15 August 2021 Overwhelmed by abundance Martin Baker
1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In 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, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In 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; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
A few weeks ago, now, the wife of a friend of ours invited us to her husband’s birthday party. I didn’t know this couple all that well, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.Were we talking about a more casual BBQ? A few sausages, a salad and a cheerio or two? A balloon on the gate? I didn’t know if there were going to be 4 or 40 people there.
We arrived and I realised that I had completely underestimated the occasion. There were just six of us, and it was a quite formal dinner. But what made it extraordinary was that Simon whose birthday it was had spent days preparing the food for the event. He had gone to great trouble and expense. I didn’t realise that this was his passion, and the food he prepared was of a standard that I imagine few restaurants could even begin to match.
Have you ever had that experience? Where you haven’t known what to expect and you are overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of your host, wonderful food, really great conversation?
An event that I thought was going to be pretty straight forward turned into something exceptional.
All Bible readings are exceptional but this one from Paul’s letter to the churches in Ephesus is utterly exceptional.
They are words that place Gospel in the context of the the wonders of the universe.
Before the foundations of the earth.Glorious grace. Gathering up all things. Live in praise and glory.
So, imagine our reading this morning as our Biblical grand dinner, or amazing unexpected feast.
In fact, in Greek it is written that way – famous - 14 verses where there are no full stops, commas, there is no pause in the language, in its essence there is great wave of grace and love and promise and hope.
The point in this text is that it is for you and me. To celebrate and enjoy what Christ has done for us.
Sometimes we look at a Biblical text in the same way we might put our eyeball right up close to a great painting. While it may be important sometimes to have that detail, at times the real glory and understanding only comes from standing back.
You have this wonderful inheritance this assured blessing, so let’s let just pause and focus and celebrate that.
However, behind this reading there is a key principle of faith. And it settles on a decision that we can make for ourselves, and test our views against. It is what we could call the principle of abundance or poverty.
And the question that comes from this isdo we see the world from the acknowledgement of all that we have or do we see the world from the position of all that we feel we lack or do not have?
It can sound superficial but it is a matter that goes to the heart of our faith.
The money I don’t have, the family that hasn’t worked out, the other who is happy, healthier more beautiful. That it is the impoverishment view, and that can be a grim insatiable and very hungry presence with us.But it is a view promoted so heavily in our advertising, on social media. And it has often a devastating effect on our young people and our teenagers.I am inadequate, not good enough. Not enough friends or clothes and no matter what I do I am never going to be those beautiful people doing those wonderful things that I see people doing on social media.
But here this morning, that impoverishment view of the world is shattered by Paul. We are challenged each of us now to see ourselves as the recipients of a wonderful gift.
11In 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, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
And just a short note here. The word inheritance here is more to do with the idea of not just personal inheritance, it’s not like you have just been given grandmas 50 inch smart tv,but more the idea of inheriting the farm or the business. It comes with joy but also comes with a sense of responsibly and challenge. Now that you have inherited this how are you going to make the most of what you have for the benefit of others as well.
So simple but critical messages this morning.
God’s promise and assurance is surprising and overwhelming. It fills every part of life and it is based on the promise of being adopted, receiving an extraordinary inheritance.
And the challenge, is that with all this promise, and all the assurance of adoption and inheritance, there comes a fundamental shift in the way we see ourselves and others. A view not based on poverty or lack, or comparison with others.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
I see things now as the recipient of a wonderful and enormous act of blessing.
Finally, in talking about this letter it can make it sound very intellectual, something that we mainly grapple with in our heads perhaps.
But that was never Paul’s intentions.
Toward the end of his life Paul was under house arrest in Rome. While he was there he wrote this letter to the churches that surrounded the city of Ephesus.
Paul was talking about bringing unity between groups of people that had disliked, avoided, feared each other for centuries. How in the world could Jews live together, in the same community, as brothers and sisters, with Gentiles? Humanly speaking, it was impossible.
Paul sets the tone and lays the foundation for the whole thing. How can two warring factions come together in unity? The only way this is possible is because of the promise that God has made about the future.
The fact that God is working, right now, to bring all things together.
With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
I am conscious at the moment that there is so much language that works to define distinction and difference. Age, culture, gender.Now under the threat of the virus we have those views entrenched even down to the fact that some places, people, countries are safe and unsafe. On the train even there are people who wear masks and those who don’t.
It is not a popular thing today, but Paul is speaking into those spaces of separation and distance. Even those words and attitudes that reinforce difference.
And he makes this remarkable claim. He says God has a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
So, this morning, let’s respond to Paul’s challenge. And commit to building bridges basedon the claim of a shared inheritance, a commitment to see the world from a place of abundance - and finally a commitment to witness to our faith, as big as the universe, and established before time. A certain hope that brings us together in wonder and glory and praise.
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