Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-16
“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, for building up the body of Christ” ~ Ephesians 4:11-12
Just before I entered grade 7 my family moved from Paris, France to Buffalo New York. As if the culture shock of that move wasn’t enough I got to go into a new school for Middle School as both a Canadian (hated by many Buffalonians) and a foreigner (I had developed a slight British accent while attending British school for 4 years). Things predictably did not go so well.
As an overweight teenager trying to make new friends as a Canadian with a weird accent I was bullied pretty badly by my peers. I made some friends sure, but the first year at my new school was harder than previous stops, middle school is merciless for many after all. At the end of the year, however, I was approached by the school’s guidance councillor and offered the opportunity to attend a leadership camp over the summer – something that I had not expected after the year I had experienced.
The camp was intended to build and enhance leadership qualities in students that the administration thought could be student leaders at the school moving forward and so I took the opportunity.
Like so many leadership programs for kids, the camp revolved around team building using ropes and obstacle courses. When I first got there I was terrified, as a relatively un-athletic teen I was deeply worried that my faults and lack of physical ability would make me a laughing stock amongst my peers.
I think that often in the church we harbour these kinds of feelings as well, we believe that we aren’t qualified enough or gifted enough, that what we have to say or what we have to offer isn’t good enough for leadership or for helping to further the ministry of the community.
Unfortunately, many church leaders throughout the centuries have cemented this thinking by insisting that it is only if you have enough training, or knowledge, or status or a defined position within the church hierarchy that you can speak about the Bible, or perform certain tasks within the life of the church.
So many churches are dominated so singularly by either one person or a small group of people, that others can be intimidated or conditioned into passivity when it comes to participation within the life of the church. Ultimately this has long-term destructive impacts on the church.
This phenomenon is certainly nothing new, as we can see from our reading from his Letter to Ephesians, the apostle Paul knew all too well the danger of the church dominated from above.
Paul’s appeal to the Ephesian church begins with the one thing that they all have in common that each of them has found new life and hope in Jesus Christ. That each of them is part of the one body of Christ through baptism and that there is only one faith and one God to who they hold allegiance. This is the common denominator for Christians in every place, in every tradition throughout all time. We all worship the same Lord, we were all saved by the same Jesus Christ, the same Son of God who opened a path of new and eternal life for us and all people through his death and resurrection.
But we know that we aren’t all the same. Just as some people are born tall and others born shortly each person who comes into the family of God comes in with a different history, different spiritual journeys, different gifts and abilities, different understandings and preferences for how they follow Jesus Christ and the life that he opened up for all.
And the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of his church, is that difference is celebrated and essential. Jesus does not push everyone through the same mould to make cookie-cutter Christians that look and sound the same, each person with their unique identity, their unique culture and background, their unique gifts and abilities is welcomed into the family of God just as they are and deemed essential for the common life of the church. There are no freeloaders or non-essential workers in the church, each person has a vital role to play.
Paul is clear about this when in verses 11 and 12 he gives his famous five-fold list of leadership gifts. Paul writes “The gifts that were given were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” And yet in many churches we assume, expect or are told that one person the priest, the pastor is the one who exhibits all of these gifts, all the time. This is hubris on the part of the leader and a dangerous precedent for communities that ascribe to this understanding of leadership.
Paul is very clear to the Ephesians that God gave various gifts to various people so that everyone might be equipped for the work or ministry so that everyone would help with building up of the body of Christ. And since we have other letters of Paul we also know that these five gifts are not the only gifts that are given – every Christian, each person that comes into the fellowship of the church brings special talents, special spiritual gifts with them that ultimately serve to build up the body of Christ so that the Love and Mercy of God might spread out into surrounding communities and to the ends of the world.
When I attended that leadership camp after my horrid grade 7 year, I thought I would be a liability I thought that I would be a laughing stock that could offer nothing to the teams I was on because of my lack of physical ability. But over the course of the week, I realized that I did have gifts to offer, I could offer creative solutions and problem-solving to accomplish tasks in easier ways, I could support and cheer on my more athletically gifted teammates and with their support, I could overcome obstacles and challenges that I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams if I were alone.
What began as an experience I dreaded became a triumphant fun-filled week that gave me confidence for the year ahead. It wasn’t some magical switch that was flipped, I was still bullied and had my share of hardships in grade 8, but it was a reminder that I could be more than that, that my gifts and abilities could lead others to success.
Each one of you has gifts and abilities, whether you are worshipping here in the sanctuary or watching on our live stream today. Each of you is blessed with a unique distinctive spiritual journey that has brought you into our fellowship, that has brought you into the path of following Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. You do not necessarily have my gifts, and I certainly don’t have yours but everything you have is eminently important to the life of this church, each skill, each ability, each insight is vital to the building up and thriving of Christ’s church here in South Scarborough and the spreading of God’s love to every man, woman and child who lives here.
Hear this: no gift is lesser or greater than other, each one is essential which means that each one of you is essential to the life of this church. There would after all be no church if there was merely a building and me standing at the front here. All of you make up and build up the body of Christ through the small and great work that you do, but that also means that you bear a responsibility to offer those gifts in service of the Gospel, especially in the time that we live in.
COVID has changed the world, you may be tired of hearing that, you may dream of a day when everything is back to normal but the truth of the matter is we are entering a new era of human existence that has been drastically altered by the pandemic. And the church needs to be ready for this new reality: it needs to be ready to find new and life-giving ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world around us; it needs to be ready to find innovative ways to serve the needs of the community.
We cannot necessarily rely on the old way, on the tried and true methods of years past. What worked fifty or even five years ago will not necessarily work in a world that has been shifted by social isolation, virtual meetings and endless lockdowns.
As we return from our own shutdown each one of us has a role to play in the building up of the body of Christ here at Grace Church, each one of us must bring our gifts, our skills, our passion to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by our words and our deed so that this community might flourish and the Kingdom of God might be revealed on earth as it is in heaven.
The church is neither a dictatorship nor an oligarchy, it is a community of equals centred around Jesus Christ, centred around the one who gave up all of the honour, all of the glory, who gave up his heavenly throne to bear our sins and brokenness, to bear our humiliation so that we might all enter the family of God. None of us are passengers on this journey and none of us are more important than the person next to us, we all have a part to play, but thanks be to God the Holy Spirit will give you the strength, your brother and sister in Christ next to you will bear you up when you falter or fall.
Jesus is Lord and we are his disciples, let us so build up the body of Christ here in this place, that our Joy and Love might flow abundantly into the lives of our neighbours and to the ends of the world. Amen!