Pentecost VI (O. T. 15); July 16, 2017
My friend told me a story from a committee meeting that I think perfectly sets up the one point we need to take away from this convoluted passage of Scripture. I am a Rotarian; we are dedicated to creating an international community of peace and goodwill and, among other things, the eradication of polio. Many of you belong to Lions; you are known for helping people with vision problems, but are also dedicated to, among other things, working to give children with cancer a second chance at life. Among us are Shriners, known for their children's burns centers and Kiwanians, who serve the world's children in a variety of creative ways. On Friday I heard a great presentation about P. A. C. E. (Police Athletics for Community Engagement), which gets kids in South Omaha to join soccer and baseball teams instead of gangs. And if I overlooked your favorite organization, forgive me.
We are the Church. We are another not-for-profit membership organization. What makes us different from these other groups? What is our purpose?
Christ. If I want to help provide clean water, I can do it through Rotary, even though the Presbyterian Church has a powerful clean water mission. If I want to provide hunger relief, I can do it through Heifer International, even though we have the Presbyterian Hunger Program. And humanitarian assistance is managed very well by the Red Cross, as much as I love Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. We are a service organization, yes, but we are not only a service organization. We are the Body of Christ.
In Ephesians 1, notice that:
God has blessed us in Christ (v. 3).
God chose us in Christ (v. 4).
God adopted us through Christ (v. 5).
In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness (v. 7).
God set forth the mystery of the divine will in Christ (v. 9).
God gave us an inheritance in Christ (v. 11).
We set our hope on Christ (v. 12).
These things are true of us as individuals and are true of us as a community. Christ is the reason the Church exists; Christ is also the reason you and I exist. We live to be blessed in Christ, chosen in Christ, adopted through Christ, redeemed and forgiven through Christ, part of God's will in Christ, heirs in Christ, and to hope in Christ. Today is not the day to explore all that this means; today is a day simply to declare that the purpose of our life is Christ. By Christ we live, in Christ we live, and for Christ we live.
The implications are many, and I'll mostly leave them to you to work them out. But here's a thought. Friday was a special day. Yes, it was our wedding anniversary, as so many of you noted. But it was another anniversary, even more significant. It was the sixtieth anniversary of my baptism. On July 14, 1957 my parents presented me to God and the Rev. Duncan MacPherson (now there's a Presbyterian name!) poured water on my head and said, "Robert Alan, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Every other promise made in my life, every other commitment – my confirmation, my ordination, my marriage – finds its meaning in my baptism. For everything else finds its place in my life in Christ. By Christ we live, in Christ we live, and for Christ we live. Your homework this week is to think about what that phrase means in your life: by Christ we live, in Christ we live, and for Christ we live.
I'm pondering all this right now. I've been seeking my purpose as a pastor for when the building is finished; this project and its funding mechanisms are the dominant reality of my life and work right now. When the building is done, there will still be fund-raising to do, but I don't want that to be my purpose. I wonder if my purpose will be to learn how to help us become more visibly and vocally a community of Christ. Perhaps I need to study how to help you talk about your life in Christ, how to help you have a deeper spiritual life.
The purpose of the Church is Christ. The purpose of the individual Christian is Christ. By Christ we live, in Christ we live, and for Christ we live. If we can take one thing from this passage in Ephesians, that is the one thing: our purpose as a community and our purpose as individuals is Christ.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master