Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s how the Apostle Paul often opened his letters to those early Christian communities throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. So even though we didn’t hear it in the Ephesians text today, I use it to greet you on our first morning worshipping in this beautifully renovated room in the Parish Hall: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
However, we did hear this, “I 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” (Eph 4:1).
Now, first things first, EVERYONE has a life that is worthy—that means you, the person next to you, and the people who aren’t even in the room with us. Each and every single life you encounter is worthy, especially the person who most drives you crazy! The one who pushes your buttons, the person who makes your skin crawl because you vehemently disagree about everything. Even their life is worthy.
So this makes me wonder, what was happening when Paul was writing this letter to the Ephesians? Why did Paul write this? Why did they need to hear it? What was going on in that community?
The letter was most likely written from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment. It was a circular letter, which means it was written with the intention of being read in more than one place and probably in many places. Paul wouldn’t have known the various audiences who received this letter, and that is reflected in its tone. It’s less personal, less specific than some of his other letters, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy to relate to our lives today.
The major theme of the letter is the unity and reconciliation of the whole of creation through the agency of the Church and, in particular, its foundation in Christ as part of the will of God.
Any number of Gentile communities in Asia Minor needed to hear these themes just as we do today. So let’s imagine for a moment what leading a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called means in our day and time.
What if society as a whole honored this edict by God that all lives are worthy? What if leading a life worthy of our calling meant truly honoring the cry for justice that we hear today, that “black lives matter”? What if participants on social media and news writers responded to the deaths of those murdered by gun violence with the same outrage and fervor as they have this past week over the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe?
God calls all of us to something. What if we honored this call by using our God-given gift? Paul’s letter talks about gifts in verse 11, the gifts God gave to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. EVERYBODY has a gift.
Everyone has a life worthy and everyone has a gift. Stop to consider that for a moment. What is your gift? Is your gift listening, creating, building, teaching, being patient, welcoming, organizing? What is your God-given gift?
I had the opportunity to hear a wonderful story this week from a parishioner who shared that one of her gifts has been sitting with the dying. For nine years, she volunteered with hospice. She recalled the experience of witnessing her first death years ago, how hard it was and yet a gift to her to be with this man, beside him in those final moments.
As she sat with many other people after that, as they drew their final breaths, she said often just before they died it was as if they glimpsed what lay ahead and a wonderful countenance came across their face. “I was getting more than I gave,” she said.
I love this story for many reasons. One, this woman understood that she had a gift for sitting with the dying when their own family members could not for whatever reason and two, she knows that every life is worthy and every life deserves a good death. Her volunteer work helped make a good death a possibility by offering presence, companionship, and sometimes I’m sure prayer.
We can use our God-given gifts in different ways too. What is your God-given gift? Maybe it’s having the patience to work with small children, singing in the choir or sharing a love of music with others. If you’re a lawyer, maybe it’s doing pro-bono work, or if you’re a member of this parish who serves on the Building Team for this Construction Project, it’s offering your time, patience, expertise, and countless other gifts to see this Parish Hall building make it to where it is today.
Whatever this God-given gift is, I’m willing to bet it is the thing that in doing you actually receive more than you give–maybe not every day, but in the long run, because this is the work of the soul.
But, we can stumble into using our gifts to further the kingdom of our own making too, to doggedly pursue a career or path with the single goal of making more and more money at the expense of everything else–at the expense of other people, relationships, the environment, not to mention the care and nurture of our own souls. We might still be using our God-given gift in this scenario, but I would argue that it is being misused and abused.
I have in my mind this image of all of us running around individually on our very own hamster wheel, just running, running, doing whatever it is that keeps us busy from day to day. It’s often important or necessary work; laundry, groceries, cooking and cleaning, family, friends, obligations, and appointments. But is that what it’s all about? No. It’s all perishable, keeping us running on that hamster wheel day in and day out, until we simply fall over from exhaustion.
So, how do we get off that wheel? How do we step off the wheel long enough to recognize what it is we’re doing and instead have the clarity to maintain the Unity of Spirit and the bond of peace within ourselves, within our families, our workplaces, and even our church communities?
The Unity of Spirit, Jesus, is what gives our lives meaning and pulls us off that silly wheel, out of ourselves, out of the kingdom of our making, and back into God’s kingdom.
Now I want to tell you a story. This past Thursday, forty-four parishioners and staff members gathered on campus to move out of the Chapel and undercroft and into this renovated Parish Hall building. We began with Morning Prayer and coffee in the courtyard before quickly jumping into moving boxes and furniture, unpacking, cleaning, and setting up this space to be ready for our worship this morning. It was BUSY, it was HOT, and it was FUN.
But the best part about it was seeing our community come together with members of LCL’s construction team, and members the Epiphany Early Learning Preschool staff to celebrate a long time of working in close proximity to celebrate Phase 1 of construction being nearly complete! The whole day was a break from the hamster wheel of meetings, appointments, and to-do lists. And it was all about relationships.
My favorite moment was stopping at lunchtime, gazing out across the courtyard, and seeing at least 60 people, from all three communities, seated in groups under the trees, talking, laughing, smiling, and enjoying each other’s company.
Sure, Billy Rosewarne’s bratwursts were good, and Holly Boone’s baked beans were great, but the community was even better. The relationships, the prayer, the sweet, sweet spirit that we invoked when we broke ground last January on the Feast of Epiphany, continues to be present in this holy place.
As Emily said so well last Sunday as she discussed the sharing of the loaves and fishes in John’s gospel: “The renovated buildings and grounds were never THE point of our sharing, they were only part of the point. The point was and is to have this outpost of the Kin-dom of God live on for the next 100 years and more. The point was and is to make more room on our campus and in our hearts for the multitude! What will the power of God at work within us accomplish through this beautifully renovated place?”
Indeed, when we remember that our life is worthy and ALL lives in this community and beyond are worthy, and when we as God’s people recognize our gifts, and when we as God’s worthy people USE those God-given gifts to build up the Kingdom of God, just imagine! Just imagine what it could be!