Treasure in Clay
“To Equip the Saints”
Sermon by Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scripture: John 1:43-51; I Samuel 3:1-10; Ephesians 4:1-16
Click to read transcript
[SLIDE #3] The Morton Bay Fig Tree native to the eastern coast of Australia, has also been planted over 100 years ago by immigrants in California. Here is a Morton Bay Fig living in Santa Barbara. The impressive tree is so strong and overwhelming that little grows beneath its canopy. Sometimes in the church we think of spiritual gifts as big, impressive and overwhelming. We hear apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers and we think of someone else, someone we could never be, or someone we would never want to be. Two new groups in at CMC that I’m aware of are a young adult class meeting after worship and a women’s Bible study on Wed mornings. I’d be surprised if folks in those circles readily identified with these gifts, but that needs to change and maybe this sermon will help.
[SLIDE #4] Our initial responses to Ephesians 4 might emerge from the stereotypes we have of these roles. Here are my stereotypes. Maybe you have some of these too. Apostles–I assume an apostle is like the 12 men Jesus chose from among the disciples. I know the New Testament mentions Junia–a female apostle, but the stereotype persists. In more recent history I’m nervous about Christian groups who refer to their leaders as apostles because that often means a patriarchal, lifelong role for a man who has the last word and controls the succession plan, anointing the next male leader himself. Evangelists–Well, my stereotype is televangelists who raise hopes for better days, health improvements, and God’s blessings in the form of material wealth. Televangelists raise a lot of money to support luxury lifestyles and ministries about which I’m often skeptical. Evangelists might prey on vulnerable people or water down the message of Jesus to win souls for heaven rather than calling people to holistic discipleship. Prophets–Here at CMC we like the idea of prophets. However, we don’t necessarily want to work with them. Stereotypically, prophets are too emotional, too self-righteous, too pushy. And prophets might make us feel guilty for the ways in which benefit from our privilege and turn a blind eye to injustice. Pastors–This is really fraught for me because I am a pastor. But my stereotype for pastors is that we are religious maintenance workers that keep the spiritual side of life humming along innocuously while other powers shape the future. We pastors are chaplains to society, soothing spirits into complacency and churches into irrelevance.
Teachers–Maybe this is the only one of the five to which I don’t immediately react, but we don’t want to let the teachers off the hook. Teachers are stereotypically removed from the actual practices they teach, safely living in schools or universities without testing their theories in the real world. Teachers are out of touch.
Nevertheless, despite my stereotypes of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and despite the stereotypes you may harbor, Ephesians 4 comes to us as the word of God. And it’s a good word. First, this passage recognizes plural leadership. Second, Ephesians 4 names 5 ministry functions without which the church loses its vitality for mission, becomes institutionally established and blends into the surrounding culture without making any difference. Since we live in a culture that tends to be arrogant, oppressive, materialistic and violent, we need a counter-cultural church who recognizes and releases all the spiritual gifts among us. We need a church that makes a difference. And the Spirit assures us that we are, at least becoming, that church.
[SLIDE 5] As I said, the Morton Bay Fig is one big impressive tree. But nothing grows beneath it. By contrast, the gifts in the church are not about one big impressive leader or even a few elite. These gifts build up the whole body, equip the saints for ministry, and help all of us grow in unity and love.
[SLIDE #6–Map] The letter to the Ephesians seems to have been a circle letter sent not just to Ephesus, but to a number of congregations scattered across the Roman Empire. [SLIDE #7] Now in the 1st century Ephesus was a huge imperial city, [SLIDE #8] filled with impressive statuary and temples to the Greek and Roman gods. [SLIDE #9] There were wide well-travelled paved roads. [SLIDE #10] There were two large theaters and [SLIDE #11] multiple commercial zones. Ephesus was also an intellectual center and because of their great tradition of scholarship [SLIDE #12] in the the second century (135 AD) a large library was constructed which paid homage to the traditional virtues of: wisdom (Sophia), knowledge (Episteme), intelligence (Ennoia) and virtue (Arete). A giant statue of Athena, goddess of truth stood in the center.
[SLIDE #13] While the imperial elite of the the city kept huge segments of the population living in poverty, the good news of Jesus Christ came to Ephesus. We read about those early days in Acts. The gospel was first shared by the brilliant North African evangelist Apollos. Then teachers Priscilla and Aquila, exiled Jews from Rome, filled in some of the gaps in his message. Later, Paul the apostle, spent a year in Ephesus, spoke regularly in a lecture hall, and wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth. Fivefold ministry is a buzz word today among missional church practitioners and popular authors. Bible readers are convinced that the five gifts named here are not special offices, conferring privileges and responsibilities on a few elite people in the church. [SLIDE #14] Rather, these five gifts are expressed in the lives of ordinary believers. And this is a good interpretation, especially in the context of ancient Ephesus and the Roman Empire. The gospel entered these ancient cities not with pomp and circumstance, but with humility–initially among synagogue gatherings, and soon the way of Jesus began to touch the lives of Jews and Gentiles.
Diverse gifts in one Body
The author of Ephesians speaks of the body of Christ as the resurrected body that is revealing God’s power and love to the world. It is not just that the church as a body is alive and growing and working together. It’s that the church is made up of people who were once dead (according to this letter) and are now living as a new resurrected body in parallel to the death and resurrection of Jesus Chris— who is the head of the body. Furthermore, the author’s own body was locked up in prison. Still this letter says Christ ascended on high making captivity itself captive. So the body of the church is resurrected and cannot be held captive.
These five gifts were not established offices in the early church. These are functions. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers may be recognized roles now and again, but roles shift, conditions change and people guided by the spirit shift accordingly. There is no elite leadership class of Christians who exercise these gifts. Every member of the body carries out these functions. And everyone of us can discover and develop these gifts. We tend to have one of these giftings as a base and as we mature in faith we discover and practice other giftings as well.
If we look at the life of Jesus, he functions with each of these gifts. Jesus is the apostle–the sent one, sent from God to the world. Jesus is a prophet who denounces the injustices in his society and announces another path, and then walks it. Jesus is an evangelist, literally bringing good news of the kingdom of God to the poor and the powerful–it sounds different depending on the audience. Jesus is a pastor, or shepherd (same word in Greek), who compassionately ministers to wounded people, confused disciples and helps them pray.
And Jesus is a teacher, who interprets the law.tells parables and asks great questions that keep people coming back for more. As Christians, aiming to live like Jesus, over time we will experience different aspects of these spiritual gifts, but we will probably have a base gift to which we return, which we exercise most often.
Now some of us took a short gifts survey this past week, so I’m going to describe these five gifts. Some of our stereotypes might get in the way to understanding how apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers function in the faith community, but I believe one or more of these gifts is already at work in you, so listen to what the Spirit is saying to you. If you haven’t taken the survey, I’ll include the website at the end of the slides. If you take the survey, let us know what you learn.
Apostles are listed first, and they really have a first importance because apostles move into new fields, new environments and embody the good news. Persons with the apostolic gift tend to be entrepreneurial. They recognize and call out the gifts of others, so that a group can move. Apostles may be pioneers, but not lone rangers. Has anyone here started a business? Launched a new program? Anyone here been part of a church plant? These are signs of your having an apostolic gift. The apostle also reminds established communities of their vision and purpose in the world. Apostle ask, are we living into God’s call for our community and our society?
Prophets. Prophetic people build up the body of Christ by pointing to God, revealing the heart and mind of God. That can mean denouncing what is unjust and agitating for change. But prophetic gifting is not just rabble-rousing. Being a prophet is not just making people uncomfortable. If your primary gift for building up the body of Christ is prophetic, revealing the heart of God and the hearts of people, then you might weep easily. You might feel deep anger at injustice. You might be drawn to arts which break free from the captivity of empire. Congregations sometimes keep apostles and prophets at a safe distance but the New Testament vision of church activates both of these gifts. Prophets ask: Are we hearing God’s voice and responding appropriately?
Evangelists. The gifted members extend the church’s ministry among persons who have not experienced a compelling Christian witness. If evangelism is your primary gift, then you are eager to share what God has done in the past and what God is doing right now. You know where to begin with someone for whom God’s message is new. We all know people who, when they see a good movie or get a good deal on a bushel of apples, tell everyone they know. It’s on their Facebook page. They share their “good news” with people in their circles. These are signs that a person has evangelistic gifts. Evangelists activate the church by asking: Are new people being attracted to the kingdom of God?
[SLIDE #15] JR Woodward describes the five gifts in Ephesians with some fresh language. He calls the apostle, the Dream Awakener. Apostles dream of ministry in new forms and awaken this kind of dreaming in others. Woodward calls the prophet the Heart Revealer: someone who exposes our own hearts, even when we’re opposed to God; someone whose heart breaks over what breaks God’s heart. Woodward’s name for the evangelist is simply Story-Teller. Now, I have to warn you about these first three types of gifting. They are powerful. Mennonites, and lots of other Christians, have sometimes restricted persons from exercising these gifts altogether or kept them a safe distance from the congregation. We tend to be most comfortable with pastors and teachers, because they don’t provoke as much change as the other gifts. Mennonites, have sometimes lumped all five gifts into one role, a pastor, severely limiting the apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic ministries.
[SLIDE #16] Example from Scripture
Before we finish the list, we’re going to listen to an episode from the gospel of John in which I think we can see these three types of gifts in action. Pay attention to Jesus, Philip and Nathanael. Think about what each character does and says. Jesus acts as apostle and the first obvious indicator of that is moving from one context to another–from the Jordan where he was, to Galilee–he’s headed into new territory. Philip appears as an evangelist is this story. He is sharing good news with someone in his sphere of influence. Philip connects Nathanael to Jesus.
Listen…[Two Readers John 1:43-51; side microphones.]
Nathanael has some initial misgivings; he has some prejudices, but he doesn’t let those get in the way. Nathanael is an emerging prophet in this story. Nathanael was alone with God–under the fig tree–willing to question, but is then deeply convinced. Nathanael says of Jesus–you are the Son of God. And for Nathanael there will be revelation, the heavens will be opened.
[SLIDE #17] Pastors. Woodward uses the term Soul-Healer for pastor. And I think it’s fitting to connect healing ministries of all kinds with a pastoral gift. Pastors, or shepherds in some translations, protect a flock of sheep, tend the injured or vulnerable members, and guide everyone to fertile ground. Pastors ask the church: are we caring for people and showing compassion.
Teachers. Finally, Woodward refers to the teacher as Light Giver. The teacher has experienced the light of Christ and knows how to shine that light into current circumstances. The teacher asks: What are we learning from scripture and our experience that sheds light on how we will live as the people of God?
These gifts are given to us by Christ to become a dynamic, powerful, collaborative, reconciling instrument in the world. Mutually expressing these gifts makes us church, the body of Christ. And, more good news, Christ gives these gifts for each other. What soul-healing pastoral person doesn’t need the challenge of a prophetic heart-revealing person? What dream-awakening apostle doesn’t need the clear light of good teaching? What church would thrive if we did not sponsor the story-tellers, who share the good news of Christ in ordinary places? Each of these gifts is in itself insufficient for the mission to which God has called us. Together they provide enough creative conflict, diversity and balance for the church to express the fullness of Christ in the world.
[SLIDE #18] Fullness of Christ for Ordinary Christians
Our Anabaptist forebears called the fivefold ministry the fullness of Christ. The 16th century Anabaptists were strongly opposed to the elitism of the priestly tradition in the church, yet, in their anti-clericalism, they did not reject leadership gifts. Their strong conviction was that every believer was called to the narrow road of discipleship to Jesus Christ and everyone was gifted and called into ministry. They didn’t want a church with a two-tiered system where monks and nuns lived holy lives and the rest bumbled along. They also didn’t want a church with corrupt theologians and priests, who, with local magistrates wielded power against lowly peasants. So the Anabaptists tried to do better without priests, without monasteries. They called their own leaders and engaged a broader spectrum of gifts within their congregations. Over time, the Anabaptists gained a reputation for equipping “ordinary” people for ministry. And thus, their movement made a disproportionate impact in their European society in terms of Christian mission. Anabaptists were the missional church of their century.
As church-going Americans it’s easy to stick with our stereotypes that assume only a few are leaders, a few have gifts for ministry, a few are commissioned and sent, but not me, not now, maybe not ever. God’s word comes to us today and calls us saints. We are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Christ gives these gifts to the church, so that we minister in the fullness of Christ and fulfill our missional calling in unity and love. God is calling CMC from comfort and familiarity into imagining our life together in terms of this fivefold ministry. These gifts are, as the hand of God, giving shape to ministry and blessing the world with a touch of divine love.
To Equip the Saints for Ministry
The pottery that our worship arts committee assembled is a good image for us. Imagine one of these pots or pitchers filled with something good—milk without price, living water, or new win. Imagine the pitcher poured out in ministry to the world. The Greek word for ministry is diakonia and it is the same word for service. Perhaps the next time you are serving others by pouring milk or water or wine, you will be reminded of the fullness of Christ. The church is full of gifted people being being poured out in ministry.
Our theme music is “Jesus, I believe you’re near,” composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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