Last week I was away in Gettysburg at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary for a wonderful week of continuing education, fellowship, rest and worship. I did not have the opportunity to post my sermon from that Sunday. Below is the sermon from Sunday, July 19th. It is based on Ephesians 1:3-14. This is the message I shared with St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church.
Have you ever been in a meeting that is boring you to tears? And you look outside the window and it's a beautiful day, the sun is shining. Birds are chirping and bunny rabbits are hoping across the lawn. And you would much rather be outside with the bunnies than inside in this boring meeting. Now certainly, none of you feel that way at this moment.
Author and church renewal consultant, Kelly Fryer, tells about a time in seminary when she was listening to an uninteresting lecture on a beautiful day when everyone would rather be outside. Apparently the professor sensed that nobody was being attentive because suddenly he closed his notebook and stopped talking. “He wasn’t going to waste one more breath on us,” she writes. But before leaving the lecture hall, he picked up a piece of chalk and going to the blackboard he drew a huge arrow pointing straight down. He stood back and told the class, “If you understand that, you understand everything you need to know about what it means to be a Christian...” and with that he left the room. Everyone remained for a time staring at the arrow pointing downward. Fryer admits that the most logical thing she could think was, “He thinks we’re all going to hell.” But the next time the class met, the professor began his lecture by drawing the same arrow on the board. This time he had everyone’s complete attention. “Here’s what this means,” he told them. “God always comes down. God always comes down. There is never anything that we can do to turn that arrow around and make our way UP to God. God came down in Jesus. And God still comes down, in the bread and in the wine, in the water and in the fellowship of believers. God ALWAYS comes down.”
This is fleshed out in today's reading from Ephesians, which begins with a flood of poetry. It is filled with many images, promises and challenges. The passage is like a rushing stream that looks easy to wade in, but sweeps us off our feet by its power. Numerous times Paul speaks of our relationship in, through and on Christ. In each verse that speaks of this relationship, there is something we receive because of it. Lastly, Paul explains why God did all of this.
How Did We Get to Be Who We Are?
The key to understanding our own identity is through our relationships. We are children of our parents. We may be a brother or sister as well as a parent, grandparent and so on. The same is true in our spiritual family.
Our relationship with God's Son, Jesus Christ is at the crux of today's reading. As a result of our relationship with Jesus, we are recipients of numerous benefits. Among them, we are given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (v. 3).
We often speak casually about blessings. Ephesians would have us understand that we don’t know the half of it. We are blessed in ways that are literally of cosmic dimensions.
God’s blessing toward us is expressed in three ways. First, God chooses us: “. . . just as he chose us in Christ. . . . He destined us for adoption” (vv. 4, 5). We are blessed because we have been chosen, adopted, and incorporated into both God’s earthly and heavenly families.
God is praised for having chosen and adopted us as God's own people before the foundation of the world (v. 4). We were destined to be adopted as God's children through Jesus Christ (v. 5).
Adoption was a common practice in antiquity.The adopted person gained social status through association with the adoptive parents. Adopted children gained wealth through their inheritance (v. 11). By using the word inheritance, Paul is reinforcing the communal and familial nature of our relationship not only to God, but to one another.
In the same way, our adoption by God, was an action planned by God (vv. 5, 9, 10, 11), which is pleasing to God (v. 5). It results in the praise of God (vv. 6, 14) by the adopted ones, who have a share in an inheritance from God (v. 14). The Holy Spirit which is received in baptism guarantees the inheritance until full possession is acquired.
The second blessing is that, God redeems us. We are, by the riches of God’s grace, fashioned into new creatures, our past sin and brokenness is left behind. Whatever we may have been before—is put behind us, covered by his redemptive grace.
The final blessing is that God unites us. God brings unity to all things in his creation: the mystery that is revealed is God's plan for the fullness of time: to gather up all things in Christ--things in the heavens and things on the earth. We no longer wander aimlessly through life because we have a destiny according to God's purpose (v. 11). It is not something we have to strive for because God accomplishes it all according to his will. We have set our hope on Christ and can live for his glory (v. 12).
So, what difference does this passage of Ephesians make in our daily lives? This spiritual inheritance doesn't help us with our bills or our kids' college tuitions.
What if orienting our lives in the promises of God, and in the community of God led us to seek equality and justice so that all may know that they too are beloved children of God?
The last few weeks have given us a lot to think about. In Charleston, at Emanuel AME Church, Our brothers and sisters in Christ were killed while in at a Bible study. The accused shooter was a baptized child of God. Their worlds and ours were turned upside down with the horror of the shooting.
We still have a struggle with racism. Have we made any progress since the 1960s? Some would say yes and some would say no.
A symbol of the Confederacy was flying over a statehouse. People on each side of the issue were equally passionate in their feelings as to whether the flag should come down or not. If a Confederate flag hurts and offends our brothers and sisters, shouldn't it be obvious that it needs to be removed?
In Paul's letter to the Romans, he teaches that "it is not good to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble" (Romans 14:21). Certainly symbols of racism and prejudice fall into this category.
We've lost sight of one thing in the argument over the flag. Simply taking down the Confederate flag is not going to miraculously cure all the racial problems in our country. In order to solve the problems of racism and prejudice, we have to change our hearts, not a flag. Jesus said that all people would know we are his disciples if we love one another.
What if the words "marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit" were not simply words recalled in baptism, but were a means to live our lives and to treat others as we would want to be treated? As we leave church today, let us not only look for opportunities to share the gospel, but for ways to treat those we meet with dignity and respect.
Kelly A. Fryer, Reclaiming the "L" Word: Renewing the Church from its Lutheran Core
Susan Hylen, workingpreacher.org
Margaret Y. MacDonald, Sacra Pagina Series, Volume 17: Colossians and Ephesians