Sermon August 2, 2015
Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
“God is in the Spaces”
William S. Burroughs said, “When you stop growing, you start dying.” The letter to the Ephesians was written to a church that was doing ok. They weren’t a mess like the Corinthian Church. This letter was written to say, “you are doing ok and you can be more. Keep growing in unity and love.” It is an invitation for the church to live into its full potential. I wonder what a letter to our church might say today. I am thinking about it even more as our 135th anniversary approaches in October. What might our founders say to us? I think the reading from Ephesians has some clues in it.
Notice that the theme underneath it all is unity. In fact, in verses 4 and 5, the word “one” is used seven times. Any writer can tell you that it wouldn’t hurt to use some other words, but the writer of Ephesians wanted to emphasize the point of being one body in Christ. They are being called to maturity in faith and to this writer that means unity. Some people will stop listening right here. Arguments surface saying that we will never all think alike. Unity isn’t about everyone being carbon copies of each other. This is not a call to be the Stepford Wives Church. We don’t need to look alike or approach everything the same way. Instead, it is calling us to a unity of purpose. Unity is richest when it comes out of a diverse community. It does require a commitment to hang in there with each other.
My friend was telling me about her experience in boot camp years ago. It was a very diverse group of women who came from all over and fought frequently. At some point, they realized that they would be better off if they could find a way to come together and they began to work together. It isn’t easy living with our differences, but it is more than possible when we commit to sharing our lives together.
In text study, we talked about how we bring different gifts to the community. While that makes us rich, it can be challenging working with those whose gifts differ from our own. Our stewardship committee is very open about what motivates us to give and there are diverse perspectives in that group. Speaking honestly has enabled us to approach stewardship from more than one angle. Our book group is reading Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. The book has invited us to name our blinders and our desire to be healed of our own racism. It isn’t always an easy conversation, but it is a conversation we must have. We are called into honest relationships with one another. When the truth is spoken in love, it has the power to set us free. When we share our real selves with one another, we can discover a love that has the power to heal some of our deepest wounds.
Some of my most treasured moments in the church are those where we share our lives – whether in your home, or my office, or a coffee shop, or in a hospital room, or in a group conversation. When we open our hearts to one another and tell our stories, we make room for the beauty of God’s love to enter in the space between us. Tyler Connoley said this week, “God is love. God is in the spaces between people when we are living in love.”
We are living in love when we feed the people who come to project share or make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after worship. We are living in love when we bring items to help Crossroads for Women open Hope House next door. We are living in love when we spend the night with homeless men, women, and children through Family Promise. We are living in love when we pull weeds and care for the butterfly garden. We are living in love when we meet to determine how to best finance our ministry. We are living in love when we knit prayer shawls for others who are hurting. We are living in love when we send cards to tell people that we care. We are living in love when teach Sunday School. We are living in love when we sing together. We are living in love when we spend a Saturday selling items at a rummage sale. We are living in love when we greet people who visit us. We are living in love when we serve communion to each other. We are living in love when we discuss the scriptures in text study. We are living in love in so many ways. God is in those loving spaces between us.
Part of what makes this community unique is our grounding in rich history. We are the oldest Protestant Church in this area. For 135 years, we have been serving the community. It was a commitment to unity that enabled our church pioneers to do amazing things. When Jacob Mills Ashley arrived in Albuquerque in the Spring of 1880, he began preaching in a courtroom and then in a store. The people decided to build a church. They didn’t have any money in the treasury to build it, but within 35 days of the vote to build, the church was up and dedicated. (The Scout of Santa Fe by June Ashley Elmer, p. 290) The writer of Ephesians isn’t calling us to invent unity, but to embrace it wholeheartedly. Unity of purpose enables us to do amazing ministry together.
In the final weeks of his life, Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk and visionary for peace, met in Asia with leaders of other religious traditions. One of the last things he said to them was, “My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” (P. Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of the Matter, p. 50)
“The best of our rituals and religious disciplines of communion…do not create oneness. They help us remember our oneness. They do not make unity. They release our unity. They free us of the forgetfulness of thinking we are essentially separate.” (J. Philip Newell, A New Harmony: The Spirit, The Earth, and The Human Soul, p 133)
We don’t all agree about how we should do things. Some of us want traditional hymns. Others want newer songs. Some of us want to clap after the offertory. Others prefer silence to take it in. Some of us want to have communion in the pews. Others want to come forward. The communion prayer this morning comes out of the General Synod in Cleveland in June. This gathering happens every two years with thousands of people from across the United States and beyond. As we use this liturgy today, we are reminded that we are part of something larger than our own church in Albuquerque. Unity doesn’t mean that we all have the same preferences, but it means that whatever our preferences may be, we are part of something much greater than ourselves and we are willing to give ourselves to it even when it is difficult.
Jesus calls us to remember that we are part of something larger than ourselves in the gospel lesson this morning when he says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life”. (John 6:27 NRSV) None of this is about our individual preferences, but it is about our mission that calls us to come together in unity as we live God’s love, justice, and inclusion. That is the work of a lifetime. It does not happen overnight, but we have glimpses of it in moments that are ordinary as well as those that seem to be larger than life.
This morning, we are invited to the table of unity. It is a place where all are fed. It is an open table where the food is God’s love. This love came to us in human form and called us into deeper relationship with one another. This love continues to live among us today and asks us to seek unity above all and to love one another. This is not a sweet phrase to throw around without intention. This is a call to action. This is a powerful reminder that “the seed of God is in us*” and when cultivated, that seed is grows into a powerful expression of God. We are fed at this table and then called to feed our hungry world with love and food.