This Week's Sermon
November 10, 2019
I was sitting in The Blue Hippo this Wednesday talking to two new friends of mine. We were discussing the challenges that massive and constant change is bringing to the three different institutions we lead. As we talked, they left behind their sadness at the losses they were grieving, and entered into a lot of excitement. Why? Because they heard about our Sunday Suppers program and they caught the vision that they could become a part of it.
It’s with that conversation ringing in my ears that I re read the scripture passage for today from Ephesians. The writer of this letter was another leader who saw God generate God’s kingdom even as he had to help his community process massive change. Let’s see how they did it.
When he sat down to write this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul began with a greeting, the way all letters from his culture began. In it, we see the theme of the rest of the entire letter.
First, Paul knows who he is: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.
As a leader dealing with change and loss, that is a good place on which to stand.
By the end of this greeting, Paul had offered the security and confidence of his calling to the people that he wrote to in Ephesus:
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
When Paul called the church goers in Ephesus saints, he was not saying they had a special status. He was saying that God had called them out from their larger culture to serve God’s kingdom through their baptism. That is the biblical meaning of the word “saint.” To the degree that God has called us out from our larger culture to serve God’s kingdom, we are saints. This is both as individuals and as a community. In other words, how different are we, as people and as a church, from the culture around us?
Now, this is very interesting, since later this morning we are going into Chamberlain Hall to sing songs from Mary Poppins. We are doing this instead of our postlude and choral response. So, how is it that I am saying “God has called us out from our larger culture to serve God’s kingdom,” and yet I have made arrangements to go sing songs from Hollywood?
The answer to these questions is not just about this morning. It’s a way of living our faith. We look for the things God is doing out there in our larger culture, name the One who who is doing those things as God, gather here to praise and worship God in gratitude, and leave this place to participate with others in God’s life giving work. It doesn’t matter if people outside these doors name the things we do together as things that God is doing. We know who we are and our vocation. As Paul said in the first line of his letter to the Ephesians, that is enough.
Let’s continue with this letter to the Ephesians and see what else it has for us:
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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Let me tell you where Paul and his community was when he wrote those words. Paul was in jail and his church was about to split. Paul was in jail because he was the person God used to unite the Christians who were previously Jewish with Christians who were previously Gentile in Ephesus. This was the first time this had ever happened. Talk about massive change. And people got so angry at Paul for his leadership and his leadership style that they brought charges against him and had him thrown in jail. And, of course, the Christians who were previously Jewish and Gentile were fighting.
So when Paul told them that God had “blessed them with every spiritual blessing in Christ “in the heavenly places,” the location is not yet “on earth as it is in heaven.”
It’s real. It exists. But it isn’t yet in this place. But Paul doesn’t let his or their location limit their future or the reality that God can work through their lives. He goes on to remind them that:
In love God predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as heirs through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.
And, given their current situation, Paul assured them:
in Christ, “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.
So, Paul is sitting in jail, the church he spent a year and a half of his life developing is about to split and all he can do is write them this letter and pray. He told them about God’s will because he believed God’s will to be:
“in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
And, eventually, you know the previously Hebrew Christians and previously Gentile Christians did figure it out and simply become “the church.”
That unity in Christ where there was previously discord was like a seed – it was like yeast blossoming in a lump of dough – it was the beginning of something that is still working itself out.
Now, we have a different situation on our hands. I think we have no idea what our modern technology means for humanity. In my Mother’s generation, their entire world view changed as screens brought stories and images into their living rooms from around the country. In my generation, people had screens in their own bedrooms, we each got to choose what stories and images would form our minds and hearts. My nieces’, generation was the first to be able to move things around on her personal screen with the tip of her finger. My niece also grew up having the entire world available on a tiny screen in her back pocket and going to school with people from at least 4 different world religions.
In this larger culture that I have just described, What can Paul’s vision mean:
“in Christ ... God is uniting all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Based on my experience with God, I believe that those words include love and respect for each person and the culture that each person comes from. This promise from God is not the same thing as religious colonialism.
What ever Paul’s vision means, God is creating it for the first time in our world right now. It’s so exciting!
And this brings me back around to Mary Poppins. I have a long relationship with this story through the first movie that came out in 1964.
My Mother took me to this movie when I was about 3 years old. And, if you read my blog you know that it had a lasting effect on me. I didn’t know until over 50 years later that what I was seeing was written by a woman of faith.
The author of that children’s story devoted herself to growth and growing up in her faith. She told that little children’s tale to bring into the world qualities that she felt the world needed in 1964. Lightness of heart, balance of ambition and relationships, compassionate boundaries and close family connections for children and a meaningful connection between the social classes. All of this was accomplished through playfulness and confidence rather than through being overly serious.
I lit up when I went to that movie at 4 years of age because God was working through it for me and for many others. That movie is a gift that came to a specific time and place, and the movie is a fairy tale. It doesn’t deal with the reality of life at the same level as scripture. But, the One who inspired scripture to be for us the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ also inspired the author of Mary Poppins to give a little gift through her story to this very serious and fearful world.
And, it’s that capacity to spot God doing things, both here in the church and out there in our world that I want to cultivate.
Let’s do it now. Think about your last week. Were you in the office? Were you running around taking care of things for your household? Were you sitting by a loved one’s bedside or even sitting in a waiting room at a medical facility? Every one of us stood full force with the winds of change blowing through our hair this week – if we had hair :-).
Was there some place in there where you lit up? Someone said something, you saw a community event that you knew was a good thing and that called out to you, you noticed two people getting honest and getting closer to trust.
In your baptism, you were called out from the larger culture to come here and learn God’s name, hear the story of how God wants to bless this world in Christ. How you do that in our day and time is to notice where God is blessing the world and then, in the silence of your own heart, give thanks. It starts there. That sets the tone. When we can get good at that, then we will be ready to see where God’s blessings take us - together. For now, as we move through this service and go to sing songs from Mary Poppins, I close with the words that Paul gave us in holy scripture:
In Christ 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[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.