4 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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. 14 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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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. (Ephesians 4:1-16 NRSV)
In a motion picture called The Mission Robert DeNiro plays Mendoza, a ruthless mercenary who makes his living selling Indians on the slave market. One day he kills his brother in a fit of rage. Unable to live with the guilt, Mendoza goes to live in a monastery where he meets Father Gabriel. The priest suggests that Mendoza accompany him to a mission in the mountains where the Indians live. As penance Mendoza carries a huge sack of armor along the way. Near the end of the climb Mendoza struggles up a slippery hillside, still carrying the sack, when he comes face-to-face with one of the natives. The Indian man holds out a knife, and Mendoza assumes he will be killed. But the man uses the knife to cut the rope, and the sack of armor goes tumbling down the hillside. Not anger, wrath, and malice, but compassion, kindness, and humility. That’s what Paul writes about. *
Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Bearing with one another in love.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks often of “Ubuntu.” It’s a difficult word to translate into English, but it describes the kind of person Paul is calling us to be. A person with Ubuntu is generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. Ubuntu understands that we are not our own. We are a part of something much larger and because of that we participate with others.
Paul says that we’re a part of Christ’s Body. Also known as the Church. It’s a calling. It’s a calling to humility and gentleness and patience. We bear with on another in love. We enter the world in love.
It seems to me that anger and hate are easy and energy sapping all at the same time. It takes courage to humbly stand for what we believe. It takes courage to be patient with those who don’t see things our way. Yet, the outcome is peace. Peace of mind and body and soul. It’s a form of letting go and allowing God to be involved.
We tell our kids to play well with others. How do we measure up to those standards as adults? How do we stand tall, serving our neighbor, while risking becoming a doormat? We do it together. We are the body of the Christ. We aren’t alone in this, but we are a part of something much larger than us. Huge.
And we do it by the grace of Christ. Paul is clear about what we believe: One. One body, one Spirit, one hope in Christ’s resurrection; one Lord, one faith, one baptism. And it all leads to God. Amen and amen.
But, that’s not all. Paul shows us how we move into this unity thing in order to develop our skills of caring and compassion. It comes as gifts bestowed on those who will equip us for this journey. Some will be Apostles to build the Church; prophets to speak truth in love; evangelists to share the Church with seekers; pastors and teachers to preach and to teach the Church.
That’s how we grow up.
Ubuntu generosity and hospitality. Ubuntu compassion. Holding the knife, not to kill, but to relieve burdens.
That’s the world I want to live in.
All glory and honor be to God.
- Mike Graves “The Sermon as Symphony: Preachign the Literary Forms of the New Testament” (Valley Forge, Judson Press, 1997) page 187