The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. (4:1-7)
In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see the heart of a true pastor and shepherd of the people of God. He is begging the Christians in Ephesus to walk in a certain way, to live in a certain way. He has a very specific reason for doing so. He is concerned with the unity of the Church. This is not a subject that we speak about very often yet it comes up quite a bit in the New Testament and in the life of the early Church. In fact it is so important that our Lord Jesus Christ, when praying His high priestly prayer on the night in which He was betrayed, prays to God the Father “that they may be one, even as We are one.” There is a great desire for unity in the life of the Church, and the faithful.
In the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century, we see this emphasis over and over again. Unity is part of our safety net as Christians. The physical unity of the Church is demonstrated by being in submission to the local bishop and those appointed by the bishop, namely the priests and deacons. What is the goal of this unity? It is to maintain the true faith, doctrine and practices of the apostles and to pass them down faithfully. Within the authentic faith, doctrine and practice as handed down by the apostles is also authentic life and joy in Christ.
These days that we live in are full of division. Families are often divided, this begins with spouses who are not on the same page, they don’t live to serve one another but to control one another. Citizens of countries are also divided, neighbors can be divided against one another and the list goes on. How do we reclaim unity and protect the church from the evils in the world around us?
What is required for unity in the Church? The first thing is a deep love for Christ and an understanding that the Church is the body of Christ. If each and every person in the church has a deep love for Jesus Christ, this love will unite us. Having a shared love means living with a shared goal.If each of us loves Christ andsees the Church as the body of Christ we will always act carefully in order to not harm or divide this body. We will always act with the goal of honoring Christ and loving Christ first and foremost. Practically speaking, we will guard our lips and our speech and avoid entering into discussions that will likely inflame and cause division. Listen to what St. James writes “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.” So we are warned that what we say must be carefully weighed. St. Paul reminds us that we should avoid foolish controversies regardless of the subject matter.
We should also make sure that people know that the church is neither right nor left wing, neither democrat nor republican, neither a supporter of UNC or Duke, or even NC State (although it is an excellent school). God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, all of us. St. Paul tells us that “[God] desires ALL men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That “all” means everyone. Period. We should make sure that our speech and attitudes towards one another reflect that level of love and care. Christ our Lord died for us and for those who may have different political or economic or even pandemic beliefs than ours. We should live in a way that we will not carelessly push others away from Christ or His holy Church. The Lord Jesus died for all of those people, so don’t push them away by imposing your strong or divisive opinions on them.
In today’s epistle St. Paul give us a couple of important points regarding maintaining peace in the Church. He begs the people to lead a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called. That is a difficult saying. How does one begin to lead a life worthy of being called a son or daughter of God? How does one possibly begin to lead a life worthy of being Christ like and holy? St. Paul tells us that we begin with lowliness and meekness. The loftiness of our high calling is humbling and we should approach it that way…with a certain sense of fear and trembling. What an honor and a privilege that we should be called children of the most high God, although we are all sinners! We have been called to live with Christ and the saints. We have put on Christ. We should live as if we belong to Christ. As St. Paul writes “it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.” Really, this is the goal of the Christian life, to become activated in Christ through the Holy Spirit. To live in communion with the Holy Trinity. To live in communion with our brothers and sisters in love. When we are walking in humility and meekness we are aware of our own faults and shortcomings and we would never judge our brothers for whom the Lord gave His very life.
Next, St. Paul tells us that we have to be not only lowly and meek but patient with others. In our day to day lives it is really easy to become impatient with people. We are always in a hurry. We expect things to be done our way right away. Often we are impatient with those whom we deal with on a regular basis, our own families, our siblings, our spouses. Sometimes it is our co-workers. It can even happen in the life of the church especially in a close knit and active community such as this one. We have to pray for the gift of patience and peace in every situation. Rather than looking at a situation as a chance to have our voice heard, we should look at the situation as a chance for God’s love to be reflected. If we knew even a fraction of what was required to bring our fellow brothers and sisters into the Church, we would jealously guard them from harm like the shepherd does with his own sheep. That is part of what it means to put on the mind of Christ. And when we put on the mind of Christ and our life harmonizes with the teachings of the Lord, we will be filled with peace.
St. Seraphim of Sarov writes,
“There is nothing better than peace in Christ, for it brings victory over all the evil spirits on earth and in the air. When peace dwells in a man’s heart it enables him to contemplate the grace of the Holy Spirit from within. He who dwells in peace collects spiritual gifts as it were with a scoop, and he sheds the light of knowledge on others. All our thoughts, all our desires, all our efforts, and all our actions should make us say constantly with the Church: “O Lord, give us peace!” When a man lives in peace, God reveals mysteries to him..”
May this peace in Christ also be ours. AMEN.