Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 'You that are simple, turn in here!' To those without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’
A Feast Like No Other: Ephesians 9:1-6
I have manage to have a lot of good meals in my life, at least a few of them here, in this very church. Today, I wanted to tell you about one feast in particular. It was probably the most ornate meal that I have ever been to. I ate this meal... or, really, experienced this meal last year when Tasha and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Casablanca in Morocco. We knew that this meal was going to be an experience just as soon as we got off the bus at the venue. We heard music before we even got into the building. The building itself looked like a castle, which it kind of was. It was mostly square and took up nearly the whole block. It was two stories high and there were several different courtyards within it's walls. Inside, dark wood contrasted beautifully with gleaming white plaster and stone. The walls were full of calligraphy that I couldn't read and images of intertwining vines and flowers. The arches all had lovely scalloped edges. The windows were full of stars. And, the music, which we had first heard across the street, reverberated off the walls as we entered through 20 foot tall, fortified wooden door.
Inside were two dozen young men who raucously played drums and sang to welcome us to our meal. They were wearing what we learned was traditional dress for different cultural and regional groups in Morocco. You could tell who was Berber, or at least representing one of the Berber cultures because they wore bright yellow shoes and white fezzes. Once we arrived in the main courtyard, we saw beautifully set tables and a lovely fountain in the middle. Women were stationed on giant couches and piles of pillows throughout the space. If you wanted, they would draw intricate designs in henna on your hands and sometimes all the way up your arm. After seeing some friends, we sat down to our tables, and looked over our menu. We recognized some of the food names. They make these great stews called tagines in Morocco. We would have one that night. And, lamb was on the menu. That is also very common. But, there were cheeses that we had that I had never heard of, and fruit juices, too. They were also going to serve some kind of pastry. I sat at table with a bunch of other Americans. So much had already happened. None of us had any idea what else to expect for the rest of evening. e sat down to our tables, and looked over our menu. We recognized some of the food names. They make these great stews called tagines in Morocco. We would have one that night. And, lamb was on the menu. That is also very common. But, there were cheeses that we had that I had never heard of, and fruit juices, too. They were also going to serve some kind of pastry. I sat at table with a bunch of other Americans. So much had already happened. None of us had any idea what else to expect for the rest of evening.
As it turns out, the main thing that we didn't expect is that this dinner would go on to last five to six hours. Our menu said dinner would begin at 6 PM. Well, as it turns out, the dinner festivities began at 6 PM. It would be probably another hour and half or two hours before the first small course was served and yet another hour and a half after that before we actually got a decent amount of food. The tagine that was knew was coming didn't arrive until 9 PM. The food took a very long time to get to us, but when it arrived, there were massive piles of it, far more than the eight of us at our table could eat. When they brought the lamb course, they brought out an entire lamb to our table, plus more piles of roasted vegetables. I can not even tell you what our dessert was. I was filled to the gills by that point. There was also many cups of mint tea throughout the night. I was so hopped up on caffeine that night that I barely slept.
Why, you may ask, did it take so long to get food? What was going on? Perhaps it would be helpful to know a little context here. The conference we were attending moves around every year. One year, it will be in either the US or Canada and the next is will be abroad. While there are often Moroccan scientists in attendance, this was the first time that a university in Morocco was able to host the event. They knew that this was likely the first time that many people had ever been to Morocco and it would maybe be the only time that some of us would have the opportunity to go. So, they wanted to go all out. They wanted to show us the best they had to offer. That meant good food and plenty of it. That also meant that they wanted to make sure that we learned something about Moroccan history and culture.There should also be something fun, so there should be singing and dancing. This feast was to include all those things. The trouble was, those of us who weren't Moroccan or hadn't traveled there before, had no idea what was going on and had not planned correctly to make this an enjoyable evening.
This feast, that our hosts hoped would be so much fun, turned out to being a confusing and frustrating night for many people. Most of us had not eaten anything since lunch. Most of us assumed that if the menu said we'd start at 6 PM, we'd at least get a first course pretty soon there after. Most of us assumed that we'd be done eating by 9 PM, not finally having our first real plate of food. This long meal broken up by dancing and singing exhibitions was not at all what we expected. It didn't help that the people who knew to expect this kind of experience, who knew that special celebrations would be marked by dancing, food, and drink long into the night and over several hours, they didn't seem to realize that this would be a surprise to the foreigners. So, they didn't know that many people would have appreciated a description of the night's events that would have allowed them have a snack before they came and to be prepared for a long evening.
Here is what ended up happening. Some people got so frustrated and hungry that they left before dinner arrived. One couple at my table ran across the street to a McDonald's to get something to eat while they waited. Still others chose to stay and complain heartily.Many of them took the first bus that they could back to the hotel, even though it had arrived only about a half-hour after the final course of the food. I would say that only about a third of the people who had attended the dinner actually enjoyed themselves as the hosts had intended. To this day, for many of the people I know, one of the most disappointing parts of that whole conference was this very elaborate, very drawn out dinner. To me, this is one of the strongest examples I have ever seen of cultural miscommunication, where some people are trying to be good hosts and the guests don't understand and the hosts don't even realize it in time to explain and the guests finally just get mad. I don't think that it ended up being the feast that any of us, guest or host, expected.
I thought of this feast that I experienced in Morocco when I read about Wisdom's feast in our Scripture for today. There are some ways that these two feasts are very similar. Both are in large, beautiful buildings. They both involved lavish table settings and tables filled with meat, a type of food that is not often available to the poor people of the Bible or in poor parts of Morocco. There were servants who called us to the feast in both cases. I will say, though, much to many people's chagrin, there was no wine in Morocco. Wisdom's feast was much more complete in that department. Most importantly, the hosts of both parties offered the best they could to their guests. Now, I told you how well the feast went for the hosts in Morocco. I can't tell you how Wisdom's feast turned out. Her feast is still on-going and I'm not sure how her guests are going to respond. I think we're probably barely through the first course right now and there's probably a lot more singing and dancing to come. The hanger has definitely set in for some and they may not be willing to stick around for Wisdom's full course. It would sure be a shame if they left. I really think there's some good stuff yet to come.
And, what might Wisdom's next few courses be? Honestly, I'm not sure. Wisdom is a gracious and accomplished host. She probably has dishes in mind that I can't even imagine. This is how she describes all the stuff she does in Proverbs: In chapter 8, she says, "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago." She goes on to speak of creation, piece by piece, saying that as God stretched out the heavens and filled the seas, "I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing his inhabited world and delighting in the human race." Wisdom loves humanity and really wants us to come to her party. And, she invited all people, not just the wealthy and learned, to her feast. Her gifts are open to everyone, if you're just willing to show up and stick around for all the courses. We can be pretty sure that the food was good. So, we're probably better off trying not to figure out the courses and, instead, spending our time figuring out how to be good guests at this feast.
I wonder if, in order to be able to make it through Wisdom's long feast, we have to be willing to do some of the stuff she did. We have to be willing to do some creating with God. We have to love our work and do it with joy. We have to delight in the people and the critters and the plants and rocks that surround us. And, we have to be willing to accept an invitation to a party where we might not know exactly what's going on but we have to trust that our hosts wouldn't have invited us if it wasn't worth coming to. We have to be willing to be surprised when the meal doesn't go as we planned, but trust that another good course will come very soon. And, we have to make sure that everyone has a place at the table. Maybe, just maybe, if we can do those things, if we can be like Wisdom, walk in her ways, and bring all our neighbors along, maybe we can get a better sense of what the Divine is truly like. And, maybe we can get some of the insight she promises will come. But, first, we have to be willing to stick through it, long dances, strange songs, and all. The bread's good. And so is the wine. Let's try to stick around a little bit longer.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
Scott Shauf's commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2601
Will Gafney's commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1360
Sara Koenig's commentary: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=370
So then, putting falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Being Imitators of God and Being Deeply Moved: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Sometime this week, one of my friends on Facebook posted a quote that seemed very timely. It is by an author named Neil Gaiman, who writes wonderful and strange books about magic and gods and ancient people and small children and worlds that exist just beyond what we know. A few years ago, he wrote these words:
"I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase 'In these days of political correctness…' talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, 'That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.'
Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase 'politically correct' wherever we could with 'treating other people with respect', and it made me smile.
You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.
I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking 'Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!'"
I remembered these words as I read through today's portion of the letter to the Ephesians. It appears that it is not only modern day people who are trying to figure out how to speak civilly to one another. Ancient Christians worked on that, too. I think the author of Ephesians would have appreciated Gaiman's ideas about treating people with respect. After all, that's what he seems to be telling this church to do.
The letter to Ephesus is intended to be a letter that does two things: provide theological grounding to address an issue, or, in this case, a couple issues, in the community and then, to offer concrete practices for living out that theology. We've already talked about the theological conversations in the first part of the letter. Today, we're going to talk about the concrete practices for living out that theology. This author wanted the church to know that this theology is something that they can't just say they like and then not ever actually live any differently. He is certain that faith in Christ is earth-shattering and world-changing. What that means is that you do not receive this grace without being changed. As I heard one speaker say at the UCC General Synod a couple weeks ago, people should see something change when you become a Christian. Your faith should affect your life. So, the author gave the people of this church some practices so they could live out their faith more fully.
Over the last couple of weeks, I've preached about the cultural and religious divisions that seemed to be affecting the church in Ephesus. There seems to have been a strong division between ethnically Jewish and ethnically Gentile Christians in this community. The division was strong enough that is seemed to be keeping people from actually learning to function together as a church. Also, the church was arguing over who's gifts for leadership were the greatest. This argument, too, seemed intense and seemed to be dividing the community. I would hazard a guess that many of the people in this room know something about living in a world that seems very strictly divided. I read some statistics this week that said that 60% of Americans feel like the country is more divided today than it was 20 years ago. These same studies indicated that there is far less political common ground in the platforms of our major political parties. Nearly one third of the members of each party feels like not only do they have major disagreements with people in the other party, but that the other party is actually a threat to the nation's well being. More than 25% of the members of both parties would be unhappy if someone in their immediate family married someone with different political beliefs.
Now, you might argue that those statistics are about the secular world, not the church. But, I think you can find divisions just as strong both between different Christian communities and within individual communities. I think there is a very similar tone of snark and negativity and pathologization of difference within Christian communities as there is in communities that aren't specifically Christian. Fear-mongering and meanness rule our rhetoric right now. It is very often hard to find the common ground that must exist if we all call ourselves Christian. In times when we struggle to find unity through our difference, it might be helpful to return to some of this author's recommendations to the Ephesians. And, what is says is to speak to people with love.
In order to overcome the divisions within the culture and within the church, this author says that the church is no place for falsehood. He says that the Church is no place for lies or hateful speech that is only intended to cause harm. As one scholar I read this week, Brian Peterson, puts it, "The church ought to be the place where the truth can be spoken: the difficult truths about our world and about ourselves, and the gracious truth about the God who has redeemed us." That doesn't mean the truth will be easy, but it does mean that our words should never be spoken with malice, manipulation, or intent to slander. This also doesn't mean that the truth will never be passionate or even angry. It does mean that the anger will be used more as a tool to disrupt unhealthy or unjust behavior and not as a corrosive force to destroy the community around it. As Peterson notes, anger is often justified and an appropriate response to injustice. We need to listen to people who present the truth with anger, and help to address this anger so that it does not fester.
Sometimes in my research for the week I come upon a discussion of translation that really helps me see a verse differently. That happened a couple of times with this scripture. There is one verse where is says "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths..." Scholar Karoline Lewis says that this is more clearly translated as let no putrid talk come out of your mouth. Make sure that your words aren't rotten and won't infect the entire place. This author puts malice and manipulation on par with putrefaction. It is a sign of disease or death. And, remember, this community is supposed to be living a new life in Christ, a life that has been renewed and cleaned from signs of destruction. Hateful words and lies are signs of death, not Christ. When speaking of Christ's life and sacrifice, the author says that it is a fragrant offering. That is quite different than words that smell of rot and destruction. He says that our offerings to one another should be more fragrant and less stinky. That's what Jesus would do.
A second place with a shift in translation appears to be important is in the word to thieves that is present right in the middle of the scripture. At first, at least to me anyway, this talk of robbery and honest work seemed a little out of place within a larger discussion of respectful, honest speech. But, Peterson argues that this isn't that out of place. He said that this section on work is less about taking care of your own business, and more about doing something worthwhile. Peterson says, "[T]he text speaks about doing 'the good.' This is not a call to keep your head down and just pay attention to your own 'honest work.' Rather, it is a call to pay open-eyed attention to the needs of those around us, so that we can discern the good thing that our neighbors need and then do it." This verse isn't best read as a call to some individualistic, solitary Protestant work ethic but, instead, as a call to service of our neighbor. In this way, according to Peterson, our actions, along with our words, can become a "conduit" of God's grace to others. This is how our faith changes us. Our actions and our words are not separate. They are united in the goal of sharing God's grace. This is how we imitate God. What we say matters. What we do matters. We have to pay attention. We have to be willing to be moved to do something different than the way with did it before we felt the seal of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.
Now, some might argue that this attention to what we say and what we do distracts us from more important, weightier matters of doctrine. Surely it matters most that we profess the right kinds of belief. Emphasizing kindness of speech and loving action is a distraction... it is unimportant. Well, I think that the author of Ephesians is telling us quite the opposite. He argues that how we communicate with one another and how we serve one another are directly related to how we understand ourselves as followers of Christ. In fact, this author has the audacity to charge the Ephesians to not just follow Christ, but to imitate God! How can we even begin to imagine imitating God? When we imitate someone, we look to their words and their actions in order to model their behavior. This author says that we can look to the example of Christ, the incarnation of our God who once walked among us, and is still present with us through the Holy Spirit, to be our model. Scholar Elna Mouton says that, for the author of Ephesians, Christ embodies a concept of God centered on shared work and loving concern. Christ is the model for how to live in humility, hope, love, forgiveness, and peace. When we model our behavior after Christ's, the way a child models her behavior after a parent, we are modeling our behavior after God. We are imitating the Divine.
Imitating God is no small task. It is best done in community, with people who will speak the truth in love, sometimes with anger, but not with malice. It is best done side by side, with an eye out for the people who need some help. It is work best shared among friends, neighbors, and also with people that feel very different from you. In the spirit of being willing to demonstrate how I've received grace, I want to tell you a bit about how I'm going to do some of my part of imitating God. On August 19th, at 2 PM, I'm going to a meeting in Augusta at the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ office where members of the Maine conference will gather to organize an anti-Racism Resource Team. You are invited, too, though I know many of you will be working and can't make a time during the work day. If you really want to be involved, we'll find a way to make that happen. So much of the unrest of the last year has reminded me that racism goes very deep in the bones of this country and in our churches. Just as Christ broke down walls between Jews and non-Jews, I believe that Christ can break down the divisions that we have built between people of European descent and people of Asian, African, Native American, and Latin American descent. But, that wall doesn't come down if Christians don't do the work of speaking the truth in love, addressing the anger, and doing the good to serve the people who need it. I hope that this will be a place that I can do the good, right here, in the place where I live. I hope you find a place where you can do the good, too. Go. Be imitators of God. Be willing to be moved by what you see as you work. Don't be afraid to speak and hear the truth. Christ did it before us and shows us a way. Let's keep on being imitators of God.
Here are resources that Pastor Chrissy consulted while writing this sermon
Brian Peterson's commentary on Ephesians 4:25- 5:2: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2547
Neil Gaiman quote: http://urbanbohemian.com/2015/08/07/43679/
Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, and Gene M. Tucker, Preaching through the Christian Year: Year B, A Comprehensive Commentary on the Lectionary (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993)
The New Testament, A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2nd edition by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford University Press, 2000)
Myer's Political Divide: http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/theological-trackstanding-a-users-guide-to-unity-in-church-and-society-ephesians-41-16/
Sermon Brainwave Podcast-https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=654
Elna Mouton, "(Re) Describing Reality? The Transformative Potential of Ephesians across Times and Cultures," in A feminist companion to the deutero-pauline epistles, ed. Amy-Jill Levine with Marianne Blickenstaff (Pilgrim Press, 2003)
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.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’ (When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 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, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Many Kinds of Gifts or It Takes All Kinds
The scriptures this week tell an interesting story about receiving and passing on gifts from God. They do so by telling stories from two different faith communities: the ancient Israelites and the slightly less ancient church in Ephesus. At first blush, these two communities could hardly seem more different. It is interesting, though, that despite the difference, we'll see important ways that God worked in their communities. God didn't work in exactly the same way, primarily because the people didn't need the same things. God always seems to address people in our particularity, not in some kind of generalized way. Nevertheless, despite the different situations and different people, God showed up, and the people were able to get what they needed. Both communities felt God working, bring grace in their lives. Let's spend some time together talking about how that happened.
In Exodus, we have what some may describe as the biggest group of whiney whiners in all of the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites who are wandering in the desert. I think I may have accidentally ended up on a tour bus with some of these folks this week. First the van was too hot, then the air conditioner was too cold. The traffic was too bad and the tourists were too slow and in the way. To be fair, though, I also thought the tourist were too slow and in the way. As it turns out, I can be a whiney whiner, too. They also commented on how the trip was too long or had messed up their schedule and how hot it was outside. I was waiting for someone to start talking about delicious fleshpots back in Berkeley, but it never happened. The folks in the Bible story needed to renew their faith in God, the faith that drew them out of slavery in the first place. The people I was spending time with just needed to chill out.
Now, to be fair, it was probably reasonable for the Israelites to be worrying. They were in the wilderness after all, and the wilderness, as we have discussed before, is a hard place to live. Scholar Wil Gafney points out that they've been in the wilderness for a while, now, too, probably six weeks. She states that it has been six weeks since the miracles of the parting of the Sea of Reeds and the plagues in Egypt. It has also been six weeks since they left the oasis with fresh water and abundant food. They are six weeks into a journey that they don't know will turn into 40 years, and they are definitely getting worried. They had great faith... that's what had gotten them to this point in the first place. But, in the midst of the sand and the dwindling provisions, they needed a little renewal. They needed something to remind them that if God had gotten them that far, God would make sure they got the rest of the way. Who here hasn't needed their own bit of manna and quail in order to have the courage to take the next few steps towards liberation? The gift here is that God heard their needs, and, instead of dismissing them as whining, God provided them with a way to keep going and a lesson on how to take enough without taking too much.
The second group of people we are reading about today are the members of the church in Ephesus. Like the Israelites, the Christians of Ephesus seem to have some conflict, though they aren't complaining about food or freeway traffic. They seem to be complaining about each other, or at least fighting over who gets to be included in Christ's community and who has the most important gifts from God. Before we try to figure out why they are arguing, it seems important to learn a little about where they live. According to scholar Sarah Henrich, Ephesus was an exceptionally important and diverse city in ancient Rome. There was a lot of different religious faiths rubbing elbows in the city, and a lot of different ethnicities of people trying to make their way in a bustling urban area. Ephesus was particularly important for followers of the goddess Artemis, who's temple was located in the city. When you have that many people from that many ethnicities and religious communities in one place, it is not surprising that you would find ethnic conflict. Some of that conflict is definitely a part of the Ephesian church.
While they don't seem as conflicted as, say, the Corinthians (they seemed to be fighting all the time), the author of the book definitely felt like he had to help them figure out how to be one church, despite all of the walls that they and society had constructed to keep them apart. This author had to explain to them that Christ had broken down the divisions between Jew and Gentile,the ethnic divide that seems most important in this community, and that they were to no longer be bound by those cultural divisions. There is a second, also important conflict in this community. Not only are they having trouble navigating the old division between Jew and Gentile, they are also arguing about what kind of spiritual gifts are most important. Apparently, rather than celebrating having members who have a diversity of talents and gifts from God, they are arguing over who's gifts are most important. It would be like our Sunday School teachers fighting with our trustees over who's job was more important. They apparently spent at least part of their precious time together jockeying for position, trying to assert that prophets were more important than pastors or teachers more important that apostles.
This author, like Paul before him in the letters to the Corinthians, had to explain that such arguments were a waste of time and took away from the unity that they were seeking in the Gospel. He had to explain that all people received grace through Christ, and that just because the gifts may be different, that doesn't mean that one set of gifts is better than the other. These folks needed to be reminded that it takes all kinds to build the church, and it does the Gospel no good to pit people in the church against each other based on what they have gifts for doing at church. As scholar Susan Hylen put it, Christ does not require uniformity to create unity in the church. Grace abounds in many different forms and the church is richer for it.
So, what can these two groups of people tell us about being the church today? Well, I think these two stories can both tell us something important about grace, albeit grace that shows up in different ways. Exodus shows us that, sometimes, gifts fall right in our laps at the times we need them. We are lacking something important... vital, even, to our well being. And, then, it appears. Our call is, then, to use that gift in responsible ways. It's like when our church investments did so well last year at church. Lord knows we could use the money. And, we are so lucky to have trustees who know how to steward those investments well. One of the major questions we had when we saw that we would have a budget surplus was how could we use that money wisely and to further the mission and vision of the church. We don't want to be people who let the gift spoil, but we don't want to waste it, either.
In Ephesians, though, the gifts are different. They aren’t things that fall out of the sky or investments that do much better than we imagined they would. In Ephesians, we ourselves are the gifts. Or, more clearly stated, we have been given gifts that allow us to serve our neighbor, or to quote the biblical text, to equip the saints. Rather than waist what we've been cultivating inside ourselves, we are called to use these gifts for equipping the saints so they can better follow the Gospel. And, importantly, there isn’t a hierarchy of gifts. People may have received all kinds of gifts from God. Some are teachers. Some are prophets. Some make sure the lawn gets mowed and the toilet paper gets refilled every week. All are needed in order to build the body of Christ. Because everyone's gifts are need, being the body of Christ means that we are working together through our differences, not trying to erase them.
I've been trying to figure out how to end this sermon for a couple days now. I think, when it comes down to it, what we learn most from these scriptures is that we will receive grace, that is, gifts from God. Sometimes, the gifts will surprise us. That is half the fun. And, these gifts will sustain us on our way. Other times, we, ourselves, by virtue of that spark of divinity in us from creation as well as through our careful spiritual cultivation, carry the gifts inside of us. It is our calling to figure out how to use them to equip the saints in our lives. We are made of God's breath and stardust. We can be the gifts and make our community and our world a better, more just place. The gifts don't have to all be the same. We just have to be ready to make use of them. Remember, it takes all kinds. We can be the church together.
Resources that Pastor Chrissy found helpful in writing this sermon
Wil Gafney's commentary on Exodus: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2536
Sarah Henrich's commentary on Ephesians: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2599
Susan Hylen's commentary on Ephesians: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=373
Sara Koenig's commentary on Exodus: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1329
Kathryn Matthews' discussion of Ephesians:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.