We Are The Adults in the Room

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 01/14/24, at Whittier First Friends Church, in the Los Angeles area. The scripture reading for this sermon was:  Ephesians 4:1-16. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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Why are we here?

This isn’t a rhetorical or even a metaphysical question. I mean it quite concretely: Why are we here this morning? Why did each of us leave our homes and travel to this meeting house, to sit in this room together with others who made the same choice?

There are other options. We could be enjoying a trip to a park, or reading a good book. For those of us with children, we could be taking them to all sorts of sports events and creative activities. For those of us with demanding jobs, we could simply be taking the time to recover and get our strength back for the week ahead. There are so many other things we could be doing; and indeed, the vast majority of Americans are making different decisions about how to spend their time this morning.

So why are we here? Is it that First Friends Whittier is more entertaining than a good book and a cup of coffee? Is it a better workout than a hike or a trip to the gym? Are the people here better than those we’d find at the local library?

In our scripture reading this morning, Paul speaks about the unity of the Spirit to the church gathered in Ephesus. He urged them to “maintain” it – which tells me that their unity was in question – there were other options! But it also tells me that this unity was very powerful and very real – worth holding onto.

The early Quaker apologist and theologian, Robert Barclay, explained that it was this sense of unity and power that drew him to gather with the Quakers, despite having been raised and educated as a Roman Catholic. He writes, in probably the most famous lines from his Apology for the True Christian Divinity

…when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart, and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up, and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this Power and Life whereby I might feel myself perfectly redeemed…

Is this your experience? When you come to gather with Friends here at Whittier First Friends Church, do you feel a secret power among you? Does it touch your heart, and do you give way to it? Do you find the evil in you weakening, and the good raised up? Are you being knit and united to the people here, hungering for more of this life and power, so that together with them you might be perfectly redeemed?

Why are you here?

Barclay writes about this secret power, this hidden unity that he found among the early Quakers, gathered in their silent assemblies. This is what Paul is writing about, too, when he speaks of the unity of the Spirit. There is a life, there is a power, there is a unity that knits us together in something larger than ourselves – the body of Christ. And we who are gathered here are called to maintain this unity in the bond of peace.

How are we to maintain this unity? What tools has God given us to sustain this knittedness, to dwell in this secret power that is so transformative, that speaks to the heart and soul of those who – like a young Robert Barclay – might wander into our silent assembly and find the evil in them weakening and the good raised up?

According to Paul, God has given us everything we need to mind the unity, to grow as a body united in the Lord. Paul says that the Holy Spirit has “granted that some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, 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.”

Why are we here? To build 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. Until the good is raised up in us, so that we grow into maturity; until we grow, as Paul writes, to the full stature of Christ.

We’re here to become like Jesus. Not sort of similar to Jesus, not sort of a reflection of Jesus, but like Jesus, We’re here to have the evil in us weakened and the good lifted up. To receive, in the words of Barclay, “the increase of this Power and Life whereby [we] might feel [ourselves] perfectly redeemed.” Perfectly redeemed. This was something that got the early Quakers into a lot of trouble: All the other Christians around said, “You can’t be perfectly redeemed – you have to die first!” And Quakers said, “We’ve already died in Christ and we’ve been raised in him, and we are being perfectly redeemed.

Do we still believe that? Do we think that’s possible?

Perfectly redeemed. To the full stature of Christ. Living and loving and acting and transforming the world – turning water into wine and violence into peace. Like Jesus.

Why are we here? We are here because God has called us to be grown-ups. As Paul tells us, we can’t be children anymore. We can’t allow ourselves to be rocked by everything the world throws at us. We can’t lose our focus every time the wind blows in a new direction. We can’t change our whole worldview every time we watch the news or hear a persuasive Ted Talk. 

We can’t allow the dying world to distract us from the secret power and life that God is pouring out among us. We must not be drawn away from our foundation, that connection to God that means everything. This is what Paul is talking about when he urges the Ephesians to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We’re here to be grown-ups. I turned 40 recently, and I know some of us are younger than that; some of us are significantly older than that. But for me, turning 40: I’ve got four little kids, and my parents are in their 70s. My parents aren’t going to be here forever. At my age, I’ve started thinking: I have to be the adult in the room. I’m taking care of the children. I’m working the job. I’m providing. I’m caring for the old and the young.

Regardless of our chronological age, this is what God is calling us to. We’re called to be grown ups. No longer just saying well isn’t it great that Jesus was this way? Or, isn’t it nice that the early Quakers did those things? Were the adults in the room now. We are to be spiritual adults who care for those who are seeking, hungering, wandering into our silent assemblies where they might have the evil in them weakened and the good lifted up. We are here to be healed, yes – but that’s not the end. The Holy Spirit wants to make us like Jesus. We came to be healed, but God wants to make us healers.

How is that going to happen? Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! How can I, a person who is so error-prone, so small, so limited, do the work of Jesus? How can I ever imagine that I could live up to the full stature of Christ?

Paul gives us a clue here, when he talks about the gifts that the Holy Spirit is placing among us, the capacity that God is building in us so that we can be fully healed, fully whole, fully functional as a body. He writes that Jesus ”granted that some are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” I won’t get into the meaning of each of these roles right now – that could be its own sermon! The point is: Jesus has granted that we have the human capacity and the spiritual authority that we need to do his work in the world. 

We don’t have to trouble ourselves with false humility, insisting that we can’t possibly live up to the example of Jesus. Of course we can’t – on our own! But Jesus has not left us orphans. He has sent the Holy Spirit to give us every gift that we need. He is giving us power and authority to bless one another, to bring healing, and to invite each person deeper into the silent assemblies of God where real transformation can happen.

I don’t know if any of you are Star Wars fans, but there’s a moment in Episode VII, where Rey and Finn are aboard the Millennium Falcon with an elder Han Solo and Chewbacca. The new kids start asking about Luke Skywalker and the Jedi. And Han Solo says, “Crazy thing is, it’s true. The Force, the Jedi, all of it. It’s all true.”

That’s why we’re here. That’s why God has called us to this place, to this people, to this community: It’s all true. The years of wandering in the desert. The still small voice of God, speaking to Elijah after the earthquake, wind, and fire. The ministry of John the Baptist and the witness of Jesus. The cross, the resurrection, the power of the Holy Spirit – it’s real. It’s true. It’s all true.

We’re here because it’s true. We’re here because God’s power transforms lives. We’re here because the Holy Spirit is inviting us, empowering us, transforming us to grow up into the full stature of Jesus. We’re here because this is not just about who we are – it’s about who God is calling us to be: healers, teachers, the change the world so desperately needs. We are here to be a living body, knitted together in love, laying healing hands on a wounded world.

And I’ll be honest: I’m not always feeling it. Sometimes, I show up to church more as an obligation than as a personal preference. There are times when I might like an extra cup of coffee on Sunday morning. The days are coming when my kids might want to join a sports team whose games conflict with participation in the church community. The temptation to live in the shallows is strong and pervasive.

But you know what? Church wins. This community wins. God wins. Every time. Because this is not a club. This is not an extracurricular activity. This is the body of Christ. This is the temple of God, built out of you and me – living stones, each one of us here. In our life together, God is at work to redeem the world – causing the evil in us to be weakened, and the good raised up.So, along with the apostle Paul, “I beg you to walk in a manner 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.”