Sermon for Trinity VII – Proper 12B
All Saints’ Church
July 27, 2009
At some point in time during seminary I came across a paper written by The Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand entitled “The Case of the Missing Comma.” I don’t remember if someone directed me to read this short essay, or if I simply stumbled upon it myself, but it has always stuck with me, and I wish to share some of his insights with you this morning. If the title of the article struck you as odd, the entire thrust of his work deals with a punctuation mark.
One of the overarching themes of the Epistle to the Ephesians is the connection between Christ and His Church. In the few verses we heard this morning from the fourth chapter we heard references to Christ’s headship; that our growth and development as Christians happens because we are bound to Christ; the Church is Christ’s Body and we are individual members of that body; we also hear about specific ministry workers within the church and their role within the larger community.
Dr. LeMarquand’s paper deals with the two verses almost in the middle of the passage we heard this morning. Starting at verse 11, Paul switches gears a little bit, and speaks about some of the ministers who will function within the Church, and their role in the advance of the Gospel. He says that some will be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. The scholars who have studied this text in great depth do not believe that this should be treated as an exhaustive list of leaders within the Church. After all, none of terms from which we derive our three-fold order of ministry of deacon, priest and bishop, are found in this list. If you look over the list of 5 ministers noted here, this does seem like a fairly limited group. The one term which has a bit more of a global connotation is the evangelist in the sense that all of us are called to be bearers of the Good News or as the Greek word literally means – Good Messengers.
The question for Dr. LeMarquand begins to arise with the next verse. Take a look at the printed text in your bulletin as we look at this a bit further.
Verse 12 speaks of these 5 ministers having a specific role to play, and the things that they are called upon to do is work for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministry, and for the edifying of the body of Christ. I tried to speak it so as to emphasize the pauses that the commas in our text imply. If you begin to unpack this verse in this light, I hope you begin to see what is happening.
Certainly as a priest in God’s Church one of my specific roles is doing everything that God gives me the ability to do to see that those within my cure are constantly striving for perfection. To put that in theological terms, I am called upon to help you and me along the lifelong journey of sanctification. Sanctification is the constant striving for holiness or as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
The third item in this list is also a function of the pastoring and teaching roles of ordained ministry when Paul speaks about the edifying of the Body of Christ. Whenever the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, whenever the Holy Scriptures are expounded upon in a sermon, whenever parishioners are being prepared for Confirmation, the edifying of the Body of Christ is taking place.
Sorry for so much background, but I thought it was important to lead up to this critical point. In our text the phrase “for the work of the ministry” is set off as a clause by itself.
Who is being called upon for the work of the ministry here?
Is it the list of 5 special folk mentioned in verse 11, or is this a case where perhaps a comma shouldn’t be here at all, and does it refer to the saints who are being perfected?
Side note here…the original Greek manuscripts and texts of the New Testament had no punctuation marks, no breathing marks, no stress marks, and just to make things even more interesting and difficult, there were no spaces between words. All of the all upper case characters of a Greek text were continuous strings of characters. You can imagine how difficult it would have been to have a working text of the original language, let alone what we have in front of us today. Scholars using the best information at their disposal added punctuation marks at a much later date and our English translations have brought them over.
Back to verse 12 again and the case of the missing comma. Listen to these verses again if I simply eliminate that one comma and see if the message sounds any different:
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
If this is in fact the case, Paul is conveying what Jesus was teaching all along. The work of the ministry, the sharing of the good news, is not restricted to just a few who happen to be involved in the governance and ordering of the Church. Instead, the work of the ministry is for everyone! The main reason that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers exist is the empower those within the Church to carry out Christ’s message to the entire world. If this isn’t the case, then the 3rd point, the edifying of the Body of Christ doesn’t really make sense. Think about it this way. If the Church is Christ’s body, and we are individual members, aren’t we required to have a function in the body? If my arms just arbitrarily decided to go on strike one day, would my body be edified? More importantly, what if one of the major organs did the same thing, I don’t think the results would be edifying in the least.
We as Christ’s body must act like members of Christ’s body.
Dr. LeMarquand in his paper drives this point home with clarity:
If we choose the second option, the tripartite division, we are in effect saying that God has called certain persons to lead the church by equipping the saints,3 doing the work of ministry, and
building up the body of Christ. Quite a number of our Bible translations, by the simple insertion of a comma after the word ‘saints’, make it look as though Paul was saying exactly that. There is, however, one glaring problem with this approach: it can turn congregations into spiritual consumers and put the burden of God’s work in the world squarely on the shoulders of the
religious specialists, the clergy. The church (that is, the church as it is, rather than as it should be) has sometimes been described as a being like a football game: thousands of fans in the stands, all desperately in need of exercise, watching a much smaller number of players on the field, all desperately in need of rest! The clergy do the ministry, the congregation receive the ministry? The New Testament knows of no such arrangement.
Rather, when the New Testament speaks of ‘ministry’ what it means, first and foremost, something that God does in Christ. The word ministry means ‘service’ and it is the unanimous
opinion of the New Testament documents that Christ is The Servant.
…the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of human beings. (Phil 2:
It is the servanthood, the ministry of Jesus Christ that is of first importance. The New Testament always speaks first about what He has done for us, not what we can do for Him, for ourselves, or for the world. ‘The ministry’, if it belongs to anyone, belongs to Christ.
Our work as the church must point in one direction, it must point to Christ. Like a compass that always gives us our bearing in relation to North, our lives as Christians must likewise point to Jesus. Paul points us in this very direction when he begins the fourth chapter of Ephesians with these words:
1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lorda, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Here is what we have to share with the world:
One God and Father of all
Let us with boldness go out and perform the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ that we have each been called to do.
****Citations and footnotes available upon request****