This is the message I preached Sunday for God's people at Bethel Lutheran Church, Portville, NY.
Yesterday my daughter Sarah, granddaughter Grace, Ray and I watched one of my favorite Christmas movies, “A Christmas Story.” The movie is about a boy named Ralphie and his obsession with the Red Rider BB gun, which he desperately wants for Christmas. Unfortunately, Ralphie gets the same response from every person he mentions the BB gun to. His parents, teacher, even Santa told him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” So, Ralphie softened his approach, trying to hint as opposed to outright telling his parents what he really wanted for Christmas. However, one day, his mother asked Ralphie what he wanted for Christmas. Ralphie excitedly blurted out that he wanted the Red Rider BB Gun listing all of its wonderful attributes in one breath. So much for the subtle approach.
Paul is a bit like Ralphie as he waxes eloquent about all the wonderful things God has done for us in Christ. However, with God, we don’t have to worry about shooting our eye out; but if we let Him, God will turn our world upside down!
In today’s passage from Ephesians, in the Greek of the New Testament, this entire passage is all one sentence. Thankfully, it can be divided into three major sections. Each section focuses on a different member of the Trinity and ends with a note of praise for God (vv. 6, 12, 14).
The first section (vv. 4-6) offers up praise that the Father has chosen us in eternity past. God has chosen and destined us to be adopted [which] “means to have the full rights of an heir… in the ancient world, only boys could be adopted as sons, in God's family all children - both male and female - are adopted” (NET notes). God chose us “before the foundation of the world” (v. 4). In other words, we cannot conceive of a time when God had not chosen us. God’s choosing creates a people who are holy and blameless before him.
God’s glorious grace was freely given to all believers “in the Beloved” (v. 6).
Grace means “favor” and is a glorious, brilliant display of God’s character. It is shown in the way God gathers a people to himself in Christ.
The second section (vv. 7–12) offers up praise that the Son has redeemed us in the historical past (at the cross). We are redeemed and forgiven because of God’s amazing grace. God is not stingy with his grace, but lavishes it upon us. God’s grace is abundant and overflowing. It is more than enough, with some left over. This extravagance is at the heart of what God becoming human means.
In these verses, God lets us in on the mystery of the ages. All things in heaven and earth will be gathered up in Christ. The idea is that everything can be summed up and made sense out of in relationship to Christ (Net Notes).
The third section (vv. 13–14) offers up praise that the Holy Spirit has sealed us in our personal past, when God made us his own in baptism. This seal is the “first installment” or “deposit” of our inheritance. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of the promised blessings of God. “… the possession of the Spirit now by believers…. can be viewed as a guarantee that God will give them the balance of the promised blessings in the future” (NET Notes).
I would like to point out that a doxology runs throughout this passage from Ephesians. It is repeated three times and occurs at the end of each section of the reading. The first is “to the praise of his glorious grace” v. 6a. The second is “for the praise of his glory” v. 12 and the last, “to the praise of his glory” v. 14 ends the passage.The doxologies emphasize the claim that God chose his people, infused them with good things in Christ, the reason for which praise is returned to God. How else can we respond but in praise?
Paul’s lofty, lyrical language about all that God has done in Christ claims our utter dependence upon God for everything and our inability to become a holy people apart from God. If we are called as God’s people to be like Christ, then, like Jesus, we need to have open hands willing to share all the blessings we have been given. God has lavishly graced us with such wonderful gifts in abundance so that we can share them with others.
God calls us to be a Christian community of blessing. What might that look like for us? We exist as a church not just to be blessed, but also to bless our neighbors near and far. Can you imagine how that might impact the many people who are convinced that church folks are more interested in judging others, rather than blessing them?
This month we are participating in the “Souper [s-o-u-p-e-r] Bowl of Caring” with our special offerings going to the Portville Food Pantry. Being “in Christ” transports us into a new and selfless world. Everything is reframed and we see ourselves and one another, friend, neighbor or stranger in a fresh way (adapted from Sally A. Brown).
Let us together live lives of service to the glory of God as we share with others from the abundance that God has given us.