Homily, We are Members of One Another
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 2021
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have a question for you this morning. I want to do a little poll of the room. How many of you growing up as kids were what some people call Goodie-Goodies? Never broke the rules. Always a model citizen. Maybe you were the teacher’s pet. All that. How many? That was me. I loved rules. Particularly when I was a little child. I often would remind my own parents of the rules.
Okay, now how many of you were the rebels? Didn’t really pay that much attention to the rules. Always kind of did your own thing. Pushed the boundaries. How many?
You know I think a lot of people in society and maybe even in the Church, think being a Christian is synonymous with being a goodie-goodie. People think that to be a Christian you have to be a good and nice person who never breaks rules or says curse words, someone who is always cordial and polite.
For example, when people find out that I’m a pastor suddenly they feel like they have to be on their best behavior. They start trying to show me they are a good person. They suddenly stop cursing and if a bad word slips out they apologize to me. They start talking about all the good things they do.
And I can see how passages like the one we read this morning from Ephesians can contribute to that kind of thinking. Little Derek the rule follower would have loved this passage from Ephesians. “Don’t steal. Don’t say anything bad. Don’t be bitter. Be kind. Forgive everyone. Live in love.” It kind of sounds like a recipe for being a goodie-goodie doesn’t it?
But what if this passage from Ephesians is not actually about personal piety and simply being a good person? What if this passage from Ephesians highlights something deeply more central to the whole Christian faith—a passage that reveals something about the very nature of who we are in God?
I’ll get back to Ephesians in just a moment, but all this month in the Gospel of John we are hearing about Jesus as the Bread of Life, which is a really beautiful image, and one we know well because every week we come together and celebrate here in this place the Holy Eucharist where we receive the body of Christ in bread. Jesus, in our gospel this morning, even says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” which sounds an awful lot to me like the words of distribution when we receive communion bread, “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”
That’s an image we get. An image that’s powerful to us. One that’s sacred. And so we come forth each week with reverence and humility and receive in our hands the sacred body of Christ, the bread of heaven.
But what we often miss on Sundays is what happens after we receive. What happens to the body of Christ after the priest places it in our hands? We bring it up to our lips and we eat it. And in that moment the body of Christ changes from bread to people. From the sacred thing eaten to the sacred ones eating. We become the body of Christ, not as individuals, but as a community. As St. Augustine said about the bread at the Eucharist, “Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” We as a community become the body of Christ, and as individuals members of that body.
And so that’s what this passage in Ephesians is all about. Paul, the author writes, “do these things, ‘for we are members of one another.” Here he uses the word ‘members’ which literally means ‘body parts, limbs, organs,’ so he’s talking here about the body of Christ. We know how to receive the body of Christ as bread at the Eucharist each Sunday with reverence and humility, but this passage is about how to receive the body of Christ in one another, how to live together as a holy sacrament. We put away bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander and malice because we are members of one another and as members we make up the body of Christ. We act kindly to one another, and tenderhearted, and forgive one another because we are members of one another and as members we make up the body of Christ. This passage is not about personal piety; it’s about communal care. Being a Christian is not about being a good person, it’s about being part of a community that loves one another and embodies Christ. And the more we live as members of one another—the more connected we are—the more we live into our identity as the sacred body of Christ.
And this truth, that we are members of one another, is perhaps the most powerful message we can bring to the world today. In a society so vastly divided by politics we need a message of sacred connection. In a society so effected by the pandemic’s risk of social connection, we need a message of sacred connection. In a society which prizes individual freedom over communal care and responsibility, we need a message of sacred connection. In a society where so many of us feel isolated and lonely despite more technological connection than ever, we need a message of sacred connection. We are members of one another. The Body of Christ. And as members we are called to imitate Christ who lived not for himself, but for others.
And that’s one of the reasons why I am so excited to be here with you at Good Shepherd where there are so many CONNECT ministries. Last week Fr. Doug spoke about how each of our ministries fit into at least one of four categories: WORSHIP, CONNECT, GROW, and SERVE. Each week we’ll be hearing about just one of the many ministries that fit into these four. Last week was WORSHIP Sunday and we heard from Peggy Greene about our Verger ministry. This week is CONNECT Sunday and in a few minutes we’ll hear about another ministry. Every good sermon ends with something we can put into practice and so this week I think our take away is to get involved in these ministries. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. We are here together. Let’s take seriously and joyfully our Christian call to be in sacred community together.
Because the Body of Christ is not just up here; it’s out here.
To close I invite you to take a moment and look around this room. See each other’s faces. Notice with whom you are in community. “Behold, what you are.” “We are members of one another.” Amen.