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. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him Who is the Head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4.14-15)
A Winning Proposition
Remember Twister? It’s the deceptively simple children’s game that forces players into increasingly difficult contortions to see which of them can stick to their positions without collapsing. If it were played individually, the player with the most stamina and flexibility would win. What makes Twister hard is that you’re asked to work around other players to find your spot on the mat. Consequently, you’re required to twist yourself into crazy positions just to stay in the game—which sounds like fun, but ultimately proves futile. Twister is one of those perverse kiddie games that have no winner. When the clumsiest, weakest player goes down, everyone falls. Of course, kids will play again and again for the fun of it. But the game loses its appeal over time. As kids mature, they see it for what it is: a ridiculous exercise that leads to embarrassment more often than pride.
Invite a group of teenagers to play Twister and they’ll smirk. It’s a silly game unworthy of their time. They’d rather hang out and talk to one another and listen to music or watch TV or try their hands at more challenging games—all of which appears less engaging than Twister’s contrived gymnastics. Yet teens get it. Things they love to do intuitively hone their understanding of the world, each other, and themselves. Hanging together is how they learn to live together in community, and the surest way to land on the outs is by forcing others into uncomfortable positions and demanding they stick to them. Teen life is defiantly agile and fluid and unsettled. That’s why it’s the scariest passage in life. It raises more questions than it answers, more than a community can handle, more than anyone can process. That’s also why most of us mature into adults who abandon the quest for community and revert to Twister-like games we’ll never win.
Of late, we’ve seen a whole lot of Twisting going on. Political posturing in the UN, Europe, and the States has forced otherwise nimble people into rigid positions that endanger global stability. The bigoted comments of a fast-food CEO have contorted buying lunch into a moral dilemma. At the Olympics, eight badminton players were ejected from the Games after bending over backwards to increase their odds of winning medals by intentionally losing preliminary matches. A Mississippi congregation bowed to pressure from a handful of hypocrites and closed its doors to an African-American couple asking to be wed in their sanctuary. Our contempt for these and similar shenanigans can only go so far before it boomerangs, because we all—in some way, shape, or form—play Twister. Indeed, many of us have got so good at it we play multiple rounds at once. We strike a position here, another there, and yet another over there. And we’d rather get buried beneath the weight of our contortions than confess that it’s a loser’s game. In Sunday’s readings, Paul urges us to grow up and pursue lives of faithfulness that strengthen community. He gives us a winning proposition.
A Perfect Seven
If we listen attentively to the text (Ephesians 4.1-16), we’re immediately startled in that it offers us a choice in how to live, while explicitly telling us we have no choice. Paul writes, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (v1-3) We are called into community and told how to create and sustain it—humbly, patiently, lovingly, and peacefully. Either we heed our calling or we don’t. Our attitudes and behaviors either foster unity or they defeat it. We’re free to get twisted up in positions and poses. But if we decide to do so, we disqualify ourselves from any hope of togetherness. “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,” Paul tells us in verses 4-6. Reread that and count the ones: a perfect seven. Our unity—our commitment to community at the expense of personal persuasions and preferences—makes that possible.
Before we break out the rainbows and lollipops, we should note the community Paul describes is remarkably diverse and multifaceted. He defines it not by the compatible personalities or common interests of its members, but by the vast array of gifts Christ has given to them. There are specific callings within the greater calling, Paul says, all of them designed “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, 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.” (v12-14) In other words, your talents, my talents, and those of every other believer are given for one purpose: growing together in the community we call “Christ.” And if we follow Paul’s metaphor to its obvious outcome, we admit we have no means of predicting what the fully matured Body of Christ looks like, how it behaves or thinks. Jesus and the Apostles tell us what it should look like, how it should behave and think, but how that happens remains a mystery. Thus, we are not called to shape the Body—presuming to dictate the nature of its growth by contorting ourselves into ridiculous, self-serving positions. We are summoned to contribute all of our gifts to community making, to invest our whole selves for the sake of a greater whole. This is a grown-up’s intentional endeavor to build unity, not a childish game that collapses in loss.
The Community Challenge
“We must no longer be children,” Paul writes, invoking images of a different sort of twister: “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” In our determination to twist faith into certainty, we invite division, decay, and instability. Our vain contortions guarantee collapse. Paul’s letter comes to us in a timely fashion, when we need to be reminded Twister is a silly, pointless game beneath our calling. Instead, we should undertake the community challenge Paul issues at the end of Sunday’s passage: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him Who is the Head, into Christ, from Whom the whole body, joined and knitted 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.” Then, and only then, will we achieve the perfect seven, united in one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God.
We’re called to make community not take positions.