“A Work in Progress” Ephesians 2:7-14
Delivered to Church for the Highlands on the 7th Anniversary
Sunday, September 17, 2017
[sermon audio is here]
The BasÃlica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada FamÃlia. That’s the majestic church in Barcelona behind me on the screen. It is a masterpiece, designed by Antoni Gaudi, that has been under construction since 1882. Imagine a church building program going on for centuries. The current expected date of completion is 2026.¹ It is an understatement to say that it’s a work in progress.
I believe that’s a great way to describe church: a work in progress. As we celebrate our 7th birthday as a church today, we give thanks for the seven years as we also recognize that we still have more to come. This morning, we find Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus to be a helpful description of who God has made our church to be and do.
As a work in progress, we reflect today that we are the work of an Artist. As we heard in the reading, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT) Paul described the church as poema, a work of art; created by God. It was important for the Ephesian church to see themselves as God saw them; in the beauty of God’s creative touch. They were to know that who they were and who they were becoming was a gift of God; an expression of God’s grace through Jesus, for the world. And the gift was no cheap truck stop velvet Elvis; it was a masterpiece.
The great artist Michelangelo has left us with beautiful works of art to admire. What we don’t tend to remember is how he spent the days of his life in the tedious work of painting his masterpieces or chipping away at marble. He once commented, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”² His amazing skill as an artist combined with the unrevealed potential of his medium produced some of the greatest masterpieces the world has ever seen. And how much more skill there is in our Artist and how much unrevealed potential in the church of today!
On this day, we remember that we are a part of that poema that God continues to create. We are already beautiful, but not yet complete. Works in progress are messy and the finished product isn’t always recognizable until the work is complete. But, as long as we stay in the hands of our Artist, will look more like Jesus every day. Our statement of Beloved Community reflects that reality: “We are all precious, but unfinished works of grace,” and that, “God is painting a masterpiece here.” God is at work here and I believe you have discovered that and is why you are here today.
As a work in progress, we are all parts of the masterpiece. Paul reminded the church at Ephesus that God had removed the walls of division between Jew and Gentile and desired diversity; everyone was on the same level in the church. What he wrote to the church at Galatia is similar and gets even more specific: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NRSV) The church was already existing as the most diverse group in the world; a radical expression of community of reconciliation and unity in a world of division and strife.
Today, we are to remember that our church is to be a place where there are no walls of division; that we are a church of remarkable diversity and how we come together in the beauty—masterpiece—of our diversity. Our diversity is based on the love we receive from God through Jesus, as a gift of God’s grace. Our church is and must always be that kind of place or group where everyone feels a part and is welcomed with the radical inclusion Jesus showed to people he encountered. What a beautiful feeling to be in a church like ours! What a powerful picture we exhibit to the divisive and fragmented world of today.
As a work in progress, we are a work to be in motion. Paul wrote that God had created them to be the kind of art that was in motion; created to do good works in the world. They were to be actively engaging their neighbors, city, society, and world by doing good. The good was to be a natural flow from their identity with Jesus as a church, which Paul has reminded them of in the first part of this letter.
As we mark this day, let us remember that we are to be a work in motion; active/performing art, existing to do God’s works in the world. We are not here to be on display, sealed and secure from the outside world. No, we are here to be public art; a masterpiece with worth only as it finds itself in motion in the intersections of its local community. The beauty of the church is most vivid, vibrant, and inspiring when it is on display in the neighborhood—out in its streets, around its dinner tables, involved in its development, recognized by its children, and shaped by its needs.
So, how do we say all of that in a statement that will remind us for years to come who we are? You’ll see it there in your bulletin for today. It is the result of the CBF Dawnings process to identify action steps for this year. Members of the Congregational Development Team spent ten weeks meeting together, praying with each other, and asking two questions: “God, who do you want us to be?” and “God, what do you want us to do?” The group identified three answers, one of which was “To ensure sustainable diversity in our church for years to come.” One way they recommended we do that is a statement about our diversity that we can have now and look back on in the future. It is for us, but its also for anyone who visits and wants to know more about us. So here it is:
God has called a wonderfully diverse group of souls to this community of care and encouragement. We welcome all people into this fellowship — just as they are, created by God. We affirm all in our common desire to be more like Jesus. The good news is that God has room at the table for persons of all ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, educational, ability and economic levels, differing political leanings and regardless of past mistakes or bad decisions. We are all precious, but unfinished works of grace. Together we become the “beloved community” where we learn, heal, grow and serve together. God is painting a masterpiece here.
Seven years out, we can so easily see that Church for the Highlands is still in formation as God’s creation and that our work is still unfinished. That means that each of us is vital to what God is making here. If you haven’t entered the masterpiece yet, perhaps God would like to add you into to it today—to join with us as God’s work in progress.