THE GIFT OF GROWTH
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In Paul's time the Church was in her infancy. When the Ephesians first received this letter they would have been astonished if anyone told them some day it would be a book of the Bible. Ephesus was a new mission, more than a week's journey by sea from Jerusalem. None of the Ephesians had ever seen Jesus. They were vulnerable to the type of character who would claim to be an apostle, but was trying a confidence scheme. Since they wanted news of the Church, they would pay well for anything a traveler might tell them. Word of this got around of course, and there were all sorts of con men wandering about the ancient world, feathering their nests with the savings of curious Christians. They made up most of their message. They tried to make it sound philosophical. The Ephesians had not memorized the basics, so they were blown around by the light and variable winds of early Christian quackery.
The grown up Church of today looks back at those days with nostalgia. The letters that were once carried about on camelback and galley are now beautifully bound into the Sacred Volume. People now touch these letters when they take oaths. The cross, which in Paul's time was an instrument of execution for the worst criminals, has become a monument on the graves of saints, a charm on a girl's necklace, an ornament on top of a steeple. Peter, the rejected martyr should see one of the cathedrals named after him. Paul of Tarsus had to make a living making tents, while clergy today are supported by voluntary contributions. The early Christians had to sneak away to church at night. Contemporary Christians parade to church in their best clothes. So the infant has become a stately matron.
But take a closer look. Look at the most important things, not the frills. The society matron is still in pampers. Do modern saints know the basics of the faith better than the Ephesians did? Not in the least. And they are just as victimized by unscrupulous preachers as anyone in the ancient world. In fact, it isn't just the preachers. There are quack seminaries who will sell anyone a degree in theology. It is amazing today how many heretics and cultists are slipping little bits of poison into the manger where the flock of Christ is to feed. This could not happen if we all knew the Word of God, or if all were truly penitent, but we bottle up the faith, seal it off from real life, put it into a box that we label religion, then take it down once a week to look at it. If you did that with a t-bone steak it would go bad quickly. Fortunately faith is not so perishable, but the box is too confining. Faith will not grow when it is reduced to religion.
The first thing we need is to know Jesus, to know what the Scriptures reveal about Him, to know what He said and did. Some texts are so important that they need to be memorized. These teach the basic doctrines that bring the Gospel to us, the indispensable teaching that we are justified by the grace of God, that we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, that what we say or do counts for nothing at all. The Law is written on everyone's heart, the Gospel is not. You can only get the Gospel from God's Word.
Besides the texts we need the stories. God gave us those stories to read over and over, stories about ancient Israel, about Jesus, and about the apostles. Some of them may be familiar to those who went to Sunday School, but all of them have something to teach us. Somebody said that if the Bible were a movie it would be rated R. That's true. It's about mankind. The history of mankind is rated R. Learn also our Confessional writings, born in controversy past. Listen to Christian preaching. A dying man once confessed that he had never heard a single sermon. When the pastor entered the pulpit he would review the previous week's trade and plan for the week ahead. He went to Communion for the sake of appearance, but would have preferred to be elsewhere. Death was closing in on him, and he was in despair. The pastor had often proclaimed the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, the victory over what was making that man afraid, but he did not interact with the Law and the Gospel. No part of the body can grow if it is not connected to the Head.
Neither can one member exist with the Head alone. A head and a leg doesn't make much of a body. We need the Church, the fellowship of the saints, even though they furnish no merit, even though they contribute nothing to our salvation, we need them. Jesus has made one sacrifice that has made atonement for all, but we need the other saints, faults and all, because we are all involved with Jesus and His salvation. The Church is made up of real people with real troubles, real sorrows, real joys, and real opportunities to let the living waters flow. You can also be real among these real people. The Holy Spirit gives to each some endowment that makes the whole body grow.
Do we have all the answers? That's a trick question. There is only one answer, and we do have it. The atoning death of Jesus forgives our sins. By Christ's gift of Himself, we grow. Do we grow older? Of course we do, but we grow more confident, less anxious, more like our Lord. Though all sorts of distractions exist, though deceitful voices are constantly plying us with false gospels, we remain connected to the Head. In Holy Baptism we were joined to Him. He can make us more adult, more graceful, and stronger in the faith. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross