31st Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday after Theophany
Sermon on the Epistle reading from Ephesians 4:7-13
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Let’s talk about gifts.
I know, I know, we just got over a holiday season where we very likely shopped ourselves into a coma with all the gifts.
Still, let’s talk about gifts, because that’s what Saint Paul wants to talk about today. “Each of us,” he says, “was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
What kind of gifts did the Lord give? That some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers. This is not an exhaustive list of Christ’s gifts, of course. Elsewhere, Paul mentions other gifts, such as serving, exhortation, mercy (Romans 12:6-8), wisdom, knowledge, healing, miracles (1 Corinthians 12).
The gifts mentioned in today’s Epistle reading (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) refer to particular people. All of these roles are kind of similar and probably refer to those who have authority over the church. In other words, clergy and parish administration, or parish council.
So I suggest that Saint Paul is giving us today a lesson in parish leadership. If you are on the parish council, I hope you perk up your ears to hear what Paul says your job is. If you are not on the parish council, you are not off the hook because you also have a job to do.
So, Saint Paul says that each of us has received specific gifts from Christ according to His measure; and what we, who have received these gifts, are to do with them.
The first question I want to address, however, is what does it mean that we have received grace according to the measure of Christ’s gifts? Does it mean that we receive what Christ decides to give us? Is the measure of Christ’s gifts limited?
Saint Paul is using here inheritance language that we so often hear in our prayers and liturgical services. The gifts are our inheritance that our Father Who is in heaven has prepared for us, and we receive some of it now, in this life, for a specific purpose.
The measure of Christ’s gift is what, in turn, He has received; and in His victory on the Cross, in His death and resurrection, Christ was victorious over the evil powers and death and received the whole inheritance. He received everything.
The gift of Christ is an expensive gift. It was purchased at a great price. He died, in fact, that we might have it.
As He was ascending to His throne 40 days after the resurrection, the Lord told His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18). All authority is His. So from this abundance we also receive our gifts. Christ distributes His gifts to His fellow heirs – His followers, fellow sons of God, who are all the faithful Christians.
Since we are given these gifts, we have to use them now. As I said, Saint Paul is addressing the parish council today, our parish council. So, what are those who have received the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to do with all that authority?
They are to perfect the saints for the ministry and to build up the Body of Christ, which is the Church.
Notice, Paul did not say collect the money, pay the bills, repair the buildings, and make pierogi. I am not saying these things are not important, but if you are given authority in the parish, it is meant for something more than these mundane things.
I mean, as much time as we have been spending on talking about maintenance and repairs and money and fundraisers, our basements still get flooded, our walls and ceilings are crumbling, the windows are rotting, and the bank account is fading.
Why? Because as those who are given authority in the parish, our primary job is to perfect the saints (the rest of the community) and to build up the Body of Christ. From this, everything else will be taken care of. Not by magic, but by the sheer force of the people present.
And if anyone thinks that it’s up to just a few “religious professionals” to serve and pastor and educate and evangelize and heal, then I have to disappoint you. That’s clericalism. And clericalism has nothing to do with Orthodox Christianity.
I mentioned that those who are not given the gift of authority in the parish still have a job to do. Note that Saint Paul does not say that those who have the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are doing all the ministry work, so that the rest don’t have to.
The job of the parish leadership is to equip everyone else in the community for the ministry. Parish leadership, parish council, guides, educates, preaches the Gospel, and teaches accountability for sin, so that the whole parish can do ministry, the whole parish can be a beacon of light (especially in the crazy times of the pandemic), the whole parish spread the Gospel of Christ.
The rest of the community, then, follows the guides, the teachers, in order to build up the Body of Christ. And what is the body, be it our body or the Body of Christ, the Church? The body is the instrument through which God is working in the world.
Our physical bodies, and our church, the Body of Christ, are instruments of God that do God’s work.
For us to be able to be instruments of Christ in this world, we need teaching, guidance, instruction to be built up and help come to maturity. That’s the high calling of parish leadership, the high and noble calling of the parish council. That’s why God has put them into the roles of authority – to lead and equip.
If you find yourself in such a role, ask yourself this question, “What are you doing to lead and to equip the rest of the community?”
Christmas season may be over, but Christ’s gifts never stop coming. If we have accepted His gifts, we have work to.
To our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gives each of us grace according to the measure of His gifts for the work of ministry and for the building up of His Body, we give glory together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
Unless otherwise specified, the articles here are posted by Father Aleksey, who has no sense of humor and is extremely straight forward.