WC-UMC

Walker Chapel UMC

Sanctuary Open for Prayer: Sunday, 9:00 am
Adult Study: Sunday, 9:30 am
Worship: Sunday, 10:30 am
Children's Sunday School: Sunday, 10:45 am

 

 


August 2018

Suggested reading: Ephesians 1:3-14


As you may know, we follow something called the lectionary at Walker Chapel, which is a list of appointed readings for each Sunday of the year assembled by a team of representatives from nineteen different denominations, our own included, that many around the world find useful to help bring order to the church’s worship, preaching, and devotional life. And at this time of year, the lectionary offers some interesting choices. We could follow, for instance, the sequence of stories told in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings about David, or the readings in the gospels according to Mark and John, or we could spend the next several weeks in the Letter to the Ephesians.


For our purposes, I’ve chosen to focus on Ephesians for two reasons. One is because—as one commentator put it—the Letter to the Ephesians celebrates Paul’s vision of the church. That alone would seem reason enough to spend time with the apostle this summer. The other is that we at Walker Chapel are just today beginning a process of formally re-envisioning our own ministry and developing a plan for ministry in coming years. Add to that the fact that several of us happen to be currently reading a biography of Paul by N. T. Wright and this would seem to be a propitious time to hear and to discuss Paul’s vision.


As we do so, we should first acknowledge how Paul’s letter is not generally believed to have been originally addressed to the Christians in Ephesus alone. The reference to Ephesus in Ephesians 1:1 is missing in many of our most reliable ancient manuscripts, leading many to believe it was intended not as a specific letter address to the Ephesians but as a more general letter addressed to several congregations spread out across the region then known as Asia Minor. And if that is the case, then what we have in this letter is a vision for the church that is broader than the church at Ephesus and therefore a vision that may be broad enough to be of some even greater use to us.


With that in mind, I would invite us to enter into a conversation with Paul about the church. And to begin, let’s start with the emphasis he placed on the idea that the church is entirely God’s own creation, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” In other words, he was saying, it is God and God alone who has called the church into existence and God alone who has created the conditions necessary for it to thrive.


How does that help? Isn’t that what we’ve always believed to be true? Well, maybe. But notice that the emphasis upon what God wants the church to be rather than on what we want the church to be. That’s important.


Not too long ago, I read a book entitled Grace for the Journey in which the authors noted how tempting it is for church people like ourselves, when we start thinking about the church’s renewal, to try to grab hold of our own solutions and only later ask for God’s blessings on those solutions. It’s a desire a prominent Christian cleric once observed stems from what he called “our deep desire to be independent by being in control.” And it’s true of us as individuals as it is for those who act collectively on behalf of the church or, for that matter, any organization. The urge to always be in control is a strong one and needs to be resisted.


Compare and contrast that, if you will, to what Jason Vickers said in a book he wrote called Minding the Good Ground in which he also was talking about the church and church renewal. He wrote:


“If we are to overcome our tendency to put our trust in our own resources (whether they be prophetic or structural) then we must focus our minds and hearts on the nature of the church before we set out to think about or to work for renewal. Before we take any actions, devise any plans, or buy into any program (whether old or new), we need to take time to recall not simply what we are but whose we are. We need to remember that we are a charismatic community brought into being and sustained each day by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We need to remember that we have nothing that we have not received. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is ever present among us, incorporating us into the Trinitarian life of God.”


Please don’t miss that last point! It’s so important and so often ignored. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is always present among us, incorporating us into the Trinitarian life of God. Never think for a moment that it isn’t, for to do so is to doubt the very nature of God, which is his omnipresence. The Spirit is always with us even when we think it’s not; it’s always available to those who are open to it. This is fundamental to everything else we believe to be true about the church. So whatever may be happening around us, whatever around us may be changing for good or ill, the spirit of God is with us.


A second point Paul makes is that the church as God’s creation, exists for one main purpose and that is to reflect the glory of God. I believe it’s in Ephesians 3 where Paul talks about the importance of both our knowing and our making known the love of God that was in Christ Jesus, so that whenever we gather for worship, for study, for mission, or for fellowship, our aim is or should be to reflect the greater glory of God, which is just another way of saying that the church is at is most authentic when it is fulfilling this purpose.


So we’ve got a large task ahead of us, an important task, as we seek to understand what it is that God would have us do as a congregation going forward. May God bless us with an ever increasing understanding of the nature of his church and of its mission both here in north Arlington and the world.


Yours in Christ,

Mark