First Congregational Church July 12, 2015 7th Sunday after Pentecost Ephesians 1:3-14 “Praise be….” Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
They say that a man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking. (castle-manor) And they say that Dijon vu is the same mustard as before. And I’ve heard it said that reading while sunbathing makes you well red. And now the pun clinch pin for the day: What's the definition of a will? (It's a dead give away.)
Our scripture passage this morning comes from the beginning of the book of Ephesians, the letter, attributed to the Jewish Paul, written to encourage Gentile believers, to make it clear that Jews and Gentiles have been brought together as part of one body in Christ. In a larger sense, it is an epistle encouraging people of different views of life to live peaceably. Always through-out history we’ve needed to remember this lesson, including now.
I imagine that most of us have come across some or most of this passage over the years. And maybe we’ve heard it on warm, summer days, and this (actual) one long, run-on sentence with huge, not often used words, makes for nodding heads or seat squirming to stay awake. But when I read this passage this week, it was like I had landed in one of those V-8 commercials.
Three times in 12 verses the word “will” occurs, as in reference to God’s will. And when Jewish writers repeat something, the readers had best pay attention. For all these years I’m sure I only ever thought of that phrase in terms of God’s strong desire or determination to do something, as in the oft not so helpful phrase, “It was God’s will.” But after having to deal my mother’s “will,” it was right interesting how closely “God’s will” and “a will” complement each other.
Although the Bible is the only sort of will God has - that we know of, the idea of leaving specific gifts to individuals fits because our passage also talks about adoption. Back in Jesus’ day, adoption was common enough. Among the elite, adoption served the important function of allowing for an heir, if one had no children, or if one’s children died. In today’s passage, the Greek word used is the legal term referring to the full legitimate standing of an adopted - male - heir in Roman culture.
Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14 NIV 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
Thank you, Carlisle. To finish with the adoption imagery, what we miss in the translation is that the reference is not about adoption of a single person, but an entire people. Our English translation is still good, most especially for those individuals that struggle with family issues and issues of belonging. Even when a person feels completely abandoned by family and friends, or if they’ve had to give up their family for whatever reason, there is - has been/always will be - family with God - and that’s part of the reason why it’s important to remind ourselves of our familial relationship each and every week.
What really popped out to me about this passage - in our time - is that God - knowing how ugly humanity can get - still chose us. Maybe God had God’s choice of aliens or humans. Maybe not. Either way, God chose us. Didn’t have to, but did, and lovingly so. In that totally unearned, undeserved love, God has had your picture in God’s wallet since before the beginning of time.
Paul R. Escamilla from Ministry Matters likened this passage to a scrapbook for the church, tracing the history of our relationship with God to its beginnings, and even before its beginnings, to the foundation of the world and the future of God’s relationship with us. I appreciated his imagery, thinking about folks hanging around family cabins and cottages, same old books on the shelves, same somewhat musty smell, and how every-so-often those books get pulled out and dusted off. It’s good we dust off this scriptural part that unites us - not just here in little old Frankfort, but around the world, and throughout time.
Another part of this passage has seemed to escape me - maybe you too - was about God having blessed us with with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We already have - every spiritual blessing. From verse 4 - we have the spiritual blessing of being a 1) saint, holy and blameless, because of God’s love and grace. Praise be that it’s good to be reminded that God sees us as holy and blameless, because there are days….
We may not think about it as a spiritual blessing per se, but 2) being adopted by God is another spiritual blessing, because it gives us full status as God’s children, with all the benefits thereof. One of my high school classmates and his partner are both really successful business men. For whatever silly reason, it only recently struck me that the two boys they adopted will be the probably heirs to their “success.” The boys have done nothing to deserve such a position, but Praise be, it is like that with us and God and even more so.
Then piled on top of God adopting us, we have the gift of 3) redemption - Christ’s life for ours. The Greek word for redemption refers to the ancient Greco-Roman practice of freeing a slave or prisoner by paying a ransom. Whenever I’m trying to remember the definitions of such theological terms, I go for the simple. For those old enough to remember, it’s the exchange of S&H green stamps for silverware and other household items. It really helps that I can remember an actual S&H store in my home town, over der by da old Super Value grocery store by da post office. For those not of that vintage, redemption is using a gift card for a purchase, but with far greater ramifications. In the case of our faith, Jesus’s life redeems ours. Praise be.
Even though it’s not part of this morning’s passage, since we’re in that realm, in a slightly odd expansion on the idea of spiritual blessings and trying to remember complex theological terms, there’s a really easy one for atonement. Atonement is used 98 times in the Old Testament and only four times in the New Testament. The simple way to remember what it means is to slice up the word: at one ment. Christ’s sacrifice of his life ended all our need to make ourselves “at one” with God through the complicated system of Old Testament sacrifices. As a pastor, I’m really grateful for that -from the practicality of having to clean up after all those sacrifices of animals, if you can catch the drift. That’s a definite, Praise be!
Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees, so it’s good to be reminded that another spiritual blessing is that of forgiveness. The Greek word for forgiveness - in this place - means “to cancel, remit, or pardon, as with a loan or debt.” When God forgives, God cancels our obligation to make those old-system sacrifices. We are freed of any guilt or punishment because we live under the new-system of love and grace. Praise be.
When you look up a word on Google, it gives a very brief definition, the origin of the word and how much the word has been used over time - I believe from usage in books. It’s really interesting that forgiveness usage reached its height in about 1825, and started to decline until it’s lowest points in 1939 and again in 1972. Forgiveness has become more popular until the chart ends in 2007, but it will be interesting to see how the graph continues. Perhaps as we remember God’s forgiveness of us, we might be more forgiving of those that get under our saddles. Praise be.
We could go on and on with the spiritual blessings from this passage, but that list is nothing if it isn’t practical. Stan Mast, from Calvin Seminary, made a really interesting comment. He said, “Life is not first of all about attaining our happiness, but about arriving at the holiness for which God has chosen us in Christ.” “Life is not first of all about attaining our happiness, but about arriving at the holiness for which God has chosen us in Christ.”
Living this life that we have is so full of great things to see and smell and hear and sometimes, we really are like children chasing after a loose balloon, oblivious to where we are going or even the very ground under us. Living this life doesn’t make us bad or wretched - just human. So we come back to the place where we are reminded that what we do is about arriving at the holiness for which Christ has chosen us. If we don’t make it a priority on our lives, then it’s like getting pieces of the best chocolate chip cookie ever - rather than the whole cookie.
I had to smile at this other little bit from Mr. Mast. “God has lavished all these things upon us in God’s grace. So, don’t take the credit when life is blessed. We have all these blessings only in Christ. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus as you trudge along. And all of these blessings are designed to bring praise to the glory of God. Three times, at the end of each major section, Paul reminds us that we are so blessed “to the praise of God’s glorious grace.” So, don’t hog the glory. It’s not about us; it’s about God.”
Naturally, it was near the end of this, yet again, spectacular message, that I thought about an even better sermon title. Really truly, it should have been, “It’s all about that praise, ‘bout that praise, no grumble. All about that praise, ‘bout that praise, no grumble.” Regardless of the title, it is always good to be about that praise, so let us get down to it.
Gracious God of everything spiritual blessing, every natural being, and every spiritual being, we take this moment to realize again how blessed we are to be your people. You take us as we are, desire for and lead us to ever greater depths of appreciation, realization and maturation. You really do give us all we need, including the need to help others with their needs. We praise you, raise our faces in adoration to you, allow the smile to emerge from our hearts in recognition of your depth of love for us. Praise be to you for your vision of us, that is so much greater than any of us can even imagine. Enable each of us to live into the holiness you have destined for us, that others will wish to join us in this journey. Really, truly, God, for each and every blessing, all your people say praise be and Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.