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So that we may grow fully into Christ

Notes & Transcripts

lass=MsoNormal style='margin-bottom:0cm;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal'>May the truth, which is the word of God be spoken and may the truth be heard, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen 

Today is a very special day in the life of Farringdon church, Today is the first confirmation service in the life of Farringdon in several years – certainly the first in my three years here

            And all the readings today are chosen for this special day

We are given a window into the origins of confirmation with our selection from the Acts of the Apostles – where early followers of Christ – at the time those known as people of ‘The Way’

People who having heard or experienced Jesus Christ, who being baptised into Jesus the Messiah

Are not yet filled with the Holy Spirit – and so Peter and John are sent to them – they pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit and as it is written

Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17)

James, this is important and deeply meaningful reading for your Confirmation service – but today it is a backdrop for what I will mainly speak about

In our Gospel reading – we hear the Lord Jesus declare

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. …4Abide in me as I abide in you. … 5I am the vine, you are the branches.(John 15:1,4b,5)

                        It is a message of our proper relationship to God – to God the Father – to God the Son

                                    It is a message filled with promise – and charged with responsibility

James, you are a branch of the Lord Jesus… and Jesus declares that He will abide in you

James, and all gathered here today in the name of Jesus – He is calling you to abide in His love

James, this too, is an important and deeply meaningful reading for your Confirmation service - but today it is also mostly a backdrop for what I will mainly speak about

There is an old joke – maybe some of you have heard it

A country church is filled with flies – I don’t know their real name – but when I was kid they were called cluster flies – the type of flies that gather in homes by the windows in the hundreds

Well the congregation tried everything they could think of – finally they ask the minister, who was a wise old guy, that had been around a lot of country churches, if he had any suggestions on how they get rid of them and never see them again

And with a smile he responded “confirm them”

I tell this joke because, like any piece of humour it carries with it a kernel of truth, maybe more than a kernel

What has been the pattern for many churches that partake in Holy Confirmation is that when a teenager is ready they come for a short course in the faith – known as confirmation preparation

Once completed, teenagers the world over, believe that they now know all they need to know

Also once Sunday school is no longer age appropriate activity they often lose an understanding for the need for on-going discipleship

That is why we have the readings that we do for today – to challenge this notion – to prepare for more

You see from Acts of the Apostles we have the story of the early church, and we see the power of the Holy Spirit manifested in the apostles profoundly - that the Holy Spirit is imparted (delivered – literally handed over) by their prayers and the laying on of hands

            And our Gospel passage declares from the very mouth of the Lord the promise and responsibility

Yet I have selected to preach mostly on the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, which your mom read today

Because we have the first recorded theologian giving instruction for how the church is to grow Fully into Christ

All of us come to the unity of faith… and of the knowledge of the Son of God,

to maturity, …to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

14We must no longer be children,… tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.

15But speaking the truth in love, …we must grow up in every way into him who is the head,… into Christ (Ephesians 4:13-15)

We must grow up in every way…into Christ

I will focus on four key aspects of St. Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4

Unity… Vocation…Higher standard… and Giftedness

St. Paul is writing this letter to the people of Ephesus, inspired by Holy Spirit, to be a word for ever more

To teach on the responsibilities of the church – the ongoing responsibilities of every church

            It is foremost a call to unity

The Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, is delivering the message that church is the Body of Christ – the hands and feet of the Lord – and therefore each is to work in unity with the other

It is the equipping of the saints for ministry

He highlights the aspect that the church is "one new humanity" created by Christ

And that the perfection of the church is a process and not a completed event

In Ephesians, unity is not the same as uniformity.

The mystery of God that is revealed in Christ and results in the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles does not obliterate the distinctions between these different groups.

Instead, what is made known through the church is "the wisdom of God in its rich variety".

The assumption is not that all distinctions will cease, but that even with the persistence of differences, the church may nevertheless grow together as a body.[1]

Here St. Paul's great metaphor of the church as the "body of Christ" is being appealed to as the purpose and basis for unity in the church.

But it is the premise that lies behind the writer's appeal carries with it another… individual aspect

That premise is that… Each of us has been called to a vocation, and we are to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which we were called.

What is the vocation to which we have been called? How are we to walk the walk of our lives so as to be worthy of our vocations?

            To understand that, one must first understand what the term vocation means

Vocation is bigger than job or occupation or career.

Vocation refers to the centering commitments and vision that shape what our lives are really about

Vocation, rightly understood, gives coherence and larger purpose to our lives.

It gives one's life integrity, zest, courage and meaning.

Vocation links us with the purposes of God.

Vocation is the fulfillment of the identity process.

Vocation is the response a person makes with his or her total life to the call of God to partnership.

As such, vocation involves our lives in relation - our friendships, our family memberships, our love relationships, our marriages.

It involves our lives in public - our roles as citizens, as members of voluntary associations, our actions for justice and care for the common good.

In vocation, all of these aspects of our lives find a kind of orchestration and coherence as we grow in the devotion of our hearts to responsiveness to God.

This awakening to vocation, the forming, shaping and integration of an identity that includes our relatedness and responsiveness to God, can never be simply an individual achievement.

In church, when it is church, we are among friends who know and shape their lives within the Christian story.

In interacting and struggling with them and in trying to discern with them what God calls us to be …and do…, we awaken…, begin to form, and launch out in the risks of vocation.

In church, when it is church, we find support, strengthening and accountability in our pilgrimages in vocation. [2]

Hear the word of assurance that our Lord Jesus declares

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower... 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1,4,5)

The third aspect of the Ephesians 4, that I want you James, and all Christians gathered, to glean is that being a Christian calls us to a higher standard

Because we are called to unity and vocation: to maturity, …to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

14We must no longer be children,… tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.(Ephesians 4:13b-14)

                                    We are called to a higher standard – than the world that is not Christian

Consider if you will, Billie Graham - One person of high integrity

We all seem to admire is Billy Graham, the world famous evangelist.  He has been famous around the globe now for more than fifty years, and he seems to exude an upstanding quality of integrity. 

He is not like some of those other TV evangelists, No, Mr. Graham is a cut far above that. 

How disappointed we would be if his wife divorced him and she filled with airwaves with all kinds of scandalous reports of what a creep he was behind closed doors. 

How disappointed we all would have been if he had embezzled funds.

How disappointed we would have been if it was discovered that he was a charlatan. Why? 

Because we expected more of Mr. Graham than that. 

And for his part, Mr. Graham accepted the higher standard that we all placed on his life.

Thus we come to one of the fundamental paradoxes of life that is found in all the Scriptures, in the Apostle Paul, in the warp of our everyday lives. 

On the one hand, all of us are sinners.  All of the heroes of the faith, the giants… and the gracious humble obedient quiet followers - all are sinners. 

All fall short of God’s mark, of God’s standards, of God’s expectations. 

We are all sinners in need of God’s gracious love that is for all people,

God’s gracious love that is freely given to sinners

But the other side of the paradox is equally true, when the Apostle Paul writes:  “I beg you, I plead with you, I implore you:  Live a life worthy of the high calling which you were giving in Jesus Christ.  I beg you to live a life that way.” (Ephesians 4:1) 

This fundamental paradox is found in all of life and in all of the Scriptures.

The Bible and the Apostle Paul tell us that the name of Jesus is higher than every name in heaven and on earth, and that in our baptism, we put on the name of Jesus Christ. 

In our baptism, we are called Christians, followers of Christ, disciples of Jesus. 

And in confirmation, the natural extension of Baptism, the adult confirming what was promised for them by their parents and Godparents

We wear His name, and all of us who wear His name have higher expectations of us. 

“I beg you, live a life worthy of the name that you bear.”  

The Christians calling is a high calling, a high privilege, a high distinction. 

In life and the Bible, we discover that there is a higher standard. 

There is one standard for pagan unbelievers and another standard for Christians. 

A pagan world is hedonistic, materialistic, worshipping of pleasure, success, and money. 

But we expect more of Christians than that. 

Christians have a different standard. 

A Christian is to be loving, kind and gentle, compassionate and caring with his family, friends and world around him or her. 

We are to be generous to the poor and starving.  We are to work for peace and justice. 

Why?  Because of this higher standard that we all live under

Just like we expected more of The Reverend Billy Graham, we expect more of all Christians. 

It was so important to St. Paul, listen to his appeal

“I beg you…, I plead with you…, I implore you…, lead a life worthy of the high calling you have received in Christ Jesus.”(Ephesians 4:1) [3]

The Fourth and final aspect that I want to draw your attention to of St. Paul’s instruction for the church – to grow fully into Christ

Is that despite the call to higher standards – despite the difficult task of unity

– and despite our call of vocation

                                    Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Ephesians 4:7)

                                                Simply put – we are ‘Gifted by God’

                                                            Grace measured by Christ – accordingly, for each of us

                                                           

But being gifted, in the Biblical sense, is not the same thing as being talented.

Not all of us are talented, as the world might understand it, but by God's design all of us are gifted.

Gifts are not talents. They are raw material and tools God gives us for the business of life.

They can be obvious things like abilities, aptitudes, interests and enthusiasms.

But they can also be less obvious.  The insights that come from affluence or poverty… education or addiction… responsibility or abuse…

The gifts of our race, culture, economics, religion

All of these are part of what we have to work with in life.

And they are among our gifts

Who you are is a gift. And gifting does not end in who – it is also where you are, and what is going on around you and the relationships that you have with others.

There are certainly people around who could do a better job of delivering this sermon than me but they are not here.

The gift of being in this place at this time is one that has been given to me and not some other who might be better qualified…It is a gift of opportunity

To fully understand Biblical giftedness is to consider all of your life

            All the people that God has put into your life – all the opportunities and challenges in your life

We grow into the full stature of Christ when we embrace who we are; we are people of the Risen Lord

When we embrace our gifting of our families, friends and communities that we are a part of

We are gifted, when we understand that the joys help us to grow and so too the struggles

We are gifted when we except the raw materials and tools that God gives us for the business of life – our vocation in the Lord

So James, and all Christians gathered this morning – Confirmation is not the end of a process

            But the equipping of the Saints by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit

                        WE… are the BODY of CHRIST

                                    For Unity… Vocation… a Higher standard… each and every one Gifted by God

There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism…one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4,5,6)

 

If you believe this… please help me conclude this sermon by joining with me and say Amen…Amen!


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[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=8/2/2009&tab=3

[2] http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/fowler_3914.htm

[3] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/books_ephesians_double.htm

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