~ Sermon ~ Sunday, July 15th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~
You Are Blessed
Reading and hearing this passage from Ephesians can be a bit challenging in the best of times. But to subject you to it in the midst of the summer season in Charlevoix can be a bit like sitting down to a picnic on the patio or deck overlooking the water on an unusually warm day and being served a steaming hot bowl of thick beef stew. Not really what you have an appetite for! Perhaps a nice Michigan cherry chicken salad would be more palatable.
The very first sentence can be a mouthful for the reader and an earful for the listener! And if we’re honest, we’re probably more in the mood for a nice little parable this morning than this densely worded, run-on sentence. Yes, in the original Greek much of this is one long sentence!
But even with all this, I want us to hear in the denseness of Paul’s words, the wonderful good news carried in phrases like :
“blessed in Christ”, “chose us in Christ”,
“destined us for adoption”,
“God’s glorious grace freely bestowed”,
“the riches of God’s grace lavished on us”.
“Made known to us the mystery of his will”
“So that we might live for the praise of God’s glory.”
Paul has heaped superlative upon superlative, one blessing piled on another as if he thinks the little congregation in Ephesus does not believe him. And one might suspect that this may be the case.
The congregation in Ephesus, like all the “churches” in Asia Minor (If you can call them “churches” at this point in their development.) was a small loosely organized movement. And in this very cosmopolitan city, Ephesus was the seat of the region’s governor, a city of great wealth and power; this fledgling sect of Christ followers was up against some pretty big cultural forces.
Ephesians is thought to have been a “circular letter” sent and meant to be read in many congregations. If so “Paul” writes to this church and the other struggling fellowships to remind and encourage them,
“Don’t listen to the voices of the culture around you.
Don’t feel shame because you’re not as big and well attended and funded as the temple to the Artemis, you are blessed in Christ! (The Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.)
Don’t feel of like you are of little value, you are destined for adoption, the riches of God’s grace lavished on you! A glorious grace freely bestowed.
Don’t feel abandoned, God chose you in Christ.
Don’t say “Who are we or what difference can we make.” With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will.
Yes, you, little church in Ephesus.
Yes, I’m talking to you, First Congregational Charlevoix Michigan!
And by the way, Paul reminds them, this is all God’s doing not yours! It is a gift! You do not have to earn it! You can’t acquire it, it is gift, a amazing gift of grace. All that is needed is to believe it and accept it!
We may not feel it as much here in northern Michigan, but I suspect we do or at least we are aware of it, the world, culture, society is telling the church “You’re no longer relevant!”
We are told, the church has little if any influence. Nobody pays any attention to you. The church may have been a place of influence “once upon a time” but like all other stories that begin with those words, the church is now only a fairy tale, like those stories found in that book you people take so seriously.
We are told indirectly and directly that we have nothing important to say to the world’s issues. That’s the political realm and religion and politics are two separate things. Well, I couldn’t disagree more! If your faith doesn’t impact your politics then I would question your faith!
Perhaps we have lost our place in our culture and we certainly do not have the influence we once did. (Like 60+ years ago, the “Good old days!”) But actually the church and the culture were more closely aligned back then and I’m not sure that was always a good thing. Because from the beginning, since the time of the church’s founder, that fellow out of Nazareth, his movement has always been counter-cultural!
It can be easy for us to look around and feel the world is “going to H in a hand basket.” Bu Paul is saying to us through these Ephesians, “no” as difficult as it may seem to believe, trust that “all things in the fullness of time will be gathered up in Christ, things in heaven and on earth!
“So that we who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”(12)
These words of Paul are important. He is telling us about the sort of life we should be living as people who are adopted, graced, and richly blessed with this immense inheritance of love. Paul says this inheritance is a way of life. And he says it twice to make sure the church hears it. Paul refers to this way of life as living to “the praise of God’s glory” (vss. 12 & 14). It is a journey “toward redemption as God’s own people” (v. 14).
The words “praise” and “glory” are easily domesticated by the church. They can become little more than words of a hymn or what we call a certain style of worship. The glory of God for Paul – a rabbi by training – is the kabod, the weight and gravitas of the presence of Holy. Paul imagines the church of the Ephesians and the Ephesus’s of today living as a people known not for their praise of human institutions or idols or ideas but for their joy in what Christ is doing to redeem aching souls and a suffering world.
Paul is imagining the church even today, as marked by people who keep a consistent focus on what God is doing in its midst and in the midst of a troubled earth.
We can have this hope not because all this is visible to us, but because according to Paul we have knowledge of God’s final plan as yet only partially realized but one day to be fulfilled.
How do we know all this to be true and that we are not the victims of some self-imposed delusion? Again Paul provides an answer here. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit, which according to Paul is the “down payment” on the ultimate inheritance of unity and peace. Where the church in all and every age, praises God and confesses Christ as Lord, that Spirit is present, assuring us that the divine goal will one day in fact become reality.
Indeed we are blessed. Let us live into the blessing.
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