St. Alban’s Church II Samuel 11: 26 – 12: 14
Pentecost 10 Psalm 51: 1-13
August 1, 2021 Ephesians 4: 1 – 16
Pastor Jim Stickney John 6: 24 – 35
Christ wants to equip the saints for the work of ministry. [Ephesians 4: 12]]
When I was a young man newly arrived at seminary, I was with a group of novices
who were assigned to be guided by a wise older priest who was our mentor.
Almost every day we gathered in a large room called “the exhortation hall,”
and there this experienced priest would deliver a formal “exhortation.”
Some of you may not be familiar with this word or concept, even though I’m sure
you have both exhorted others and have been exhorted yourselves.
An exhortation is a kind of spiritual pep-talk, an energetic encouragement
for people to excel in the practice of virtues, often Christian virtues.
Many of us are following the amazing athletes taking part in the Olympics in Tokyo.
Each one of these athletes has worked under the guidance of many coaches.
A good coach will challenge you to work harder, to summon forth your best effort.
and in performance or competition your coach will both affirm your success
and call you out with strong criticism when he or she sees that you’re slacking off.
This is the way the prophet Nathan criticizes King David for his abusive behavior.
Nathan calls out and condemns the king’s compounded sins —
the sin of adultery with another man’s wife, and the sin of having that man killed
in an attempt to cover up his transgression. Nathan “catches the conscience
of the king” with the little story of the poor man’s lamb served up to dinner guests.
David needed direct “negative exhortation,” and sometimes we do too.
Contrast that with what St. Paul tries to do when he writes to the Christians
in the early church: it’s positive exhortation, with words of encouragement.
He doesn’t write to make this community feel guilty about being wicked or foolish;
no: he pays them the compliment that they’re mature enough, savvy enough,
and experienced enough, to build upon their solid foundation in Christ Jesus.
See for yourselves if these words don’t give you a spiritual boost:
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.
Christ wants to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
In our Gospel for today, Jesus exhorts his followers to a higher form of discipleship.
Just after he feeds 5,000 people, some are tagging along for more free food.
I wonder if Jesus had a smile on his face when he looked them in the eye and said,
Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs,
but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes,
but for the food that endures for eternal life. Jesus wants to equip these people,
and us, to dig deeper and find more substantial motivation for discipleship.
That brings us to ourselves, aspiring to be saints, or at least good Christians,
in the same way that the Christians living in first-century Ephesus were exhorted unto.
How do we equip ourselves to do the various ministries we live out? Paul says: 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.
You know that St. Alban’s has a lot of work to do as we emerge from the pandemic.
I’m happy to be a small part of that rebuilding as we gather in public
for common worship after more than a year of Zooming and distant worship.
My last celebration of the Eucharist here was fifteen years ago,
and I’m delighted to be invited for monthly worship with you here for a while.
In the years since I last led worship here, St. Alban’s has continued
and increased its ministry to the neighbors who are in need of care.
The spiritual food and wine from the altar is given to equip the saints —
the ordinary Christians — to sustain us as we exercise the gifts God has given us.
This includes the healers, the administrators, all kinds of volunteers —
some feeding the hungry, some caring for the elderly. Can you clarify your ministry —
what it looks like? and who it is you’re called to serve?
Then ask: how can this church help you live out this ministry you have?
Because — Christ wants to equip the saints for the work of ministry.