Thirty nine years. Or sixty-four percent of my life. That’s a majority. That takes the vote, determines the passage of the bill into law, that’s ... well ... a lot. It was my anniversary this weekend. Well, our anniversary. It’s hard to have a wedding anniversary by yourself, I suppose. She was there. Thirty nine years ago today. A Saturday morning in South Bend, Indiana. In a beautiful sanctuary, with dark, carved wood, a huge stained glass window, and baptismal font that was supposed to be almost a thousand years old. We stood before the altar and my dad walked us through the vows we made, the promises that would change everything in ways of which we only had a glimmer. A hint at best at what our lives would be from that moment on.
Like the hundreds, or thousands who stood at that font, or where held over the water and had hands laid on them, wet, dripping hands, and words intoned, the Trinitarian formula, the words of blessing and cleansing and renewal, words of claiming and promise. And the suspicion that life would be different from then on. Only a suspicion, mind you, a hint, a glimmer of what was to come, how life was to unfold. But what was certain was that nothing would be the same from that moment on. That water washed moment. That promises made moment.
Because lives were intertwined in that moment. Hearts were joined. Responsibilities shared. I can no longer think only of me. She could no longer look only to her own horizon. Two became one, not so that something is lost, but so that all that was is woven into what will be. All of me was wrapped into us. All of me. She accepted the less than perfect parts as well. Most of which she didn’t even know yet. Much of which I didn’t even know, until confronted with life that stretched me and twisted me and turned me inside out. And then we would see how I would fare. Sometimes well, sometimes not so well. But she took that, and wove it into her life. Even as I did that same. Thirty nine years ago.
Or a thousand years ago. Two thousand years ago. Lives have been woven together by words and promises. The body has been shaped, formed, and has stood strong or not so strong at times. That ancient font has stories to tell, your story and mine too. Stories of the body of Christ, woven together and made into something more than what any of us would be on our own. And not just the strength of numbers, though that is a part of it. No, there is something more, something mysterious and profound. A Spirit that binds us, connects us, strengthens us. A Spirit and a Presence that is within our grasp and beyond our vision. We are more fully ourselves when we lose ourselves in that body. We are victorious when we surrender to the other. To the Other. To the Spirit and to the community of faith.
On our journey of faith, our discipleship path, as the disciple’s heart is being placed within us, we begin to recognize that we need companions on the way. We need those who will come along beside and shore us up and allow us to guide and strengthen and shape. We are in this together. That’s where we are in the series called “A Disciple’s Heart.” The recognition of the need for the community of faith.
Ephesians 4:1-16 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." 9 (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We 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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
One. How many ones did you count? Paul falls all over himself with the one refrain. One, one, one. We are one. He sings that song – we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and on and on until we all go crazy. But the point is made. Unity is a sign, says Paul, a sign of the body of Christ, a sign of the Presence of the Spirit. It is an essential element in the process of sanctification, of making of disciples. But why? We live in a world that is all about the individual. About self-actualization. About the lone hero prevailing against impossible odds. That’s what we hear every day, hundred times a day. It’s all about me.
Which is precisely why we need a community. We aren’t made to be rugged individualists. We aren’t designed to forge our way alone. We are made to be connected to others. To partners and friends, lovers and confidants. “It is not good,” says the Lord, the Creator God at the beginning of everything that is, “for the human being to be alone.” It is part of the design that we walk together.
Together. And yet uniquely ourselves. See this togetherness isn’t sameness. Unity isn’t about uniformity. We each have our gifts, we each have our calling, our part to play in the larger whole. Some commentators have argued that Paul’s list here in this passage is about offices, about what it takes to have a church, a community of faith. Maybe, but I’m not so sure. I think these are roles, these are gifts that are shared with the community as a whole, and the wider world. Like each of the lists that Paul makes in his letters, this is a sample of the variety of gifts and abilities and inclinations that the members have. And the purpose of each of the gifts is the same: to equip the saints. To build up the body. To help us all grow up to maturity.
Paul isn’t really contradicting Jesus when he tells us to not be like children. It kinda sounds like it, but Paul is emphasizing a different aspect of childishness. Jesus says be like children, trusting. Paul says don’t be like children, gullible. Admittedly it’s an fine line. And it begins with speaking the truth in love. Being true to one another, to living in community, accountable to the promises and the hope that is within us. That’s why we need each other, to practice loving in an atmosphere of forgiving grace. We can risk loving like Christ within the body, because everyone is on the same journey, everyone has the same goal and hope.
So, how do we do it? How do we take the risk of loving one another? How do we survive the ebbs and flows of life and heart and soul? Well, Paul has a suggestion for that too. In fact he leads with it. “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” That’s the goal, that’s the hope, that’s the race that we run. But here’s the methodology: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” That’s the key, he says. That’s the plan. With humility – how we hold ourselves with honesty and clarity; and gentleness – how we hold one another, the “golden rule in action, treating others with the same caring honesty with which we want to be treated. And with patience. With patience. He says it twice just be sure we’ve got it. Because we live in time, and we wait for the Lord, and we wait for completion, for maturity, and so we wait for one another with forgiveness and grace and hope and love. For thirty nine years. Or more. Thank you, La Donna Riddle Weber for your grace and patience over the last 39 years. Who knows what might be next?