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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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One Body

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

July 30, 2017

Ephesians 6:1-16

 

Unity – it’s what Paul longs for, for the church at Ephesus. He says, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He goes on to say, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

 

Seven times, he emphasizes their reasons for oneness! Christians find their unity in their common faith. This is important to Paul, so important that while he is in prison, he writes this letter imploring the people come together in unity.

 

We live in a divisive time. As Americans, our political lives are divided. The last election was particularly polarizing.  Politicians and news commentators have been using fear to heighten the sense “Us vs. Them.” Black/white, rich/poor, young/old, men/women, urban/rural, blue collar/white collar, red state/blue state, straight/gay, liberal/

conservative, citizen/immigrant, Muslim/Christian, Fox News/CNN. We are divided into so many different splinter groups! We have come to fear each other, don’t understand each other, and therefore oppose one another.  

 

It is hard to move forward as a country when we’re so divided. We need a common vision. We need to be united around common goals and values. When we pull together, we can accomplish great things.

 

I think about the moon landing as one big goal that our country came together to accomplish. Going to the moon seemed like an impossible dream, but we did it. When we got the best minds together and gave them resources needed to do the job, we reached the moon in less than ten years. When we are united in purpose, that which seemed impossible becomes not only possible, but actually happens.

 

This is true not only of our nation but also of the Church. In Paul’s day, the great divide was between Jews and Gentiles. Those who worship the one true God verses the heathens – those “others” who ate unclean foods, who didn’t follow the traditions every good Jew was raised with.

 

Yet, Paul was called to minister to the Gentiles, to convert them to faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. God so loved the whole world, even the Gentiles, that he sent is only Son, so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is wide enough to include the Gentiles. But could God’s Chosen People, the Children of Israel, open up their hearts and minds to worship with these outsiders, to let the “others” in?

 

It is a good thing for us that the path to salvation was opened to Gentiles. That means that God’s love includes each of us. Most of us don’t come from families of Jewish descent. In the original categories of “Us and Them,” we would be part of “Them;” we would be excluded. But today we are part of God’s family – chosen and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, as God’s beloved children.

 

Can you imagine how hard it would have been for people from very different faith traditions to come together as a united Christian community? There were lots of tough discussions, such as Do we all still need to obey Jewish dietary laws that have been our tradition for thousands of years, or not? Do we continue with circumcision, which has been the mark of the covenant between God and his people since the time of Abraham, or not? Those were real sources of disagreement.

 

Yet Paul urged people to tackle these thorny issues with humility, gentleness, and patience. Paul reminded people to bear with one another in love. They needed to trust one another enough and respect each other enough to listen to the other’s points of view. As they listened to one another they heard different perspectives, new ideas that helped them come to better ways of moving forward. Together they were able to seek God’s guidance, to pray, and discern God’s will. And when they put their energies into doing God’s work, they were able to accomplish God’s purposes.

 

It’s like America did with that moon launch, the Ephesians united around a common mission, and put their combined energies into accomplishing it. There was a whole world that needed to hear the story of Jesus’ sacrifice. There were untold masses that needed to hear the good news of God’s love and salvation. If they had been fighting amongst themselves, they wouldn’t have been able to live out their mission as the Body of Christ, doing God’s work in the world. They united around a common purpose – the great commission that Jesus gave them: making disciples of all nations. They were effective when they set aside their differences, and embraced the diversity among them, recognizing the variety of gifts as a blessing from God.

 

The Holy Spirit blessed them with all the gifts they needed to do the mission to which they were called. Paul tells us that “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

 

The saints he is talking about here are not the especially holy people – like Mother Teresa. The saints are the everyday people who believe in God. The people sitting in the pews. The Holy Spirit equipped each of the people with gifts for ministry, for building up the Body of Christ.

 

The same mission that was given to the Ephesians, God gives to us – to make disciples of all nations. Increasingly, that means making disciples of our neighbors, the 57% of the people in Chisago County who have no church affiliation. It means reaching out to those who seem different from us who might be on the other side of those “Us vs. Them” categories I listed earlier. We need to reach out and invite them in. We need to share the good news of God’s love and salvation. We need to fully live into our calling as the Body of Christ here in Almelund. And God promises that as we do so, he will give us the gifts we need to accomplish his mission.

 

This past week I was on vacation. It was a good week. Randy and I took a nice little trip to Duluth. And we also got to see Billy Joel in concert at Target Field. That was cool! But the vacation was bookended by attending two funerals one on Monday and another on Friday.

 

The funeral on Monday was for Jerry Engen. Jerry was a wonderful Christian man who traveled to Tanzania in 2001 on the mission team that Randy was part of. They were roommates throughout that trip, and have been friends ever since. The thing Jerry is probably most well remembered for is starting the WBL Relay for Life 30 years ago, and leading it most of the years since. Jerry had two young daughters-in-law who both died of breast cancer. Their deaths focused him on helping those with cancer.  So, he put his energy into raising money for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life. It was a personal calling that he tackled with energy and enthusiasm. The WBL Relay for Life is one of the largest Relays for Life in the country, due in no small part to Jerry’s efforts. He made a real difference. Cancer treatment has come a long way in the last 30 years. Today, people who are diagnosed with cancer have options that can significantly extend their lives and in many cases cure their cancer. Jerry played a meaningful role in making that possible.

 

On Friday, I attended the funeral of Tracy Hengel. Tracy’s daughter, Abby, is my daughter Marissa’s best friend. Abby was the maid of honor at Marissa’s wedding in June and Marissa will be the maid of honor at Abby’s wedding next Saturday. Tracy, was a vivacious woman with a love for life. She was my age, 57. That hits close to home. She was healthy – worked out, ate right, did all the things you’re supposed to do to take good care of yourself. In May she got an infection that took over her whole body. After 10 weeks in the ICU with no hope of recovery, the family made the difficult decision to unplug the machine that was keeping Tracy alive. She died 5 minutes later.

 

As I was attending the funeral for Tracy, another funeral was happening here for Lee Sedlund, Ellis Sedlund’s son. He grew up in this congregation and was confirmed here. He had been part of the Almelund Fire and Rescue service.   He owned a local hardware store and was known as a good handyman. And he also helped his dad on the farm. Lee was a good guy who died at age 66. The older I get, the younger that seems!

 

Later this week we’ll be hosting a funeral for Chestine Carlsted a beloved member of this congregation who led our prayer chain for 17 years.  Chestine’s will be the 50th funeral I’ve officiated for during the 4 years I’ve served as pastor here at Immanuel. In recent weeks, several families here have also lost loved ones whose funerals have been held in other congregations. There has been a lot of loss in this little congregation!

 

Funerals have a way of putting things into perspective. Funerals remind you that life in this world does not last forever. We each have only so many days on this earth to live and love and make our mark. Life is precious. Time is fleeting. If we are going to do all that God is calling us to do, we need to get to it.

 

God is actively at work in the world. He created it. He lovingly made each animal, and plant, and human soul. And he gave us responsibility in the world. Our first parents were told to plant and till the soil and to name the animals and be good stewards of creation. When Jesus came, he gave us added responsibility, for telling the world of his love, and teaching, baptizing and making disciples of all nations. Jesus died, was resurrected, ascended into heaven, and left us here as his hands and feet in the world. We have not only the responsibility, but the high privilege of being God’s hands and feet in this world.

 

Teresa of Avila said: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.” God is certainly powerful enough to do whatever needs to be done on his own, but he has chosen to share that task with us! He made us his hands and feet in the world.

 

We have important work to do – work for the King! There isn’t time to waste on petty division. There isn’t time for infighting between Us and Them. As Paul said, we need live life “worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” That’s not always easy to do. But it helps as we follow Paul’s advice to “bear with one another in love” and work with one another in “humility and gentleness and patience.” That allows us to “maintain a bond of peace” which Paul talks about. As we do so, we can work together to focus our energies on the important work God calls us to do as his people, the Body of Christ here at Almelund. 

 

One meaningful way we can live into our calling as the Body of Christ this week is through being part of Vacation Bible School. This year, our VBS program brings people together across generations to learn together, celebrating the stories of God’s love. This is a great chance to invite our friends and neighbors to join us. If they aren’t here today, they can still come tomorrow and the rest of the week. With the leadership of these fine young counselors from Luther Point we will all experience the message of God’s love anew. It is my prayer that we will be reenergized in our faith, recommitted to reaching out and sharing it with those who need to hear about God’s love and salvation.

 

 

Together we are being equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until, as Paul puts it, all of us “come together to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” That’s our mission, folks. That’s our calling. May we be united as we faithfully live into our role as God’s disciples, the Body of Christ in Almelund. Amen!