Summary: Our culture suffers from profound loneliness, but God calls us into a church family with rich relationships.
You’ve heard me talk about my days of playing basketball years ago. I was never a star, but I had a lot of fun. There could be several reasons that I was never a star. There were a couple of minor problems, like I wasn’t especially good at either shooting or dribbling a ball. But another problem was with my knees. My son, the bio-engineer tells me that each knee joint has 4 major ligaments that hold the joint in place. And in each of my knees, the two outside ligaments are loose, so that allows the knee joint to flop around when I run or jump and that meant that the two interior ligaments got stresses that they couldn’t handle and they were injured. And it probably did nasty things to the cartilage, too. We don’t think about our ligaments very much, but when they are weak, you feel it. Those tough little pieces of tissue hold our bones together. Without them our bodies would be helpless blobs.
The Apostle Paul loved the church. He gave his life to build it up. And when he struggled to communicate to people how wonderful the church was, he often turned to the human body as an analogy to help people understand. The human body is made up of many parts, just like the church. It’s good for the parts to be different, to specialize, just like the church. It is of utmost importance that all the parts work together in unity, just like in the church. The body has a head that guides the rest. Christ is the head of the church. And in this morning’s text Paul extends the body analogy even further, mentioning the ligaments of our bodies to help us see the importance of connections in the church.
This morning we turn again to one of the most amazing pictures of the church, Ephesians 4:12-16. The wording is difficult for us to follow today. But as you sort it out, the picture of the church is beautiful. And today we look at the ligaments of the church, the relationships that hold the church together. Please stand for the reading of God’s word as Bill comes to read it for us.
11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
When we connect to Christ the head, he connects us with one another.
And that’s a message that our lonely world needs to hear. We live in a desperately disconnected world, where the ligaments that are needed to hold society together are being stretched, our connections are flopping around, and people are getting hurt. Sociologist, Robert Putnam, in his best-selling book “Bowling Alone,” talks about the social capital that societies need to flourish. Social capital is the relationships that hold us together. Last weekend our son had to have an emergency appendectomy and his wife was stretched trying to be with him in the hospital and watch her three kids. But they had us there already, just down for a visit, so Kathy could watch the kids and I could sit with Katarina at the hospital during the surgery. As soon as their pastor got word of it he called an elderly couple who live across the street who called and offered to help. But Kathy was there for an extra day and the other grandma came for 2 days. Then we took the 3-year old to our house and the 4-year old went to a neighbors’ house. The pastor visited in the hospital. And all those supports kicked in and they went through this crisis just fine. That’s what sociologists call social capital, networks of relationships that can support us in hard times and that nourish us in good times.
Putnam’s book documents the erosion of social capital in our society. He looked at many different social institutions that once connected us, but are now in decline. Those who have lived a long time can feel the difference. Listen to the groups whose membership has gone down while the population has increased: 4-H, Boy Scout Leaders, Girl Scout leaders, American Bowling Congress, American Legion, Business and Professional Women, Eagles, Eastern Star, Elks, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Grange, Jaycees, Kiwanis, Moose, League of Women Voters, Lions, Masons, Odd Fellows, Optimists, PTA, Red Cross Volunteers, Rotary, Shriners, American Bar Association, American Medical Association, American Nursing Association. We’re a disconnected society. We are individualists. Our movies and novels repeat the same theme of the rugged individualist who stands up against everybody else, fighting the system alone, over and over and over again.