We are drawing to a close with our time in Acts. On September 1st we’ll be doing something new, we’ll be in a Season of Creation–a time to look at the world with celebration as God’s own creation.
But we’re still here in Acts. Paul is participating in a tried and true ritual of our world–saying good-bye. And it’s a Midwest good-bye where it takes an hour to get out the door. But of course, it’s more than that. It’s George Washington going home “One Last Time” discussing all his hopes and expectations for the country he led. And you’ve probably seen it when a pastor leaves. Here is what was good, here are my hopes… good luck!
Paul is at the church in Ephesus that he was the, one of the?, primarily founders and leaders. He didn’t stay long, but he had made an impact. And so it was time to say goodbye, to move on to the next place. It was a true interim pastor, settling down nowhere but connecting nonetheless.
Paul is speaking to the leaders of the church, reminding them what their responsibilities are, now that he’s gone. They are about to go through a crisis in leadership. What happens when the one who was running everything leaves? Who’s in charge? Who decides what the next move is? Who makes the plans? How do we decide who those people are?
Paul leaves them with a description of what leadership looks like that was so important to the community in Ephesus that they wrote it down and it comes to us today.
Some might say, we are in a crisis in the church. Maybe not a crisis of leadership, but maybe that too. We, Emmanuel, are not unique in some ways. The protestant church is shrinking. The communities of people that we would normally attract have found organizations, including organized religion, to be creating problems and offering no solutions, to be systems of hierarchy and privilege and abuse, and ultimately, useless.
Here is what I’ve noticed while I looked at the profiles of churches looking for a new pastor: they usually want one of 2 things: 1: a pastor who can save them from their falling membership numbers and budgets. Or 2: an understanding that we are in this together. That is the one I’d like to think about today.
Paul stood before a group of Elders and called them to leadership in the church, together. Over time there was a leader, someone to organize them, but in that moment, all were called.
It’s starts by remembering the gift we have been given. It’s the gift of the grace of God, it is the gift of God incarnate as Jesus who lived among us and showed us how to love this world. It’s the gift of love first given to us and call of creation that was so great, it cost Jesus’ life. The elders of the church of Ephesus were called to remember what changed their lives, what gave their lives meaning, what brought them to this place.
Can you remember when you really claimed your faith as your own? I know it’s always the goal of confirmation but that’s not when it happened for me, it was years later when I realized that the way I understood God was completely different than that 13ish year old girl did. And that’s ok. My life had moments of change over and over ago with each new understanding. And they called me to this moment, and a hundred other ones. Saying yes to anything means saying no to something else and the same is for being a follower of Christ.
Think about it like becoming and being a parent. No matter how long you actively raise a child, the moment you become a parent, you are changed. It is significantly part of who you are, and you make thankless sacrifices because that is the call.
We are called too. And sometimes it’s thankless. When was the last time you thanked __________________________for mowing the grass. Or the trustees for climbing the roof, removing dead trees, fixing the sign… it’s just what we do when we become part of the family, we care for each other and our home.
Because there are, as Paul tells the Ephesians, promises and commitments and obligations–but not in a bad way. 🙂 Our giving is a response to the gift we were given and the life that was changed. Everyone has a role, everyone has an opportunity to contribute.
The third idea Paul presents is faithfulness. This isn’t faithfulness to the Church or the community, although commitment to those was important, no, this is faithfulness in their whole lives, our every moment, and in their leadership to the Way of Jesus. And this plays out in ways that can be so difficult, because I’m sure that Jesus wouldn’t say the things to Milwaukee drivers that I sometimes say, alone in my car. Or those times we are unkind, unloving, unobservant, untrustworthy, when we aren’t a living example of the living Christ.
The other way that it can go are like the Pope Francis telling the Catholic Church to accept, welcome, show kindness and mercy to LGBT people. Which goes, of course, against years of teaching otherwise. While this was welcomed by many as the right thing to do, there were those who have opposed, refused, fought against. Sometimes, following the Way of Jesus, the way of love, sometimes being honest about the way things are or the way things ought to be is not received with celebration but ire, anger, hostility, violence. I don’t think it should stop us from living love and offering truth, it just is the way it is sometimes.
Because we are called to be followers of the way of love in all that are and do, we are called to be living examples of the Christ whom we follow. If very our bodies are a temple, then our lives are revealing God, our actions are revealing who that God is, the character of that God, the calling on our lives. And look, it’s going to be imperfect, leadership, being in community doesn’t require flawless living, but rather living with grace and forgiveness, humility and confession. That is living like Christ, too.
The last thing that Paul calls the community to is to keep reminding themselves. Renew your commitment, your covenant, your promise to the call on your life.
Because here’s the thing: each of us is called. We each have a calling, we are each created and trained and taught formally or by experience for something, it could be a talent, a gift, a lesson hard earned that might be a calling. And the amazing thing about being congregational, is that we’re in this together. This isn’t my church, but yours. But it means that the responsibility of living this church’s ministry in the world doesn’t fall just on your pastor, but is shared. We are the leaders of this community. We are empowered to live fully into the ministry to which we are called. So that means, maybe you’re not called to leadership of climbing on the roof, maybe it’s teaching, feeding, connecting community, reaching out to friends or strangers, being a welcome, protesting, advocating, maybe it’s caring for the garden or praying for our children. It doesn’t matter, that’s where you lead.
I don’t know if that’s what Paul was thinking as he left Ephesus. It’s what I’m thinking about. We all have our place and we all have our call, we’re all leaders in some way. So maybe the church isn’t in crisis, we just need to be encouraged to find our thing, and lead.