For the next month or so, the question that we will have at the front of our minds is this: What kind of church do we want to be? 


I think I can confidently say that if I were to poll you all and ask what kind of church we wanted to be – I would get a unanimous answer – that above all else we want to be a church that is established and steadfast in the truth of God’s Word. And that makes me glad. That’s the most important thing for any church to be – and not all churches are committed to that. But just for fun and games, what would be your second greatest wish for our church? Truth comes first, we have that common understanding. But then, for you, what kind of church would you want this to be? Interestingly, our congregation kinda had the chance to ponder that a few years ago with the rebuild. Many hours and decisions were made (I’m sure) over what kind of church (building) we would proceed forward with. Furniture, colors, designs, etc. But ministry-wise – what kind of church do you want to have? Maybe your dream is for Messiah’s membership to double, triple, quadruple, in the coming years – become a big and booming ministry. Or perhaps you’d prefer it if we kinda stayed around this size – a more intimate, “homey” feel around here where everyone knows everyone else. Perhaps you want your church to remain rooted in its centuries old worship traditions, customs and styles – or maybe you want the church to go full-speed into the future and embrace some newer traditions/customs and styles. Do you want a church that gets active in the community around us? Or should our efforts concentrate on preaching the gospel and whoever comes, comes?


There certainly are a number of different ways to answer that question. We all might have different opinions on what kind of church we want to have. But ironically, today in our Ephesians lesson we see that we want to be a united church. And for good reason – unity is important. You don’t have to spend much time listening to your surroundings in our country to be reminded about the importance of unity. You’ll hear commercials that talk about let’s stand up together in the fight against cancer. Over the last year as our world fought the coronavirus you heard pleas from many that everyone has a part to play in conquering the pandemic. For the 2020 NFL football season, the slogan “It Takes All Of Us” was adopted as an official league motto – that if our country is to rise victorious over the many social issues at play – it takes all of us united in the fight. And of course, how many times in your life have you heard about the value of working together? That an effective team needs to be on the same page in order to succeed? Unity is important in our world. Unity is especially important among believers. It’s so important that Christian unity was in our Savior’s headspace the night before he died. As part of Jesus’s prayer to the Father on Maundy Thursday, Christ’s prayer was this: May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. What kind of church do we want to be? What kind of church does Jesus want us to be? United. 


So what do we mean when we say that we want to be united as Christians, united as a church? Ephesians 4 shows us two ways we want to be united – first, with one another and second, united in what we believe. Paul begins this section with an encouragement: I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Whenever we read Paul’s letters in the New Testament, it’s good for us to recognize who he was originally writing to. I heard it said this week that when we read Paul’s letters to other Christians, it’s like we’re reading someone else’s mail. The church in Ephesus was a unique and diverse church. It was a church of Jews and Gentiles. In other words, the church was made up of people with radically different backgrounds, traditions, and customs. You probably wouldn’t be surprised, then, if there were cliques or factions or divisions between these two parties of believers. In chapter 2 of this letter Paul gave them a great reminder, that Christ, by his death on the cross, tears down the wall that divides the two groups. In Christ, these two groups are made as one. And since they were no longer two groups but one – Paul encourages them to embrace that in their conduct and treatment of one another. 


So much of what Paul says here can apply to us too. Because like the church of Ephesus, we also are such a diverse group of people. You see it in the wide range of ages present in this room. You notice it in the varied backgrounds that we all come from. It’s interesting – we celebrated the arrival of 5 new families to our church here last Sunday, and if my count is right – our 5 new families have homegrown ties to 5 different states, none are natives to the Evergreen State. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? Whether you’re from near or far, young or old, married or single, working, retired, or student – what matters when we’re here on Sunday mornings is that all of us confess with our mouths “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. I’ve heard it said before of churches (like ours) that “it’s not heaven, but you can see it from here”. I think that’s a profound insight. Here at Messiah we enjoy such a diverse body of Christians – just wait til we get to heaven, where people from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. As it was with the Ephesian church, so it is with us. As Paul encouraged the Ephesians, the same words are our motto as well. Like we sang a moment ago: “How good it is and how pleasant to live in unity and peace”, like we say at the end of every service in the blessing: “Live in harmony with one another, serve the Lord with gladness” – we too want to live in unity and peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. How do we live in peace? Just as Paul says: humility, patience, bearing with one another, gentleness. If we want to be united – this is what it involves.


We also as a church want to be united in what we believe. As Paul addresses this matter with the Ephesian church, he states the positive we gain and the negative we avoid. Positively, when a church is united in what they believe, they become more mature. Twice it’s mentioned in this lesson: Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature. speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Maturity is one of those interesting concepts in our lifetimes. When does one become mature? How is maturity measured? Is maturity something that everyone achieves when they turn a certain age, or is it “earned”, in a sense? You can have 11 year olds who are quite mature and 40 year olds who act like children, who are immature. What makes a mature Christian? A mature Christian is somebody who strives to be like Christ in everything he or she does. Love over hate. Building up each other instead of tearing each other down. Choosing good over evil. Desiring to choose good over evil. This is Christian maturity. In real life – maturity comes from being taught the right things: good character, good values, good morals. That produces maturity. In spiritual life – Christian maturity comes from learning the Scriptures taught truly and purely. When we are fed the proper things for our souls – God’s truth, we then become more like Christ, the Way the Truth and the Life. Good spiritual training unites us and make us more mature. 


Learning and listening to the truth of God’s Word also helps us avoid the negative that Paul mentions – Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. On the contrary, poor spiritual training and a lack of growth in God’s Word leads to the opposite of maturity – infancy. Spiritual infancy can affect our relationships, because our dealings with one another would be less-Christlike. But even more significant – spiritual infancy can put our souls in danger. Satan is on a lifelong quest to have your soul in his hands by the time the dust settles. Satan will employ people inside some churches, wolves, who will feed you lies about who God is, what God is like, and what God says. Satan and his employees are crafty and cunning. But we can fight back with the truth. We want a church that’s united and committed to the truth of God’s Word. Because that kind of church truly grows mature, more like Christ – and it has protection from the enemies of the church. 


The first kind of church we want to be like is a church that’s united. We want to be united and at peace with one another, and we want to be united in the peace of God’s word, which passes all of our standing. An important exhortation Paul gives in verse 3 – Make every effort to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit through the bond of peace: Unity takes effort. Unions like marriage and friendship take effort from both parties to survive and thrive. Like you hear about in the world, if we’re going to be united against whatever peril or plague – it takes all of us. In the church, we need this encouragement from Paul, because so often we don’t want to invest the effort into unity. We hear those words each Sunday: “live in harmony with one another” – easier said than done, right? We want others to be gentle and patient and humble towards us but we don’t like to give it out in return. Often, we behave more like spiritual infants than mature spiritual adults. Are you willing to invest effort into your relationships with others? With Christ? Remember, unity takes effort!


But here’s the good news – If our relationship with our Lord lived and died on our effort – there’d be no relationship to speak of. Paul says “make every effort to keep unity”. If we’re told to keep hold of something, that must mean that it’s already been given to us. We are already a united church and body of believers because of Jesus. Look at all the “action verbs” for God in this section – the calling you have received, you were called to one hope, one Lord/one faith/one Baptism, grace has been given, Christ himself gave the apostles…from him the whole body grows. We are united because God brought us together. He has made us his children through baptism. In the waters of baptism he has given us faith. Faith gives us hope now and hope for the life to come. He nurtures us in this faith through his appointed shepherds who faithfully teach and preach it. Unity is a blessing and a gift from God our Father, Christ our Savior, and God the Holy Spirit. 


I thank God for the Christian family we have here at this church. It really felt special here last week to enjoy fellowship and family for the first time in a long time at our church picnic. I thank God for the dedication our church has to one another and to the Word. Our church isn’t heaven by any means – we’ll always be a band of sinners until we die. But from here, we can see heaven. A place we can go to because Christ made it all possible. A place where we’ll be united with Christ forever. A place where we will enjoy perfect sinless unity with so many saints. Until that day, let’s follow Paul’s words here – let us continue to make every effort on our part to maintain this peace. As the writer to the Hebrews says, Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. But most of all let’s keep these familiar words of our LORD, the author and perfecter of our faith – ever ringing in our ears:


The Lord bless and keep you

The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you

The Lord look on you with favor and give you his peace