“Earth” by Kevin Gill (2015)
Ephesians 1.1-14 (NRSV)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Listen • “How to Explain What You Do, When You’re A Pastor” (https://youtu.be/L6TGxKvSqH8)
From now on, I am going to outsource my sermon jokes.
Betty and John shared this video with me – I would push him on the “behavioral alteration” part … to me, the church is more in the business of “transformation” … but still, I really like how he points us to how big the church is. He reminds us how many good things churches are part of. I love that! He stretches us out … He reminds us God is up to something big and the church (you and me, the other churches in town, churches throughout the world) are invited to be part of it.
That pastor reminds us that as the church, we are part of something big!
I think our passage from Ephesians is doing something similar.
We don’t know exactly what was happening with the church in Ephesus.
Ephesians has a different tone than Paul’s other letters. It is less personal and more general than other letters Paul wrote.
Ephesians’ structure is a little different from Paul’s other letters. It has a beginning and ending similar to other ancient letters, but some people think the middle part is more like an ancient sermon than an ancient letter. Paul doesn’t offer the intense corrections he does in other letters. He doesn’t seem to be responding to the congregations’ questions, or addressing reports and rumors of bad and destructive behavior in the church like he does in other letters.
There is even debate whether or not the Apostle Paul actually wrote Ephesians or if one of his students did. (There are interesting arguments on either side of the debate, but in our Ephesians sermon series, I will stick with the church tradition that Paul wrote Ephesians.)
Ephesians is more general and streamlined than some of Paul’s other letters – which is nice for us, because it can give us a clearer picture of Paul’s theology. We can more simply see Paul’s understanding of who God is, what God has done in Christ, and what that means for us – how we are supposed to live in response to God’s action in Christ.
A very simple outline of Ephesians could have two basic parts. The first part looks at who God is, what God has done, and who we are. The second part looks at what this all means for our lives as Christians.
Ephesians is addressed to the “saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.”
These saints aren’t-super-Christians. These saints are people; just like you and me.
When Paul addresses saints, he is writing to the church, to the holy and faithful people of God. When we think about holiness and what it means to be holy, we need to remember that in the bible, holiness has to do with something or someone being set apart for God’s use. Holiness looks a lot more like volunteering with the food bank, helping with Vacation Bible School, or even chopping up firewood for someone who needs help – holiness looks more like someone who gives themselves completely over to God’s work, rolling up their sleeves and breaking a sweat, than it looks like something we set on a shelf and don’t ever touch, except for special occasions.
This letter is addressed to the church, the holy and faithful people of God, to the community of Christians, the saints, in Ephesus, the people who are seeking to faithfully follow Christ and be used for God’s purposes.
This letter didn’t stay with the Christians in Ephesus. They found it useful and helpful in forming the faith and life of their church, so they shared it with churches in other places. Those congregations valued it and gave it authority to shape their lives, and they passed it on to other communities of Christians. As we read Ephesians together in our worship, we are continuing this tradition.
The passage Margaret read for us can be disorienting.
There is so much happening in it.
There are all these great phrases … these bits and pieces that catch my attention – “destined for adoption as God’s children” … “Riches of his grace that he lavished on us” … “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” There are all these powerful insights, but I had a hard time connecting with the whole passage. As I read and prayed through it, I felt like I was missing something important that could help me connect the bits and pieces I underlined in my bible … there has to be a piece that could pull all of this stuff together.
Finally, I came across that missing piece.
I tend to read this passage like I am reading a theology textbook, but what if that isn’t the most helpful way to read this part of the letter?
There are all sorts of genres in the bible. There are stories … histories … genealogies … letters … there are parts that read more like sermons, parts that seem more like theology textbooks … there are even songs and poems. Sometimes these different genres show up right next to each other. I came across a few bible scholars who wondered if this first part of Ephesians could be poetry. Some even compared this passage to something like a moving hymn or a song. That seems helpful to me.
My hunch is that this first part of Ephesians uses poetry to stretch us out and remind us that God has invited us … God has called us to be part of something really big … something earth changing and life shaking. This passage is stretching us out and teaching us that as disciples of Jesus, we are part of something really big.
Paul uses big, powerful, expressive language in our passage.
Blessing. Praise. Purpose. Lavish. Glorious. Destiny. Good pleasure. Redemption. Forgiveness. Mystery revealed. Riches. Inheritance. Glory.
These are words that stretch us out.
Paul connects us with the big thing God is doing and centers us right in the middle of God’s action. Through Christ, God’s purposes are being worked out. God’s plan, for the fullness of time; God’s work to gather up all things in Christ is happening all around us, in us and, even, through us. This is isn’t God’s last ditch effort to salvage a lost cause. This is what God has been consistently working toward all along.
We are in the middle of this big thing because of God’s goodness and love. We are included because of the grace we have received in Christ. The way Paul writes about God’s action reminds us how big, how good, how amazing God is, and how incredible it is that we are a part of what God is working toward.
Do you all have any songs you listen to that pump you up – kind of like those songs baseball players choose to play before they are up to bat?
I think this first part of Ephesians is the church’s pump up song!
Paul is encouraging the church … he is pumping us up, He is reminding us that God is big and good, and, most of all ,working all around us. God is moving and acting to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.
God is doing something big, and by God’s grace you have been invited to be a part of it. God has been and is working toward a purpose. Before all time, through all time, God is working to gather up all things in Christ.
There is more happening than we can see! God is at work, faithfully, constantly, bringing all things to Christ. As the church, as the saints, the holy and faithful people of God, we have been pulled into what God is doing … God is up to something big in Christ.
God is up to something big in us and through us.