(Ephesians 4: 1-16)
That word in the first verse grabs my attention. The one that was repeated in our call to worship several times. We’ve heard it before, probably a lot in our culture and time. Worthy. It stings me a little bit to be honest; for we have all wondered – am I worthy enough? Is what I am doing worthy? Am I worthy of what I have?
Worthy has this harsh assumption to it that we must have a certain set of qualities or attributes that make us deserving of what we receive. But that thought puts me at odds with what the gospel has taught me.
The gospel has told me that I do not have to be worthy, that I do not have to do anything to deserve the love I receive, but rather I receive it because of who I am, God’s created and loved child. I am worthy not because of what I do or where I come from or what I have, but because of who I am – a child of God, and because of who God is – all powerful, all loving, all grace-filled.
So it makes me wonder about this text a bit, what is a “life ‘worthy’ of the calling to which you have been called?” Can my life ever be worthy of this amazing calling? Why does the writer of Ephesians use the word ‘worthy’ when the gospel reminds us that we don’t have to be worthy to know God’s grace?
I grew up listening to my father, Michael’s, sermons and some of the stories have stuck to me like glue, stories that have shaped my understanding of the world, stories I’ll always remember. One of my favorite stories is a love story, a wedding story. Before the wedding my Dad asks couples to share love letters written to one another. He then selects excerpts of the letters to share on the day of the wedding in his meditation.
One wedding he performed, the letters were beautiful, the whole congregation came to tears, not just the loved ones gathered but even the hired vendors who were strangers to this couple. It was the groom’s letter about his wife’s love.
The groom wrote about how his wife-to-be loved him. He said that her love was most amazing because she loved him as he was, imperfections, male foibles and all. That was amazing enough, he wrote, but even more wondrous was the fact that her unconditional love had this way of pulling him to grow to be more worthy of it.
Her love did this without ever implying that he wasn’t worthy of it. Her unquestioning love took him as he was, but somehow nudged him to be a better man without ever saying that there was anything wrong with him.
Might this story help us to understand the writer of Ephesians a little better?
This is the kind of love God has for us, the kind of love that shapes us into who we are with an unconditional love. A love that does not say you are not worthy of my love, or a love that says you must become worthy to receive my love, but rather, it is a love that says, I love you just the way you are. But also a love that encourages us, because of how amazing and unconditional God’s love is, a love that calls us and shapes us, encouraging us to be the people God has created and called us to be, a love that encourages us to be worthy, not a love that requires it.
That is what I believe the writer of Ephesians is urging us to see in this passage. That with Christ, we are not worthy or unworthy of a calling, or worthy or unworthy of Christ, or worthy or unworthy of love, rather we receive it freely. And having received it freely, we are empowered to live a life that is in line with that love – a different way of understanding what it might mean to be worthy. That in our relationship with Christ, we grow more fully into the people that God calls us to be. Not because we must do so in order to earn God’s love / but because we are encouraged through love to do so.
When we are walking with Christ, working for Christ’s kingdom, we are becoming the people God created us to be. Not because we must to reach some end, but rather because Christ’s life and love encourages us to be the very best and truest versions of ourselves.
A theologian and a philosopher pen the words better than I do. Words that remind us that as we grow into who we are called and created to be in Christ, as we work to ‘live a life worthy of the calling’ we do so not in anticipation of what we may receive or in expectation of ultimate arrival but rather, we do so alongside Christ who nurtures us and equips us to be who we can be.
Thomas Merton writes, “In one sense we are always traveling…In another sense we have already arrived.”
Boethius the Roman philosopher penned these words:
To see Thee is the end and the beginning
Thou carriest us and thou dost go before
Thou art the journey and the journey’s End
Christ is the means to the end and Christ is the end. Christ carries us on the journey which brings us to Christ.
With Christ as our goal, meaning with Christ as that which we strive to be like and that which we work to grow closer to, we work toward that goal together as the body of Christ, bound together by the journey we are on together and bound together by the hope, the goal, to which we are all working towards.
With that in mind – our journeys with God and our worthiness of Christ’s love, allow me to take a bit of a turn to address the rest of what this passage talks about, our work together as the body of Christ. The writer of Ephesians talks not just about our individual lives of faith but also our communal lives, the work we do together. The writer of Ephesians sees our individual lives knit together as the body of Christ, the church, as crucial to how we grow in faith.
There is a story I heard a few years ago, you may have heard it too. Three day laborers are working in a field at the end of a long road in the hot sun. A traveler comes along and sees the day laborers hard at work, he asks the first day laborer, “what are you doing?” to which the day laborer responds, “I’m laying this brick down, putting concrete down and then putting another brick on top of it.” A little while later another traveler stumbles upon the day laborers and asks the second day laborer, “What are you doing?” The second day laborer responds to the traveler, “I’m building a wall.” And a little while later a third traveler comes along and says to the third day laborer, “what are you doing?” the third day laborer turns to the traveler and responds, “I’m building a beautiful cathedral to the glory of God.”
It is not just how you look at it, sure the third day laborer had a better attitude towards his work, but he understood his work to be in line with what God was calling him to do. His calling is to glorify God, building a cathedral for people to worship and pray and gather together, using his skills as a day laborer allows him to accomplish his calling.
A year or two ago I had the joy of attending a breakfast held in our Fellowship Hall for Phillips Academy. For those who don’t know Phillip’s Academy it is one of the school held in this building for students with learning and developmental disabilities that teaches real learning for real life. It was early one Thursday morning before I am used to being at church and the room was filled with student greeters, parents, and interested parties wanting to learn more about Philip’s Academy. Mike McGinnis, a teacher and parent at Philip’s Academy, stood up to share about the school. He talked about what it meant to him and to his family and his kid. He said this one thing that has stuck with me throughout these years though, it seemed to be kind of an off-hand comment, that packed the punches with gospel truth. He said: “I’m just an average guy, but I feel pretty special because I am a part of this thing going on at Philip’s Academy.”
To me, this is the church, the church is special because of the makeup of people it brings together, and each of us is made even more special because of this thing we are a part of. This church that we are building together, because we are a part of it, we grow, and we are a part of this amazing thing called the body of Christ.
One last story, MiHee Kim Kort our Montreat speaker last year tells a story about a run she did a few years ago. It was a “trail run” as she said and she was looking forward to the solitude of the run, looking at nature, beautiful views to run by, but what she ended up on was totally different. It had rained recently so trail run had turned into mud run. Along with dirt turned to mud the rain had affected the mile markers so along the run about halfway one of the mile markers and directions had fallen making it unclear what the next turn was: a steep incline hill or a path to the other direction. Some people turned away from the whole thing and just headed back, some took the scenic route for a nice run and others went looking for the mile marker. She went looking for the mile marker and along the way saw a few other straggled and lost runners. So they started walking and talking and looking everywhere for the mile marker, about a 20 minute adventure, where they introduced themselves, laughed about the hilarity of the situation, looked for the mile marker, talked about why they were running a race and who they were. They eventually found the mile marker learning that they had added 20 minutes to their run and at least a half a mile.
MiHee says though, isn’t this what church looks like? People bound together. Working toward a common goal, Laughing along the way, telling stories. This is the church, our common goal defines us and our ongoing search for that goal unites us.
You may have noticed in the scripture Meredith read for us so beautifully the repetition of the word “one.” Anyone counting along would have noticed its repeated 7 times in the one verse, which scholars have come to refer to as the “sevenfold one.” The emphasis is on our oneness, not necessarily on our alikeness. It is an emphasis on our unity, not our uniformity, an emphasis on what binds us together as the people of God – our calling, our baptism, our God.
Growing together with Christ, bound together with one another, we work towards this one goal. We press on together toward the hope of living into our calling, glorifying God and sharing the goods news of the gospel – God is our God and we are God’s people along the journey and to the journey’s end.