Oneness in the Church: The Key to Generosity and Good Works

rabbulapentecost

Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost / Ninth Sunday of Luke, November 22, 2015
Ephesians 4:1-7; Luke 12:16-21
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Paul is in prison, and he writes to the Christians of Ephesus the beautiful words we hear today. Let’s hear them again:

“I, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as you were called in the one hope of your calling: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us is given the grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”

There is a lot here, but I would especially like us to focus first on those words in the center: “There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as you were called in the one hope of your calling: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.” Paul emphasizes oneness here, and it is a oneness in the Body of Christ, a oneness in the Spirit, a oneness in our common hope and calling, because we share one Lord, one faith, one baptism, all from the one God and Father of all.

What does it mean that we are “one”? Are we one because we all happen to be sharing the same space this morning here in the church? Are we one because our names are listed in the same parish directory? Are we one because some of us are related to each other? Paul locates our oneness much more deeply than in those things.

First, he says that we are “one Body.” And what “Body” is this? It is the Body of Christ. This is a metaphor, but it reveals something very deep. Our oneness with each other and with Christ is the oneness of a body. We are knit together like bones and muscles and nerves. We are members of each other. As a body exchanges nerve impulses and blood cells and oxygen and nourishment, we also exchange with each other the life-giving spiritual realities of what it means to be Christians.

And just as when a body is sick, all the organs of the body feel sick, we also can share spiritual sickness with one another. But we also can share spiritual health. Just as when a human body exercises and eats well, it benefits all the members of that body, when a few of us exercise our spiritual gifts and are nourished on the goodness and wisdom of Christ, then we are all positively affected. We are one. And we are one in this way because we are one in Christ. We are one.

And why are we one in Christ? It is because of the one Spirit we all share. We were all chrismated with the same Holy Spirit. We are all inspired by the same Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Father Who rests in the Son, the Spirit Who descended on the Virgin to bring forth Christ—this same Spirit moves in us and brings us life. We do not have many spirits. We have one Spirit, the Holy Spirit. We are one.

We also have one hope in our calling. What is that hope? It is the hope of resurrection, the hope that, after death, we shall have our bodies and souls reunited at the sound of the voice of the Son of God echoing into all the graves, and we will rise from the dead. And what is the calling? Since we hope in the resurrection, our calling is to live as though we will rise from the dead, not to live in fear, not to live grasping the temporary things of this world, not to live as though we must “eat, drink and be merry,” for tomorrow we will die. No, our calling is to live that resurrection here and now, in anticipation, to be fearless, to rise above the vanity and possessions of this world. This is our calling because of that one hope. We are one.

And together we serve the one Lord. We all serve Jesus and no one else. And we have one faith. We do not have many faiths, many opinions, many teachings. We have one faith, the Orthodox faith. This is our one faith. And we have one baptism. We are all baptized into Christ, baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not have many baptisms. We have the one. And all this flows from the one God and Father of all. We are one.

It is because of our oneness in all of these things, a oneness that the world cannot hope to imitate, that we are able to do as Paul says, to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is who we are. We are one.

And it is from this oneness that our generosity comes. From this oneness comes our ability to tithe, to give seriously at whatever percentage we are truly able. How?

When one member of the body of Christ increases his commitment in any way, other members benefit. This is true in everything, including our generosity, our serious giving.

For instance, I have noticed that of the pledges we’ve received so far, fully half of them have increased their pledge from last year. This has never happened in the whole time I’ve been here. Half of our pledgers have decided that this coming year, they will be doing more. Some by a little, some by a lot. But each one according to his ability, each one according to what the Holy Spirit is inspiring him to do. And even for those who are not increasing, for most it still functions as an increase, because of rising costs. And some are holding steady or increasing in the midst of greater challenges for their families.

Something beautiful is happening, and it is because we are, as Paul says in Hebrews 10:24, provoking “one another to love and to good works.” When one of us rises, we are all inspired to rise. When one of us sacrifices, we all are inspired to sacrifice. When one of us serves, we all are inspired to serve. It is because we are one Body, sharing one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

There are many among us who are tithing. There are many among us who are praying. There are many among us who serve, who sing, who teach, who confess their sins, who develop their minds and their hearts to be like the mind and heart of Christ. I am inspired by the love you show and the good works that you do. You provoke me to love and to good works. And I see that you provoke one another, too. We are one.

As we complete the public side of this season of growth in our generosity, in our serious giving, I pray that you will be inspired by the many in this holy community who are being generous, by the many who are increasing their generosity, by the many who are faithful in the midst of adversity, by the many who pray for you, by the many who serve, by the many who teach.

There is ministry here for all in the one Body. There is generosity for all. For some, their ministry of generosity may look small to the world but is truly rich toward God. He sees what is in our hearts. He sees both the work and the intention. He blesses all those who bless Him and sanctifies those who put their trust in Him.

If we believe in this one faith that we all share, then we will put it into action. It will not just be words. It will be true action. It will be sacrifice. It will be true love.

If we have indeed been baptized with the one baptism and are inspired by the one Spirit in the unity of the bond of Christ, then we will continue to provoke one another to love and to good works.

We will encourage one another: “Hey, come with me to church today. Hey, let me challenge you to increase your pledge just as I have. Let’s serve today. Let’s pray together today. Let’s listen to one another today. Let’s read the Bible together today. Let’s go to confession this week. Let’s share one another’s burdens.”

This is who we are. We are the Body of Christ, and so we always encourage and push one another to love, to do what is good, to be generous, and to be faithful. And so “to each one of us is given the grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” We are one.

To the God Who gives us grace be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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