The “All in the Family” sitcom ran from 1971-1979. Edith and Archie sing an off-key duet “Those Were The Days…” lamenting the pre-FDR Era and Glen Miller and where everyone knew their place – at least to guys like Archie who used that time as their “plumb line”.
Two generations living in one house with interesting family dynamics to say the least. Conservative vs. liberal; old ways vs new ways; those were the days vs these are the days.
And those who tuned in saw the deepest, darkest realities of who we are as Americans – stereotypes, bigotry, derogatory name calling, war, strife and a moving plumb line. But at the end of the day, the Bunkers and the Stivics were family and they loved each other – such was the life at 704 Hauser Street.
And not too far off that mark – such was the life with the Israelites and Amos. God has given him four visions of destruction: locusts, shower of fire, summer fruit (the end is coming) and the plumb line.
What is a plumb line? In building, laying tile, making sure walls were straight – you use a plumb line. It sets the standard by which and around which everything else – measurements, squaring — will revolve. Sometimes it’s as simple as a string and weight. Gravity will make sure that it hangs straight.
That plumb line becomes the norm for the structure, lending integrity to the building project and acting as a rule. And God is saying to the nation of Israel: my word is your plumb line, your rule! It hangs straight and it does not move.
Fast forward 700 years – meet the Herod family! Power gone off the rails! Antipas was a ruler of immense power who had no control over his use of power. And we get a glimpse into the paranoia of those who were in power brought on by a truth-telling prophet named John the Baptizer come back from the dead.
In Herod we see the delusion of self-control who mistakenly thought that he could set his own plumb line and move it at will. But God shows ups in the persons of John the Baptist and Jesus, the Gospel shines light on the deepest, darkest realities of who we –you and I – really are. I don’t really appreciate that light illuminating. And the plumb line – what plumb line??? Can’t miss it when a light shines on it, now can I!
Which brings us to the Ephesians. And the plumb line. And being all in the family of God.
What prompted Paul to write this letter? If your community received a letter from Paul, more than likely written from a prison, he’s gotten word that you have gone off the rails, can’t find the plumb line and he was writing to put you back on them and show you the light.
And a come-to-Jesus moment was inevitable – which was the whole point of the letter.
The passage before us in one long sentence – the longest in the Bible. The translators have helped us out by assigning verse numbers and breaking it into two sections. Paul is covering a lot of territory here.
Verses 4-10 offers praise to God for what God has done, is doing and will do. God is the subject of active verbs: God blesses, chose us, destined us for adoption, made known the mystery of God’s will.
Beginning with vs. 11, we learn what it means to “in Christ.”
In Christ, we have redemption.
In Christ, we have inheritance. This is the relationship that we have in Christ. We have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit – God’s pledge to us.
Again we hear what God has done and is doing through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how that defines our task: to live in praise of God’s glory and of course to be a blessing.
What does it mean to be in community for blessing? Church is the only organization that exists solely for the sake of the other. We bless the neighbor – near and far, care for the widow, welcome the alien.
Let’s go further – “us” in this passage does NOT mean you and me individually. It indicates a community, which the American church has lost sight of. Borrowing from Mark Allan Powell’s presentation from Power in the Spirit:
“When God, through Moses, speaks in Deuteronomy, “hear o Israel the statues and ordinances which I am addressing to you today, you shall learn them and observe them diligently… Israel is the community. Israel is the people. The entire people of God are to love God with all their hearts, souls and minds. As one. Likewise, the CHURCH is a community of God’s people with God’s heart. One heart, not multiple hearts.”
Our congregation has one heart and that heart loves Jesus.
Dr. Powell goes on to say, “That does not mean that we are a community of like-minded people. If you want to get together with those who will tell you that you are right, that’s not the church. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit – a sign of God’s promise to us – and God always keeps promises made. And because Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit on the children of God, then the rules of sociology no longer apply.
“Best part: We are a community of people that would have never chosen to be in community together. AND we have ONE heart to worship God. And when we come together as one community it is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
And if you don’t believe in miracles today, come to Resurrection Lutheran Church each Sunday and watch a disparate group of people come together with one heart to worship the one true God, love Jesus and walk in the light of the Holy Spirit. Drop the mic.
That means we’re being “all in” – all means all – all in Christ – no exceptions. “All in the family” in Christ means that our plumb line is clear and everything that we experience is reframed in community. Joys and achievements; temptations, anguish, regrets, losses, decisions that we make.
In Christ, we are joined to the power and the presence of God.
In Christ, we mourn the loss of loved ones while we sing hymns of resurrection. This is not sentimentality.
And “in Christ” community might be looked at as threat rather than blessings. We are called to be truth-telling, truth-living reflection of the God who has called the community into being. (Sally Brown)
We hold fast to God’s mission of reflecting the love of Christ – the Christ that represents all humanity. God chose Christ and thus chooses all of us. God pursues all humanity – all of us – with relentless love. And that makes us family, too.
And something happens.
Corporate love means that it is possible for an entire community of people to love with one heart as a community. And that is WORSHIP.
There are days when I feel functionally atheist. When I have a hard time worshiping. That is where community comes in – the community worships for me, and for you.
There are days when I am NOT happy with Jesus, especially in the darkest moments.
The best part? At the end of the day, I will still be part of church, and as part of church, I will love Jesus. (Mark Allan Powell)
And being “all in the family” in Christ.
Quotations by the Rev. Dr. Mark Allan Powell from his presentations during Power in the Spirit, July 12-14, 2018 at Roanoke College in Salem VA, “Being in a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”