Grammar is a funny thing. Words are an art form really. The symbols that we recognize as letters of the alphabet come together to form words that we recognize have certain meanings.
Even then, sometimes those words and their meanings get twisted or misused or abused. And then, we have “failure to communicate.”
One word, though, whose meaning immediately connects it with other words is “therefore.”
- The trees are moving; therefore, the wind is blowing.
- 1 + 1 = 2; therefore, the answer is 2.
- It has rained for what feels like 40 days in Va Beach; therefore, we have chance of flooding.
Our Scripture selection today begins with the word “therefore.” Therefore, it begs us to ask what is it being connected to? Our selection, chosen by the powers that be long ago as part of the weekly lectionary, seems to be incomplete. The first 16 verses of Ephesians 4 give a good message - one of unity and patience and compassion - but perhaps that message would have even deeper meaning if we investigate what’s behind this “therefore” a little more.
What happens in the first few chapters of Ephesians is Paul, or someone writing in Paul’s name, explaining that the gap between Jews and Gentiles has been erased through the
Christ, Jesus, living and dying. And remember - the Jewish people and the Gentile people
were spiritually separated for generations upon generations. It was the insiders v. the outsiders, the Hatfields & McCoys, the “us” v. “them.” The Jewish people, in the Hebrew
Scriptures, are God’s chosen people of Israel. The Gentiles were the “others.”
And so, in Jesus being the Christ - God’s divine and human representation on this earth - teaching about unity and justice and mercy and including all in God’s love without
judgement - the message of God’s love was delivered to the Gentiles and the barrier between the two sets of people was dismantled.
Therefore, Paul asks the Ephesians “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [make] every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Huge hurdles had been overcome in order to bring Gentiles and Jews together. It was not easy. And the work was not done.
It is good for us to remember as we are people who are striving for peace, who have worked hard in our personal lives, communal lives, and global lives for peace - that the
work is not done. No matter where we are on a spectrum of achieving unity, the work continues. Kathryn Matthews, on ucc.org, reminds us that “God is bringing it to fulfillment.
We participate in the great unfolding of God’s plan for the world.”
THEREFORE, we must continue striving for unity in a variety of ways….within our own spiritual understanding, between individuals, and more broadly among people groups.
Therefore, we need to keep growing in our faith and our understanding of Scripture….
Paul encourages us to “no longer be children... 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, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.”
We must grow in our spirituality and our understanding of scripture. Augustine of Hippo, a theologian of the 4th century, wrote in his “Confessions,” “The Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them.”
What a beautiful reflection! People across the centuries have recognized that even though the words in the Bible were written in a certain context, at a certain time, with a certain purpose, the message and meaning of those words grow.
For example, we can look at the middle portion of today’s Scripture and read about Jesus “ascending on high” and in return imparting gifts upon God’s people….and that if he ascended he must have also “descended” to the lower parts of the earth….which may sound familiar to those of you who know the Apostle’s Creed, which says “he descended
Take these verses in context and know that the people’s view of the earthly and spiritual world then was very “layered.” In a very simple description, they pictured the earth’s “lower parts” as where death and destruction lay…the middle ground to be where people lived….and the upper layer to be where the gods and peaceful afterlife resided. We know now, though, about the earth’s core and gravity-defying space. So, we have a different context for those words and can entertain these verses to mean that Jesus’ Spirit transcends across time and space to unite people.
Therefore, we need to make an effort to understand one another better.
Some here have worked really hard to achieve peace among friends or family members, and you know that the work doesn’t stop once you decide to “hug it out.” We have to
continually reflect on why we react how we do or find new ways, new words, to express what we are thinking and feeling.
For example, the adult 9a class is doing a series in September on the enneagram - a personality and character assessment that tells of people’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s a simple thing - but perhaps knowing that some people process outloud and others go inward to process will stop us from thinking “well, she’s rude - she just quit talking!”
Joan Chittister’s quote is a perfect reminder of our need for community and continuing the work of unity: "In community we work out our connectedness to God, to one another, and to ourselves. It is in community where we find out who we really are....It is easy to talk about the love of God; it is another thing to practice it." Hopefully, at LCCC, through fellowship times, service projects, and study, we practice the love and unity of God.
Therefore, since God has worked to dismantle the gap between “us” and “them,” we too need to work on a wider, systemic scale in cultivating unity.
Due to a friend’s recommendation, I’ve started reading “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. It is a story about a non-profit lawyer working in the Southern states and taking on the
cases of people who are on death row.
The book is non-fiction. Each story told is real life and most happened since 1950. Each person who was threatened with a harsher sentence unless they testified the way a prosecutor demanded; each person who was dark-skinned and told they would only have an all-white jury; each person jailed for being in a romantic relationship with a person of a different skin color; each person placed in jail at the age of 14 and given a life sentence without parole – each person is real. Many of the stories do not end how I would prefer them to end, but one in particular does. It is a story of redemption and a reminder of our “therefore.”
On one of Stevenson’s many visits to a particular prison to visit one of his clients, he was harassed by one of the prison guards – putting him through an extensive bodily search and
spouting explicit racial slurs throughout the process. That guard also was the one who accompanied Stevenson’s client to the courthouse for hearing. During the hearing, Stevenson spoke about his client’s background – how both of his parents had died before he turned 2, how he was bounced from foster home to foster home, how he endured abuse, how he showed signs early on of mental illness, and so forth.
Weeks later when the lawyer returned to the same prison and that same guard was on duty, he thought “Great. Here we go again.” This time, the guard was more than courteous to him and told him about his own upbringing through the foster system. The guard said “I didn’t think anybody had it as bad as me,” but hearing another person’s story spurred him to reflect further. The guard then thanked Stevenson for what he was doing. At an even later date, Stevenson heard that the prison guard had quit not long after he saw him.
(Just Mercy, p201)
That lawyer and that prison guard are real people that have lived in our lifetimes. They both are in the body of Christ. They were majorly at odds with one another at one point. Yet, because of humility and patience and truth being spoken, peace was brought about between them. It is a true story. It doesn’t happen as often as it should but it does happen. And that is what we work toward.
Therefore, since we are united, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, let us bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let us not be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Let us speak the truth in love, growing up in every way into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-16