Friday, July 13, 2012

Ephesians -- Chosen as God's People

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
            Football coaches and hockey coaches often give their players a few words of encouragement before the start of a game. Sometimes as well they gather their teams together between periods for additional encouragement. Everyone needs encouragement, athletes, working people, ordinary citizens.
            We Christians also receive encouragement. We like to hear words from God that build us up and send us out into the world with renewed confidence that God is on our side and that he will get us to the eternal destination he has in mind for us. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians offers the encouragement we need. It’s different from Paul’s other letters because he doesn’t take up a particular problem or misinterpretation of doctrine. He wants instead to widen our horizons so that we better understand God’s grace and his eternal purposes, so that we appreciate even more than we do the high goals he has set for us and for his church, so we’ll refresh our minds about what Paul wrote to the congregation at Ephesus so that we, too, may draw encouragement from God’s everlasting Word.
            Near the beginning of his letter, Paul wrote that God chose the Christian people in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. All believers in Christ enjoy a special status in God’s eyes. He considers us to be holy and blameless for Jesus’ sake. He promises to protect our bodies and souls. He will keep alive the faith that is active in our hearts this morning. He wants us to be vigilant, while he invites us not to worry that five years from now we will wander away from his kingdom to revel in pagan joys and pagan miseries. He has put a seal on us. he promises that life in his kingdom will always be available to us.
            We need to say something about those two wonderful words “holy and blameless”. As we pass through a variety of experiences, we may sometimes feel poorly about ourselves, that we have messed up badly or that we aren’t worthy of God’s love. Insights like that about ourselves are often partly accurate, especially when we compare ourselves with Jesus, but God brushes aside these judgments for Christ’s sake and declares that we are blameless in his sight, without spot of blemish. He wipes the slate clean. He has forgotten our past sins for Jesus’ sake. We give thanks with joy in our hearts that God has forgiven our sins ad that we may move into the future with renewed minds and hearts. And what’s even more reassuring is that our heavenly Father promises to wash away our sins every day as we turn to him in trust and with repentant hearts – all for the sake of Christ.
            Paul tells us that God washes us clean so that we may come to praise his grace and also play a part in his plan for the universe. The world and people’s lives seem muddled and confused without God, but the lives of Christians have meaning and purpose because of Jesus’ friendship for us and what’s more, a time of fulfillment is coming in which God will bring everything into focus under Christ’s leadership. Our lives with him now are a foretaste of this time to come. As we make our way with God’s help through his immense and beautiful world, we think of ourselves as pilgrims moving toward a goal that God has chosen for us. We are strong and happy in the Lord, knowing that he is working out his purposes through us and that we will see the glorious day when everything in the universe is subject to Christ’s wisdom and righteousness. We should feel encouraged, then, that our tea is safe on the hands of God.
            Now, all coaches tell their players something about strategy or their plans for the game.
The same is true for God. A bit later in Ephesians, Paul tell us about God’s way of working. We are by nature strangers to God and his enemies. He reconciles us to him through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. He calls us to look on him as our Savior and friend.
            As he performs his mighty work, according to Paul, God also reconciles us to each other. Enmity between one person and another, between one group and another, seems to be a permanent feature of life on earth. As Jesus said, the devil is the prince of this world. But God breaks down barriers of hostility between his people and builds up bonds of friendship and love. This happened in the Ephesian congregation, where Jews and Gentiles worshipped together in a spirit of fellowship. Surprising friendships take place among Christians today. People with different backgrounds and customs come together in the Lord and form ties of mutual support and encouragement. When the world at large is so often impersonal and uncaring, we Christians trust that our spiritual family will nourish us and reach out a hand to us in times of need.
            Another wonderful thing about God’s actions for us is that sometimes a Christian or group of Christians who help us are people we might normally expect to be in sharp disagreement with. We find ourselves helped sometimes by people we thought of as antagonists and we may find ourselves helping Christians we thought we didn’t care about very much. God often works this sort of wonder among his people. The possibility of unexpected friendships encourages us and emboldens us to think that we may even break down a barrier or two ourselves.
            We’ll move along now to have a look at another aspect of God’s strategy. He takes the people he has reconciled to himself and to one another and he gathers us together into the church. He makes one body out of us with Christ as our head. The church isn’t always fun. Sometimes we get mad and sometimes are feelings get hurt. We even hear about people who stay away from the church for years and years because of something that happened or because they don’t get their way. But God’s people belong in the church, for as Paul says it is through the church that we express our citizenship in God’s kingdom. Our salvation comes through the church. As one Christian who lived centuries ago put it, “No one can have God as his father unless he has the church as his mother.”
            So the Lord reconciles us to himself and to one another and he invites us into one body, the church. After giving us these insights, Paul then reveals another feature of God’s plan – that he gathers his church together so that he may show his many-sided wisdom to the rulers and authorities in heaven. So our lives together in Christ has a heavenly dimension that we may not think about very often. God uses Risen Christ to reveal his wisdom to the angels in heaven. God’s wisdom works through us in ways we’re now only dimly aware of, but that will become clear to us when we assume the places in heaven that Jesus has prepared for us. The unity of the church works for God’s glory, then, both in heaven and on earth. I suspect that Risen Christ and the other congregations of the Lutheran Church-Canada will learn a lot as God continues to build his unity among us.    
            Paul begins the second half of Ephesians by saying: “Therefore, I…implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one other in love…”   So we have a part to play, too, in building up the kingdom. As we our lives by the teachings of God’s Word, we benefit ourselves and our neighbors in the building up of God’s kingdom and give a testimony that God is at work in us.  Living in faith and love isn’t easy, but we have God’s assurance that he has chosen us for life with him now and in eternity and so he won’t abandon us to struggles with temptation and the world around us and the devil who loves to toy with the weaknesses of our minds and our flesh. The Lord who pardons us will strengthen us and give us courage and joy as we make our way through the perils and advantages of city life. We trust that Jesus will keep on guiding us along the path of truth and that we’ll stay full-fledged members of his team, remembering that he has a special, heavenly use for each one of us and places for us to shine in the church and our families and the communities in which we take part.  I’m suspect that what’s truth for other Lutherans I’ve known is also true for St. Peter’s – that you’re talented and creative in many ways and that God will use you in many fruitful ways.
            God blessed the Christian church during the years when Paul and the other apostles were active. Christ doesn’t limit his blessing s to one time ad one place. God has chosen St. Peters, too, and you should be confident that as you stick with him he will bless your lives together with Christ. He will use the team he has brought together here for your blessedness and his glory. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
 The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.     


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