Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written to a church two thousand years and 14,000 kilometres away, yet it speaks loud and clear to us here at Sanctuary today. This coming Saturday, we will hold our annual review, and it will be a heap of fun. The review questions have been woven into party games, and so most of it should feel like play. But behind the play is serious intent, and it is that serious intent which I will focus on now.
Now, the temptation of a review is to approach it as people shaped by the dominant culture, which of course we all are. And so we turn up as individual consumers, bursting with personal preferences. Perhaps you love chocolate ice cream; perhaps someone else likes strawberry. This person says we should sing songs from here; that person wants songs from there. “We should use musical instruments,” says one. “We need more personal stories,” says another. Some think we should reach out to Indigenous Australians; others, to the LGBTI+ community; still others, that we should focus on the children, or our own healing. One person wants more and better preaching; a second wants no preaching, but lots of discussion; yet another thinks everything should be based around the dinner table; and young Harry wishes we’d all just shut up and play!
These personal preferences are not irrelevant. But they are just that: individual personal preferences. And so, at a review, they take a back seat to what we are doing as a group.
“You are all called to journey on the same road and in the same direction,” writes Paul (MSG). In other words, part of our work is to review the road we have taken so far, and discern the direction we should take in future: together. It’s not about what we are aiming for as individuals, but about our common calling as a group.
This raises questions. On any given Sunday, 60% of attenders are children and youth. They have little choice about whether or where they attend church. How are young people, as well as older people, brought along on this journey? For that matter, do we even have a sense of ‘us’, or of walking as a group? And how are newcomers woven into the whole? What forms us into “one body, healthy in God, strong in love”?
Related to these questions are questions about our focus. Are we looking inwards or outwards? Are we simply serving our own needs, or do we have a heart for others? Are we walking towards diminishment, or are we walking towards growth? Which direction leads to generosity, expansiveness of spirit, hospitality, a sense of freedom, a sense of hope?
At the review, questions like these should be shaping our responses as we look at what we’ve been doing so far, and discern the direction we must head, together.
“Through Christ’s generosity, each of us is given their own gift,” writes Paul. “These gifts are to equip the saints for the work of servant-ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” A second aspect of the review, then, is to recognise that there are hundreds of things which we could be doing, many of them good: but we must focus on the particular work to which the Spirit calls us. We all have great ideas for other people to implement! and it would be easy to use the review to list them all. But each of us has been gifted by the Spirit for one purpose: to equip the saints for the work of servant-ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
This week, then, I encourage you to reflect on your gifts, and the gifts of this congregation as a whole. What are you called to do? Who are you called to be? What are we all called to do and be together? What will you give in terms of gifts, time, money or effort towards any vision? How do you already contribute to equipping the saints, engaging in servant-ministry, building up the body of Christ? How might you do so next year? Praying through these questions should guide your responses as you help imagine our future together.
Just like the earliest churches, we gather as frail people, damaged people, cynical people. We gather naïve and wind-tossed and easily distracted. We gather as people of different ages, at different stages. We gather as people of different theological positions, with different backgrounds and different preferences and different callings and different levels of commitment. We don’t choose each other: the Spirit draws us together and, as long as we serve God faithfully, the Spirit will keep drawing other people in.
Our fragility and our differences can feel daunting. But Paul is convinced that, if followers of Jesus keep at this work—journeying with one another in love, speaking the truth in love, maintaining unity of spirit, and being like Christ in everything—well, if we keep at this work, we will “all come together in faith and in understanding of God’s Son Jesus; until we are all fully mature, fully developed, fully alive like Christ.”
So what would Sanctuary look like, fully mature, fully developed? What road leads to fullness of life in Christ? These are questions for us all to ponder this week; and the leadership looks forward to hearing the themes, visions and dreams which will emerge from your responses, at the review on Saturday. Ω
A reflection on Ephesians 4:1-16, given to Sanctuary on 5 August 2018 (BP13; Year B Proper 13) © Alison Sampson, 2018. Image credit: Hmmm, I think Maereid is responsible for the paper dolls dancing around a heart. But I’m open to correction!