Sorry for the delay in posting my last sermon, but in the two weeks since that time, I have celebrated my 30th birthday and also we celebrated 10 years as a parish.
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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
(Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV)
How many of us love a good book? or a movie? Who doesn’t love the surprise of a plot twist or clenched teeth of a climax in a suspenseful movie? Why do we love books and movies so much? I think because it creates a different world. That’s the reason I love authors like CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Harper Lee, they create worlds with their words that even though we have an idea of the ending still leave us surprised and excited about the end.
For many of us, we have forgotten that Scriptures are telling a story from the beginning to the end– they are telling a story of redemption, of sacrifice, and of a calling. From the first chapter of Genesis, we see God calling man, man failing at that calling, and God reaching out again to call him again. Over and over and over. Scripture is the story of Israel, how she failed at her calling/vocation, she was made to face her actions, and then God’s love called out again. The story of Jesus is the story of Israel being fulfilled perfectly. NT Wright says:
He [Jesus] was, in himself, the “true Israel,” formed by scripture, bringing the Kingdom to birth. When he spoke of the scripture needing to be fulfilled he was not simply envisaging himself doing a few scattered and random acts which corresponded to various distant and detached prophetic sayings; he was thinking of the entire storyline at last coming to fruition, and of an entire world of hints and shadows now coming to plain statement and full light.
In today’s Epistle, S. Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus and placing the church (and us by extension and membership) into the story of Israel. This is a story that goes back farther than they could imagine, that goes back to Abraham and God talking in the desert. You see this whole section of Scripture starting with v. 3 is a re-telling of the Exodus story– of God’s promised redemption and the calling of the redeemed people to fulfill His covenant.
One of my favorite memories is participating in my first passover seder dinner. During the Seder, there are several moments when we talked about God redeeming US from Egypt, and saving US from the Egyptians, etc and etc. This is something called Anamnesis– a recalling into the present of a past act. What happens in the passover is that the act of God in saving his people in brought into the present. This is the same thing that happens when we say the Eucharistic prayer. We recall, or bring to the present, HIs death, resurrection, and ascension. We participate, in a very real way, in that story. That is what is happening here in Paul’s writing to the church in Ephesus.
Paul, in very beautiful language, is re-telling the Exodus story in light of Jesus, calling us to rejoice in God’s redemption of us. We are called, or pre-destined, to join in God’s covenant people. In the Old Testament, that covenant was signified by circumcision, by a physical act. In the New Testament, we are elected into the covenant through the sacrament of baptism. This baptism is connected in a whole myriad of ways to the Passover story. In the Thanksgiving over the Water in our Baptismal liturgy, it even says:
We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.
Our story is placed into the story of Jesus, which is the fufillment of the story of Israel. Paul is telling us, that all that God had called Israel to be, was and is continuing to be fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our story is not just 2000 years old, but a continuation of the story of Israel that we read from Genesis 1 and on. Paul then continues this imagery with the language of adoption.
Turn with me to Exodus 12 v. 43 – 13 v.2
We see God telling Moses that the firstborn sons would be consecrated to him, named as his. Paul is then telling us in our lesson today that we are called sons, adopted, and viewed as Jesus, the firstborn son of God. God no longer views us as foreigners in the land, but through his Son, as the true people of God.
Now, many people today, might have a problem with Paul’s language here using “son” for all people. I’ve even seen this translated as children in some versions. However, what he is saying here is very important. Paul is writing from a traditional eastern culture. Tim Keller tells a great story of a friend of his who grew up in a traditional Eastern household. She was one of several daughters and there was just one son. He goes onto to say:
it was understood in her culture that he would receive most of the family’s provisions and honor. In essence, they said, “He’s the son; you’re just a girl.” That’s just the way it was.
One day she was studying a passage on adoption in Paul’s writings. She suddenly realized that the apostle was making a revolutionary claim. Paul lived in a traditional culture just like she did. He was living in a place where daughters were second-class citizens. When Paul said—out of his own traditional culture—that we are all sons in Christ, he was saying that there are no second-class citizens in God’s family. When you give your life to Christ and become a Christian, you receive all the benefits a son enjoys in a traditional culture. As a white male, I’ve never been excluded like that. As a result, I didn’t see the sweetness of this welcome. I didn’t recognize all the beauty of God’s subversive and revolutionary promise that raises us to the highest honor by adopting us as his sons.
Our calling into Christ is an honor that is bestowed on us. We are loved as Christ is loved. We are honored like he is honored. We have dignity. Being adopted as sons means that we have rights to the inheritance that God has promised us through Jesus. That’s why this language is important! We, who are placed into Christ through baptism, are no longer counted as outside the household of God. We are called, we are adopted, and we are given a responsibility. Being called a son of God means that we represent His name. Being called a son of God means that we are to represent his will to all people. This is where the concept of the priesthood of all believers comes into play. We are called to show God to the world, just like Israel was called to show God to the world. You see, when God tells Israel– I will bless you to be a blessing– He is saying the EXACT SAME thing to us. We are adopted and we are called for a mission and purpose. This isn’t about a ‘Fire Insurance policy’ or a ‘Get Out of Hell free card,’ it’s about allowing the life of Jesus to live through us on a daily basis.
But finally, we come to the end of the verses– starting in v. 10 and one of my favorite Greek words–
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
There is one word I want to concentrate on here in this section: anakephalaioó (an-ak-ef-al-ah’-ee-om-ahee)
That’s a fun word to say!
This word that Paul uses and is translted in our Scripture as “to unite all things.” This word is only used twice in the NT. Paul uses the word here at the *almost* end of the this run-on sentence of a hymn to bring us to the mystery of what God is doing–
You can almost hear the reader who is reading Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus losing breath at this moment, he or she stops, and then this word comes out and there. are. gasps.
Paul is saying that all that was happening before– the calling of Abraham, the calling of Israel, the passover, the falls and the rises of the Kingdoms– they are all being summed up, recapitulated, re-worked in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In Jesus, ALL THINGS are being summed up into Christ. All things are finding their meaning. All things.
What that means is that the good and bad find their meaning in Jesus. And if you watch the news, you know that our world seems to have a whole lot more bad than good.
All those things, even the things that make no sense to us, are being summed up in Jesus, and being re-told through Him.
I love stories. I love to hear people tell funny, hilarious, and life-giving stories. Think of the best story of a trip that you’ve had. When you tell it, do you focus on what went right or what went wrong? The most mundane details become a huge part of the story because we all are expecting that belly laugh of an ending. A lot of times, our stories are filled with tragic events and circumstances that can leave your heartbreaking. I have a few of those in my history and I am sure you do also. They may not end in a funny laugh, but something is learned and the story gives something to the listener.
That’s what Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus here– God is telling us, that through Jesus, our story is being re-told as sons of God, is being re-told as the Faithful Israel. Dignity of that sonship is being restored. And all those rough and dirty places and parts of our lives are not being forgetten, but are being re-worked, re-written, and re-told in the light of the conclusion. According to Paul, God is retelling…everything. Its disunited, fractured, broken, parts are laying scattered all over the place, and it brings God pleasure to bring it all back together in unity. In Christ.
Your broken heart?All things.
Fractured relationships?All things.
According to Paul, this is what brings God pleasure.
This is what God is up to in the world.
This is what God is now doing.
And not only is God doing this for us at this time, we see a promise that God is going to restore all things in heaven and earth under Christ. That’s the Kingdom. That’s what we pray every day in the Lord’s prayer: On earth as it is in heaven.
And Paul is telling us that all this brings God…what…disgust? contempt? NO! Pleasure!
God is joyful to enact this act of redemption for HIS people. This recapitulation, this re-telling, this reconciliation of all things brings God joy and pleasure!
How amazing is that! How joyful we should be!
So as we go out this week, may we remember that we are called, not to be safe and secure in our church buildings and bible study groups, no, we are called to be a blessing, to live into the covenant promises that God has placed us into with his baptism.
May we remember that we are called sons of God, with all the dignity that comes with that, and that as members of the body of Christ that we are grafted into him.
May we rest also in the promise that God is re-telling our story, that even the places we want to forget, that God remembers and in that remembering, his mercy and justice will be shown to be stronger than the pain.
Finally, may we remember that as called and adopted sons of the Most High God, our story is written with the conclusion in mind, that in the summing up of all things, that we will be found in Christ and God’s love will truly win.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.