Sermon For Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ephesians 4:1-6

“The Church: A Place To Be Equipped & Empowered”

Today’s sermon is part of a series “The State Of The Church/The Fate Of The Church” in conjunction with the work of the New Visioning Team.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Blog: ~ Twitter: @FranklinCircle

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“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” ― Aristotle

Ninety-four years ago today my mother was born Sara Vernon Traffenstedt.  I find it appropriate on father’s day to celebrate my mother, who was both mother and father to me.  So many of the attributes we assign to fathers were very much and very easily my mother’s way of life: strong, confident, commanding, protector, the family’s provider, financial planner, and head of household.  She also was the one who taught me most about life, even if rarely through words and mostly through her actions.

One of the things she taught me most was that through teaching others, one’s perspectives, strengths, and wisdom could be shared exponentially.  Yes, as a nurse both in a hospital and, later, as director of a nursing home, she was always fully present at the bedside of her patients caring for them individually and personally, one by one.  But she knew that she could never care for every patient at St. Mary’s Hospital or Casa Maria Nursing Home through her own efforts.  It would take training, equipping, and empowering others to do what she was so well trained in so that the most number of patients would get the care and attention they needed.

The Apostle Paul knew this instinctively, it seemed.  It is one of the wonders of human history, and Christianity in particular, that this man, who was so antagonistic to the church early on, would not simply convert to being a follower of The Way Of Christ, but who would really, deeply, fully get it, understand what Jesus’ mission and ministry was all about.  Yes, it was about justice and compassion, the healing and the welcoming, righteousness and commitment.  But from the start Jesus was teaching, equipping, and empowering disciples!  Almost as soon as he was doing miracles he was calling together a rag-tag band of misfits to follow him, learn from him, in order to be sent by him.  Jesus always kept in balance the mission statement of Luke 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me…” with the Mission Statement of Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”  Paul made it his mission to not only live as a follower of Christ, but “to help others to do the same!” (1)

Thus Paul, transformed Christian, becomes Paul, missionary-extraordinaire; Paul, church-planter; Paul, teacher-mentor; Paul, letter-writer; Paul-CreateYourOwnSeminarySyllabusFrom Scratch author!  Surely few could argue that while the disciples of Jesus who were trained by him while he was alive were certainly powerful in their own right, it was Paul, who though never having met the earthly form of Jesus, profoundly comprehended the need for equipping and empowering others who made Christianity a force to be reckoned with and a world-wide phenomenon.

Paul wrote,” 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.”  Did you hear that?  In his description of calling in Ephesians 4, which I believe is not simply “calling” as it pertains to individuals, but “calling” as it applies to the church, the community of Christ, the Beloved Community, is all about discipleship?  Apostles?  Discipleship!  Prophets?  Discipleship!  Evangelists?  Discipleship!  Pastors?  Discipleship!  Teachers?  Discipleship, absolutely!

What this means is that as we look this summer at the state of our C/church (and I write that as both capital “C” and lowercase “c”) and the fate of the C/church, we begin by understanding this thing called faith, which IS so intensely personal, spiritual, transforming of our individual lives, is always, and Paul would write that in italics, bold, and all-caps, ALWAYS meant to be shared, taught, mentored, and spread out to the ends of our streets, our neighborhoods, our cities, states, countries, and across the world.  The moment we are baptized into Christ, we are ordained into Christ’s ministry of discipleship.  The learner becomes the teacher.  The listener becomes the preacher.  The one mentored becomes the one mentoring another.

My sister, Lynda, retired a few years back as a public school teacher, and a darn good one at that.  Being 21 years older than me, she was like a father to me, also.  Only her fatherly gifts were more in terms of creativity, recreation, fun, community, and exploration.  She’s the one who would take my nephews and me to museums, parks, and movies.  I saw all of the old Disney movies at the old Capital Theater on Main Street in downtown Roswell because of my sis.  Quite often at the end of the school year she would have me come with her and help her pack up her classroom, then again before the start of the year we would unpack the supplies and books and put up her bulletin boards.  Little did I know it, she was teaching me, even if her official classroom duties had ended.

The first line of our congregation’s Mission Statement, and the line I want us to learn by heart, captures the essence of what I believe Jesus had in mind as well as Paul and all the great leaders of our faith, “Our mission is to empower disciples to serve and glorify God.”  Should we be nurturing, supporting, resourcing, and caring for each individual’s spiritual growth and faith?  Absolutely?  But always with the understanding that faith must be shared and spiritual growth is as communal as it is individual.  Does this mean we need to have our stuff together, continually deepen our own faith?  Darn tootin’ right it does?  Can this discipleship, this equipping, this empowering be done in a moment?  Categorically not!  It takes a lifetime of learning and teaching, teaching and learning.

David Kinnaman, in his book Unchristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Matters,” writes “Most people in America, when they are exposed to the Christian faith, are not being transformed. They take one step into the door, and the journey ends. They are not being allowed, encouraged, or equipped to love or to think like Christ. Yet in many ways a focus on spiritual formation fits what a new generation is really seeking. Transformation is a process, a journey, not a one-time decision.” (2)

It is our job, as church and as followers of Christ, to not just invite each new generation through the door, but to be prepared to disciple them, equip them, empower them – as we were and still are – so that together, we and they will be transformed.


(1) From my personal mission statement, which sits beside my bed.  (2) Baker Books, 2007