The Full Stature of Christ
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Ephesians 4: 1-13
week, two members of the Staff Parish Relations Committee, which is the group
within in a
long ago, the same pastor preached a sermon on a topic that is particularly
controversial within the
Hearing these stories this week caused me to recall that there used to be people in these pews two or three years ago who aren’t here anymore, some of them because of things I’ve said and done that maybe I shouldn’t have said and done, and some of them because of things I haven’t said and done that maybe I should have said and done. I’m not always sure. Some are not here for other reasons, but there are people who used to be here who aren’t here anymore. I know of no pastor for whom this is easy and whose heart doesn’t break when this happens. And it happens. It happens in churches.
part of a branch of the Christian movement that came into existence because
of a schism within the Church of England based on class. The
So here is the question…why is it that, at every level of the church’s life, Christians seem to have such a hard time living together? Why is it that we have so much trouble living together?
I’ve been trying this fall to preach my way through the book of Ephesians. For those of you who are becoming impatient, I’m half way there. I’ve completed the first three chapters. The first three chapters of the book of Ephesians are primarily theological and doxological. They deal with vast themes and big ideas: the cosmic work of Christ, the work of Christ throughout time and eternity, the meaning of salvation, the theological implications of the delayed parousia, the delayed return of Christ that the first generation of Christians had expected – big ideas, big themes, big thoughts.
The second half of the book of Ephesians is practical. The second half of the book of Ephesians, beginning in chapter four, is about how we are to live together in view of the teachings of the first three chapters of the book. Given what we understand in the first half of the book, how then should we live together in our churches, in our homes and families, in our working relationships, in our most intimate relationships?
There is material here in the second half of Ephesians that we need to be careful about, very careful about, how we apply it to our life today. For example, in the second half of the book of Ephesians, we will find the words, “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.” We should be very careful about how we interpret that. We also find in the second half of the book of Ephesians the words, “Slaves, be obedient to your masters.” We find material in the second half of the book of Ephesians that might be misused and abused to oppress people, when the consistent theme of scripture from beginning to end is liberation of people. So, we have to be very careful how we understand it within the context of the patriarchy and oppression of the time in which it was written. And yet, these are things (these discussions of how we relate to each other in church, in work and in our homes) that are important.
The big ideas of the first half of the book should be guiding us to understand what we should do with our lives on a daily basis. The book of Ephesians, in chapter four, begins with some very practical discussion about how we live together in the church. It faces the question: why is it that Christians find it so hard to live together with one another?
As I’ve said, the book of Ephesians is a post-Pauline book. It summarizes the teachings of the apostle Paul and then tries to move beyond it to this new situation of a world in which Christ has not come again and in which it looks like we’re going to be in this for the long haul. One of the issues that the book of Ephesians has to address is that, over time, the church did not become more unified. It did not become more loving toward one another. It became more splintered and divisive. The longer that Christian history was going on, the more divided the church was becoming. How do we understand this? How do we make sense of it and how do we live with it? Why is it that Christians seem to have such a hard time living in the house of God with one another?
the book of Ephesians has a lot to say about this, but I want to talk about
only two of the ideas that we will find in the fourth chapter of the
book. The first idea is this: the book
of Ephesians says that no matter what it seems like, there really is only one
Body and one Spirit. There really is
only one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and parent of us
all. There really is only one
church. There’s only one God, only one
Jesus Christ, only one Spirit. You
can’t leave the first
You can go to St. Matthew’s Cathedral down the street. The music might be different. They tell me the preaching is a little different. The service may feel different, and when I’ve been there, it even smells different there at the cathedral. But it is the same Body, the same Spirit, the same hope, the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism, and the same God and parent of us all that you find at St. Matthew’s as you do here.
You can go to the Church of the Rapture at 14th and T Streets. I’ve never been there, but I’ve been to churches like it. There’s a newspaper article on the front page of the Post this morning that includes a description of the Church of the Rapture at 14th and T Streets. There – take note for those of you who become impatient at noon – the average service is five hours long. It says in the newspaper this morning, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes, that there are times when people become so filled with the Spirit at the Church of the Rapture that the ushers have to gather around him or her to make sure they don’t bump into anything and hurt themselves. The service there may seem very different, but it is the same Body, the same Spirit, the same hope, same Lord, same faith, same baptism, same God and parent of us all. There is only one Body. No matter what it seems like to us, there is only one Body. There is only one Spirit. There is only one baptism.
The same is true of those within a denomination who disagree, and the same is true of those within a congregation who find themselves disagreeing. There is only one Body. It’s the same Body that we are all part of.
Now, how is this possible because it seems so different? Here is what Ephesians 4 suggests. The reason the bodies can seem so different when there is only one Body is because none of us have grown yet to the measure of the full stature of Christ. None of us have grown yet to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
It’s an interesting image. I had to pull out my dusty old Greek New Testament and look up the words and try to figure out what this is saying. It’s translated many different ways, and there are many different translations of the Bible. But here is the image, after studying it, that I came up with: the church is like a box. It’s like a container. Christ is inside the box, but the box is too small for Christ to stand up in. The church has Christ within it, but our church boxes are too small for Christ to stand up in. And Christ is trying to stand up to the measure of Christ in full stature, but the box cramps and contorts Christ.
There are, I understand, chambers that are used to torture prisoners of war in some countries. They are boxes that are designed to be too small for a person to either stand up or sit down in. It is awful torture not to be able to rest or stand up straight. This is what the church is like. We are a torture chamber that keeps Christ from standing up to Christ’s full stature, and Christ is trying to push the church bigger and higher and wider so that Christ can become all that Christ longs to be in our world, the measure of the full stature of Christ.
The last time I taught Bible class, there were some young adults in the class who pushed me. One of the questions they asked me was when I talked about Foundry in sermons in comparison to the rest of the church, wasn’t I sometimes a little arrogant? I thought about it for a moment and said “Yes.” Sometimes I’m a little arrogant when I talk about Foundry in relationship to the rest of the church because I believe that we have discovered things here that most of the rest of the church hasn’t discovered yet, and it’s not to our credit. It happened because of the gift of where we are located, and the community that we’re part of. There are people that have come to our church that have educated us and have helped us to learn things. And, yes, I do sometimes overemphasize the fact that we have things that the rest of the church has to learn from us, but it is also true that there are things that we have to learn from the rest of the church.
There was a young man that I knew because of the work that I used to do before I came here to Foundry who used to attend Foundry. He called me up when the announcement was made that I was coming here, and he said, “Is it really true you’re coming to Foundry?” I said, “Yes.” He came and attended a couple of Sundays and asked to talk to me and said: “It’s nothing personal, but I want you to know that I’m in a catechism class at St. Matthew’s, and my plan is to finish the class and become a Catholic.” And I said, “Why are you doing that?” He said: “Well after many years of being a Methodist, I’m looking for something more. It seems to me, after having listened to you Methodist preachers preach, that what you think is that Jesus Christ came to earth, died on the cross, and rose again in order to make people nicer to one another. I think that there’s something more to it than that.” I said: “Yes, but think about it for a minute. If it worked, if Jesus actually got people to be nicer to one another, wouldn’t that be a marvelous thing?” “No,” he said, “I want more. I want more of the sense of the mystical presence of Christ in my life and in this world.”
There are things that we need to learn from the rest of the church because we participate in squeezing Christ into our own limited box of understanding. I think there are things that we need to learn from one another, we here in this congregation who sometimes disagree and who sometimes begin to feel uncomfortable with things. I know there is sometimes discomfort in our congregation. People feel like we’re talking about one thing too much or we’re not focusing on the whole range of the Gospel. Sure, we begin to feel some discomfort for one another. That’s when we need to learn from one another to figure out how to listen to one another so that the box of our church might become a little larger and Christ might be able to stand a little taller.
I was talking to a pastor of a church a while ago that’s a tad larger than ours. It’s a church where everyone is clearly welcomed, and I asked him if they had considered becoming a reconciling congregation. He said: “No, we haven’t wanted to take that on. But we have a group, an affirmation group for gay and lesbian people, which meets in our church, but we also have a Promisekeepers group that meets in our church.” I said: “Well, that’s very interesting. How do you manage that?” And he said: “Oh, the two groups never run into each other. We’re so large that the two groups never run into each other.”
Listen, we need to be a church of people with some different insights and some different understandings, but we need to run into each other. We need to run into each other. We can’t segregate ourselves into groups where we are comfortable. We have to get into places where we feel some discomfort. Because that discomfort is Christ stretching within the box of our souls and trying to stand up greater and taller and to fill us.
We have a Church Conference this coming Saturday, and I do my annual report. One of the things I’m going to emphasize is my desire that we go ahead with a planning process as a congregation that brings us out of our usual groups and brings us into conversation with one another so that we’re not just hanging out with the people that we feel most comfortable with, but that we’re talking with one another. We’re helping to stretch one another so that Christ might grow within us.
One of the things I love about Jane’s ChristCare group in our living room is that it’s people who are from different parts of the congregation, different ages, and different life situations. We come together and we find great power in the sharing across our different ways of thinking.
is one Body. There is one Spirit…the
same Spirit at the cathedral, same Spirit at the Church of the Rapture, the
same Spirit here. I have to confess
that I don’t know sometimes what to do with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell,
but the Word says that there is one Spirit.
There are not two Jesuses.
Jesus is not schizophrenic. There
is one Spirit. There is one Body and
one Spirit, which fill all of us who are