People of Destiny
For whom he foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Romans 8:29
If God be for us, then who can be against us? Romans 8:31
These two texts come from the same pericope (section of scripture) where Paul is making his case for life in the Spirit. They are supportive and foundational for the principle in this evening’s text from Ephesians 3:6-11. I will highlight this principle in just a moment.
But let me say here that I am of the opinion that God is in time and space and therefore is with us as indicated by one of the names of God Emmanuel – meaning God with us. Thus, when we became a disciple of Jesus and were initiated into the faith through the Baptismal waters, in the name of the Father, Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we committed to a way of life. We were committing to a lifetime of learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and how to live like Jesus, love like Jesus, and be in the world like Jesus. And the church – the ekklesia – the people, not a building, are called to witness God’s power and wisdom.
I do not think there would be any successful contradiction to an assertion that the church seems to be waning from this mandate or maybe even having lost its way.
Several years back, I was out for a run and found myself praying, “If your church is the method and means for the world to be engaged by you [God] in an incarnational way, then why does the church seem to be dying?”
I heard the response no more quickly than I could finish the prayer. The answer was this, “My church is not dying. The institution is.” Boom! My mind was blown away. The institution is dying. I understand that to mean that the structures, organization, processes, and language created to meet a particular generation’s needs now need to change, adapt and, grow, be transformed to meet the needs and spiritual hunger and thirst of a new generation. Well, there it is, the crux of today’s passage and where I want to spend the rest of our time together.
I believe that what makes us strong in our beloved Communion – which we call American Baptist is our diversity – diversity of cultures, theological perspectives, economics, education, and worship styles. This diversity makes our Communion unique and strengthens us to be who we are. This June, ABCUSA will gather all 32 US and Puerto Rico regions and visibly manifest this diversity.
Now with this kind of diversity comes our form of social Kryptonite.
The Kryptonite of which I speak is the legacy and history of this Country’s relationship to segregation that keeps our diversity from becoming the solution but instead keeps us divided and isolated in our places of comfort.
We are diverse, yes, but we are still isolated. We are many, yes, but we have yet to capture the power of how to listen to one another. We have our meetings, but we have yet to be so interested in one another that we have sought to build bridges to those we have been with at the meeting, nor to have a dialog about the pains we face. We love the variety of food that comes to the potluck, but what about the stories behind the food that tell the stories, sometimes tear-filled stories of behind the food? A diversity like ours takes work.
Work to understand and heal wounds of the past.
Work of learning how to trust and believe in the other person.
Work of letting go of self-righteousness, apologizing for past wrongs, and receiving healing to forgive.
The people outside the church see this division. And I can hear them say, why would I want to be a part of a group that excludes me? I don’t need the church for that. If God is that kind of God, then I do not want to have anything to do with that God. So why should I be a part of a group that proclaims love but is divided like any other but with God’s permission to exclude and even mistrust? Can you hear them? In light of our behavior, can you understand the skepticism? Can you hear this very real query in light of our history and current behavior?
This onlooker’s critique parallels what Paul is addressing in Ephesians, the hypocrisy of the Ephesian Jews who were not seeing the Gentile believers as their equals. They did not see them as co-hers – brothers and sisters. Consequently, they were not representing God’s mystery (unity in diversity). They, like us, failed to understand that the work of the Spirit is a mystery and can be off-setting. The Spirit will surprise us and take us to some very unexpected places. The Spirit will invite us to love people we had been taught to mistrust. Love those who have repented from hurting us, and trust those who have genuinely sought forgiveness. (If you have offended your fellow believer, go to them Matt 18:15-20. How many times must I forgive seven times? No, seven times seventy. Matt 18:21-22)
Jesus told a story about who is our neighbor. We call it the story of the Good Samaritan.
“A Jewish man fell among thieves, the story goes, and left for dead. A priest came by, but his religion would not let him stop. He needed to get to worship. A Levite came by, and his legalism would not let him stop, but a Samaritan, a sworn enemy of the Jew, the one who stopped, took the man to the hospital and paid for his stay. Jesus asked, who was the neighbor? Embarrassed, those listening to the story could not even say it was the Samaritan, so they responded, ‘he who had mercy.’ Then go and do likewise, Jesus said.
Who are you in the story? Who is the church in the story? Are we the Samaritan? When we are diverse, we need to be able to listen and listen empathically. Listening is when we can hear and understand. Empathic listening is to hear, understand and feel what the other feels. If ABCCONN is to be all that we can in Christ. We need to be flexible, teachable, and humble, work on getting the beam out of our eye, and not worry so much about the splinter in the other’s eye.
How do we do this: A four-fold recommendation:
Offer our Support to each other:
Reduce our Spirit of competition. God is a god of abundance competition is based on resources being limited. Support each other.
Encourage One another:
Paul says in I Corinthians that love does not delight in evil (Is happy when bad things happen), And love does not seek its own (is not selfish but generous). So be an encourager by joining in to help even when you will not get any of the credit. “Cheer each other on to love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together…” Hebrews 10:24-25 Encourage each other.-
Organize for mission together –
We have to trust each other to work together. We must know each other to trust each other to work together. We have to hang out together if we are to get to know each other and begin to trust each other to work together. We have to call each other up and go out for coffee if we are to hang out together, to get to know each other, to trust each other, to work together, and finally. We all must take the initiative and not wait for someone to call us if we are going to hang out with each other, to get to know each other and trust each other, to work together. We need to start using gatherings like these to get names, phone numbers, and emails to stay in contact with the people we have met that we would not have met otherwise. We need to organize for mission together.
Share / Exchange our resources
The next big thing for Baptists to move forward is to return to our foundation – The Principle of Association. Churches need to Associate with one another to pool resources because history teaches us that we can do more together than alone. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12 What I do not have in our church’s quiver of gifts at my church when I am alone, together, in association, we will find:
A best practice,
a different perspective,
a strategic way to see the world;
When any or all of these are shared, the mystery is made known, and God gets the glory. We’re Destined to work together.
The church is strengthened, and God gets the glory. We’re destined to work together.
To the onlooker, they will see a church – the ekklesia, a people called out – on display, and God will get the glory. We are destined for this work of unity.
The wisdom of God is made known, and God gets the glory. We are Destined for this work of unity!
We are Destined for unity!
We are equipped by the Spirit and destined for this work!
We are destined for this work of unity, but we must decide to surrender ego, self, and personal ambition to become one in the Spirit!
We must decrease so that God may increase John 3:30- we are destined for this work of sacrifice.
Not my will, but thine be done Luke 22:42 – we are destined for this work surrender.
6 And this is God’s plan: both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.[a]
10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now, as we reach this 200-year milestone, this is not the time to shrink, give in, give up, or complain. This is not the time to become nostalgic for the good ole days of the pre-covid church. So let’s roll up our sleeves and, like the saint before us, look to the hill from where our help comes, for our help comes from the maker of heaven and earth!