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Summary: In the year 107 AD, St. Ignatius – the Christian Bishop of Antioch – was martyred for being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Leading up to his martyrdom he wrote 7 letters. The first letter was to a well know Christian community in Ephesus. In this mini-series, Fr. Michael Sorial explores the topic of Unity that is threaded throughout the entire letter that St. Ignatius writes to the Ephesians.
Part 1: Chapters 1-9
Part 2: Chapters 10-21
Transcript (compliments of Julianna Kelada)
We are going to jump right in, part two. Last week, just to kind of remind you all, this is a Letter that Saint Ignatius of Antioch, he was a Bishop that lived at the end of the first century. He wrote it to the Church of Ephesus. Okay? So, this is a Church that we know a little about because Saint Paul himself wrote a letter to that Church about fifty years earlier. And it is at this time, that Saint Ignatius is on his way to be martyred. He’s on his way and he is about to be killed in Rome. And he is now writing a number of letters, seven letters to be exact, and the first letter he writes is this specific Letter to the Church of Ephesus.
Last week I told you all that if someone were to look at real estate, the number one thing that realtors will tell you is, what? “Location, location, location!” And what I told you all that this whole Letter is about is “Unity, unity, unity!” You can have a great beautiful looking house, but if it’s in a lousy, nasty location, it’s no good. You can have a wonderful church, but if there’s division and schisms on the inside, it could be a beautiful building, but it’s no good. No one is going to want to go there. There is going to be no healing, no goodness to experience there. Nothing. Okay? So unity is right there at the core of the Christian witness. It is right there, Saint Paul talks about it throughout his letters, Christ talks about it ad. Nosm. It’s all throughout the New Testament, and it is all throughout the early writings of the Church Fathers. And it is that topic that Saint Ignatius turns his attention to in this specific Letter to the Ephesians. The main theme, I have put it at the top right on the page is “Unity is better than sheer numbers.” Unity is better than sheer numbers. It’s better and more effective to have a smaller group of people working together than masses of people moving in different directions.
Years ago, in my second year, when I had first got out of college, [I was working a] corporate job and the company was exploding. We were growing rapidly. And we brought in a consultant to figure out: “How are we going to grow at such a rate to get ourselves, to conquer the biotech world. Okay? We wanted, the founders of the company wanted to be the stuff in the biotech industry. And what this consultant said to us caught everyone off-guard. He said your issue is not growth, your getting to big to quick, and part of the problem is you’re growing but not all moving in the right direction. You don’t have a corporate vision or mission by that is guiding your corporation. So you’re going to find all sorts of systemic problems in your company for years to come. And the same can be said about any organization or corporation.
You have a big Church, huge, with thousands of people in it, that’s ineffective. That’s causing and having no impact on the world around it. Now, if we believe that Christ came into this world, to transform the world. And to heal us, then His body sould be doing the same, right? We would assume. So, the issue is not we need a lot of people doing a lot of things. We need people, however many a number, small or large, working together towards a common goal, a common vision. Unity, quite frankly, is better than sheer numbers.
Chapter 10: If you all missed last week you can pick-up, both the video, the sermon, as well as the handout on our YouTube Channel, or on my blog page for those who follow the blog, alright? But the main idea this morning, of Unity, is that our unity, our witness, as a body of Christ, is not just for us but it’s for the salvation of the world. Chapter ten that’s what Saint Ignatius starts off talking about. He says, “Your Christian witness is for the salvation of others.” Our Christian witness is for the salvation of others. Now, our witness as Christians includes our being united. And as we discussed in the discussion section, sometimes we have to lay down or desires, our wants, our egos, for the sake of remaining united. That goes to the Church and that goes for the family. That goes for any organization but what is specially for the Church, is the salvation of others. If you follow along in Chapter Ten verse One, it says, “Pray also without ceasing for the rest of mankind for there is in them a hope of repentance that they may find God.” He is saying, never give up on the world around you. Never give up on the world around you. Okay?
Whatever you do it’s for your own walk, but it is also for the sake of the world. God so loved the world. He didn’t just say God so loved us, who are in the church; God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son. So we as a Church should also be willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the world. And then Saint Ignatius goes on and list a number of things. He say in verse two: “Against their outburst of wrath, be meek; meekness.
Number two is be humble, when they speak proud words, be humble. Against your attacks, should be prayers. If someone attacks you pray for them. Against all errors be steadfast, against their fierceness be gentle. When we remain united as a body of Christ, when we remain united in our walk with Christ, it’s not just impacting us personally, and the community, but it’s impacting the rest of the world. What the world is watching for and looking for is to see what the Church will do. The world is not looking just for individual Christians to walk faithfully. That’s powerful, but what happens when that individual Christian is walking faithfully, and someone sees that, and they say, “hey, I want to come and visit your church.” And then they come to visit the Church, and they don’t find that same spirit in the Church. The unity that we have in Christ, is for the salvation of the world, folks. Our unity our laying down our ego, our pride, our own commitment to our meekness and humility, and praying for others when they harm us; and being gentle and steadfast that for the sake of the body being united which leads to others being transformed.
So, what are to do to witness, to maintain that witness? We are going to go through Chapters 11, 12, and 13. Saint Ignatius suggests three things: chapter one [eleven], he says, keep your eyes on the prize. Chapter 12, [he says] remain in the company of the Saints; and Chapter 13, gather together often for Eucharist. Okay?
So he says, starting off right at the gates, keep your eyes on the prize. If we want to maintain that unity, number one is we have to remain focused, laser focused on the prize. These are the last times, okay? Now, every generation has expected and believed that it was the last times, and let me just offer to you, that’s not always a bad thing. Because when things seem eminent, when the time seems precious, we tend to do more with that time. If I like, million dollar question. If you knew you had thirty days to live, what would you do? People would say, “Oh, I would do all sorts of things!” And I say, “would your life change?” Absolutely yeah, I would do this differently, I would stop doing this sin, and I would start walking in this, and I would start praying, start spending time with people. He is saying, “Keep your eyes on the prize.” It’s okay to live as if everyday was the final day. Not in the sense of fear, but I just want to be faithful with what I have been given. He says, “From now on, let us have reverence, and stand in awe in the suffering of God. Let us turn into a judgment again, lest it turn into a judgment against us. And then he says a couple things here that are interesting, “ For either let us fear the wrath that is to come, or let us love the grace that now is.” He is saying whatever it is going to take you, take it. If for you, your motivation is I just don’t want to end up in suffering later, or what is going do it for you is to love the grace of God, whatever it takes, get on the boat folks.
That is what he is saying, he says, “Don’t let any thing else attract your attention.” “Let nothing,” he says in verse two, “glitter in your eyes apart from Him.” “He says whatever it takes, get your eyes fixed on Christ.” And that is exactly Saint Cyril of Jerusalem says in the prologue, chapter five, his Catechuic Letters at the end of the fourth century, he says, “I don’t care what reason you have come to the church. Some of you have come,” he says “because your owners, your masters have asked you to come. Some of you come because you want to get married. Some of you come because some business prop., I don’t care, whatever it was, I don’t care what it is. He says, “But, lets turn it around, Jesus is angling for you, He wants you. Get your life right and fixed with Christ.” So he says, number one, “Keep your eyes on the prize.” Number two, “Remain in the company of the Saints. Remain always steadfast in the body of Christ.” The writer of Hebrews says that we should never forsake the assembly together in the body of Christ. Never forsake the assembly of Christ, as some would do.
Chapter Twelve Saint Ignatius begins as follows, he says, “I know who I am and to my right, I am a convict and You have mercy. I am in peril and You establish. You are the highway of those who are on their way on to die unto God. Your associates in the ministries of Paul, and then the next line he says, “in whose footsteps I would be pleased to walk in. In whom every letter makes mention of you in Jesus Christ. He is saying “I understand that I am in this company with these Saints.” And one of those Saints is Saint Paul, and I am walking in His footsteps, just as he was martyred. I am walking in his footsteps as well. He is saying that it is critical for us to be associates to one another, “To remain steadfast in the body of Christ, together.”
How do we maintain unity, is by spending time with each other, that when someone gets into your skin, they irritate you. Our, for most of us, our ammo is we flee. I don’t want to deal with that person. We get out of dodge as quickly as we can. But what he’s telling us here is, “when it get tough, stay together.” “Remain in the company of the Saints.” Never forget that we are also in company with the Saints who we can’t see. Saint Paul, he lists, he mentions him here by name. Okay? So we are in the company of the body of Christ; those who are in the militant struggling body, as well as those who are in the triumphal body who have already passed on.
The third thing, he says, “keep your eyes on the prize.”
Number two is “remain in the company of the Saints.”
Number three is “gather together often for Eucharist.” Gather together often for Eucharist.
“Do your diligence therefore, to me, together more frequently, more frequently; the word there is Etherisatia, which is the word we use to describe the Liturgy. Etherisatia, is the Eucharist, the offering up, the giving of thanks, and for His glory. “For when you meet together frequently, the power of Satan is passed down and his mischief comes to nothing in the unity of the faith.” There is nothing better, fhe says, “than peace.” When we come together around the one body of Christ, whose He is the Eucharist, that, He is oft, that we are offering up to God. We are coming together, and he is saying, “Come together often.” So don’t just remain together, but remain together and come together, often.
But he says, “Don’t just come together socially,” he says, “come together around the Eucharist.” Because it is in Christ’s offering Himself to us, and for us, that we find our life.” So we know what to do to maintain that witness. How does it look? How does it look? Two things, he says number one, he says, “Profess Christ through perfect faith and love,” and number two importantly, “practice what you preach.” Practice what you preach.
Chapter Fourteen: Profess Christ through faith and love. None of these things are hidden from you, if you remain perfect in your faith and love towards Jesus Christ. For these are the beginning and the end of life. He says the beginning and end is your faith and your love. Faith is the beginning and love is the end. And then in verse two, he says, “The tree is manifest from its fruits.” And then he explains what that work is, what that fruit is, he says, “for the work is not a thing of profession now, but is seen then when one is found in the power of faith unto the end.” I put a little sub-note there for you all. That the work that is being described here, in Acts 15:38, Saint Luke describes it as the preaching and practice of Christianity. The work that we are to do, those things of profession, it’s not our work so to speak; it’s not the works of the Law. It is preaching and practice of our Christian faith. And he says, “That is seen when one is found in the power of the faith to the end.”
What he is explaining to us here folks, is this is not something we just try really hard to get good at. It’s not like your job or your profession, which you study real hard to become a good doctor. Or the top lawyer, or a builder or contractor, or an engineer, or dentist, whatever it may be. He is saying “the power that you need is power that is found only in faith in Christ. This is not power that comes from us. Is not power that comes because we are smart enough, or good enough, or brilliant enough, or articulate enough, but it comes by faith in Christ.
And the second thing, how it looks, is not just that we profess our faith in Christ, through faith and love but importantly he goes on and explains that we practice what we preach. Practice what we preach. In chapter fifteen, he says, it’s better to keep silent and to be, then to talk and not be. Any parents here ever felt embarrassed, because you tell your kids to do something and they give you that eye. Like they didn’t say it, but you knew what they were thinking, “hypocrite!”
There’s a dad I know from back in New York, came to me one time he says, “My son, I can’t ever get him to pray. He never prays.” And I said what explain, “What are you telling your son?” He says “I tell him everyday I ask him to stand and pray.” I said and “he doesn’t want to pray?” He says, “No, you dad don’t even pray. Why you gonna tell me to pray? When you start praying I’ll start to pray.” In other words we need to practice what we preach. Practice what we preach.
Another dad came to me one time, and said, “Abouna, I am so angry, my son, started smoking, he’s sixteen years old!” I said, “yeah, of course,” he goes “what do you mean of course?!” I said, “Dude, he sees you smoke almost a pack a day.” Like “you’re telling him one thing and dong something completely different.” “Practice what you preach! If you think it’s bad for your son then give it up, quit!” He said, “But, I can’t” I said “Alright, then neither with your son.” Practice what you preach. He is better to keep silent and be, than to talk and not be. He is telling us here, “words are cheap” is what he is telling us here. It’s not about speaking nice fancy words. It’s about walking the walk. About walking the walk.
He gives us a message of warning in Chapter Sixteen about wrong teaching. He tells us how destructive wrong teaching can be. He talks to us about how some will corrupt the house through this wrong teaching, and then in the next five chapters he explains to us “How this whole thing of unity works.” And some of them are things that you guys have already mentioned in our discussion section.
Chapter Seventeen, talks about how Christ, is our life. Christ is life. Christ’s death leads to your incorruption. At the beginning there, He says, “for this cause the Lord receives ointment on his head that He might breathe incorruption upon the Church. And at the very last line he says, “Know the gift of grace that Our Lord has truly sent.”
Our unity is only so much that Christ is our life. Christ has given us incorruption. That guys we were all dead people. All of us were walking dead, and now because we have been raised up, we can walk and we can interact. What people who are alive and awake and animate do is that they interact with each other. And they argue sometimes, sure. But then what they do, is they lay down egos in order to come together and remain together. You know dead people cannot do that. Those in Christ will interact with Him. But those that we see are animals, humans, which are gone. Our ability to interact and remain united is because Christ is our life. He has given us our life.
The second thing that he says here is that “The power that we receive, the power of the Cross, is a power that is given to us in baptism.” That power is given to us in baptism.
Baptism is not simply just the washing off the filth, but no, no, something transformative happens; that when we go into that baptismal font, we are buried with Christ and we rise again with Him. So that we may walk in the newness of life. And that ability to walk in the newness of life is not an ability because we have made a change in our minds, to say “That’s it, I am not doing those things anymore.” But rather that it is because the power of the Cross, the life-giving Cross, has been transmitted to us through baptism. He says here, “My Spirit is made an outcast for the Cross, which is a stumbling block to those who [aren’t] believers. The same language that Saint Paul used in I Cor. Chapter 1. Imagine here, that this disciple fifty years after this letter is written to the Corinthians that this disciple here became familiar with the writings of Saint Paul.
In verse two, he talks about Jesus Christ, he says, “For our God, Jesus the Christ!” Which is simply put for those who say that, “It wasn’t until the fourth century that people began to say that Jesus Christ is God in the Flesh.” It is very clear here that by the, not only the biblical scriptures, the biblical narrative, the Holy Bible, but the Disciples of the Disciples’; Disciple of John the Beloved, refers to Jesus Christ’s our God.
And then he concludes this chapter, by saying “He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might cleanse the water.” By His passion He might cleanse the water. So Jesus has baptized so that He cleanses water, and when we use baptismal waters, that the power of the Cross is transmitted to us.
So how it works, is that Christ is our life. Number two, is that the Power of the Cross is given to us in baptism, it this life of grace that we live. Number three: this whole chapter is about contemplative spirituality. “And hidden in the Prince of this world, was the virginity of Mary, her child-bearing and likewise, the death of the Lord.” Three mysteries He cried aloud. Those which were worked out in the silence of God. In the silence of God. That from silence, God spoke, and there was life. That God spoke into the womb of the virgin. That God spoke from the Cross, and there was power, there was life from there. And in verse three he says that “from that time forward,” and this is language that we use by the way in baptismal prayers. Some of you were here for the baptism from this morning will have heard some of this. “From that time forward every sorcery, and evil spell, evil spell, was dissolved, the ignorance of wickedness vanished away. The ancient kingdom was pulled down when God appeared in the likeness of Man, on to the newness of everlasting life.”
But what I want to focus on for this specific chapter, is the part that it says here, “Those who were worked out in the silence of God,” and to be worked out it implies taking a piece of metal and banging it, in hammering it, and shaping it. And you have silence on one side, and you have hammering and beating a piece of metal out, on the other side. And what is at stake here is that, when you beat something out, you form it, you shape it. But this shaping is done in silence. And silence is something that many of us are very uncomfortable with. One of the reasons I believe that many people have a shallow, or superficial walk with Christ, is their own unwillingness to remain still and silent in the presence of God. They want to run around, if I tell people to go out and serve the homeless in Trenton, we’ll have 500 people show up. But if I say, we are going to take a spiritual contemplation day. We are just going to sit in silence and we’ll have five people show up. There is a real struggle that many of us have, to remain silent and engaged in a contemplative spirituality.
Number four is: Unity in Christ with the Church happens around the Eucharist that leads us to life. And I want to read this specific chapter in its entirety because I think it is a very powerful chapter. And it speaks about the early Christian understanding of Eucharist. How they understood the Eucharist.
If Jesus Christ, (this is in Chapter Twenty, of Saint Ignatius in Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians) If Jesus Christ should come, count me worthy through your prayer, and it should be the Divine will, in my second tract which I intend to write to you. (We know he never got to the second tract. He was killed. He was martyred before he ever got to write a second letter to them.) I will further set before you the dispensation of which I have begun to speak.” (And skip down to verse two here where is says) especially if the Lord should reveal anything at all to me. Assemble yourselves together in common, each and every one of you, one-by-one, in grace in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who after the flesh was of David’s race, who is Son of Man and Son of God, to that end that you may obey the bishop and priests without distraction of mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality (this bread is not ordinary bread folks. This bread is the very Body of Christ, which is the medicine of immortality, it is life giving) and it is the antidote that we should not die but live, forever in Jesus Christ.” He tells us to come together in Unity. In Christ, with the Church, around the Eucharist, which leads to life.
Fifth and final: is that we be willing to sacrifice for one another, which is the question we started with. How do we maintain, is Unity, it is by willing to sacrifice. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our egos, our pride, our desires, our wants, our ambitions, popularity, status, [some] financial gain, whatever it may be. We have to be willing to say that I am going to lay those things down for another. And understand that Unity depends on it. Unity in Christ, and unity with one another. And you can take all of these things by the way, and apply them to your own personal families at home. Okay?
Unity is key. And unity is better than sheer numbers. You give Jesus twelve disciples much more powerful than multitudes of people walking around all in chaos. I’ll take fifty devoted people, who walk with Christ, and we could turn the world upside down. Better than having 5,000 people showing up for Church every Sunday, who are all moving in different directions?
I want to ask you this week: spend some time reading through the rest of this. And, I just skimmed through the article. Okay? I just skimmed through the letter, but I want to encourage you to read through it; and pray and think about what it looks like in your own walk with Christ? What does it look like in your own family dynamic at home, and what does it look like for you engaging with others in the body of Christ?
All Glory to God forever, Amen.
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT ONE GOD. AMEN
Make us all worthy Lord to pray thankfully. Our Father who art in heaven…