomplish that more complete unity and oneness for which he prays and wills. Amen.