It was March 15, 1961, at Westminster Abbey—a worship service to dedicate the New English Bible after 13 years of translating work. An impressive occasion complete with the royal family in attendance, exquisite music, and a magnificent liturgy.
The gathered worshipers anticipated the first public reading from this long-awaited translation. Which passage had been chosen?
Then the voice of George Duncan of the Church of Scotland echoed through the sanctuary: “I entreat you, then . . . as God has called you, live up to your calling. Be humble always and gentle and patient too. Be forbearing with one another and charitable. Spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives” (Eph. 4:1-3).
In the hush of that holy moment, Christians from around the globe heard again the call of the gospel to be little for the Lord and to demonstrate by our lives that “There is one body and one Spirit, as there is also one hope held out in God’s call to you; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
What a profoundly simple and incredibly impossible mission! “Saved to serve” is how we sometimes put it: ministering to one another, caring for one another, helping one another. In situations of brokenness and pain, in institutions and hospitals, despite disabilities and in spite of injustice, we are to be a presence of peace, loving one and all in such a way as to represent both the heart and the unity of God.
It is an awesome calling, one we have recognized in establishing “specialized ministries” to welcome and encourage the gifts of people with disabilities; to make our churches truly safe; to serve also outside the walls of our sanctuaries; to enhance pastor-church relations; to stand up for the rights of one and of all. In our denominational structure we have tried to model what God tells us we must mirror in our individual lives.
I was in a Christian bookstore once when Veggie Tales were at the height of their popularity. For the uninitiated, these are video renditions of Bible stories starring animated vegetables.
As I walked to the counter with my purchase, I heard the clerk say to a customer on the phone, “Yes, Larry and Bob will be here from 1 to 3.” What you need to know is that Larry is an animated cucumber and Bob is a talking tomato.
The clerk hung up the phone and said to me, “That person asked me if the real Larry and Bob were going to be here or if they were only going to be people dressed up in Larry and Bob costumes!” It was the second time someone had called to ask that question, she said, and we laughed about it.
But suppose we change the question a little and realize that people all around us are actually asking, “Are the real Christ-people going to show up, or just some people wearing Christ costumes?”
Are we authentic? The real thing? Living examples of the love of Christ: “humble always and gentle and patient too . . . forbearing with one another and charitable”? Or do we just pretend “to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives”?
That day back in 1961, Ephesians 4 was chosen to be read—a reminder that beneath the pomp and pageantry and robes and crowns there beat in each chest a heart called to reflect the love of Christ and to point to the one true God.
And that day in the bookstore I was reminded of the importance of that witness by a silly question about Larry and Bob.
Let both remind us always of our true mission!