Sunday 28 October 2018 The cycle of grace and thanksgiving MartinBaker
We begin, today, our 4 week series on the letter to theEphesians
The use of letters (or epistles) was a common form of bothcommunication but also teaching in the Greco-Roman world.
It is likely that this particular letter was circulatedbetween many early Christian communities – for both instruction andencouragement.
3 Blessedbe the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christwith every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as hechose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blamelessbefore him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his childrenthrough Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in theBeloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, theforgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has madeknown to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he setforth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather upall things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 InChrist we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according tothe purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel andwill, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ,might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when youhad heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed inhim, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 thisis the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to thepraise of his glory.
Let us pray….
I’ve just been away with my wife Sandy and our daughter LouLou to visit our son Max who is studying at the National University of Taiwan.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of my more hippy days of backpackingthrough Asia in the 80’s, but I personallyprefer not to stay in hotels. I preferto stay in places that might have some more character about them, not tomention are usually somewhat less expensive.
One of the downsides of course is that when you choose tostay in a place that is perhaps a little less conventional, maybe a little moreout of the way, it can be more difficult working out how to get to these housesor apartments - and even how to get inside them.
On two occasions we could not find the keys to the places wewere meant to be renting. On one occasion we simply could not find the place,at all. On another occasion the person renting this particular house stood onthe road and waved down the local bus we were travelling in - because he wasquite sure we would not be able to find the house. (in the dark on a countryroad)
I find especially in places that are to some degree foreign,and when things start to go a little wrong - I can find I can become the kind of person Iwould rather not be. I can say things, think things and act in ways , that let’ssay, aren’t all that helpful in resolving the particular and immediatechallenges. My family forgive me for this, they are obliged to, but others maybe a little less generous.
We listen to these wonderful Bible readings from Ephesianstoday, and it’s easy for these kind of words to almost flow past us, to forgetthat these words are spoken into a situation which was new.
Where people didn’t know the rules, or what to do or how to act.They did not have anything like the Bible that we have. Not many people couldeven read, there was no printing, andeverything had to be hand written and copied onto scrolls made of vellum orpapyrus. There was not a previous generation to provideguidance.
We probably have all sorts of notions of what should be, orcould be or what a successful church looks like, but back then people hadbarely come to terms with what being the church actually might mean at all. Itwas much more then, a sense of being caught up in this Spirit, this movement ofpeople, rather than any notion of being part of a structure or institution.
We know there was on going conflict. Probably the three main groups who were the sourceof conflict that Paul identified were the Gnostics and people who denied thatJesus was really human. Just some sortof spiritual being. There was a groupwho Paul called the Judaisers, a group who insisted that to follow Jesus youneeded first to follow all the strict Jewish codes and rules. Food, circumcision,that sort of thing. And the third group were what he called the false teachers.Those who went around teaching some form of Christianity perhaps for their ownbenefit or to make Jesus’ teachings more acceptable to the pagan cultures of theday.
So in the midst of these conflicts, in the midst of acomplex environment, Paul was always concerned that the church would lose itsway. That this group of followers of Jesus would lose their sense of identity and purpose and calling.
And today, this morning, that Pauls strategy in the midst ofall this, was not to react to all of these things, not to be defensive, but instead to affirm the special and uniqueidentity of who Christ’s followers were and are.
3 Blessedbe the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christwith every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
And in these verses we find the different qualities of beingblessed.
Paul speaks about being chosen or elected. He speaks about being bestowed with favour. Hespeaks about being redeemed and forgiven. He speaks about being embraced by a mystery - aboutreceiving an inheritance about how all these things are part of salvation .
So in these few verses we heard today he packs in all thesegreat claims.
So here we are, in a strange place, uncertain about what todo, feeling anxious - and in the midst of this Paul is asking us a kind of question. Are yougoing to spend time reacting to all these complex voices and tensions andissues or are you going to hear words that say 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy andblameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as hischildren through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us.
Our identity as those beloved by God.
For those of us who have experienced the love of another,maybe for some of us who have actually known the love of an adoptive father andmother - it is not so much because thatis exclusive, but more because a relationship has come into being, something weexperience as a new creation, something that was not there before. A relationshipwith God in Jesus that changes the very nature of how we see our presentsituation.
Things are a bit chaotic. Perhaps far more serious thattrying to find the keys in a dark alley on a hot night where no one speaks yourlanguage. Maybe loss or failure or regret. Maybe a terrible grief or sense offailure. Maybe a sense that we are lost. And Pauls tells us, reminds us, of whowe are.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgivenessof our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
Things are a bit chaotic as a church. So many pressures. Money, perhaps a nostalgiafor how it once was. And Paul remind us who we are.
13 In himyou 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;
Scripture tells us that our beliefs are absolutely centralto our well-being. Jesus said, “The truth will make you free” The opposite isalso true. Living according to untrue principles can rob people of theirfreedom. Lies, false news, mistrust,cynicism ends up enslaving us. Paul assures these Ephesian Christians that theyhave “heard the word of truth,”, “the Good News of your salvation.”
That God's plan for the cosmos involves not cultural ormilitary power, but the redemption of a beloved people who can become acommunity of lavish grace and forgiveness. A Christianity formed by this storyto become story tellers themselves.
We hear about a kind of Christianity that can influencepresidents and the choice of Judges. We drive through our suburbs and countrysideand see small and larger churches. We drive along our motorways and see churchbuildings indistinguishable fromcorporate headquarters or movie theatres with thousands of members.
But let’s think of our origins for a moment. In the scattered little communities offirst-century Christianity, the words must be heard differently. Smallgatherings of Christians met in houses. The newspapers did not notice them, andofficials who did notice them most often opposed them. Even the survival ofthis movement was doubted by so many. In that setting, Paul might seem to havedelusions of grandeur, but Paul isbolstering members of a fledgling community.
In so many ways our reading today is a thank you proclamationto God. For this lavishness of grace.
How could the art thank the artist? How could a book thankthe author? I suppose in some way an adopted child could thank his or herparents for adoption . More difficult perhaps is the notion of thanksgiving ourmothers for giving birth to us. Can the created thank the creator? And yet, Paul speaks of a gift, an act ofgrace . This act of giving becomes a gift when it becomes part of this cycle ofthanksgiving.
Paul in these verses of thanksgiving is saying to us that webecome fully human, become as God intended, only when we enter into thisrelationship of thanksgiving. Not just alittle thank you God now and then, Paul is calling us to live, wholly live, aspeople whose lives are those who have been blessed - people of hope and trust.
This cycle of grace and thanksgiving put all other things inperspective.
Each time we were confused about where we were staying orcouldn’t find the keys or the door, we became dependant of the goodness and generosityof others. The neighbour who phones the owner to get the instructions. Theperson who spoke a little English and helped us find the right address. Thebloke who waved the bus down and showed us the way.
Paul tells theEphesians and tells us: that we are people who are saved through the actions ofthe God revealed in Jesus. We are those upon whom blessing has overflowedthrough Jesus Christ.
This special thing - to live in blessing, to breathe inthanksgiving, continually to complete the cycle of gift and praise, Paul is saying, is our highest calling and deepestmeaning. We say, "Thank you," to God, not because we can do it well,but because we can do it at all. We are created—destined—to be people ofthanksgiving.
So - three thingsthis morning.
Let’s give thanks for those who have shown us the way whenwe have been lost. Those whose kindness and concern have made all thedifference in the world.
Let us pray that God’s Spirit may work powerfully in ourlives, overcoming fears and grief and doubt, and forming us and confirming within us ouridentity as people called and loved and bless by Jesus.
And let us pray for discernment and opportunity to bring theGospel to the lives of others and the world around us – in what we do and say.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.