A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Winnette
Joined at the Heart – Ephesians 4:1-16
August 5, 2012
If we go on a long trip, Anthony does most of the driving. It is not because I don’t like to drive. I do. It’s not because I am a bad driver. I’m not, or at least I don’t think I am. I think it is largely because of one characteristic of my driving. And it drives him mad. I’m a social driver. I attach myself to other vehicles, not close – a safe distance. I attach myself to a vehicle that is going a fairly legal speed and I settle into cruising behind it. Too often the vehicle I bind myself to is an 18 wheeler, a Mack truck, a semi. It is not intentional; I don’t even acknowledge I’m doing it. Well, until Anthony shouts out, “pass the truck.”
I am simply attracted to convoy comforts. I guess I trust they are watching the road ahead. My tendencies for competition shut down. I match their speed. And I follow relaxed, free to ponder lofty things. Sometimes, I relax so much I unintentionally follow big trucks down off-ramps into surprising small towns. It drives Anthony mad. My defense is that I am aerodynamically saving gas money by riding in the drag vortex of the big truck. What can I say, “I am a social driver.”
We are at our best when we realize our social dependency. Our greatest achievements come out of collaborative effort. The epistle today encourages connections, attachments, and bonds. Ephesians 4 promotes unity above individuality, promotes collective effort, promotes growing together, and becoming the body of Christ. In it we hear God call us from a pretense of self-sufficiency, from spending our energies trying to be islands unto ourselves. Relax friends and hear that it is okay to want company. It is holy to desire to be a part of something bigger, and better than what you can do alone. Hear God’s call to dynamic collaboration. Hear God’s call to come together, to strive together, to be together the Church. Becoming Church involves learning how to bind our purposes and our talents and our resources together. The mission of the Church is to witness unity, to witness human harmony, to participate with God as a team bringing creation into God’s realm of shalom.
“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.” The author starts reminding us of his bonds, “I am a prisoner.” While the bonds are the wicked iron shackles of a Roman prison, the author builds a positive metaphor of bondage. “I am a prisoner in the Lord…make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The shackle becomes a peaceful tie, a purposeful connection, a lifeline of light, and an invitation to belong, a home.
Anne Lamott, tells a story about a little, lost seven-year-old girl. Terrified, she frantically ran up and down the street crying. A police officer stopped to help her. He put her in his car and drove around and around the neighborhood urging her to watch for something familiar. Suddenly, she told the officer to stop. Confidently, she said, "You can let me out here. This is my Church, and I can always find my way home from here.” Our becoming Church is not an end in itself; it is a process of creating safe havens.
Unity is not easy. Ephesian’s author, in the name of Paul, discloses characteristics that help us live as God’s home in the world. The first characteristic of holy community is humility. Realize that whatever gifts you have come from God and not yourself. Resist prideful puffing up.
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers aren’t positions of power, aren’t higher hierarchical places of authority. They are functional roles, servant roles in the community. Parents teach children to ride bicycles, a police man helps a frightened child, and spiritual guides coax the beloved community. We are all called to equip each other for the work of ministry. Maintain humble unity in the bonds of peace.
The second characteristic is gentleness. We are all wounded, all weary at times, all wanting love. Be gentle with each other. Maintain gentle unity in the bonds of peace. The third characteristic is patience. Now, heaven knows, I am not strongly gifted with patience. Unity needs massive heaps of patience. We live together as passionate, imperfect people. When impatience rears, take 10 deep healing and holy breaths. Don’t be quick to do the task yourself, but give each other space and time to grow. Maintain patient unity in the bonds of peace.
Christian author, Chris de Vinck, recalls how his daughter, Karen, learned to ride her bicycle: "We began in the early fall," he said. "Karen and I. I took her training wheels off, but she insisted that I grasp the handlebar and the seat as we walked around the court." "I'll just let go for a second, Karen." "No!" she insisted . . . .After a few weeks Karen was comfortable enough with my letting the handlebar go, but I still had to clasp the rear of the seat. "Don't let go, Daddy." Halloween. Thanksgiving. The leaves disappeared. We spent less and less time practicing. Wind. Cold. Winter. I hung Karen's bicycle on a nail in the rear of the garage. . . . Christmas. . . New Year's Eve. . .
And then a sudden warm spell. [On one of those unseasonably warm days] I found Karen in the garage trying to unhook her bicycle. I walked [over] and lifted the bicycle off the nail. "I love my bicycle, Daddy." She hopped on as I pushed her across the crushed stones of our driveway to the street. I gave her a slight shove. "Let go, Daddy!" And Karen wobbled, shook, laughed, and pedaled off as I stood alone watching her spin those wheels against the blacktop. .. . . I wanted to run to Karen, hold the seat of her bicycle, hold on to her handlebars, have her dark hair brush against my cheeks. Instead I kept shouting, "Keep pedaling, Karen! Keep pedaling!" and then I applauded.
Karen learned to ride her bicycle, but only through the gentle guidance of her father. If Karen grows to win an Olympic medal for cycling, I hope she remembers to invite Chris to stand with her. All of our best achievements in life are through the combined efforts of many.
Michael Phelps stands with his coach, his siblings, his mother, his friends, and even the life guards who kept him safe as a child in the pool and the pool attendants who work hard to maintain the waters for his swimming.
“…we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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.” As Church - we grow together; we encourage each other’s gifts; we achieve great things together. Humbly, we depend on each other. Gently, we help each other find home. Patiently, we teach each other new talents. Peacefully, we commit ourselves to God and each other.
I am reminded of marriage counseling. When I counsel couples who determine to bind themselves together in life, we talk about humility and patience and gentleness and unity and peace. While talking about the unity of their lives together, I also encourage them to never lose their particularity. To always seek to grow as individuals while they grow together as a family. The focus of our scripture today includes gifted individuals who are called to live together in holy community. As we live into being Church, we grow as a community as we encourage each other to grow individually.
I close with a poem on marriage by Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran. Our community is like a collection of marriages. Listen and imagine the bonds of peace tying us all together - individuals called to live together in a purposeful unity, the Church.
Then Almira spoke again and said, And
what of Marriage, master? And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a [shackle] bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow
not in each other's shadow.
 Anne Lamott, “Traveling Mercies” p55.
 Christopher de Vinck, “Only the Heart Knows Where to Find Them” pp. 124-126.