Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 12, 2015

2015.07.12 ““Blessed Be” – Ephesians 1: 3 – 14

Central United Methodist Church
“Blessed Be”
Pastor David L. Haley
Ephesians 1: 3 – 14
July 12th, 2015

Ephesians-Blessing

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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In 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, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In 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; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” – Ephesians 1: 3 – 14

Have you ever stood under a waterfall? I’m not talking about Niagara Falls or Victoria Falls, although either of those would certainly be an unforgettable experience. I’m talking about a small waterfall that doesn’t crush you to death but makes you feel like you are the most privileged and possibly the cleanest person in the world, a waterfall so wonderful Kohler would do anything to make a shower head like it. If only we could afford it.

If you have had that experience, you will remember it. If you have not had that experience today I invite you to do so today, only it is not a waterfall of water, but a cascading waterfall of praise, extolling God’s love and grace.

We experience this waterfall of God’s grace today in the 1st chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Our text today is known as the Great Benediction (1:3-14), and serves as an overture to the whole letter of Ephesians. In Greek, there is no punctuation, it is all one long sentence of 258 words. Greek scholar E. Norden once called it: “The most monstrous sentence conglomeration I have ever met in the Greek language.”

Although there are those who think the letter was not written by Paul but by one of his disciples, traditionally it has been attributed to Paul, likely written around the years 60-62 AD while Paul was under house arrest in Rome. It was not written just to one church but to a group of churches along the Lycus River valley in Asia Minor, which may explain why there are few personal notes and even less controversy (unlike 2 Corinthians). One of those churches was Ephesus, which, while on his 3rd missionary journey, Paul had visited for 2½ years.

It’s now about 30 years after Jesus’ life. Surely sitting in those churches were people – just like people sitting here this morning – who were wondering what God’s plan is – whether there even is a plan – and even more importantly, what their place in God’s plan is, either because they can’t see God’s plan in their lives or worse, because they don’t feel worthy enough to have a place in it.

Paul, on the other hand, is writing after 30 years reflection about what Christ’s life had meant, and for this reason, some call the Letter to the Ephesians his crowing achievement.  Though his body was confined under house arrest in Rome, his heart and mind inhabited eternity. Not only did he look back before the foundation of the world, he looks ahead to the fullness of time, not only grasping the blessings we have now, but what shall be.  And his answer to them is the same as his answer to us, Yes, God has a plan,” and two, “In love, God chose us to be a part of it before the foundation of the world.”

And thus the cascade begins, hardly able to be said with enough exuberance, definitely not without catching your breath:

“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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”

But what does it mean? God “blessed us,” and “chose us” in Christ before the foundation of the world? What does that mean?  Are we talking here about election and predestination, the pernicious doctrine that God chose some and damned others, suggesting that God is capricious and cruel.? Does it mean a divine determinism that turns God into a tyrant and human beings into robots? Does it mean the Gospel is good news for some and bad news for others? Does it mean that all people are saved? If so, if salvation is universal, why do then do discipleship and mission matter? These are only a few of the questions today’s text evokes. (George Stroup, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, p. 233-34.)

Contrary to how it has been interpreted, according to Paul, the architect and author of this plan is not a grim Judge watching over the execution of his plan, but a loving Father to be praised for the riches joyfully imparted to God’s children. It is what we Methodists, following our founder John Wesley, call prevenient grace, the grace of God that goes before us, seeking us, drawing us, before we even know of it.  So far before – as Paul says – that it precedes the foundation of the world. Do you know this is why we Methodists practice “open communion”; because we believe that at the Table of the Lord, even before you have faith, the prevenient grace of God is at work.

And yet we may still wonder if it is for us. Such that when Paul says “blessed,” “chosen,” “adoption,” “grace,” we may not hear, because we believe we hear instead “rejected,” “failure,” “shameful,” “guilty.” But did you hear what he said? “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Grace lavished on us. We know what lavished means, don’t we?

Barbara Brown Taylor tells an evocative story from her own childhood. Her grandmother, an especially stern woman, was “an awesome presence, especially to a child (probably the way a lot of people think about God.) She was known most for “her shrewd business sense and her bad temper.” Even her appearance was intimidating; with both legs amputated from untreated diabetes, and with her dark aviator sunglasses to protect her eyes, she looked, says Taylor, “like a handicapped bomber pilot.”

But she lavished love on her grandchildren. When they came to visit, there were special treats, piles of presents, and long, lazy afternoons together. Each child remembers a night of pampering. Taylor remembers hers:

“When my night came she treated me like long lost royalty, filling the tub with suds and then beckoning me in, where she washed each of my limbs in turn and polished my skin with her great soft sponge.  After she had dried me off . . . she anointed me with Jergen’s Lotion . . . Then she reached for her dusting powder – Evening in Paris – and tickled me all over with the pale blue puff.  When she had done, I knew I was precious. I was absolutely convinced I was loved.  (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, 1993, p. 17; quoted in Karen Chakoian, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, p. 232).

According to Paul, even now, God is not yet done lavishing love upon us, and by this, we know we are loved.

But what about the plan? Tell them about the plan, Paul!  And Paul says:

“With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Can you believe it? This is Paul’s mature interpretation of what the life of Christ was about. While – in our egotism – we often read the New Testament and Gospels in personal terms, here the message is startling in in its social interpretation: “In Christ . . . a plan to unite . . . all things in heaven and on earth.” As the rest of Paul’s Letter will explain, God is bringing all things back together in Christ: Jews and Gentiles, Christians and Jews and Muslims, rich and poor, black and brown and yellow and white, all things in heaven and on earth. As hard as it is to believe that we are “beloved,” it may be even harder to believe that all things will be gathered together in Christ.

And this is where you and I come in. God has a plan, but we have a role to play. The plan has been sketched out, but not every detail has been filled out. It’s not really about us, it’s about our part in the plan, helping God break down all the divisions that divide God’s people and God’s creation and bringing all things back together. If we don’t do our part in the plan begun by Christ, I have to believe – given the freedom God has given us – that there is a possibility that even God’s plan may fail. Ever hear of global warming? Nuclear war? God is putting the band back together, and we have a role to play. Not of tearing apart, but putting back together.

Markus Barth, in his study of Ephesians, concludes:

“This is the secret revealed to the saints: God loved us before the creation. God loves us despite our sins and death. God loves us not withstanding our divisions. God loves us with the intentions that we praise God’s glory. We did not know this, but God did. It was God’s secret, hidden in God’s heart and mind.  Now – in Christ – it is made known.”

So after all is said and done, what we learn under St. Paul’s waterfall of grace is this: Theology is Doxology; “The more we know about God, the more we want to praise God.”

I’ve shared with you on other occasions one of my heroes is scholar of religion Huston Smith, who brought the knowledge of other religions to our country with his classic book, The World’s Religions. Smith, the son of Methodist missionaries, grew up in China, which led him to his fascination with world religions, but also to remain a lifelong Methodist.

Now, at the age of 96 he is nearing the end: his condition is very weak, he is in hospice care, awake briefly, unable to read, recognizes family and a few other with whom he has been close and whom he sees frequently. Six years ago, when he last visited him, he said then that his mantra had become, “God, you are so good to me.” And he end his autobiography – Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine – with a quotation from the martyr Saint John of Chrysostom, who while being drawn and quartered was said to have exclaimed. “Praise, praise for everything. Thanks, thanks for it all.”

Theology is Doxology; The more we know about God, the more we want to praise God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

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