- September 23, 2018
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 23 September 2018 (Proper 20 Year B REV)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Ephesians 2.1-10; Psalm 1; Mark 9.30-37
Title: Our Way of Life
Give us your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, O God, that we may have the power to comprehend all the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and to be filled with all of your fullness. Amen.
“For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2.10).
My friends: what does it mean that we have been created and saved to live a life of goodness? A life rich in mercy and love and kindness in imitation of God?
In this week’s portion from the Letter to the Ephesians, we are told of an enormous contrast between life without Christ and life with Christ.
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world” (Eph 2.1-2).
Of course, we could argue with the specifics of this claim. Perhaps you do not feel that it accurately describes who you were in previous years, but the overarching claim is clear.
Without Christ, we are lost and dead. Which means that our natural instincts take us away from God, away from our true selves, away from life in harmony with God’s will.
But this is just the beginning of the story! Because God changed the course of our story. Jesus was betrayed into human hands, he was killed and he was raised to life again. And WE are raised with him.
All of this – everything! – is a gift of grace. It is all God’s doing. Our birth in this world was God’s doing, and our new birth into the Body of Christ was God’s doing. All of this was done through the kindness and mercy and love of God. And it was all done for a reason, for a purpose.
So that our actual lives in this world, so that what we actually do each and every day will reflect this same kindness and mercy and love that we have experienced in Christ.
My friends: this is good news! This is pure gift, and it is very good.
Now, by contrast, if you need an example of how our natural instincts work to pull us all away from God, just look at the disciples in our Gospel story today.
Walking with Jesus along the roads of Galilee, arguing between themselves over which one of them was the greatest.
How absurd! How clueless can you be, right? This is exactly what Paul refers to as “following the desires of flesh and senses”. Allowing our ego needs to be in control.
And what does the Teacher do to break the cycle? To reset their expectations? He takes a little child into his lap and says,
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:37).
To be honest with you, I wonder if the church has ever taken these words seriously. Did you hear what he said? To welcome a child is to welcome God!
IF this is true, then is it too much to say that the good works which God prepared to be our way of life must have the care and nurture of children as its core?
Do you want to welcome God into your life? Do you want to be close to God?
Then make sure that there is time and space in your life each week to care for and to nurture children. After all, it is Christ who said “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).
In light of this, my friends, how much more grievous and pernicious and vile is the intentional abuse of children by leaders in the church – and the cover-up of this abuse by other leaders of the church?
Could there be anything worse than this? On the deepest level, to wound and scar the most vulnerable little ones among us?
In the same way, surely anyone who seeks to embody the kindness and mercy and love of God is appalled by the reports of thousands of children being forcibly separated from their parents or guardians at our southern border.
Trust me, I have no interest in venturing into politics. In my opinion, a wise person is able to see multiple sides to each question of public policy.
I have no interest in debating the issues surrounding immigration from this pulpit, but I cannot deny how horrible and gut-wrenching it feels to see our government officials acting so cruelly toward children.
Surely, those of us who have been shown “the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness” (Eph 2.7) could never support such actions; instead we must always do all in our power to protect, to nurture and to care for children, regardless of what they look like or where they happened to be born.
You know, we just make things way too complicated. That too is part of the natural course of this human world. For there is the simple truth here: there is never any reason to be unkind. Never!
Who knows how much harm might result from one act of cruelty done to a child? And conversely, who knows how much good might result from one act of kindness done to a child?
I wonder if any of you saw or read about the recent interview of Sean Diddy Combs by the late night host Jimmy Kimmel. This took place in August, and Jimmy Kimmel was incredibly surprised to learn that one of the most formative experiences in the life of Diddy when he was a child was the two months he spent with an Amish family in Pennsylvania as part of the Fresh Air Fund. (You can watch the video clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk6pm3WgPqo)
If you don’t know, Diddy is a hip-hop artist, a rapper, a producer with his own music label, and a men’s fashion designer. He’s a big name in the urban music and culture world. In fact, his net worth is estimated to be somewhere north of $800 million, and he lives a life of extravagant luxury in New York City.
That is why this revelation was so shocking. The contrast between the super-wealthy rapper being driven around in his Bentley and a plain Amish family riding in a horse-drawn buggy – well that is quite a contrast!
And yet Diddy explained that this time spent with his Amish host family had a major impact on his life, and that it helped to develop important values within him, like generosity and family and helping others.
That Amish family in Lancaster County has no idea what this young boy went on to become. Or what good influence they may have had in his life. We can never truly know what impact we may have in the life of another – for good or for ill.
But we know that we are here to do good. “Created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
So, my friends: what does it mean that we have been created and saved to live a life of goodness? A life rich in mercy and love and kindness in imitation of God?
It means we have a job to do. And what is that job? It is to serve others. Especially to serve the needs of children and of those who are vulnerable and in need.
And not just those in your family. That is too easy. Don’t misunderstand me: caring for your family is a good and right and necessary instinct. Everyone does that, except for the mentally ill.
But the grace of God has saved us so that we can go way beyond what is natural. By grace we have been saved to pursue the supernatural, and that means serving those who are strangers and foreigners to us.
Serving those from whom we expect nothing in return. Yes, expecting nothing in return. But giving as a pure gift.
THAT is what God has done for us. THAT is what we celebrate in this place. And we call it grace.
And THAT is why we are here. To BE grace for others. To BE pure gift – with no strings attached.
My friends: you have been saved by grace through faith. Now, are you ready to do your job? May it be so. Amen.
Offertory Sentence: “Be imitators of God and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5.1).
The Blessing: Now to God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine – to God be glory in the church and in Christ throughout all generations. And the blessing of this powerful God, Father,Son, and Holy Spirit, be among you now and remain with you always. Amen. (Ephesians 3.20-21)