“Get It Together”
July 19, 2009 - Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
This past Tuesday we drove home from the airport after picking up our daughter Susan. On the way she and my wife spotted a flock of sheep in a pasture along Greenhill Road. They noticed that the whole flock was gathered together at one end of the field, except for one solitary little sheep standing all alone clear at the other end. Susan remarked, “What a poor stupid sheep!”
Some of you will recognize the biblical imagery in that scene. It’s just like the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. And Jesus said a good shepherd would leave the whole flock temporarily while he brings back the single one that’s gone astray. As we heard from the Psalm, the Old Testament lesson, and the Gospel today, in Jesus Christ, God has the compassion of a shepherd for us. He wants us to be gathered together, not scattered off in every direction, each struggling to get along alone.
As evangelicals we may have gotten the idea that our salvation in Christ is a mostly private affair, a matter of a single lone individual praying by herself to accept Jesus into her sinful life. And I have to say that I did become a Christian kneeling alone by my bed as a teenager and asking Christ to come and forgive my sins and save me.
Yet even if Jesus finds us as lost sheep, all alone when He comes to save us, He does not leave us that way. We’re not meant to live solitary Christian lives, trying by ourselves to be holy. The blessings of salvation in Christ are mostly not individual but corporate. When I knelt and prayed for salvation, God saved me into His Church. I got up the next morning and shared what happened with my mother and then the next Sunday with our church. God means for us to get it together, to receive His salvation as the Church together.
That’s why, in our text from Ephesians today, after talking in chapter 1 about the great spiritual blessing to which God has destined us, and at the beginning of chapter 2 reminding us that God has given us new life as a gift of pure, free grace and mercy, Paul turns to the corporate nature of God’s grace. We get it, we get His grace, together.
At Paul’s moment in Christian history, God was working to bring together Jews and Gentiles in Christ. He takes a moment in verses 11 and 12 to remind the Ephesians that they were once “separate from Christ.” As Gentiles they were sheep somewhere off by themselves away from what God was doing with His own Jewish people. But in verse 13 he gives them this great good news, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near…” God brought people together so that they could receive His grace together, so that they could get it together.
Verse 14 goes on to say that Jesus is our peace. Again, evangelicals may focus on the individual part of that, thinking how Christ is our peace with God, peace for our souls. That’s true. Yet Paul clearly has more in mind. Jesus is our peace with each other. He has “made the two one and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” As Jesus died on the Cross, He did not just die, as we often say, for you or for any specific individual. He took our sin on Himself in a single body so that we might be a single body says Paul. So that two separate peoples, Jews and Gentiles back then, could become one.
As I shared in my blog last week, I dearly love an image from the great later church father Athanasius in his little book on Christ’s incarnation. He explains why Jesus not only needed to die, but why He needed to die the way He did, by being crucified. So he wrote this, “we see the fitness of his death and of those outstretched arms: it was the He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself.” Athanasius sees what Paul wants us to see here. Christ reached out in opposite directions as He hung on the Cross so that He could bridge and bring together races and peoples who are estranged from each other across great gulfs of hostility and misunderstanding. He wanted to bring us together. He wants us to get it together.
We sent a group of students together off to CHIC (Covenant High in Christ) this past week. We deliberately sent a group, not a selection of individuals. What they were going to experience in Christ there at CHIC, we wanted them to get together. Tigard Covenant Church had only one student going, but she didn’t go as an individual. She joined our group for the flight to Tennessee and she joined another Portland church group for housing and meals and fellowship. What they got there in Jesus, they got together.
Even sending them was a group effort. As Judy Ekstrom shared a week ago, it took our whole church, working together in various ways for three years, so that these young people could be there, be inspired, and grow together in Christ. Yes, I’m sure the Lord touched some of them individually in deep ways, but overall they got it together, they received a corporate blessing.
Now in the next few minutes of our worship, we’re all going to get it together with our young people as they share their stories. We’re going to learn from them and welcome what they’ve discovered about the Lord into our own lives. And as we do, what Paul describes at the end of our text will be happening. We will be built up into the holy house of worship that God is building. If you don’t yet feel a part of that building, then our Savior is reaching out for you today as you listen. The Great Shepherd is lovingly drawing you into His flock so that verse 22 will be true, “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Please join now in getting it, getting God’s grace and blessing, together.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2009 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj