Summary: Discerning our call and living that out in the body of Christ.
One of the wonderful things about Paul’s writings is the fact that they are instructions and exhortations written to the early church, and yet his words to that church are still quite applicable to the modern church. This particular passage from Ephesians addresses a number of matters related to the church and the life of those who are a part of the church, but it all boils down to two basic matters: each of us is called and gifted in a special way, and we are to unite together in using our gifts to build up one another and the whole body of Christ. While this seems like a “no-brainer,” I contend that it is a bit more difficult than we make it out to be, especially considering our current circumstances. As a way of illustration, I would like us to watch a short video clip from one of my most favorite movies.
[Finding Nemo 1:16.39-1:18.16]
I love these seagulls in Finding Nemo. Of course, they are humanized in some sense, and caricatured like most animated characters, but that is what makes them so funny. They are focused and concerned about one thing and one thing only. Each one of those seagulls wants a taste of the fish. “Mine. Mine. Mine!” they say, over and over and over again. You can’t help but laugh as they relentlessly chase after the pelican and the fish. But it is in this relentless chase that the humanization of the seagulls becomes a bit disturbing, even as it is funny. We begin to see in the seagulls something of ourselves. How often have we chased after something with all our might? How often have we put ourselves above all else and selfishly pursued a dream or object only for our own gratification? I imagine that this is true for most if not all of us in this room today. But part of the truth in this reality is the fact that this is the way our culture has conditioned us. That is, our society teaches us that we should always be “looking out for number one.” Our lives should be centered around ourselves: advancing in the professional world, climbing the social ladder, and acquiring the greatest “toys.”
In short, modern society, particularly in the United States is individualistic, “me”-centered. We have allowed ourselves to be consumed and defined by what we accomplish or acquire rather than by who we are in relationship to God and one another. Like the seagulls, we are a resounding chorus, of “me, me, me.” The result is that in engaging such individualism we have disengaged ourselves, unable to truly relate to one another, and most especially to God. In speaking of modern society, John Kavanaugh, a Jesuit priest and professor at St. Louis University said it this way, “One’s heart, no longer a throne wherein the transcendent personal God might dwell, no longer engaged by a knowing and loving trinitarian encounter of other persons, is restless until it rests—now anchored or even chained by [self-absorption].” We have lost sight of our identity as ones created, claimed, and called by God to be in relationship and service to one another in this world, and instead we are absorbed by the cultural trappings of our modern society.