Today is the day that Christians have celebrated for centuries upon centuries as Palm Sunday. Jesus of Nazareth—rabbi, teacher, wonder-worker, reformer, descendant of David, possible king of the Jews, potential insurrectionist—came riding into Jerusalem on donkey.
The crowds were going crazy welcoming him into the city. They sang Hosanna, which meaning “save us.”
Because this is the moment.
This is the time.
This is when the wrongs would be righted.
When justice would be established.
This is when their God would establish himself as king—not only of Jerusalem, but over all the nations. Over all the world.
As the week unfolded, the plan didn’t go like they expected.
It all went wrong.
Jesus baffled them by not looking like he was supposed to.
Jesus’ decisions—one after the next—only intensified the political and religious establishment’s hatred of him. And then when the crucial moment came, Jesus refused to resist violently.
Instead, he took violence on himself.
He chose to become a murdered messiah.
A conquered christ. A crucified king.
Hope was lost.
But then three days later the God of Israel showed his hand. The God of Israel revealed where his rule and reign had decisively established. Because the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus—a real human being who will never die again—now rules and reigns over the entire universe (at the right hand of God the Father).
And this is what what we’ll celebrate next week.
Easter is coming.
This the kind of community you find yourself in right now.
A community that celebrates Jesus as King—Jesus as Lord.
We are a group that gathers every week to enter into this story. To be captivated by this story. To retell this story. To be reshaped by this story. To allow the Spirit of Jesus to transform us into a place of hope, peace and purpose.
Let’s turn to Ephesians, chapter four.
Last week and this week, we’re reflecting on what it means for us to be a Jesus community.
We’ve called these two weeks “A Place For Everyone.”
Last week Matt got us thinking about how easy it is for us (who have been in church a while) to become obsessed with growing a particular kind of religious “club” with people who look and think and act and believe exactly like us.
We were camping out a little in Acts 15 and thinking about how the earliest followers of Jesus had to wrestle with incredibly difficult questions of what does it mean for non-Jews to submit themselves to the rule and reign of Jesus—who wasn’t just king of the Jews but is now Lord of the Universe.
They wrestled with a lot of the same questions we do now.
And we saw how Jesus’ earliest church decided that they wanted to clear the way, they decided to cut what felt like essential cultural and religious traditions that might be hindering people from recognizing the life-giving lordship of Jesus.
“That thing might have been important back then, but we’ve got to let it go. Jesus is too important. We’ve got to engage the culture and world around us.”
Matt gave us the charge:
We want the only offensive thing about our community to be the cross—the only perplexing thing that we’re finding new life by embracing the death of Jesus.
We, Hope Crossing, are not the first to be captivated by this story.
We are not the first to enter into this story.
To be retelling this story and be reshaped by this story.
You see, the Bible is a library of all kinds of ancient documents. Poetry, prophecy, stories and ancient history—and all spanning around 1500 years. The letter to the Ephesians is a letter that was probably circulated around the entire area of Asia minor (modern day Turkey)—including the second largest city in Roman Empire, Ephesus itself.
This is a letter reminding these earliest Christian communities 1) what God has done in Jesus, and then 2) how they ought to live in light of this reality. So that’s what I want to do today. (That’s really what I try to do every week: ”what has God done, how shall we live?”)
Today I want to walk briefly through the beginning of this letter’s second half (chapter 4). I’m just going to read through it and make frequent interruptions as we go. And this is the guiding question I want us thinking about:
Are we willing, wanting and working to experience and embody the presence of Jesus to each other and the world?
Because if we’re not being transformed into kind of a community, if we’re not intentionally becoming a particular kind of people in the world, if we’re not becoming an intimate Spirit-filled community to each other, then—in all seriousness—we ought to just pack it up, close up shop and either do something fun or something important on Sunday mornings.
We definitely cannot, should not and will not be a community that’s just holding meetings every Sunday simply because that’s what supposed to be happening.
God our Father,
captivate us through your Scripture,
may we enter into your redemptive rule and reign,
may you retell your story this morning,
and may we, as individuals and as a community,
be reshaped, remade, renewed and recreated through it.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Paul is a prisoner. The earliest church had no cultural Christians. There wasn’t anything convenient about professing Jesus as King. It meant direct opposition to the King sitting in Rome—Caesar. So he’s scratching out these words on sheets of papyrus and sending them off with people he trusts (like Tychicus; 6:21) to remind and encourage and challenge and instruct.
And what does he say?
Live a life worthy of the calling you’ve received.
Which begs the questions immediately (since we’re wandering into the middle of a letter), what is this “calling” that he’s talking about?
A full answer would be to just read the first three chapters of Ephesians. I’m still relatively new here, so I’m not going to push my luck reading three chapters. (Yet.) But I think it might be worth summarizing what Paul has been saying up to now:
The opening of Ephesians is an amazing work of wordsmithing. I really do wish I could just read it.
Paul starts with a beautiful and theologically loaded opening prayer gushing with praise and song and celebration at
the richness of God’s goodness,
the excessiveness of his grace,
and the brilliance of his wisdom…
…to reminding his readers about
the unearned, unmerited, unexpected grace of God
that rescues us from rebellion,
raises us from the dead,
and reunites us as a new humanity
and then he moves into explaining how God has given him the task of proclaiming and unpacking to non-Jews the long-hidden mystery that the God of Israel has chosen to include the entire world in his redemptive work.
And then to sum up the first half of the letter he prays again—thanking God, praising God, and gushing over the Grand Canyon that is God’s love. God has revealed a love for all of humanity that is wide and long and high and deep and Paul pleads that God would strengthen us so we could begin to fathom this unfathomable love.
Paul returns to gushing about the love of God.
Because that love—made known in Jesus crucified and resurrected—is what transforms us.
You are loved by God—not because of anything you’ve done.
We were dead to rights.
Dead in rebellion. Dead last. Dead wrong.
But because of his great love and mercy, God raised us to life.
While we were still damaging and destroying and damning.
God made us alive through Jesus.
And this love of God in Jesus he has united everyone:
Jew and non-Jew,
young and old,
rich and poor,
American and Afghani,
black and white,
men and women,
liberal and conservative,
every way that we—the human race—find to divide ourselves, we have been united in the broken body of Jesus because now God has created one new humanity. (2:11-18)
And we—Hope Crossing—read this mail sent to Ephesus and hear God’s voice whispering to us today:
“Accept that you are accepted, fathom my unfathomable love,
get rid of all division, live as the united new humanity,
loving and forgiving and at peace,
because God himself is taking up residence in you. (2:19-22)
“And through your unity, Hope Crossing,
through your serving and loving and giving and proclamation of God’s love in Jesus,
the powers of the world not under my reign
will know my wisdom and know my purposes for the world.”
(3:10-11, cf. 2:7)
That’s gist of the first half of Ephesians.
That’s the world revealed through Jesus—that’s our calling.
To accept that we accepted through the mercy of God.
To live as a united new humanity and display it to the world.
And so this may sound familiar:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Do you hear what Paul insists are the priorities are for the church in and around Ephesus?
Love. Unity. Peace.
And notice what he’s saying. He’s not saying that believer in Ephesus or believers at Hope Crossing need to make or establish or somehow muster up some unity.
Unity already exists. It’s already reality. It’s already bedrock.
God is the one who has established it.
The question is whether we want to live in the real world or not.
You can hear him emphasizing this in verses 4-6:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
One. One. One. One.
All. All. All.
God has established one new humanity and we—the Church—get to embody it and put it one display.
The real world is not the one that floods our senses so often:
Our world dominated by competition and greed and factions and division.
Our patterns of suspicion and gossip and comparing and getting ahead.
Our experiences of selfishness and jealousy and loneliness and hatred and death.
Nope. Those aren’t true.
On some mysterious and deepest level, they simply aren’t the way the universe is.
And do you reminding about why? Well, Paul gives a reminder:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high / he took many captives / and gave gifts to his people” [Ps 68:18]. (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
It’s easy for the Bible to intimidate and lose us with just a couple of sentences, isn’t it? Paul suddenly started quoting the Old Testament and lost us.
This is one of those places where we’ve got to just acknowledge Scripture as a gift from God, and recognize that God values both quirky and clever parables as well as critical thinking. We may have been following up to now, but here we just sort of throw up our hands and say, “Alright—whatever you say.”
The gist of what Paul is doing here is this:
He’s quoting from a psalm (Psalm 68, in fact) that talks about Yahweh, the God of Israel. In this psalm, Yahweh is pictured conquering and vanquishing the enemies of his people and then ascending to sit of his throne on the top of Jerusalem (which is situated on a mountain sometimes called Zion). There, in the psalm, Yahweh receives tribute and gifts from every kind of people—including the people he’s taken captive.
Here Paul is quoting this Psalm with an incredible twist.
A psalm about Yahweh, the God of Israel, is suddenly about Jesus. He’s the one who descended from heaven and now has ascended on high. But it wasn’t merely to the temple in Jerusalem—it was into heaven itself and Paul can say that he fills the whole universe. And instead of receiving gifts (like the psalm originally said), Jesus is the one giving gifts.
Jesus himself is the one handing out gifts to people.
He’s apportioning—portioning out—grace to humanity and to his Church.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
To be sure we have differences.
Look around this room and you’ll see
different backgrounds, different interests, different talents,
different preferences on how we worship together,
different ideas about church,
different needs, different passions,
different hopes, different longings.
Much of our culture and world still functions through the division of the old humanity.
Our differences are something to divide us.
“They are different from me—which makes me feel threatened (or maybe annoyed)
they have different needs—which means might my needs might not get met,
they have different ideas—which might mean mine aren’t valid,
they have different talents—which might mean mine won’t get recognized,
“So I’ve got to utilize my talents.
Exploit the weaknesses of others.
Drive apart. Push away. Fight. Win. Compete. Control.
Take whatever piece of the pie I can get.”
But that’s not the way the world is.
After all, Jesus has descended from heaven and the ascended back and somehow his Spirit fills the whole universe.
And his Spirit fills us—Jesus has united as a new humanity in him and gives us a new way of understanding our differences:
Here we’ve got one of a few passages in the New Testament that talks about gifts given by the Spirit of God. (The others are Rom 12:6-8 and 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28-30.)
Notice what God gives here—people.
People are spiritual gifts.
Here we’ve got named off apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Apostles sent out as witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.
Prophets confronting lies with God’s truth.
Evangelists proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
Pastors to care for communities and teachers to instruct them.
All different. And all gifts.
And notice what their role is, because this guides the thinking of our leadership team here at Hope Crossing:
Verse 12: Their job is to “do all of the works of service.”
Wait, that’s not what it says.
The leaders of the church supposed “to equip his [that is, God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
God gives gifts to the church in its leaders.
And the job of the leaders is to help equip everyone for ministry.
Our job—as leaders—is to help you realize that
you’re not the customers of the church,
you’re not the consumers of the church,
you’re not the clients of the church.
You’re the clergy of the church.
You’re the pastors. You’re the priests.
You’re the presence of God to each other.
You’re his presence in the world.
The sure-fire way for a church to kill its leadership is for it to expect its leaders to do all the ministry.
And the sure-fire way for a church to change the world is to recognize that we are all the body of Jesus, that there are no ranks in ministry, and that he has gifted us with each other.
So at Hope Crossing, “A Place for Everyone” doesn’t mean “A Program for Everyone.”
Our job as leadership is to makes sure that we have the right posture. All we’ve got here is a “Posture for Everyone.”
We want to be you to recognize that above anything:
You are a pastor. You are a minister. You a part of God’s body.
And we want to help you recognize yourself as a gift to this community. You are a gift to the Church and a gift to the world.
The question is this: How’s your posture?
Are you waiting on someone to do “works of service” on your behalf?
Are you watching for someone else to being the ministry of the church?
Are you wanting to develop meaningful relationships with others but waiting on others to reach out to you?
Are you willing and wanting to recognize more and more the gift that is you?
Are you ready to reach out to others sitting in this room?
Are you ready to view yourself as a pastor and your life as ministry?
If we have a room full of consumers, then we don’t have a church.
If we have a room full of little-Christs, then we’re going to change Denver.
Practically speaking, Easter is coming next week and there are some specific areas that we would love help in. We need everyone to have the mindset of Christ and not consumer next week:
If you’re able-bodied, we would love for you to be deliberate in where you park, and make sure there are plenty of spots available for guests and those who need them.
If you see a face that isn’t familiar, don’t just wonder who they are—introduce yourself. Ask them questions, get to know them, invite them to Simple Groups next week.
Our children’s ministry still needs teachers for next week. We’ve got two services so Joy and Leah need double the workers. The bonus there is that you can serve people in one service and rest and worship in the other.
Sue Ann would love volunteers who want to welcome people. Imagine that. We just want people who are willing to build relationships with people who walk through the doors.
So if you’re interested in helping next week—
if you want to help with our children,
if you want to help welcome people,
if you’re willing to help and just want to be pointed in a direction,
fill out the Connect card in your bulletin or in the pew and drop it in the box in the lobby on your way out.
More than just practical logistics for next week, though, we’re aching to become the kind of community where we know each other, serve each other and serve the world together.
We’re not interested in just creating positions that need to be filled. We’re not interested in just creating programs that need people to run them. A pastor named Frederick Buechner once said that God is calling you to “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
That’s what we’re interested in.
We’re want to know about your deep gladness.
And then how it can meet the world’s deep need.
That’s the posture of the body of Christ.
When we’re willing to start taking the posture of Jesus—we’re finally going to start growing up, says Paul:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Today as we come to the table today, we all may be approaching in different ways.
Perhaps you’re wanting to heed this calling—you’re hearing about this Jesus and maybe perhaps for the first time wanting to bow to him—wanting to live a life worthy of what he has done. You’re recognizing that you’re a prisoner of a lot of things but you’d just as soon be a prisoner of the King of Life. And make no mistake, Jesus IS calling you. Calling you to abandon death and enter into life.
Perhaps today you realize been spreading anything but peace around you. The way of Jesus is to bear with others in love and patience and unity, and you’ve been dividing. You’ve been gossiping and resenting and rooting against. You’ll sing about the church united, but your actions don’t match your song. And you’re grieving the Spirit of God. Perhaps this is the day you make peace with those you’ve been punishing.
Maybe you’re tired of living like a consumer—you want to follow Jesus down the path of gladness and self-giving. You’re exhausted of always expecting others to serve you. Maybe today you’re ready to see yourself as Jesus sees you—as a pastor. As a gift to be given.
And some of you today, you’re exhausted from giving and you need to come to the table to rest—you need to return to Jesus and let his whole body—every supporting ligament—build you up in love. You need to let each part do its work, because if you’re trying to save the world yourself, you’re going to suffocate.
We come to the body broken and the blood poured out today in the hope and confidence that the world has already been saved through the work of Jesus.
And when we live lives worthy of the calling we have received,
when we accept our acceptance by the mercy of God,
when we begin to fathom his unfathomable love for us,
when we start embracing our unity as the new humanity,
and when we begin to take the posture of Jesus himself and begin to serve each other’s deep needs out our deep gladness
then we’re going to find our worlds changed.