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Growing into the full stature of Christ

You know how sometimes you’re working on one thing, and it leads you to another thing, and another…
I set about thinking about today’s reading from Ephesians – one which is close to my heart for at least a couple reasons – one of which is… I was sure this was read at one of my ordinations. I looked up those two feast days (I was ordained deacon on the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul, and priest on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul), and this lesson is not in the lectionary for either day. But I couldn’t shake that feeling that I was right – so finally I went rummaging through papers to find the actual bulletins.
Along the way a few other things attracted my notice and led me to a little collection of papers that turned out to be everything I had taken from the bulletin board in my office at the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Seminary. Cards, cartoons, quotes, prayers… and this –
…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
And this is why this passage from Ephesians actually did make it into my ordination liturgy (I was right). It was one of my choices for that liturgy because it was what we, at the Center, had chosen as a summary statement of our work. Everything we did, all the work of Christian Spirituality, is here to equip God’s people for the work of ministry, and for building up the entire Body of Christ. For us that meant classes in the summer term, it was spiritual direction for seminarians, it was establishing an annual lecture in Christian Spirituality, it was Quiet Days in the fall and spring, it was as simple as gathering for contemplative prayer or lectio divina. Everything we did, we did with this intention – to equip God’s people, and to build up the Body.
So that’s one reason this passage is close to my heart.
And it’s an important one for us to hold in mind – because Paul prays at the beginning of this chapter that we might “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Paul assumes that all of his readers are “called.”
And so we are – we are all called to this work of building up the Body of Christ. And we are called because we are baptized into that one Body, and we are one Body because we are called.
And the gifts God has given us all – “according to the measure of Christ’s gift,” that is according to our particular abilities, our strengths and weaknesses…
The gifts God has given us are for this purpose – this is the point where Paul makes this statement – our gifts are to equip the saints and to build up the Body.
Even more – our work, our aim, is building up the Body “until,” he says, “we come to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
The full stature of Christ – let that sink in.
Paul is not a writer who is given to nice-sounding but hollow sound bites. He means this – we are all working to grow into the full stature of Christ – quite literally to be Christ in the world.
A tall order if there ever was one – a bit daunting… humbling certainly – right up there with Jesus’ own tall orders like “love your enemies” and “love one another AS I have loved you.”
Which brings me to a second reason this reading is close to my heart – the primacy of love –
(which, it happens, also had a central place in my work and study at the Center for Christian Spirituality).
Paul prays that we will
“…bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;”
that “speaking the truth in love” we will grow up into Christ, who is the head of the Body;
and that all the parts of the Body, working together, will “promote the Body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
We are not being asked to build up the Body of Christ any which way – we are called to build up the Body in love – and through love.
Love is the reason, and the means, and the goal.
Love, we know, as we are called to practice it in the Christian life, is not a Hallmark sentiment.
It is a challenge.
It is not a commodity we can choose to accept when it feels good, and reject when it gets uncomfortable.
Because God is Love – and we are made in the image and likeness of God – because in God’s infinite love God made us for herself – and Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col.1:15) – and He has given us the command to love one another AS HE has loved us – and He gave His life for love of us – and rose, and (coming back to Ephesians) ascended to heaven that he might fill all in all…
So, the theologian Teilhard de Chardin states it directly –
“the physical structure of the universe is love.”
We can’t get away from it. It is who we are; it is our source, our purpose, and our end.
And to finally draw in one more theme from today’s reading –
It is what holds us together “in the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace.”
We are indeed a Body of many diverse parts – different gifts, different abilities and experiences, different histories, different ways of thinking…
We are diverse, but like a body, we are One.
And all with our necessary role in building up the Body in love.
We are gathered today at another milestone in our parish journey.
It is our last (God willing) Sunday morning Zoom liturgy.
It’s been sixteen months with an uncommon share of change, uncertainty, upheaval, anxiety and loss. It has also been a time that has offered opportunities for grace, compassion, deep learning, hope, and even gratitude.
As we move into our next chapter as a community, as a Body, we will continue to meet challenges, changes, bumps in the road, perhaps even conflict.
As we gather again, in the coming weeks and months, may we hold brightly before our eyes, and firmly in our hearts and minds – the primacy of love, through which we build up the Body, and maintain the Spirit of unity in the bond of peace.
What is essential in these times is growing into the full stature of Christ – not unity of thought, or unity of means or of method, not marching in lockstep to one theological/ethical/spiritual drummer – but, according to the gifts we are given, being One in the Love that made us, saves us, calls us, feeds us, and sends us.

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