I opened up Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection: a Conversation on Growing up in Christ. I was surprised to find a conversation built around Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Since I was beginning a short, four-week sermon series on readings in Ephesians I read some selections from the book. Now I’m reading the whole thing.
I don’t care if it helps me preach Ephesians. I just want it to help me.
One help arrived this morning. In a section on God speaking and our responding—God’s call and our walk—Peterson reflects on how this conversation of speaking and responding involves the language of God’s words to us, our words to him, and the importance of extending “the conversation to include the others whom God is calling, the others who are walking in response to the call. [For] The life into which we grow to maturity in Christ is a life formed in community.”
He continues, “The Ephesians letter shapes our imaginations to an awareness not only of ourselves but of all the other pilgrims on the road in simultaneous diversity and unity. This company of called fellow-travelers, all different and all one, is the church. Paul’s metaphor for it is a human body to which Christ is the head, ‘the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:12). Everybody different, everyone organically connected. Shimmering diversity and harmonic unity—‘joined and knit together by every ligament’ is Paul’s vivid metaphor (4:16). ‘Christ and the church’ (5:32) is the paradigmatic form for this multitudinous and yet improbably unified company.
“Common worship, that is, corporate worship (worship ‘in common’), gives the basic form and provides the essential content for this aspect of ‘growing up’ to the ‘full stature of Christ.’ Private worship while alone in semi-paralysis before a TV screen is not mature worship. Certainly we can worship in solitary. Some of our richest moments of worship will come while strolling on a beach or wandering in a garden or perched on a mountain peak. What we must not do is deliberately exclude others from our worship or worship selectively with like-minded friends. These are not options on offer in Ephesians. Maturity develops in worship as we develop in friendship with the friends of God, not just our preferred friends. Worship shapes us not only individually but as a community, a church. If we are going to grow up into Christ we have to do it in the community of everyone who is responding to the call of God. Whether we happen to like them or not has nothing to do with it” (35-36, emphasis his).
I’m still learning the fullness and importance of the word “common” in the Book of Common Prayer. It is the “basic form and essential content” for our worship at St. Mark’s. My lessons happen daily and weekly. Yours can, too.
When you join us for worship on Sunday, I hope you find at least some people you like. But then, I suppose, Peterson is right. Whether you “happen to like them or not has nothing to do with it.” What matters is a shared response through faith in God’s call by grace in community with others caught up in the same conversation. “O Lord, open thou our lips. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.”
See you Sunday!