Ephesians 4:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version)
I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 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 Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Have you ever thought of yourself as called? You, reading this right now, sipping your coffee, waking up or taking a break from your busy day: called. Really! No kidding. You!
“Call” appears three times in that first verse above from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. What we translate as “I beg” is parakaleó, to call someone to your side. Then the noun klesis: a calling, an invitation. And ending with the root verb, kaleó, to call, to urgently invite, with an implied change in relationship between the one doing the calling and the one being called.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord,
call you to my side to lead a life worthy of the
calling to which you have been called.
Okay, we get it, Paul, we’re called. But what does it mean to be called?
Yesterday was Palm Sunday. In churches across the globe, people remembered the triumphant procession of Jesus and his disciples into Jerusalem. In my church, we read the account in Mark’s gospel, chapter 11:
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was heading to this week, to this Holy Week in Jerusalem. Palm branches waving high, or laid on the dusty road underneath the feet of the donkey on which Jesus road. People shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus’ followers, his disciples, believed that he was entering the royal city of Jerusalem to take back the kingdom of Israel. This was the true king they were celebrating on that road!
But Jesus knew what laid ahead for him. He had repeatedly warned his disciples that he would not receive a warm welcome from the authorities in the city. Quite the opposite. The disciples didn’t hear, or at least didn’t understand.
On that Palm Sunday, as they entered into David’s Holy City, Jesus knew that the only crown he would receive was a crown of thorns. The only robes he would be given would given as a joke. He would not be raised up on a throne, but on a cross. Instead of laying his body down on a comfortable, warm bed in a palace, his cooling corpse would be placed in a borrowed tomb.
Because Jesus had provoked the ire of the governmental and religious rulers. He had threatened their way of life, their power, their influence. He had minced no words, convicting them on the basis of their own scriptures, cutting right to the heart of their sickness and rebellion.
He had taught the people who came to see him. He showed them love instead of law, grace instead of guilt, forgiveness and freedom instead of fear. He healed those who had been cast out and neglected by the authorities. He ate with those considered to be outside the acceptable. He raised up women, and Samaritans, and lepers, and tax collectors.
What Jesus did, what he said, was a powerful indictment of the world as he found it.
But it was also a powerful statement of hope for those who had ears to hear it.
Our reading from Ephesians continues: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Does that sound like the world we’re living in right now?
Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love. Peace.
Or does this sound more familiar:
Egoism. Cruelty. Intolerance. Hatred. Conflict.
I have to admit that over the past few weeks, I’ve been tuning out the news. I know it’s important to be aware of what is happening in the world, so I’ll be jumping back in, but it had become just too painful to watch.
Because nastiness and spite seem to be today’s ticket to popularity.
Screaming at each other, saying terrible things about each other, throwing abuse and punches and bullets seem to be the acceptable way of solving disagreements.
Kindness is mocked as weakness.
Self-sacrifice is mocked as gullibility.
Compassion is mocked as naiveté.
Concern for the oppressed is mocked as ignorance of reality.
Increasingly, just being courteous and civil is a bold political statement. So how much more powerful a statement it is to do what Jesus did! Jesus, who spoke difficult words of truth to those in power. Jesus, who cared for the downtrodden. Jesus, who loved those deemed unloveable. Jesus, who reached for the outsider and proclaimed them a part of the kingdom.
I call you to my side lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
This Holy Week, Jesus calls us alongside him. Our passage from Ephesians ends with these words: “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 Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
“…you were called to the one hope of your calling.” That word for “hope” — elpis — another of my favorite Greek words. It does not have the kind of anemic flavor we often attach in English to hope, as in “Gosh, I sure do hope that my team wins the tournament.”
Elpis means confident expectation of what is sure, of what is certain.
We’re lucky. We live in a post-Easter world. We know that the events of Holy Week aren’t the end of the story. The confusion, the betrayal, the pain, the death — all these are not the concluding moments of the promise found in Jesus. Because Easter is coming!
If you want to know where the real power is — power that can change lives — including your own… here it is! Live your life in sure, confident, hope-filled expectation that God had called you to something that matters, that is worthwhile, that is real!
Live your life in a way that is worthy of the amazing calling to which you have been called.
And, above all, be loving.