A sermon delivered to Virginia Theological Seminary, Friday, November 18, 2016 on Ephesians 4:1-6:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 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 God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in peace; our epistle today opens with a typical St. Paul softball. With this list of virtues, Paul heeds us to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” It is an elegant and beautiful list, but one that sounds daunting even for the people with whom we love easily, much less those with whom we disagree. Over the past year, I have lived in three states, have a been a part of three different diocesan and parish communities, and have been a student at two seminaries, and I can tell you with certainty, it is no simple task to foster these virtues.
This is difficult not just because of the large personalities that come into play in churches and in seminaries (though that definitely is a part of it), but it isn’t simple because it is so hard to learn to be humble, yet also bold, it is hard to be tough-enough, yet also gentle, it is hard to work with people…..and be patient. It is not difficult, I believe, because we fail entirely to develop these virtues, but because the competing goods tend to get results. To live out our calling we must be bold, thick-skinned, and persistent; these are not bad things, but we must look at what guides and directs us before we go refuting Paul’s list in exasperation.
Spending the time, energy, and talent that it takes to “bear one another in love” is seemingly less productive than, say, ignoring one another in frustration. And Paul doesn’t say make an attempt at maintaining the unity of the Spirit, but to make every attempt; this is hardly a simple aside with which do our best and walk away. No, we must come to know the other; knowing not just the laundry list of their beliefs, positions, and whether they genuflect or not, but the simplicity and challenge of our common calling and Christian life is to know each other in humility, gentleness, and patience, in the bearing of one another in love, and in making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We must ask ourselves, then, what will we do when the way in which we are living out our calling is not worthy of our calling?
We cannot live out our calling on our own; we need each other. We need each other to be humble and gentle and patient; we need each other to remind us to be the same. To live out our lives in a manner worthy of our calling is built not upon who God made us individually, or the spurring of our baptismal covenant, or the abundance of the programs we offer, but upon the unity of God’s church. We cannot live a life worthy of our calling if we do not know, wrestle with, love, and struggle with the truth that there is one body, and one Spirit, that there is one hope in God’s call to us, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.
This “oneness” can be understood in two ways. It can imply exclusivity and draw harsh lines around a particular understanding of God, baptism, even around hope; these harsh lines convey that those on the other side are excluded from God’s work in the world and in our lives. Or, the litany of oneness that Paul relays can be the foundation of our very life and work. To know that there is one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God is to know that God, in God’s grandeur, is bigger even than our divisions. When we live out our calling as God’s people without humility, gentleness, and patience this seems increasingly impossible. Simply put, it is impossible to be unified without knowing that we share this Christian walk with those with whom we disagree and also knowing that there is one body of Christ.
We all have wounds, scars, and brokenness, and to live a life worthy of our calling demands that we not ignore them, but learn to love them, heal them, and to eventually be willing to share them with others. Learning to be gentle with your woundedness, helps me to be gentle with my own scars, seeing your humility in success or failure helps me to learn to do the same, working together requires patience from everyone. We share in the brokenness of the world and in each other, and we come to the table individually broken, but as a unified whole. It is only by coming together at the table, bearing one another in love, that we are able to truly know the unity of God who is above all, through all, and in all.
We need each other. In times of frustration, divisiveness, and exasperation, we need each other. We need the version of each other that is broken, hurt, and scared; we need the version of each other that is happy, relaxed, and confident. We need each other not because we are not whole on our own, but because the wholeness and unity found in God can only be found together. We need each other because without the other we cannot live a life worthy of our calling into the one hope of which we have all been called.