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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Growing In Christ

Growing in Christ

 Ephesians 4:1-16


While pastoring at a large church, I had the privilege of meeting and working with a custodian who worked hard, appreciated his job, and was a man of great faith.  We could always count on Bob to get things done.  He often went above and beyond his job description to make sure the building was at its best.  One day no one could find Bob when an emergency clean up needed to be done.  We searched for him in all the likely spots but he seemed to be nowhere.  We decided he must have left the building, which Bob simply did not do without telling someone.  It was only when someone needed something from the youth room that Bob was discovered lying on one of the couches, obviously not feeling very well.  He was warm to the touch.  Bob was one who never complained and never took a sick day.  So Bob was driven home.  The next day we learned that he had collapsed at home and had been rushed to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a life threatening infection and had been placed in a drug induced coma to give him a fighting chance at survival.  For several days he lay in that coma, family, friends, pastors checking up on him and praying constantly.  About the third day doctors stopped the medicine and brought him out of the coma.  The procedure had saved his life, but the drugs had stopped the flow of blood to his extreme ties.  Gangrene set in and Bob had his hands and lower legs amputated.  In one devastating infection Bob lost the use of his limbs and his job.  He had to depend on those around him to care for him.  But there is something about Bob.  He wanted his job back and began all most immediately to work toward that goal.  After a long struggle to heal, he was fitted with leg prosthesis, had learned how to feed himself. without hands and learned ways to dress himself and surprised all of us by showing up at worship one Sunday morning, a big smile on his face.  My guess is that he has been fitted with mechanical hands and may well be gainfully employed.


Paul frequently uses the image of the body to talk about church or those gathered in the name of Christ.  When the body is healthy, its parts work together to create and maintain better health mentally, physically, and spiritually.  When parts of the body are damaged, or missing, the body suffers until healing can take place and it becomes productive once more.  The unity of the body of Christ is at the heart of Paul's letters.  Each believer has been given a gift or gifts to be used to build a strong body.  Through the use of these gifts in its members, unity is created to grow all in the knowledge of the Son of God and into full maturity in the Christian faith.  We are called to be part of that unity: one Spirit, one body, one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one God who is above all, in all, and through all.  But when the infections of apathy, unresolved discord, exclusionary behaviors, and other sins filter in, whether it be in individuals, single churches, denominations, or the church universal, we run the risk of going into a comatose state.  When the gifts that have been given go unused, the body is not fully functional and we become little more than a social group that gathers on Sunday morning, maybe by chance touching the spirit, or maybe just glad that the service has finally ended and we can get back to our "normal" lives. 


What Paul recognized is that all Christians have been given gifts to be used for building the church.  He labels some as apostleship, prophetic abilities, evangelistic abilities, , pastoral leadership abilities, and those with gifts to teach.  More could. be added: musical abilities, prayers, encouragers, care givers, administrators, healers, faith sharers, and givers.  But we as church people are not very good at helping people find and use their gifts.  When someone leaves a church because they feel there must be more or they are unsettled in their faith and seek something better and greater, we have lost a part of the body.  When we as individuals don't use the gifts that have been given to us, we don't grow in full maturity in our faith, the maturity that brings personal satisfaction and peace.


Within each of us is the ability to share the gospel in some meaningful way.  It's not just a matter of speaking words, but also things like making a church friendly and receptive, presentable, Spirit filled, and open to God's leading and direction.  We do that through preaching, sharing our stories, worshiping in meaningful ways, providing opportunities for fellowship, prayer chains, visitation, teaching our children and adults, mission endeavors, and welcoming the stranger.  We do that through faithful, disciplined study and prayer. 


The primary purpose of church is to help us connect with God and to continue to discover God' s way of life.  What we sometimes fail to realize is that God has already connected with us by calling us into church.  We come here as believers and seekers.  We come because God has gifted us with grace and in that grace we are equipped to build up the body of Christ.  The more we understand our gifts and the more we use those gifts, the more satisfaction we have with life in general.  All to often we burn out on religion because we feel overburdened with church tasks we do not have the gifts for or the desire to do.  But we feel no one else will do them.  God doesn't call us to be super heroes taking care of everything.  God calls us to be faithful to what God has given us to use.  Each and every one of us has something to give and with God's grace we will be able to do what God calls us to do.  That doesn't mean that whatever we attempt to do will always go smoothly.  Life is full of bumps and bruises in our attempts.  But if we are true to our calling we will find satisfaction in the doing.  Even the smallest of tasks is important.  I wonder how many of us know what our spiritual gift is.  And if we know, how many of us are using it or them?  Christianity is not a spectator sport!  We are called to be active participants, to use our gifts through grace. 


We will soon begin a new church year start up.  I will have been here for just over a year.  It has been a year of learning each other.  I wonder if this year will be a great year of exploring and identifying our individual gifts, a year of moving into greater understanding of God, a year of growth in our personal relationship with God through Jesus.  And I wonder how strong a church we can become in sharing the light of the gospel with ourselves and others.

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