Today we farewelled our dear brother/cousin/husband/father/grandfather and friend, Colville Crowe in services of worship at Sydney Chien Uniting Church and Macquarie Park Crematorium. I was privileged to be invited to preach at the Crematorium. I thought I’d share the notes of what I had to say:
I was in my mid-teens when Colville came to be the minister at the Toowong Presbyterian Church, where my family belonged. I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I was by that. He was my pastor and soon became my teacher, mentor and friend.
When I was only 19, Colville asked me to work with him on the Bible studies he was preparing for the National Christian Youth Convention. He was planning to work right through the letter to the Ephesians with the 2000 or so young adults who were gathering in Perth in January. I had the privilege of reading Ephesians with him over several months – discussing what I could see, what he could see, what he was reading about it. He asked me to write songs to go with each of the five Bible studies – and we talked all that through together too. Since then I haven’t been able to read Ephesians without thinking of Colville. In fact I hear the words of that letter in his voice as I read. And why wouldn’t I? That book of the Bible is so him. So Colville.
And I was not at all surprised when I saw that the photo on the back of our order of service to day is of Colville and Seongja in Ephesus. Of course! So let me make some comments about the letter to the Ephesians.
The letter to the Ephesians was specifically written to address the challenges of being a multicultural church. In particular, it addressed tensions and conflicts between Jewish Christians and Hellenistic Christians, sometimes called “Greeks” or “Gentiles” in the New Testament. Some of them were drawn from the ranks of the “God-fearers” who were attracted to the Jewish faith but were not able to be fully received into the Synagogues. Some had heard the Gospel and believed without any contact with any synagogue. The news was getting around. But almost all of them came from pagan backgrounds and cultures into this new assembly of the people of God – the ekklesia.
They came with different assumptions, different experiences, different customs, different languages, different strengths and foibles into one new assembly or congregation of the people of God. The body of Christ. And that was hard. It created so many opportunities for misunderstanding and conflict.
One commentator has put the main theme of the letter to the Ephesians with refreshing bluntness: “Christians, get along with each other!” Practice in your life together the unity that Christ has already given you through his death and resurrection. Get along!
For God “has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:9-10). And the foretaste, sign and instrument of this eternal plan of God to reconcile all things in Christ is the peace that he has made between you – people of different nations and languages and cultures, gathered together by the Holy Spirit into one body. So be that foretaste! Be that sign! Be that instrument of reconciliation! “Christians, get along with each other!”
So the unity of the ekklesia, especially between Jewish and Gentile Christians is the constant theme of the letter to the Ephesians. You can see that in some of the words and phrases that are used repeatedly. “Together”, for example: you have been made alive together (2.5), raised up together (2.6), built together (2.22). Or “one”: there is one new human being (2.15), one body (2.16), one Spirit (2.18), one hope (4.4), one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (4.5-6).
And then almost the whole of chapter 4 is given over to the practices of reconciliation, of living together well in spite of the astonishing cultural and linguistic diversity of this new assembly of the people of God:
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…”
Can you hear Colville’s voice too? It could be him saying that. He certainly lived it. He modelled it for us, inviting us to be this kind of community.
“…let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing [I love that. There were obviously thieves in this rediculously diverse congregation.]; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear… Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
It’s so Colville. He was an Ephesians man. No, he was a Christian man – to his core and consistently throughout his life.
Colville saw, taught and modelled that God calls the church to receive its diversity as the precious gift of the Holy Spirit that it is; a foretaste, sign and instrument of “that reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation.” Reconciliation doesn’t mean everyone being the same. It doesn’t mean one version of being human or being Christian replacing all the others. It means people and groups that are different and divided from each other being brought together in Christ to respect, value, trust and serve one another – in all our annoying, embarrassing, frustrating, frightening diversity. That’s profoundly challenging. It’s sharply counter-cultural. But it is the kind of church God calls us us to be.
And it is the kind of church that Colville spent his life serving, leading, teaching, celebrating and loving. He showed us in his own life that it is possible to be that kind of community – to have those kinds of relationships, to be reconciled in Christ.
I join you in thanking God for his servant Colville – pastor, teacher, mentor, friend.