Sunday, October 5, 2008

Giving Thanks for Each Other

(A sermon based on Ephesians 1:15-23 for Sunday, October 5, 2008)

I’ve seen this quote framed somewhere: “When I count my blessings I always count you twice.” That’s a nice sentiment to have for a friend. It’s the way that we ought to be toward each other in the church. Notice how I put that: it’s the way we ought to be toward each other, I said; I didn’t say it’s the way that we ought to feel about each other. A church that is becoming as healthy as God intends for it to be will know feelings are fleeting and are subject to many variables. Our relationships in the church are all about who we really are and what we are really becoming.

We share some things in common that cause us to give thanks for each other. We share a common faith. Paul said of the Ephesians, “Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus . . . I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” This is what binds us together: our common faith in Jesus Christ. Churches tend to coalesce around other factors: common ethnicity, common socio-economic status, common politics, or a common social life. But what really binds us together in the church and what really binds us together with the other Christians in the other churches is our common faith in Christ. Of the Ephesians Paul said,

You were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (1:13-14).

The same is true of us. We have all been saved because we have trusted our lives totally and completely to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks for each other because we are one body in Christ, bound by the realities that matter most. We have a unity that is real and that is brought about by God. As will be said later in the letter,

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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 (4:3-6).

I am so thankful for those Christian brothers and sisters with whom I can share a common faith that is based on our salvation in Christ.

We also share a common love. Paul also said, “Ever since I heard about . . . your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” Because we share a common faith we also share a common love. Faith in Christ simply must, by definition, lead to love for one another. Biblically speaking, love is not a feeling. Love is rather a covenant commitment that wants the good for the other person and that expresses itself in very practical ways. It is thus sacrificial, costly, and joyful. The kind of love that Christians are to have for each other requires a significant investment in each other’s lives. We are to help each other when we are in need; we are to be there for each other when we are hurting; we are to be concerned for each other when we fall or fail. Love requires that we really be involved with each other. Thomas Merton pointed out a vital distinction.

A distinction: to be “thought of” kindly by many and to “think of” them kindly is only a diluted benevolence, a collective illusion of friendship. Its function is not the sharing of love but complicity in a mutual reassurance that is based on nothing. Instead of cultivating this diffuse aura of benevolence, you should enter with trepidation into the deep and genuine concern for those few persons God has committed to your care—your family, your students, your employees, your parishioners. This concern is an involvement, a distraction, and it is vitally urgent. You are not allowed to evade it even though it may often disturb your “peace of mind.” It is good and right that your peace should be thus disturbed, that you should suffer and bear the small burden of these cares that cannot usually be told to anyone. There is no special glory in this, it is only duty. But in the long run it brings with it the best of all gifts: it gives life. [Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Image, 1968), p. 97]

Are there dangers in such living? Certainly. Fine lines exist between being concerned and being meddlesome, between being interested and being nosey, and between being constructive and being self-righteous. Still, love requires investment and involvement. I am so thankful for Christian brothers and sisters with whom I can share an honest and open relationship of care and concern. I am thankful for Christian brothers and sisters who want to share and who want to be shared with.

We want to be maturing in our faith and in our love so that we can more and more be the kinds of brothers and sisters who can be truly grateful for one another. The key to being able to have the kinds of relationships for which we can be thankful is to be accepting the challenge of growing more and more in love. We need to be open to the Spirit and love and grace of God working in our lives in ways that give us more and more integrity and that give us motives that are more and more selfless. As it is said later in Ephesians,

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 men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ (4:14-15).

So let us be thankful for each other. But let us be becoming more and more the kinds of brothers and sisters in Christ for whom we can truly be thankful. Let us be growing and maturing in love. And, as Paul said he would do for the Ephesians, let us pray for each other. Pray that God will fill us all with all the wisdom, insight, hope, and power that we can possibly have. Then we will be equipped to be real friends to each other.

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