Ephesians 4:1-16; Luke 12.49-56
As many of you will know,
we are in the middle of series of sermons
focussing on the letter to the Ephesians.
However there’s no way I can pass over such a provocative
and challenging gospel reading,
in which we have heard Jesus say
that he has not come to bring peace to the earth, but division.
That he has come to divide father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother, etc, etc.
Well, let me briefly give you my account of this message,
so that we can allow it to give context
to our consideration of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
In 2018 a major Hollywood film about the life of Mary Magdalene came out.
Called simply Mary Magdalene,
it starred Joaquin Pheonix and Rooney Mara,
and is extremely powerful and affecting. Check it out.
Interestingly, despite long-standing tradition,
Mary Magdalene is not portrayed, by the producers of the film,
to have been a prostitute.
Rather she is depicted as a young woman
on a search for meaning and purpose in life.
She hasn’t quite found her way yet.
She can’t seem to get married and raise a family,
and just play the role that women were meant to play in that society.
She is sad and perplexed,
and seems to be wasting her life away.
Then she meets Jesus,
and he sparks something in her,
her heart is clearly stirred.
However, the depression seems to settle over her more deeply
bringing her mood even lower than before.
She seems to be weighing up
a desire to leave the normal life of a woman in her culture,
and become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Eventually she makes the courageous decision,
to part with all she knew and held dear,
and join Jesus and his band of disciples
– who were entirely male,
and travel around the country
as Jesus preached the Gospel in new places.
What becomes crystal clear in the film
is that in doing so Mary all but severed
those deep ties with her family,
that were the bedrock of society in 1st Century Palestine.
Its hard for us to imagine how difficult that would have been for her,
but it is not surprising that she became known as a prostitute.
Any woman who wasn’t either under her Father’s,
or her husband’s protection,
left herself wide open to such accusations.
It was a heavy price that Mary paid
to know the freedom, the purpose and significance,
of becoming a follower of Jesus.
The price of division.
Hopefully that can give us a glimpse of insight
into why Jesus saw himself bringing division.
He recognised the oppression of human societies,
and our inability to be truly free.
And he desired more than anything else,
to break the chains of oppression,
and to set his people free
to be who he created them to be.
However, in courting division
he wasn’t interested in starting just another tribe
which could war against the existing tribes,
perpetuating more of the same
violence and conflict that humanity has always known.
Instead his plan was to form a new humanity.
A humanity founded not on loyalty to family, to tribe,
identity or political outlook,
a humanity loyal to the one God of love who created all things,
and who, in St Paul’s words
is above all and through all and in all.
This is no tribal war Jesus is beginning.
This is a clearing of the decks of tribalism, factionalism, sectarianism,
of othering, suspicion, fear, alienation and war,
it is a fresh start for all humanity
a new community,
founded on the humility and sacrificial love of Christ,
that enables strangers and enemies to become friends.
So who are we called to be,
once we have switched our allegiance from the world to Christ,
and become part of this new humanity?
Well, our passage from Ephesians
is all about the kind of people followers of Jesus are called to be.
Paul knows how costly it has been for the Ephesians to become Christians at all,
to break the oppressive chains of loyalty to their culture and the Jewish law,
and he wants them realise their full potential,
to mature and grow up into the new humanity
– the complete image of which is the person of Jesus.
Jesus is the role model for the new humanity,
he is our guiding light,
the standard to which we are called.
When Paul describes our calling as one of humility and gentleness,
patience and bearing with one another in love,
he was simply describing Jesus.
He is calling the Ephesians to be transformed,
to mature and grow up to be more like Jesus.
To be a Christian is to be someone committed to personal transformation.
It is to be someone who has committed themselves
to live out of loyalty to the God of humility and gentleness and love,
someone who knows where their allegiance lies,
and who is willing to question
what is considered normal or appropriate by our culture.
Jesus is calling us to be free from the chains of our culture,
to truly, to fully, commit ourselves to following him,
and discover a new and radically lifegiving platform for life.
You might say, to use a computing metaphor,
he is calling us to download a whole new operating software.
We are living through concerning times in human society,
when our differences seem to be coming between us.
Our country – to take just the example closest to home,
has perhaps never been more divided.
Jesus calls us to lay aside our cultural allegiances,
whether we’re Labour or Conservative,
whether we’re Leave or Remain,
whether white or black,
gay or straight.
And to bear with one another in love,
to embrace humility and gentleness.
There is no us and them in the new humanity.
As Paul reminds us, there is only one God,
who is through all and in all.
The chief metaphor for this new humanity that Jesus is forming
is that of the body of Christ.
Each person has been made by God,
to play a key role in the service of the whole.
Each person has been given gifts to offer,
and a vocation to enact
in the service of the new humanity.
Some of us are called to be priests, like Simon and I,
and perhaps some of you sitting in the pews, too,
though you may not know it.
But, as Paul says,
some others of us are called to be apostles,
some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.
Elsewhere Paul gives a much fuller, though not exhaustive, list
of the different gifts he can think of.
It gets very long, so I won’t read them all out,
except to say that he includes those with the gift of helping,
the gift of administrating, the gift of mercy,
and the gift of serving.
The point is this:
every single one of us,
is a member of the new humanity,
the body of Christ,
and we each have a part to play and a gift to bring,
without which the body is sick,
without which the new humanity is incomplete
and partially crippled.
I wonder, how many of us are truly offering the gifts we have been given,
in the service of Jesus’ new humanity of humility, gentleness and love?
Are you, like Mary Magdalene,
worried about the consequences of serving God
in the way that you truly feel called to serve?
Do you fear what other people will think?
Do you fear losing your reputation?
Or are you counting the financial cost?
Fearful that you will lose in your career,
or your relationships?
Or are you lacking in the confidence to put yourself forward?
To offer the gifts you have?
Gifts that may need honing and developing?
It would wrong to assure you that it will be easy.
Like Mary Magdalene discovered,
in following Jesus we can be severely misunderstood.
Our intentions obscured by the indignance and fury of those
who feel we have let them down.
But also like Mary,
I can assure you,
that when we step out in our gifts and vocations
we enter the service of the new humanity
founded not on violence, greed, suspicion and fear,
or us and them,
but on humility, gentleness,
and bearing with one another in love,
a love that builds the common good of all,
and not of a select few.
A love that accepts difference
but connects us at a deeper level,
dissolving our conflicts
and ultimately healing our divisions.