This is the message I shared with St. Timothy Lutheran Church I preached the same message at St. Mark Lutheran Church with minor changes. The text is Ephesians 2:1-10.
Humanity has a problem. That problem is death. Our situation was desperate. We too were dead. However, in today's reading from Ephesians, Paul is not speaking about physical death, but spiritual death.
Paul's imagery is vivid concerning our former condition without Christ. We have the images of the corpse, the slave and the condemned prisoner demonstrating
how bad things were. Each image portrays a devastating predicament which they are powerless to change. Helplessness pervades these first few verses. We followed the course of this world and the ruler of the power of the air, in other words, Satan.
Paul has a solution to our spiritual death. It's summed up in two words: But God. It is upon these two words that everything hinges. But God is the game changer for us. In this descriptively rich passage, everything changes for humankind throughout the ages because of what God has done. We were wandering, BUT GOD found us. God came down to us in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul piles up the descriptions of God's character and action: while we were still going our own way BUT GOD saved us.Even when we were dead, But God made us alive.
By grace we have been saved through faith. It is not the result of works. God raised us up and seated us with Christ.
It is God who has taken the initiative in remedying our situation. But God announces God's initiative in repairing our broken relationship with him.God has done this by giving life to lifeless bodies by elevating us to a place of security and safety in heavenly places in Christ--beyond the reach of Satan's activity.
Paul uses exuberant language to describe God celebrating the aggressive, liberating God who initiates and completes the rescue of entrapped people.
Listen to these descriptions of God:
God is not just merciful, but rich in mercy.
God has great love for us.
God is not just graceful, but his grace is immeasurable.
This is so far beyond our comprehension. How can we ever be worthy of all this? We cannot ever be. How should we react to such an offer? Embrace it. Enjoy it. Revel in the great work God has done.
For Paul, the key word for salvation is life--a vitality, vibrancy and vulnerability essential to the doing of the good works God has called us to.
The Christian life is a shared life. It is the mystery of Christian existence, which is as big as sharing in the life of God. The Christian understanding of life is being with others in the company of Christ. Being a Christian is not a me and Jesus experience. It is an us and Jesus experience.
God wants us to experience the gift of salvation, which is marked by two distinctive features: a sense of grace and doing good works.On the one hand, people know that life is a gift from God, the result of divine and not human activity. On the other hand, salvation also means doing what we were created to do--"good works." As the NRSV interestingly puts it, this is "to be our way of life."
There is a dominant stress on grace. Can we distance ourselves from God by ingratitude, which is a self-confidence that presumes that one's accomplishments, whether material or spiritual, are our own? That is what is meant by boasting.
For the Christian, there is only one appropriate response to the generosity of God. That response is gratitude.
We are a work in progress as individuals and as a church.
This does not mean that we can sit on our laurels and let inertia overtake us.
Salvation means doing what we were created to do. Gratitude is expressed by activity. The works that are good, are the works that we recognize as gifts of God.
In our Wednesday night Lenten discussions, those in attendance have had marvelous conversation describing the activities of the people of St. Timothy's
and how they have impacted not only our community here in Bemus Point,
but how they have touched the lives of the people we have served in Honduras.
This is a good beginning, but we need to take a hard look at how St. Timothy's is touching the lives directly here in Bemus Point. The general consensus is as a congregation, we are on the periphery, but we are not touching lives in our neighborhood or on Rt. 430.
We need to take a look around us and discover the needs that are out there, but not so apparent. Are there latchkey children who need a place to go? Are there students who need tutors? Are there young people that need an activity? Could they benefit by learning an instrument or by being in a choir? Are there elderly who simply need someone to talk to? Are there people who need rides to doctors' offices or to the store? Our niche is out there, we just haven't found it yet.
A number of years ago, the U. S. Army had a recruiting slogan that said, "Be all that you can be." Ironically, God is telling us as a congregation to be all that we can be. It will take prayer, discernment, conversation and action. Aren't these the perfect activities during the season of Lent? Amen.
Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B
The NET Bible notes.