“Who?” by Adrian Scottow (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Ephesians 4.1-16 (NRSV)
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. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, 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.
“Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called …”
Usually the idea of calling has to do with people figuring out what they are supposed to do with their lives … What is my calling? What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to be? It seems like these questions are especially present during life transitions.
I remember finishing up High School and trying to figure out what was next – what I was supposed to do, and where I was I supposed to do it?
As I finished college I worked through the same questions, “What am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to do it?”
Even in seminary, when I was preparing to be a pastor, those same questions showed up again, “What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to do it.”
I always figured these questions would go away as I grew older, but when my Grandmother retired from a career teaching third grade and asked my family to pray for her as she tried to figure out what she was supposed to do in retirement, I realized these what and where questions were probably around to stay.
So often we talk about calling in the sense of jobs and careers and locations. Finding our calling gets so wrapped up in what and where, in doing and work, in jobs and positions, and geography. I wonder if discovering our calling could really have more to do with asking who questions. Instead of asking, “What do I want to do when I grow up – or the grown up equivalent, “is this really what I am supposed to be doing?” Maybe we should be asking, “Who do I want to be when I grow up,” or “Who does God want me to be,” or maybe even the best question, “Who is God forming me to be?” “Who am I becoming?”
I think Paul pushes the idea of calling toward the who question … he pushes us to ask, “Who am I? “Who is God shaping me to be?” He encourages Christians 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.” This is who and how stuff. Who are we? How is that expressed in our lives?
It makes sense Paul would emphasize who and how questions when he thinks through calling – there weren’t all that many what and where opportunities in Paul’s day.
“What am I supposed to do with my life?”
“Well, probably whatever your parents did – farming … shepherding … fishing … carpentry … tent construction … raising children?”
“Where am I supposed to do it?”
“Probably, wherever your parent’s lived and worked.”
Not that people didn’t have any choices and that some people didn’t move, but for most people back then, the world was more limited.
Lot’s of people didn’t have opportunities to wrestle with what and where questions. People didn’t have much say in what they would do with their lives. Paul pushes the idea of calling in a helpful direction … maybe a direction that can give us some freedom … even if Christians didn’t have much say in choosing what they would do and where they would live, they could have some say in who they were and how they would interact with people.
What if calling has just as much to do with who we are, and who God is shaping us to be, as it does with what we are doing, and where we are living?
Chapter 4 of Ephesians is a transitional passage. In an outline we could roughly divide Ephesians in half. The first part, chapters 1-3 looks at God’s action in Christ. Who Jesus is and what has Jesus done.
The second part, chapters 4-6 looks at how Christians live in response to God’s action in Christ.
The early church was wrestling with a mystery. For a long time God’s people had certain ways of understanding themselves. Being born into a particular cultural heritage and following the law (eating or not eating certain foods, circumcision, keeping the sabbath) – these identified God’s people as God’s people. But now in Christ, Gentiles, people who had always been considered outsiders, people who didn’t share the same cultural heritage, values, or practices were now insiders. Through Christ, Gentiles were included in God’s people, in Christ they had been adopted into God’s family.
In our reading from chapter 4, when we hear a call to oneness, I don’t think it is so much about individuals having uniformity – holding the same ideas and convictions, preferences and opinions, as it is about these two groups who had been hostile to each other for so long figuring out how to live together as the church, the body of Christ. There were some people in the church who understood Gentile believers as second class citizens, but Paul insists God’s desire for the church is oneness, Jewish and Gentile Christians living together as children of God. They have been called to be together, growing together more and more towards maturity, toward the “full stature of Christ.” This “worthy life” Christians have been called to live is life marked with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. These are character traits that have to do with our being – they have to do with who we are. Humility, gentleness, patience, and love, are essential parts of God’s character, they have to do with who God is, they are the motivations and purposes that inspire God’s action.
As Christians, who we are, and who God is shaping us to be as maturing disciples is as important, as what we are doing, and where we are. The who, where, and how are connected. Our character, the character of Christ being formed in us, the who, if we are paying attention to it, will have a lot to do with what we are doing and where we are.
Today we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
As we gather around this table we see, we taste, we experience the goodness of God. We have this bread – Christ’s body given for us in love. We have this cup – Christ’s blood shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. At this table we remember, we celebrate, and we experience Christ’s self giving love, this love that comes from who God is and forms who we are. As we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we get a better picture of Christ’s character, and we are stretched and grown in hope, love, and maturity.
Who we are and who we are becoming, people expressing humility, gentleness, and patience, people bearing with one another in love, people making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace matters, and is just as much part of our calling as what we are doing and where we are.