Spirit Filled Cacophony (Ephesians 3:1-16)Joan MacPherson, July 30, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
Spirit Filled Cacophony
Paul is in jail. Again. Those in power don’t like the story he tells, the life he offers, the future he envisions. He is all hyped up about this Jesus who didn’t stay dead when the powers and principalities of his day sought to stop his invitation to love, to transform, to welcome, to care for the vulnerable. He is all excited about this God who created and is creating. He is all about life. He commits his life to shaping a people who live in the world trusting in God’s love, embracing Jesus’ inclusion while uniting in community and deep connection. Paul is on it and his passion and action tend to create two very different - those who resist and those who join in.
One result? Fear. Angst. Threatened. That’s what happens with those that are in charge and hold the purse strings and power levers in his day. This passionate apostle Paul is on the move to share God’s love and create churches that are both transformed by that love and transforming the world with that love. He is on the move covering the bases and showing up in the places of prestige and import of his day. Corinth. Thessalonica. Ephesus. Colossae. Galatia. Rome. Syracuse. Athens. Malta. Cyprus. Crete. Athens. Syracuse. Jerusalem. No GPS. No fast trains. Maybe a donkey. Lots of step by step and ocean travel with all the storms and choppiness that brings. He is on the move and active in spreading the word, telling of the love, making known the God who brought him to the fullness of life. He is committed to planting churches to assure that the love, grace, hope, way of being is present and available for all.
I imagine that late night comedians would have had a hay day with him. He is described in post apocryphal writings as “bald headed, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose”. Combine that physical description to a man who, despite threats, prisons sentences, storms at sea, great resistance and ridicule, continues to preach and proclaim the grace of God active and accessible to all. I imagine clips going viral with both comedic ridicule and the yearning for what this goofy, driven man offers. For he is ministering in the midst of an oppressive, violent time. Pax Romana - “peace” that is the absence of lots of conflicts because Rome snuffs out anyone who has a different opinion, maintained because Rome extorts taxes at exorbitant levels, spreading because Rome conquers and occupies. In that reality Paul speaks of grace, acceptance, possibility, inclusion. Words of hope that are salve to the wounds of the people. He makes the grace of God real and available. There is energy bubbling up and churches being formed. People respond and act.
On the one hand I see the comedians having fun with this quirky, odd looking man who creates a powerful, stir and creates communities who are committed to the way of Jesus and worship of God not Caesar. On the other hand I see the powerful getting irked. Really? Now Paul? Didn’t he see what happened to Jesus? We can’t have charismatic, God centered people out on the loose telling the masses that they are loved, that they are welcomed, that they have a voice, that justice looks different then the militaristic conquering and controlling model at which we excel. We can’t have communities being formed that are generous and providing for the vulnerable. We can’t say that all are welcome. That would rearrange the status quo that has been painstakingly developed to maintain power, privilege and access for the special few. Can’t happen. Not on our watch. We need to silence this man and stop this movement. Jail him. Contain him. Limit his access to others.
Imprisonment may prevent physical movement and appearances but as we know from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr, imprisonment can be the setting from which world changing letters are written. They had Paul as an example. Behind bars again he writes to the church is Ephesus. The past two weeks we heard him wax on about healing, transforming, renewing power of grace and the new life offered in Christ - life that conforms to the law of love over and above any human created restricting/harmful law. With this weeks reading he makes a switch from declaring the gift and wonder of grace abundant and free to a conversation about the church, about the community that will make visible and real this grace so that others can experience God’s love. Jesus’ physical body is gone and it is now the church that will make visible and real the way of Jesus and love of God. Frederick Buechner writes about it this was in his book Wishful Thinking - “God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn't have a regular body anymore, so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he or she might just possibly do. He was using other people's hands to be Christ's hands and other people's feet to be Christ's feet, and when there was someplace where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe not all that innocent bystander and got that person to go and be Christ in that place for lack of anybody better…Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that.”
Paul was restrained in a prison but the power and life of God would not be constrained. Just as the brutal murder on a cross didn’t stop the love of Jesus, the muscle of the empire couldn’t stop the church. You create it. You live it. You embrace it says Paul. Its needed. Now. Really needed. And you know whats going to make it flourish and shine? What each of you bring to it. Your unique selves and your unique gifts offered into the mix of others unique gifts and unique selves.
Sisters and brothers - the need for the church? The need for a community of people that trust in the love of God and seek to share it? The need for the radical welcome of Jesus to be felt? The need for care of the vulnerable? This is a urgent today as then, maybe more so. Paul’s words are to us. Paul’s invitation is to us. We are sought out, we are needed, we are part of the peculiar people who commit themselves to making love and justice and peace tangible in the here and now not abstract ideas or possibilities reserved for the special few.
Look around. Look at the variety. The differences here. The people who are so excited that we are finally putting the weather vane on the steeple and the people who want that money to go for something very different. The people who are vets and the people who are pacifists. The people who vote red and the people who vote blue. The people who run marathons and the people who revel in sivasana. The addicted and those in recovery. We are all over the map. We come with our unique selves and unique perspectives. This is gift. This is challenge. Paul says its more gift though. God’s vision is for unity in diversity. It’s about finding what we have in common and working for the kingdom using our wide variety of gifts not creating a community of conformity. Its about creating a proverbial fruit salad with a variety of components, each bringing its own flavor, color, texture, shape to the mix - not dumping us all in a blender and creating a smoothie. Its about recognizing the other and what the other brings to the mix and how the other also challenges us and what we thought might be. Its about finding out how we meld in and compliment and enhance to community. Its a beautiful and spirit filled cacophony.
That is the church which Paul was encouraging and envisioning from his prison cell. When he was isolated. When he was oppressed. When his future was limited. He called out to us make God’s hope and love real in the world. Do you think there are folks that need that today? And that God will still give the church all it needs? And that you have a unique and vital place in creating that community? Amen.
Main Street Congregational UCC
July 30, 2017
Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
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