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ALL the Saints

This is the sermon I preached on All Saints' Sunday, 11/3/19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Ephesians 1:11-23.

On All Saints’ [Sun]day, it is not just the saints of the church that we remember in our prayers, but all the foolish ones and wise ones, the shy ones and overbearing ones, the broken ones and whole ones, the despots and tosspots and crackpots of our lives who, one way or another, have been our particular fathers and mothers and saints, and whom we loved without knowing we loved them and by whom we were helped to whatever little we may have, or ever hope to have, of some kind of seedy sainthood of our own [says Frederick Buechner in The Sacred Journey].
Today’s second reading is telling us that all we need to know to be a saint we find in Christ.
The fabulous, flowing language sweeps us away as we hear about all the wonderful things Paul asks God to do for the saints of Ephesus. This letter was meant to be circulated to other churches as well as the church at Ephesus. This message is meant for us today as well.
The phrase "in Christ" begins this reading and runs throughout it. That relationship of the believer to our Lord is the foundation of our faith and the glue that holds it together. Everything for us begins and ends in Christ.
In this relationship, there are four things Paul wanted the churches to know and God wants us to know:
First, in Christ we have hope (vv. 17-18).
Second, in Christ, we have power (vv. 19-20).
Third, in Christ, we have victory (vv. 21-22) and
Fourth in Christ, we have fullness (v. 23)

God wants us to know that in Christ we have hope (vv. 17-18).This hope is rooted in the knowledge of God; coming from the "spirit of wisdom and revelation" for which Paul prayed.
Revelation was not Paul’s main concern here. All kinds of people will tell us crazy things that are contrary to scripture and good judgment, things that God supposedly told them to do out of some revelation that they received of so-called truth. Notice that the prayer for revelation is coupled with prayer for wisdom. They belong together. Revelation without the wisdom of discernment will lead us into all kinds of trouble.
God wants all of us to have a personal, experiential relationship with him. We are underestimating God when we think knowledge about God is all that there is to the Christian life.
Before I was a parent, I thought I knew everything I needed to about raising children. Seeing how other people's children behaved, I knew that MY children would never do that! It wasn't until I became a parent that I could fully understand the joy and angst of raising children.
God wants us to know that in Christ, we have power (vv. 19-20).  And what kind of power is Paul talking about? This is a power of “immeasurable or extraordinary greatness” for us. It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead. It is the power that brings life to death and strength to the weak.
Power is so important for God's people that it is mentioned four times, in one single verse. How great is that power? It is immeasurably great.
We get our word dynamite from the first word for power, which is also used later concerning Christ’s reign “far above all rule and authority and power” (v. 21). The second is power at work, harnessed energy, resurrection power. The presence of significant power—manifest power regards the third occurrence of power. Strength, whether physical or moral is the fourth appearance of the Greek for power. Basically, Paul is talking a lot about lots of kinds of power.
Have we ever been in situations that make us feel powerless as if we had no choice in what was happening around us? There was a time in my life when I felt I had no power concerning my health, my finances or my family. Everything was falling apart and it seemed there was nothing I could do. I felt like a victim. However, it is not in our own strength and determination, but in Christ that we have the power that raises us above the issues we're dealing with.
We can only understand what the real intent of faith is when we come together as a church in God's power to carry out our mission in the world around us. Our call to be salt and light, to bear witness to God's mighty power to bring justice, hope and love to a broken world is beyond our own strength. In Christ's power, we can be and do all God has called us to.
God wants us to know that in Christ we have victory (vv. 21-22). Although circumstances around us may seem to declare the opposite, we live under the promise that no matter how bad things get, God's ultimate victory is certain. As author John Jewell wrote, "We live under the promise of the resurrection, the power of God within the community of faith and the affirmation that 'all things' [not some things] have been put under the feet of Christ who is, 'head over all {things} to the church'" (John Jewell, The certainty of God's victory in the long term empowers our life of faith in the short term.
While working on this sermon, in the background the song “The Voice of Truth,” sung by Casting Crowns was being played. It speaks to the struggles we experience and then goes to this refrain:
But the voice of truth tells me a different story.
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.
(Songwriters: Steven Curtis Chapman/Mark Hall, recorded by Casting Crowns)

Finally, God wants us to know that in Christ we have fullness (v. 23). What is meant by this word? Jesus brings completeness and maturity to our lives as we abide in Him. This is not any old relationship. It is not a “Jesus and me” fullness for us individually, but one we experience as part of the body of Christ. In the church, the body of Christ is "the [completion] of him who fills all in all" (v. 23b). 
The Apostle Paul's prayer in Ephesians shows us God's design for his church. In Christ, we have hope, power, victory and fullness. However, we live in the now/not yet of the kingdom of God. We possess the Holy Spirit now, a guarantee that God will give us the balance of the promised blessings in the future, the not yet.
We live in a broken world. Many Christians throughout the ages have found themselves opposing kings, rulers and governments. We sometimes forget that confessing Christ as “Lord” was a political statement in Paul’s day. We tend to spiritualize scripture and miss the political messages. In the first century, to say that Christ was Lord meant that Caesar was not Lord. That was dangerous, seditious talk and could lead to prison or death.
Today as people of God, we need to decide with whom we are aligned. Is it with the government whether right or wrong? Yes, we are Americans and we love and appreciate our country, but it doesn’t mean that everything that Washington declares is right. Our ultimate allegiance needs to be to the Lord Jesus and his church, which doesn’t make us un-American. If it’s a matter of faithfulness to the country or Christ, we better choose Christ. That was the problem in Nazi Germany. Most of the churches caved into becoming tools of the Third Reich, with the exception of a group of faithful churches, called the Confessing Church, which included such people as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 
Living as God's church, with Christ as our head demonstrates our openness to God, to each other and to the cries of a broken world. Others will enter into this reality by experiencing our life together. Do people see the fullness of Christ in our worship and in our lives? If not, why not?
We have this amazing treasure in Christ. Right here, right now, we are all living this life as God’s  saints, doing God’s work with our hands and feet because God has freed us and gifted us to do so. Let's not keep God’s gifts in a box all to ourselves.  Let God loose in our lives, our church and our world, just as the saints who came before us did. What a difference that will make!
Richard Niell Donovan,
John Jewell,
Norma Malfatti, Midweek Musings, Upstate NY Synod
New English Translation, notes
Mark Tranvik,


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