Blessed, Ephesians 1:3-14
First United Methodist Church, July 15, 2018
Toni L. Carmer
Though I hadn't thought of titling the past several weeks of messages as a series as we looked at Paul's letter to the people of Corinth, "Difficult Conversations" would have worked very well. There were some things happening that Paul had to address in order to correct and then heal and restore the relationship he shared with the church he had built there.
As we step this morning into this letter written to the Ephesians we can see a fairly dramatic change in mood and spirit from what we've seen in his letter to the Corinthians. Written about 5 years later, the writer (who not everyone is convinced is Paul, but we'll go with his authorship) isn't looking to correct a misbehavior or to confront a heresy. Instead, he's presenting the Gospel for teaching and worship. Paul is so elated with this Gospel, that he wants the church to hear and to know and to be lifted up, as well. He wants the church to know how loved they are, how blessed they are. In knowing this, how else could they respond but in praise?
As we begin reading, Paul offers words of praise and thanksgiving for what God has done in Christ. When I think of images for these first few verses of Ephesians, I think of joy, laughter, and celebration. We might envision him sitting out on a porch looking out at the beautiful countryside with the sea in the distance, breathing in his blessings. Perhaps as he writes, down the way, he can hear a couple of his followers talking about what they'd learned that day, discussing their understanding of the sacrament—is bread and wine somehow Christ's actual blood and body or are they symbols? Maybe there's a faithful old dog laying at his feet and a cup of ice tea on the table next to him. It sounds good, inspiring. That's the kind of setting from which we would most likely expect these words of praise to arise.
Instead, Paul is most likely writing from a prison cell in Rome. But it's not where he is, it is what God has done for him through Christ that joys his heart and soul. He's writing this letter to be circulated among each of the churches he's built—he can't be there with them, but he is still their teacher, their mentor and encourager. It's a message for each of them, and it's an message for us, as well, the church in our world today. Paul resides within this difficult place and time where his body is confined, but he's able to see beyond all this and to set his focus on the One who gave him life, on the One who has blessed him in amazing ways.
Because it's a letter written to all his churches, perhaps it is appropriate for us to hear it being addressed in the way Paul intended. Our text begins with verse 3, but hear now these words beginning with verse 1:
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God's will.
To the holy and faithful people in Christ Jesus in Plymouth.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This Gospel isn't only meant for the people of Ephesus, it's meant for us.
Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven.
As Paul writes, we're reminded, that it is always God who takes the initiative. As we consider our faith, the beginning point is always with God and God's love for us. That feels a little off to us, because it is through these eyes and these ears and this heart that I perceive the world. I take it all in and process it and create my own perspective. Therefore, it's not so hard to see how we come to think that it's all about us. "It is all about me, you know?" But we can see as our scriptures unfold, in Genesis 1, we are pointed to God. It doesn't start with us, our faith story begins with God. "In the beginning," it is about who God is and what God is doing. And it seems that God had us in mind from the very beginning, as God created a place that would support and sustain human life.
It all starts with God, it's about God…and God's love for us, even before the earth was formed…even before we were formed in our mother's wombs (Jeremiah 1:5).
That's reason to celebrate!
God chose us, Paul says, to be holy and blameless in God's presence before the creation of the world.
God chose us.
It feels pretty good to be chosen, doesn't it? Maybe you remember standing with a group of kids waiting to be chosen by the captain. Two captains, a whole slew of us…they go back and forth, picking the strongest players first, or maybe choosing their friends first. There you stand, trying to be cool…not the best of athletes, but not the worse, either. I couldn't hit very hard but I could run. Choose me, choose me! And then there are those last couple of kids, no one seems to care which team they go on, because the teams have already started to organize. Okay, you go there and you go there. How awful.
I hope they don't do that anymore, maybe they count off or something. It feels pretty awesome to be chosen. And pretty awful to be left standing there knowing nobody is really excited about having you join them.
But God chose us first. All of us. No matter how hard we hit or how fast we run, God has chosen us, wants us, has made it clear that the team isn't complete unless you're there…not because of how cool you are, or because God feels sorry for you because you're NOT cool. But God chooses us because of who GOD is, and who WE are in God's eyes… Way cool.
That's a reason to celebrate!
God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love, Paul continues (v.5). God's desire is that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. When you see the word "destine" in this text, here and in a little bit when we talk about the "end times" don't get caught up in the word "predestination." It's not about a limited number, it's not that everything is all planned out, that Joe and Barb are included but George and Sue aren't, no matter what they do or how much they want it. Instead, it's about God's desire to receive us all. As "adopted" children, we who are Gentiles are grafted into the long history of God's people. Adoption is a very intentional decision, it's not something that happens by chance. We have been received as God's own.
At some level I understand what that feels like. My own father exited the scene when I was about 6 or so, and he kind of danced around the edges of my life until I graduated from high school. I've only seen him a couple of times since. Another man raised me. He didn't legally adopt me but he claimed me as his child and I never once felt that he loved me any differently than my brother and sister who were his blood kids. He received me as his own.
Scott and I have 5 grandchildren and 2 of them came to us by marriage. Our son is raising them as my step-dad raised me. We love them dearly and our hearts would break if they were to separate from us. They're ours. Our family.
How much more perfect is God's love for us! How amazing it is that God has welcomed us into the family.
That's reason to celebrate!
In verse 7 we're told we have been ransomed through his Son's blood (through Jesus), and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace.
Christ died for us. Gave up his life for us. Offered us new life. Forgiveness. Again, it's about what God has done through Christ. Not what we've done. We've all failed. We've all fallen short. But God offers us grace, showers it down upon us, abundantly.
Here's what Frederick Buechner has to say about grace in his book, Wishful Thinking:
After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody's much interested anymore. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.
Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.
A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. Have you ever tried to love somebody?
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do.
The grace of God means something like: "Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you."
There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.
Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”
That's reason to celebrate!
In verses 10 and 11 we read, This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. Again, don't think of predestination. But be comforted in knowing that the world is not simply subject to fate and chance. We aren't at the mercy of the whiles and whims of ~whatever~. Knowing that it is all in God's hands anchors us in God and allows us to bury our feet deep in what is real and true and constant. The prayer that we offer that God's will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, is as true now as it was when Jesus taught it to his disciples. That looks to us to be an amazing feat, since we're aware that the things in heaven along with the things on earth is really BIG. It is amazing to think that God's peace will prevail in all things…that God's will will be done. But Paul tells us that everything will be accomplished according to God's design.
That's reason to celebrate.
Our response? It comes to us in verse 12: We are called to be an honor to God's glory. We are called to be God's people, to respond by loving God and loving one another. The Holy Spirit has been given to equip us so that we can do what may sometimes seem beyond our ability. But again, when we remember that it's about who God is and what God can do, and not about who we are and what we can do…well, that is indeed reason to celebrate.
May we have confidence in the one who loves us, who has redeemed us, and to whom all glory is due.