• Back in 2011 an author named Veronica Roth, a Northwest University student, published a novel aimed at young adults entitled Divergent. This novel is set here in Illinois, specifically in Chicago after some kind of apocalyptic event has taken place.
  • All of the ways society used to order itself have been set aside in this dystopian society. They have been replaced with what Roth calls a Divergent Universe. Everyone who grows up in society knows that at the age of 16 they will take an aptitude test measuring their skills in various areas.
  • Following that exam, on an appointed day that year each young person will choose to join one of five different groups. Each group is designed to play its role in society so that, working together, they can foster knowledge, order kindness, and make their community a great place to live.
  • One group is called Abnegation. Their focus is on demonstrating selflessness. They put the needs of others above their own needs. This group oversees public services in Chicago.
  • Another group is called Erudite. These are the scholars. They dedicate themselves to research, knowledge, and teaching others. They work with the belief that a lack of knowledge is what causes disconnect in society. They seek to bridge that disconnect.
  • The third group is called Dauntless. This group’s job is to protect the weak and advocate for the powerless. They constantly train so as to be indestructible. They guard the borders to make sure no one gets in or out. Tattoos and body piercings are recommended for this group.
  • The fourth group is called Amity. Their job is to spread happiness in society. They do so by working as counselors or caretakers. They are known for their compassion for others.
  • And finally you have candor. They are like society’s mirror. They wear black and white to represent the clarity of the truth they see. They deal in matters of law. They believe charm is unnecessary and politeness is akin to dishonesty. They are committed to ferreting out the truth in whatever legal or criminal matter arises.
  • These five groups work together with one another, most of the time, to make their society fair, just and equitable. It doesn’t always work that way. And sometimes the people in charge have to be a little heavy handed in trying to make sure each group sticks to its turf.
  • That image is relevant to us today as we read this passage in Ephesians, because the author of this letter describes the church in very similar terms. The church is a group of people saved by God in Christ and living in an entirely new reality, different from any other time in history.
  • As God’s chosen people, the people of the church have very distinct paths set before them in their lives. As I mentioned a couple of week ago, in Ephesians 2:10 this author tells us that God has set before each of us a pathway of good works.
  • But Ephesians doesn’t simply focus on what each individual should do for God in his or her life. In fact, the entire passage we read this morning focuses on how we should live together with one another, given the way God has gifted each one of us. And that’s what I want to focus on this morning.
  • The author is probably a church leader who is so acquainted with the Apostle Paul’s way of thinking and writing that when he writes, he almost sounds like Paul himself. He’s undoubtedly writing this letter to a church which considers him to be a leader, a resource, an advisor on this new group of people who consider themselves to be God’s own body in the world.
  • But there’s clearly some trouble in paradise. Even though they are one in Christ, people aren’t treating each other as equals. They don’t see themselves as one group of people who are committed to one another as one body.
  • They seem to be a group of individuals who sometimes fight with one another, who try to control one another, who try to hold sway over one another, because they think their understanding of the way the church operates is better than their neighbor’s.
  • The author has gotten wind of this infighting and quibbling. This section of the letter is his way of saying, “there’s no room in the church for any of that.” He talks about how we should talk to one another, how we should value one another, how we should treat one another.
  • He emphasizes that there is no place for divisions in the church. There is no ruling class who calls the shots for everyone else. Slide He says, “There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.”
  • And he tells them that “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” That’s why one person cannot claim priority over another in the church, and why they have to work towards being unified as a group.
  • As we all know, it’s always tough with any group of people to get everyone to act as one unit. I don’t care who you are, which culture you’re in, how much money you make or don’t make, what skin color. It’s hard to get people act as one unit, to get them to follow a set of principles that everyone has agreed to. Even if they all believe in Jesus.
  • But the author wants us to know that God doesn’t simply leave us to our own devices as a church when it comes to nurturing one another and caring for one another and working together as a group.
  • In fact, the image he uses to describe the church body is a lot like that divergent universe model in some ways. He says that Jesus didn’t just die for our salvation. Since we are people God has redeemed and set aside as Christ’s own presence on the earth, Christ has given us each a particular giftedness.
  • The purpose of those gifts, much in the way of the divergent model, is to make this community better, to make it more like Jesus, to nurture people who are new, to care for people who are hurting, to keep people in the church from misrepresenting us, to help us stay true to our values, and to teach people how to be Jesus’ disciples.
  • The words he uses to describe those gifts aren’t unfamiliar to us. We’ve heard them before. But if we were to apply those words to people in this congregation, it might sound a little scary.
  • He say that Jesus gave some people the gift to be apostles. Do any of us consider ourselves to be apostles? What does that word even mean? Paul was an apostle. Peter was an apostle. But would any of us want to be called apostles?
  • That words means literally to be sent out. It’s someone who has witnessed the power of Jesus’ resurrection in their lives and has been sent out to share that news with other people who haven’t.
  • Anyone want to do that? I can tell you that some of you have been gifted to do that ministry. Same thing with prophets. He says that Jesus gifted some of us to be prophets. Anyone here consider themselves a prophet?
  • It’s kind of a high risk job. We usually think of prophets as people who speak to leaders or crowds of people and tell them how angry God is with the way things are being done. They challenge people to change their ways, to switch directions in their lives. Anyone want to do that? …(wait)
  • I can hear the crickets chirping right now. That isn’t really what God calls prophets to do. I remember that when I was early on in seminary, I was attending an event at the college I graduated from. Michelle was a couple years behind me in college, so it was probably some college event of hers.
  • And I was approached out of the blue by the mother of one of our fellow students. I had actually gone to high school and, obviously, a couple years of college with him. But I wasn’t friends with him, and I didn’t know his mother at all.
  • And yet she came up to me after this event at the college and said to me, “I just want you to know that God has a calling on your life. God has plans for you. God is going to use your life in a very powerful way.” Michelle was with me, and we were both pretty freaked out when she said that.
  • There was a part of me that wanted to say, “Thanks a lot ma’am, but you don’t even know me. How can you say that? What makes you so sure?” But as I look back I think her words were prophetic.
  • I was a young, insecure seminary student who wasn’t even sure he was really following God’s plan. Her words were exactly what I needed to hear. They were God’s way of saying to me, “Hang in there. You’re doing what you’re supposed to. Don’t let your doubts bump you off track.”
  • God has gifted some of you to be prophetic, to speak prophetically to others in this congregation, to share with them a word, an insight, maybe even a revelation you’ve received from God as a result of your own prayer life or devotions. Use that gift to make this congregation stronger.
  • The author says Jesus has gifted some of us to be pastors. Pastors care for people; they oversee their spiritual walk. They plan, inspire, and nurture people in the church. I can also tell you that, from my experience with the previous search committee for our associate pastor, not enough people in the church are willing to take that gift seriously.
  • We are suffering from a serious lack of pastors at a time when many pastors are retiring. Many young Christians distrust the church as an institution. And the sound of that distrust has drowned out the voice of God calling to the ministry.
  • But I can tell you without a doubt that God has gifted some of you to be pastors. Use that gift to make this congregation better. You don’t have to be a paid staff member to do that. And if you want to get training, it’s certainly a lot easier that it used to be.
  • The author tells us that God has gifted some of us to be teachers. He’s talking about people who have learned the doctrines and the traditions and the concepts in the Bible and have been empowered by God to share that learning with others. These are the Erudites of the divergent universe.
  • Teaching is a vitally important ministry in the church, but it has lost its luster in recent decades. If you’ve attended church all your life like I have, you kind of start to think that you’ve learned everything there is to know.
  • You’ve attended every conceivable class the church has offered over the years. If the class is being taught by someone who’s been attending the church for years, you kind of know their take on the Christian faith.
  • And honestly it’s more fun at church to catch up with old friends after worship than to go and sit through class for an hour after sitting through a church service. I get that. We need to be able to offer classes at other times during the week.
  • But I can tell you for certain that God has gifted some of the people in this congregation to be teachers. Because it says so here in Ephesians. Our ability to offer better learning experiences starts with people who respond to God’s gift of teaching in their lives.
  • This list isn’t a comprehensive list of all the gifts that God gives people in the church. There are other lists of gifts in the New Testament, other talents and abilities that God desperately wants you to use, as the author says, “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ.”
  • You are uniquely talented. You are uniquely gifted. That giftedness isn’t simply a product of your DNA. You didn’t just inherit it from your parents. It wasn’t a random act of nature or natural selection.
  • God chose you. The creator of the entire universe chose you. God set your life apart and said, “You’re important to me. I have redeemed your life. I have gifted you with incredible talents and gifts.”
  • Those gifts are proof that God values you. Don’t waste those gifts. They come from the hand of God himself. And it’s privilege to even have them.
  • You would think this giftedness would be obvious. If people in the church have certain gifts that God has given them to make the church a better place, you’d think that everyone would know about it.
  • Think about it. If the creator of the universe gave you a special gift, a special ability, a special aptitude to do something for the church, wouldn’t it stand to reason that each person would know about it? This author shouldn’t have had to write a letter to these people to tell them they were gifted, should he?
  • Actually he did. Part of the reason why this author had to point these people’s giftedness to them is because all of the goings on in the church and the tension and the conflict and the business of the church had distracted people from the fact that God had actually given them the tools they needed to solve the church’s problems.
  • I think the same is true for us today. We expend so much energy and attention on running the church as an institution and maintaining our building that we have taken our focus off of our gifts sometimes.
  • We look at a potential ministry and say to ourselves, “We can’t even bother trying to figure out who’s gifted to do that. We just need a warm body.”
  • I would contrast that reality in the church with some of the experience our girls had a camp last week. Michelle told me, and I’m sure the girls would tell you, that in that camp environment, when young people are allowed to be who they are and don’t need to worry about how they’re supposed to act in church, they become very different people.
  • Young people who we know to be very shy and quiet turn out to show strong leadership qualities. Young people who don’t usually consider themselves very prophetic find that God has something really important to say through them.
  • A young person who normally don’t strike us as a people person demonstrates an incredible gift for caring for people and establishing relationships. That giftedness was always there. God created those gifts in these young people. We just aren’t always looking for it.
  • So let’s make sure that we are aware of our own gifts. Remember that those gifts are from God. They are not about you. They are about God. Be open to the idea that you may be gifted in a way that you never allowed yourself to realize.
  • As the author tells us, those gifts enable us to show humility and gentleness, bearing one another in love. They help us maintain our unity in God. They help us speak the truth to one another in love. They bring us to full spiritual maturity, the measure of the full stature of Christ.