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Paul is Like Ralphie

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.


Steve Martin said…
Hi Ivy!

Read your sermon, friend.

You (maybe unwittingly) left us with the law.

"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."

I hope you'll receive this criticism in the spirit with which I offer it.

Folks need the gospel. They just aren't up to the law. They'll go so far…and no further…that's just how we are all wired.

A good sermon (or hymn) is one that you can hand to someone who is literally on their deathbed.
They don't need a how-to about how to save and help the world (the law is written upon our hearts)…they need the life giving Word of acceptance and love for those who (like you and I) are just not up to the task.

Thanks, friend.
Ivy Gauvin said…
I truly appreciate your input Steve. To be law heavy was certainly not my intent. However, the life of Christ within us will be manifested by our actions. As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism:
But God’s Word is the treasure that sanctifies all things. By it all the saints themselves have been sanctified. 92 At whatever time God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or pondered, there the person, the day, and the work are sanctified by it, not on account of the external work but on account of the Word which makes us all saints. Accordingly, I constantly repeat that all our life and work must be guided by God’s Word if they are to be God-pleasing or holy. Where that happens the commandment is in force and is fulfilled.
93 Conversely, any conduct or work done apart from God’s Word is unholy in the sight of God, no matter how splendid and brilliant it may appear, or even if it be altogether covered with holy relics, as are the so-called spiritual estates7 who do not know God’s Word but seek holiness in their own works.
Theodore G. Tappert, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000, c1959), 377.

Blessings Steve!
Steve Martin said…
"I constantly repeat that all our life and work must be guided by God’s Word if they are to be God-pleasing or holy."

Thanks, Ivy.

We Christians are DECLARED Holy…for Christ's sake.

Not because of anything that we do or say, or think or feel.

So we use the law, not to spur on to action, but to expose. And then the gospel frees us…and the Spirit inspires us 'to do'…whatever.

I just hate to see you get sucked in to the way that the LCMS does things ("3rd use" of the law).

It either makes folks despair (they just aren't up to it)…or they become prideful, thinking that they are doing an alright job of whatever cause or project that you are telling them that they ought do.

God bless you, friend.

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