“Efforts For Unity”
Ephesians 4:1-16

I love the Olympics. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the excitement. I mean, had you told me a week ago that I’d be not only watching, but cheering throughout a match of badminton I’m not sure I’d believe you.

But there I was on Thursday afternoon, glued to the TV watching Canada play Japan in doubles badminton, the winners going on to the gold medal.

The funny thing about badminton is they don’t play it quite the same way I remember playing it. Whenever I played with a teammate, I remember delivering and receiving a good number of bruises at we hit, collided, crashed, and fell over one another on the court.

Having been an athlete in high school who competed in a number of different sports, I know it takes a lot of dedication to hone your skills to be the best you can be.

But no matter how good you are on your own, if you are on a team, you need to have a certain amount of chemistry with you teammates in order to be successful.

You need to not only train your own skills and abilities, but you need to train just as hard with your teammates so you learn to work as one unit together to achieve a goal. You work so that you know instinctively where each other are, and learn to communicate quickly on the field of play as to where you are and what is happening in the heat of the moment.

And now that I play recreational sports, usually just randomly pulling together a team at the last second, believe me, I miss those long and many practices that coach used to put us through as we prepared for games.

When you are part of a team, it’s about building one another up to be the best we can be. It’s about learning one another’s weaknesses in order to work together to make use of our combined strengths to be the best we can be.

In order to be a successful team, you need to know your teammates inside out. You need to know if they are having a bad day or a good day. You need to know if there is an injury. You need to know if they’ve had enough food to give them the energy they need to play. You need to know if they had a good night’s sleep last night. All of these things and many more.

Some might say these are keys to a successful marriage too! When you’ve got kids, marriage may feel like a team sport a lot of days!

Paul calls us to be teammates.

In what we read this morning from Ephesians 4, Paul said to the church of Ephesus,

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to 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 all.” (Eph 4:1-6)

We are called to bear one another in love. We are like brothers and sisters here in the church. We work together, we try to maintain peace with one another. And Paul says we need to do this in the unity of the Spirit, just as we are called by this Spirit to be part of the team of Jesus Christ by God the Father.

Each of our churches has gifts to offer to our communities. There’s no question the United Church of Canada is struggling in many places, a fact we know well here in Cape Breton. There’s a lot of talk of amalgamations, looking at ways to more efficiently provide ministry within our churches and so on. A lot of it sounds negative, and it certainly seems to be the approach we are taking. We talk a lot about knowing that it’s going to come eventually. That we can see the end approaching. The inevitable is on its way.

If it were up to me, I would erase this attitude from our collective gatherings. What does it sound like when we say these things?

It sounds like we’re giving up.

And if this is what we’re saying inside our churches, what are we saying to the communities outside?

Getting back to Paul’s message to the Ephesians, he goes on to share with the church that they all have gifts to offer.

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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.” (Eph 4:11-13)

Many of us have been given gifts to be used to build up the church. Apostles, teachers, pastors… and what do they do? What are the to be used for? Paul tells us it’s to build up the body of Christ! To build unity in faith and knowledge in the Son of God.

These are the things we are called to be doing. These are not the times to be giving up. These are the times to be taking risks and working harder than ever to provide ministry to our communities.

Sure, maybe it means we need to consolidate resources in some ways. Maybe we need to look at opportunities for partnerships.

But we need to look forward with hope.

How did Paul begin the passage we read this morning?

Paul said, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord…”

Paul is in prison as he writes this. Yet it doesn’t dampen his passion at all. He still passionately shares the hope of Christ, proclaiming Jesus the Son, calling the church into a time of building and sharing God’s love.

Have we lost our passion?

Paul sits in jail and his passion hasn’t been lost. He keeps writing to the churches, he keeps preaching the love and grace of God. Paul speaks to us this morning saying it’s time to stop acting like children. It’s time to stop blowing in the wind, running after false hopes and doctrines. Now is the time to focus on Jesus. Now is the time to remind ourselves of this great gift we have been given.

Paul tells us it is time to grow up. It’s time to connect ourselves to the one who gives us hope, the one who gives love, it’s time to connect directly and solely on Jesus Christ, bringing everyone along with us. Bringing along our friends, our brothers and sisters in the church to do great and wonderful things in the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour.

So, as we move forward, let us look forward with hope. Let us be reminded that we are one with Jesus Christ and with him, all things are possible. We need not be dismayed, we need not look at ourselves in shame or hopelessness.

So what do you say, people of the churches of the Northside? Is the end really at hand? Is it really time to give up?

Paul doesn’t give up. He keeps offering hope. He keeps lifting up the people he meets with and writes to. He keeps encouraging them to be faithful witnesses in their communities, to keep building up the church.

So how about we take on this example?

How about we work hard at building up the spiritual bodies of our churches. This does not necessarily mean numbers of bodies, but instead it means the love we have for following Jesus Christ and where God is calling us to serve.

It means we spend time with God each and every day. Taking another example from the Olympics, we train harder than ever. We spend deliberate time in prayer, asking God to open our hearts and minds to how we can be leaders of faith in our communities. It means spending time reading our Bibles to open our eyes to the wonderful works of God throughout history, which continues today.

We are in a race. It’s not a sprint, this is a marathon. There is no quick fix to the problem and challenges our churches face. It takes work and a long, forward vision of what God has in store.

Let’s get there. Let’s work at getting to know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour even more. Let’s work at discovering what God has in store for our churches, in a positive way. Let’s look at our communities and search out where God is asking us to serve.

The possibilities are endless.

We are together in this. One team. One body of Christ. Working to build up the body by showing love and hope through our churches, reaching out, showing we’re not done.

We are just beginning.

And together, with Jesus Christ as our guide, God has great and wonderful things in store.