Fourth Sunday in Lent
Sitting on my desk I have half a
dozen daffodil bulbs that I never planted.
They were a wedding favor early last fall, and I always intended to take
ten minutes and stick them in the ground before it froze solid in
December. But I didn’t. And now, winter has come and gone, and the
bulbs that are in the ground are already starting to poke their little green
leaves up. Serge saw an entire church
lawn down in
This is what they’re made to be. [Show a pot of daff’s.] But unless they get what they need, they’ll just stay in this semi-dead state forever, until they really die. And their potential will have been wasted.
What do they need to reach their potential? It’s not all that complicated. They need water, light, and nutrients. And they also need something to carry the water and nutrients to the bulb, something to hold them in the light. If I dumped some water in this box and set it in a window, these bulbs wouldn’t grow. They need soil. They need to be planted.
We have so much potential, too! If God made these little flowers so beautiful, so perfect, so entirely lovely, just imagine the plans that God has for us, the crown of God’s creation! But like these bulbs, we can get into a semi-dead state, just walking around, going through the motions. I felt that way for several days this week—no energy, sad, just barely able to cope with all I needed to do. It was puzzling, and distressing. Nothing terrible was wrong, really, but my life wasn’t right, either. I felt like an appliance that had been unplugged.
How does that happen? I think it happens if we don’t get what we need to thrive. The problem is this: we live in the world, but the world doesn’t give us what we need to reach our full potential. Here’s what the letter to the Ephesians says.
You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
There are so many attractive things in the world, so many things that please our senses, so many things that are yummy or fun or enjoyable. And God doesn’t forbid us to enjoy them. But they are not the source of life for us. The do not bring deep joy and a sense of purpose and excitement. They just don’t—God does! That first part of the scripture describes our spiritual death; next the writer tells, in quite a complicated sentence, how it is that we become alive.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
By grace you have been saved! That is such an important point that the letter-writer interrupts himself to make sure we understand. It is not by our own power, our own choices, or our own goodness, but by God’s love and mercy and grace. God makes us alive again simply because God loves us. God created us for so much more than a stumbling-around semi-dead existence. God wants real life, abundant life for us!
But notice an important detail here: this life is not ours alone. We are made alive together with Christ. God gives us life for God’s purposes, and if we don’t live in God’s way, we die again.
These daffodils need water and light and nutrients. They will grow and thrive and reach their potential if they get what they need. We need similar things. God gives us water—in baptism, and re-washing us in confession and forgiveness. God gives us light—by sending the Holy Spirit. God gives us nutrients—in the scripture. But there’s one other thing God does.
God plants us.
God plants us in churches, where we can grow and thrive and reach our full potential. The church brings those things we need to us.
What is the church? Lovely as this building is, especially with the sun shining in on this first Sunday morning of spring, the church is not the building. The church is us. We need each other. God has a plan for each of us, and all of us. We are made alive together in Christ. We can’t develop fully without each other. I have heard of people who are able to follow God faithfully on their own, but that seems to me to be a path fraught with difficulties and loneliness. I think most of us need each other to follow God faithfully. I know I do—I need all of you.
We encourage each other. We provide heat to each other, to keep us all burning, as in the story I told the kids this morning. We remind each other, “For by grace you have been saved.” Do we believe that? Centuries ago people in the church debated intensely how, exactly, it is that we get saved. A very strong argument was made by a priest named Pelagius that, no matter what God says, we’re actually reconciled to God by our good works. (He lost the argument, and he and his followers were excommunicated.) But heretical as it is, it’s still an attractive notion—that there’s something we can do to be saved, and once we do it, we’re good. There’s a variation of that—that we’re reconciled to God by faith, but only if we have enough faith, or the right sort. No! In the church, we remind each other that we are saved by faith, which is itself a gift from God.
So the good news is that we don’t need to launch a frenzy of good works to earn God’s love. Nor do we need to engage in endless navel gazing: “Do I believe? Do I really believe?” But before we decide that the Christian life consists of sipping umbrella drinks in a lounge chair by the pool, I direct your attention to the final verses of today’s scripture:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
Good works are our blessed
opportunity to live the life we were created to live. All of us.
Not just the ones who seem especially “churchy,” not just the ones with
apparent gifts for organizing things or reaching out to people. Every single person in this congregation has
been given gifts to use in service to God and our neighbor. The people of this church are the ministers. All of us are ministers—my ministry just
happens to be the ministry of the ordained clergy, which basically consists of
preparing and supporting all the rest of you in your ministries. Hear what the latest Book of Discipline, the
quadrennial effort of the
The ministry of the laity flows from
a commitment to Christ’s outreaching love.
Lay members of the
[Mt 28.19-20: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”]
ministry, not mine, is the main way that people will come to know
Christ. You know a lot more people that
I do! The
So you’re thinking, “Wow! Yes! Where do I start?” You’re in luck. Today, we have prepared a Ministry Fair! Many groups in the church are prepared, when we’re done up here in the sanctuary, to share with you the things that they are already doing. These ministries require all sorts of gifts—some people skills, some numbers skills, some tools skills, some prayer skills. I am absolutely positive that everyone sitting here today who is old enough to walk has some of these skills.
Salvation—being alive after being dead through sin—comes only by grace, as a gift. But it culminates in a new way of living. We are getting a glimpse of who we are and ought to be. So join us after church in the fellowship hall.
Get planted. Come to the ministry fair and learn about the different ways to put down roots. If you already know what your ministry is, come to encourage your friends. If you’re not sure about this whole ministry thing, come to have some soup and a sandwich. (There are people in this church whose ministry is to feed people!) Come talk to me and each other about your dreams.
You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christa—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
a Other ancient authorities read in Christ