|18th Sunday in Ordinary Time||
August 6, 2000
PAUL'S GOODBYEHe had spent three years with them. He had visited them in their homes and had eaten with them. He also healed their sick and cast out evil spirits. He celebrated the religiuos feasts with them. He had attended their funerals and cried with them. Most importantly, he had attend synagogue and worshipped with them. They had discussed the Scriptures together and he taught them with an unrelenting passion. He had introduced them to life, death, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. His teaching had had a profound impact upon their lives. Hundreds had come to faith in Jesus Christ and had turned from sorcery. Rather than sell their scrolls to others who would continue the practice, they publicly burned the manuscripts. They estimated that the value of the scrolls was over 50,000 days wages. Still others had abandoned their worship of the goddess, Artemis. This had such an economic impact on the silversmiths in town that they started a riot and tried to have the apostle Paul arrested. All told, the time that the Paul spent with the church in Ephesus was a very memorable three years.
The time had finally come for the apostle to leave them. The Spirit was
compelling him to return to Jerusalem and give a defense to the faith. He
had already been warned that when he returned, he would be put into
chains. He knew that his witness to the gospel could cost him his life but
he was prepared to accept that sacrifice. However, before embarking on his
finally journey, he wanted to meet with his friends to say his final
good-byes. He knew time would not allow him to say goodbye to everyone.
So, he requested that the elders come and meet with him at a secluded spot
on the beach. Luke records the story in Acts 20:13-36. There at Miletus,
the apostle Paul gave his finally teaching. He reminded the elders of the
church in Ephesus about his teaching. He had proclaimed to them the "whole
will of God." He was now innocent of the blood of every man. No one could
say to him, why didn't you tell me. Paul also warned the elders that
people would come and attempt to undermine everything he had taught. He
encouraged the elders to protect the people from these savage wolves. They
were to make sure that whoever taught the people would not distort the
truth of the gospel. After giving his last sermon, he prayed with them,
embraced them, and kissed them and then said goodbye.
I also appreciate Paul's words because I know that you like the church in Ephesus will face certain pressures. Pressures from various people and groups both from within and without that would undermine and destroy everything we worked for these last three years. So I like the apostle Paul has some closing words to say in hopes of planting one last seed. While preparing this sermon, I struggled with the title. I was tempted to call it "Parting Shots," but was afraid that some might not appreciate the humor in the words. I also did not run the risk of taking any "parting shots." I hope that everything I say today is a reminder of what I have been saying for the past three years.
My Scripture text for this sermon is from the book of Ephesians. Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus several years after he said goodbye to them on the beach of Miletus. He is probably under house arrest in Rome, having traveled to Jerusalem. When he arrived in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders arrested him for heresy and brought him before King Agrippa to stand trial. After appearing before the King several times, Paul finally evoke his right as a Roman citizen to take his case before Caesar, himself. Complying with his request, the King sent to Rome under an armed guard. Possessing no threat to the community or of escaping, Paul was allowed to live in a small apartment, under guard and in chains, but with the freedom to read and write at his leisure. Scholars believe that he took the liberty to write this letter to the Ephesians but also Philippians and Colossians.
The letter contains some wonderful insight into the nature and purpose of God but in the section that is before us this morning, Paul directs his thoughts to the relationship among believers. Paul was more than just a theologian and an evangelist. He also had a pastor's heart, although few churches in America today could tolerate his domineering personality and uncompromising focus, nevertheless Paul had a heart for people. Paul understood that relationships among believers were very important. It was not enough to believe that truth but one also had to act the truth. I think Paul would have agreed with James, "faith without works is dead." It does not matter what a person believes if they mistreat others and abuse relationships. Love was not a theoretical word for Paul but action that had to be evident in a person's life each day. Vast depths of knowledge, extraordinary displays of spiritual gifts, or magnanimous acts of charity were nothing more than the clang of noise gongs in God's ears without practical, down to earth expressions of love.
So Paul writes to the church in Ephesus and to remind them not only of what they are to believe but also how they are to treat one another. He admonishes them to live a life worthy of their calling by making sure that three characteristics are evident in their life. The church is to be humble and gentle, patient and make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. My hope and prayer is that this church would become characterized by those three traits, so let us consider how we might make these three more evident in our lives..
HUMILITYWe have a distorted view of humility. A humble person is not someone who always gives in to the wishes or requests of another person. It is not someone who always concedes to the viewpoints of another person. Nor is a humble person, someone who never takes a stand. A humble person is someone who has a realistic understanding of themselves and other people. He or she does not attempt to overly insist on their own way at the expense of another person. A humble person is someone who is willing to consider that another person's opinions are valuable and should be consider and that another person may offer greater insight to a problem. Such a person will know when to defer to the suggestion of others.
In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident. It wasn't a technology problem like radar malfunction--or even thick fog. The cause was human error. Each captain was aware of the other ship's presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late.1
I have been a part of several church fights as both a participant and
an observer. In every case, human stubbornness and the lack of a humble
spirit to give way to another person caused irreparable harm in the lives
of many people. Whenever two or more people come together their will be a
disagreement. Conflict is inevitable but it need not be destructive. If
two warring factions insist on their own way, the end result will most
often times be the demise of both. At some point, both parties must learn
to give ground so that both will accomplish their objectives.
Henry Augustus Rowland, professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University, was once called as an expert witness at a trial. During cross-examination a lawyer demanded, "What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?"
The normally modest and retiring professor replied quietly, "I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion." Later a friend well acquainted with Rowland's disposition expressed surprise at the professor's uncharacteristic answer. Rowland answered, "Well, what did you expect me to do? I was under oath." 2
Humility is a gift that must be used in conjunction with wisdom and discernment, so that a person knows when to give way to another and when to defend their own ideas.
PATIENCEAfter encouraging the church in Ephesus to be humble in their dealings with one another, Paul tells them to be patient by bearing with one another in love. I would dare say that every person is patient in certain circumstances and with certain people. It is easier to be patient with someone who has performed many favors for us, or who is highly respected. In truth we are rather selective with whom we will be patient. We each have a few people with whom, for whatever the reason we are very impatient. Thomas a Kempis writes these words:
"He is not truly patient who wills to suffer only so much as he thinks good, and from whom he pleases. But the truly patient man minds not by whom he is exercised, whether by his superior, by one of his equals or by an inferior; whether by a good and holy man, or by one that is perverse and unworthy. But indifferently from every creature, how much or how often anything adverse befall him, he takes all thankfully from the hand of God, and esteems it a great gain" 3We do not get to pick and choose with whom we will be patient. We are called to show patience with every one, no matter who the person, no matter what they have done.
A story is told in Hebrew tradition why we are to be so patient with other. According to legend Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man's feet and gave him food and drink.
The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, "Don't you worship God?"
The old traveler replied, "I worship fire only and reverence no other
When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and
asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, "I forced him out because
he did not worship you."
UNITYThe apostle concludes this brief section on relationships by asking the Ephesians to make every effort to preserve the unity. The general population of church goers in America today needs to take heed of those words. We live in a consumer oriented culture. When are needs are not being met, we take our ball and go to look for another playground and another set of people with whom to play. People have forgotten what it means to work toward healing conflict and preserving unity. We need to take a lesson from the Church of the Brethren.
During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp.When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ's commands. Then they came together.
Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, "What did you do then?" "We were just one," he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.5
When unity prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ.
ONE BODY, ONE SPIRIT, ONE FAITHWe who claim to be followers of Christ do not have much of an excuse for these three traits to be prominently displayed in our lives. The apostle Paul writes, "There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
We do not have a personal faith. It not just me and Jesus. We come to faith in Christ through a community of faith. That community was formed on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit descended. We are brought into the community at baptism and we stand at the table not as individuals but as members of one Body.
Many of you have expressed regret that because of a silly "rule," I was not allowed to stay as your pastor. That was not my call. God brought me to this church to mend the wounds of conflict, bind up the broken hearted and to restore unity. I have attempted to be obedient that calling not because everyone would be happier if we all just got along. I served among you because I am firmly convinced that as members of the body of Christ, as members of one baptism, as guest of one table, we are called to do whatever it takes to preserve that unity as a witness to the world of the power of the gospel.
My call has now concluded and the Spirit is compelling me to continue my journey and ministry elsewhere. It is not some silly rule that is preventing me from staying but the driving force of the Spirit of God. While we will say are goodbyes this week, my hope for you is that you will
...Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace...
1. Brett Blair, Sermon Illustrations, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/h/humility.htm quoting from Closer Walk, December, 1991.
2. Brett Blair, Sermon Illustrations, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/h/humility.htm quoting from Today in the Word, August 5, 1993.
3. Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, (Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1981), 131.
4. Brett Blair, Sermon Illustrations, quoting Thomas Lindberg, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/patience.htm
5. Brett Blair, Sermon Illustrations, quoting Our Daily Bread, October 4, 1992, http://www.sermonillustrations.com/unity.htm
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