Today’s sermon from Ephesians 1:3-14
These words from Ephesians are part of a letter of encouragement from Paul to a church that is struggling to know and to believe that they are loved.
Ephesians begins with a beautiful benediction. A lengthy, poetic hymn that takes its readers on a journey of spiritual experience that begins with praise of and thanksgiving for God’s work in the world and ends with assurance and affirmation of every believer’s place in God’s family.
A little over a year ago, Scott Boulevard and I began our relationship together. I got to preach from another letter of encouragement, 1 Peter, by rewriting it from Peter’s perspective to the people of Scott Boulevard. I wonder if the best way to stay true to the text today is to do the same thing.
I imagine Paul saying something like this:
“ Wow. How great and holy is God! It’s been an honor to see first hand how this congregation has used all of the spiritual gifts and blessings that God has given to each of you.
Some of you write cards all the time to people who live alone, a lot of you are making regular phone calls to check in on each other and share your love with one another, and it’s such a blessing to know of the ministry of Church at Home.
It uplifts me just to hear about it, and it makes me want to give thanks to God.
God has chosen us, me, and each of you, to be a part of the work that God is doing and has been doing in the world from the very beginning of time. Even before time had a beginning, before the earth was even thought up, before everything there was love.
God’s love for us, and Jesus’ love for us. God chose us out of his deep love, to be holy and free of sin and guilt, like Jesus, God’s own beloved son.
We were chosen to be grafted into God’s family, to become God’s children. As if that weren’t amazing enough, this choosing comes at no cost to any of us.
Well, actually, there is kind of a cost. Because of this wonderful grace that’s been freely poured all over our lives, all we have to do is live from a place of gratitude and praise.
We’ve been forgiven of our sins and redeemed through Christ’s blood.
Think about that for a minute. How much love is that, for God to willingly give up God’s only son – just one son, whom the scriptures refer to as the Beloved; what kind of love would give such rich grace, such lavish redemption?
We don’t understand this kind of love because we don’t have the wisdom or foresight that God has. But, because God’s insight and wisdom we can know the mystery of God’s will. It’s a plan for all of time, to unite everything on earth and in heaven; a plan to tie up every loose end, in Christ.
Loose ends are a nuisance. They are the things that happen to us in life that we could really do without.
Illness, financial woes, injuries, day to day frustrations; and then there are the things that knock you off your feet with grief. Loss, pain, unmet expectations and broken dreams.
Loose ends are any of those things that peck away at our hope, or sometimes even strip it away completely.
The mysterious, wonderful grace of God tells us that loose ends will one day make sense; will one day be tied up in Christ.
I have a story for you, this might help to flesh out the mystery a bit.
On June 23, 2015, just a few weeks ago, a funeral service was held at the A.J. Gordon Memorial Chapel at Gordon College, to honor the extraordinary life of Elisabeth Elliot.
Elisabeth Elliot was one of the most influential Christians of our time. She was born in Brussels, Belgium, the daughter of American missionaries, and she and her family moved to Pennsylvania when Elisabeth was just a few months old.
Elisabeth attended Wheaton College and studied classical greek in hopes of getting a job with Wycliffe Bible Translators to put the bible into writing for indigenous tribes. She moved to Ecuador after graduation and began working with the Quichua indians.
Jim Elliot, a college classmate of hers also ended up in Ecuador a year later. They worked together for some time, fell in love, got married and ministered together among the Quichua.
After some time ministering to the Quichua, Jim, another missionary named Nate Saint and two others decided to try to gain entry and trust with the Waorani tribe of Peru, also known as the Auca indians.
When Jim and the other missionaries entered Auca territory, they were speared to death. Jim left behind Elisabeth and a 10 year old daughter, and Nate was survived by his sister, Rachel Saint.
Elisabeth continued working with the Quichua Indians, even after the brutal death of her husband, along with her friend Rachel, and one day met a woman from the Auca tribe named Dayuma. Dayuma and Elisabeth built a relationship and studied together.
Dayuma learned of God’s salvation work in the world; she learned about love and forgiveness, grace and mercy, sin and redemption.
Elisabeth’s relationship with Dayuma and the trust they built together eventually granted Elisabeth entry into the Auca tribe, the same indigenous tribe that had killed her husband.
Rachel Saint also became friends with Dayuma, determined to minister to the tribe that killed her brother. She once said in an interview that after her brother’s death, she felt spiritually bonded to the tribe and would do whatever she had to do to show them God’s love.
Elisabeth and Rachel worked side by side with the Auca, teaching them of God’s love, showing them in the flesh what it means to be forgiven, redeemed, loved, welcomed; they showed them what it means to be part of God’s family, which is only possible through God’s grace.
Indeed, a story like this one doesn’t even make a lick of sense outside the framework of God’s grace.
That’s how the mystery of God’s will works. God has a remarkable way of using loose ends that strip away our hope, to create new life, new opportunities for praise and thanks in ways that we wouldn’t even be able to imagine on our own.
That’s the mystery of God’s grace. Where there was once hatred and mistrust, God used Rachel and Elisabeth, two people who knew they were chosen through God’s grace in Jesus Christ, to use their tragedy to close the gap of hatred and mistrust with a bridge of love and forgiveness;
and as a result, the missionaries and the Aucas were able to imagine together, a new way of being community.
I heard a story once about a girl who was really into mystery books, especially the Nancy Drew books, but she could only read them in the daytime with all the lights on, because she had such a wild imagination that her mind would run all over the place with possibilities of what might happen, or what could happen, and she would have to read until the mystery was solved.
The mystery of God is kind of like that. It shouldn’t scare us, but it should keep us on our toes, imagining the possibilities of what God might want to do with us, since we have been chosen, and adopted as God’s own family.
Our adoption also means that the inheritance of Christ is also our inheritance. This is a little confusing to understand, I know. But, it’s not technically a money inheritance like we’re used to talking about.
Mostly, I’m trying to say that in Christ, we know who we are. we know what our identity is.
In Christ, we’re secure and we can be sure that God, because he redeemed us through Christ like we already discussed, is always on our side. God will always be with us, through thick and thin, in good times and bad.
Our inheritance is hope, and the seal of our inheritance – the mark that makes our hope substantial and real, and present and attainable is the holy spirit.
Each of us received the gift of the holy spirit when we were baptized. We heard the amazing truth of God’s grace for all, God’s welcoming of everyone into the family of God. We heard that word of resounding hope and we believed it.
We believed in the power of God to bind up our loose ends, we believed in the hope of God to carry us through, and we believed in the redemption of God through Jesus.
Because of all of this, the holy spirit now lives inside of us, guiding us and leading us to serve and to be a blessing to others; helping us to imagine new ways of being the church, and encouraging us when we are down, when we feel like what we do is not enough.
I hope none of you ever feel that way, because the point of all of this, is that in Christ, we are enough, and we thank God for that. God created the world, and spoke to the world through the prophets.
And God sent Jesus to live among us, to show us how to live and how to love. Jesus died for us so that our sins would be washed away. But, he didn’t stay dead.
He rose and went back to his father, and we were not left alone. The holy spirit, our guide weaves around us, shaping our stories, binding them together into a beautiful hymn of praise that we sing with our lives whenever we get together.
This is the mystery of God’s will.
The beautiful mystery that people who are different from each other in many different ways, can join their lives together in praise of God. And in the act of praising God, individuals become one community and the people around that community are blessed.
The mystery of God’s grace is a work of uniting. God’s purpose, and God’s pleasure is to unite everything in Christ. In Christ, dividing lines of race, gender, differences of opinion, differences in theology, social status and everything that pits one against another are blurred.
Instead, all that’s left in Christ when differences are put aside is a community of people who exist for the sole purpose of praising God with lives of gratitude; a community of people who are constantly being transformed by the spirit of God within them;
constantly imagining possibilities of how God’s glory will shine through them.
You, the people of Scott Boulevard, are beloved people of God. You were chosen for a very special work of bringing the presence of Christ to the isolated, the oppressed. You are what it means to be the church in the world.
It’s exciting to see, and in my prayers I thank God for the grace, the wisdom, the insight to use a small congregation to do big things. The work you do is important, needed and blessed of God.
Today, we bless God together, but we also recognized in believing that God loves you, that God chose you, that God has redeemed you; you as a church are in turn, becoming a blessing by giving each of your lives as a thanks offering
every time you make a phone call to someone who lives alone; every time you send a note to someone struggling with illness;
every time you visit someone to offer encouragement or assistance;
every time you let the holy spirit ignite your mind to imagine the possibilities of things you can do to make a difference in someone’s life
And all I can think to say about that is thanks be to God.”