- September 9, 2018
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 9 September 2018 (Proper 18 Year B REV)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Ephesians 1.1-14; Psalm 125; Mark 7.24-30
Title: Completely Blessed – Intro to Ephesians
Give us your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, O God, that we may have the power to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and to be filled with all of your fullness. Amen.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1.3).
My dear friends: today we kickoff our Autumn season and a new year of programs within the church. And today, with the blessing of our Bishop Steve, we begin an Autumn series of reading and praying and preaching through the Letter to the Ephesians.
So we need to start with just a little bit of background on this amazing Letter.
We call this the Letter to the Ephesians, but the most original manuscripts that we have lack the words “in Ephesus.” It’s possible that it was written as a more general letters to the churches in that area of Asia Minor – the land known today as Turkey.
And written by whom? It says it is from Paul right at the start, but it may not be so. Sometimes names were used differently in ancient letters. Things were different back then.
For starters, this Letter is quite different from the other letters that are unquestionably from Paul. Why is it so different? Did Paul intend to write something different, perhaps at a more reflective moment as he approached his trial and eventual execution in Rome?
Or did a disciple of Paul write this after his martyrdom as a way to continue the apostle’s work, to capture and distribute some of the apostle’s deeper thoughts? Perhaps as a way to honor Paul’s ministry since it was cut short by the heavy-handed authority of Rome?
We really do not know, and we never will know these things with any certainty.
But what we CAN say is that the language of this letter is remarkable, and beautiful, and the most liturgically sounding language in the New Testament. As if it were written to be read and used in worship.
In fact, this first section which we heard today, after the initial greeting, is the longest single run-on sentence in the New Testament. And it is written in the style of the ancient Jewish berekah. If you participate in our Maundy Thursday Agape meals, or if you have ever worshiped in a synagogue, you may recognize some of this Hebrew. Baruch attah, Adonai Elocheynu, Melek ha-olam.
This Jewish liturgical prayer form begins by blessing the name of God and then it lists the great things that God has done. What we have here is a long list that seeks to explain the amazing things that God has done for those who are “in Christ”.
Now listen, please, once more to this list! What has God done?
- Blessed us with every spiritual blessing.
- Chosen us and destined us for adoption.
- Freely bestowed glorious grace on us.
- Redeemed us through the blood of Christ.
- Made known to us the mystery of God’s will.
- Given us a heavenly inheritance.
- Marked us and sealed us with the Holy Spirit.
THIS is the claim that is made about you. That you – that WE – are completely blessed – in every way that really counts! Blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing! Not some, not a few, but every spiritual blessing.
My friends: can you believe that? Can you trust that to be true?
What makes it difficult, I think, is our experience of everyday life.
On Labor Day, I was able to make it over to our camp in New Hampshire, which is pretty much my favorite place on planet earth. And I love my outhouse there.
The women in my household demanded that I build an indoor bathroom, but I never use that. I proudly use my outhouse – MY outhouse.
In the last few years, I have put a new roof on it, painted the exterior of it. Last summer, for a little birthday surprise, Erin actually painted and decorated the interior of it.
So my outhouse is doing pretty well right now. Except that, this summer, when I was out there using it, my foot broke right through the floor! Thankfully, both feet didn’t break through, otherwise I would have been in real trouble.
So it seems that the floor has been rotting through and I did not even know it. Now I need to fix that.
Isn’t this exactly what life is like? Fix the roof, paints the walls, …and…then …there’s a hole in the floor!
It’s always something! Get new tires on the car, then the battery dies. Clean up the kitchen, then your daughter decides to make brownies. Pay off one bill, and the next day in the mail – surprise! – a new bill arrives.
Maybe it’s different for you, but this is pretty much exactly what life is like for me! It never ends. This constant stream of things that need to be fixed, or mended, or straightened out, or taken care of.
Now if you take this daily stew of life frustrations, and add into it the tremendous amount of pain and suffering in the world on so many different levels, it can truly feel overwhelming. Like we are never really getting anywhere – at all.
This is how most of us experience life.
And yet… there is another story to be told about life. God tells a different story.
Yes, life is complicated and messy and it can be so incredibly hard and frustrating. And yet…there is something going on beneath the surface which is much deeper, and more meaningful, and it will have impacts far outlasting our brief lifetimes!
I mean, right now I may have a hole in the floor of my outhouse, and I may have bills which I can’t quite figure out how to pay, and I may be having problems with my car (it’s true!).
But guess what? I am completely blessed in Christ! And GOD has given YOU an inheritance which the stock market and the IRS can never take away.
This is called the mystery of God’s will, because it is not something that we can explain. It is something that we have to trust.
And there is one part of this inheritance which may be even more difficult to comprehend.
It is shared. It is communal. It is entrusted to the entire community of people known as the Body of Christ.
And that Body is a large, unruly thing. It means that you will share this divine inheritance with the people all around the world. And with the person next to you, or behind you.
Go ahead and take a look at that person sitting next to you, or behind you, or near you. Look at them and say this, “We are in this together.”
Yes, we are in this together. But it would so much easier if we could do this life thing by ourselves, wouldn’t it?
And do it the way that we want to do it. The way that we think is best. But that is not the plan of God.
My friends: we have been completely blessed in Christ in some mysterious way that knits us all together throughout eternity.
Will you trust this story about your life? And can we learn together what it means for us to share in every spiritual blessing in Christ?
What do you say? Are you ready? Let’s do it. Amen.