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A Rich Inheritance
Sermon based on Ephesians 1:15-23
by Rev. Randy Quinn

It probably comes as no surprise to you, but I donít speak Greek.  I donít read it, either.  Since the New Testament was written in Greek, most of us rely upon translators to tell us what Paul writes in his letter to the church in Ephesus[1].  Thatís part of why I like to use a variety of translations when Iím studying a text Ė and why I take the time to read what scholars have to say before writing a sermon.

One of the things I was surprisedto learn in my studies this weekwas that our text today Ė the entire passage Ė is one long sentence in Greek.I tried reading it in a couple of different translations; and there was not one I found where I could read it aloud with only one breath.

I know some people who take multiple breaths in the same sentence because the sentence is so long; but generally itís because they are excited about something and donít know when to put an exclamation point on it and stop talking.

Paul was apparently so exuberant that he didnít know when to stop talking! 

He is excited about what God has done Ė and is doing Ė in Ephesus; and he is excited about what the church is doing in response.  That church has become for him an example of what he has been preaching throughout the Roman Empire Ė it serves as a model of the church as the Body of Christ, through which Jesus is seen at work.

Since we recently moved our Christmas letters last year included our new address for more of our friends than we might normally mail them to.  I donít know if the letter we wrote fully captures it, but there was an excitement in our letter that reflected our joy and delight about living in Hiawatha.  As Iíve said to you before, we are really happy to be here.  It may not be the same kind of excitement Paul is feeling as he writes, but there are some similarities.  When we came here, for instance, we could see immediately that Christ is at work through this congregation (Eph. 1:15).  There is also a remarkable sense of unity among the church members in terms of purpose and mission.

But there is more to Paulís exuberance than that.  I know because of the format of this letter.  It doesnít follow the standard format of letters in that era Ė unlike most of the other Biblical Epistles.

Our letters typically start with the date and a greeting; ending with a signature line.  Even our Christmas letters follow a fairly standard format of a greeting, followed by a recounting of the yearís events, followed up with a summary.  (You watch this year, I suspect more than 90% of your Christmas letters will follow that same pattern.)

Paulís letterstypically follow a different pattern, but they are consistent with the format of his era.  They begin with a statement of who it is from, who it is to, and then a prayer of blessing for the recipient(s).  Then follows the main body of the letter followed with a closing greeting and benediction.  In writing Ephesians, however, Paul takes a ďdetourĒ at the very beginning of the letter.  He gives an extended blessing to God between the introductory greetings and the prayer (Eph. 1:3-14).

If you read through it, you can almost hear the excitement in Paulís voice.  There is awe and mystery interspersed with jubilation as he recites the goodness of God and the wonder of grace (Eph. 1:3, 7-8).  From there, he turns his attention to the church.  And in response to what he knows about God he gives thanks for the church.

First he looks upward to the God of heaven and celebrates Godís love.

Then he looks outward to the church as it expresses Godís love.

No matter which way he looks, he sees signs of grace.  And that grace fills him with joy, profound joy.  He canít help himself.  He gets carried away with it.  He launches into this one long sentence celebrating and praying that Godís wisdom and power and love and grace will continue to blossom and bear fruit in the church.

Maybe itís like the experience of falling in love.  Many of us can remember what that was like.  (Some of us are still in love and know what itís like.)

But I think part of Paulís response is even bigger and better than that.

Itís more like the joy our family had three years ago when our grandson, Trace, came home from the hospital after spending the first four months of his life there.  (Trace only weighed 1 pound, 2 ounces at birth Ė and his life was very fragile throughout that early part of his life.)

Paulís joy may also be like the joy we have experienced more recently, as recently as this past week, in fact.

Iím thinking about the recent story of answered prayer in our own church family, the story of Claire[2].  Some of you know the nitty-gritty details; some are only marginally aware of what has been happening in her life.  Let me review her story briefly.

Claire celebrated her first birthday last month.  The next day she was found to be anemic.  By the end of the week, she was diagnosed with one of those rare and frightening diseases with a long name Ė so long that even medical people refer to it by the initials, T.E.C[3].

There is no treatment for the disease, although the primary symptoms can be mitigated.

In simplified form, Claireís blood producing cells quit producing blood causing her anemia and compromising her immune system.  The only treatment available is the temporary fix of providing new blood for her via transfusions.  (The family is now even more interested in encouraging people to donate blood, by the way.)

Apparently a viral infection that went unnoticed by her family caused her bone marrow to ďshut downĒ for a while; and for the next several weeks, the only thing her family could do was wait with patience and hope that her body would begin to make the blood cells essential for life to continue.  Their only recourse was to continue to offer blood by transfusion Ė and to lift her up in prayer.

In the process, they learned the truth that her life was in Godís hands.  (Thatís true for all of us really, but we tend to forget that.)

The in-between time was filled with anxiety, as we all learned to rely upon Godís grace, to trust in Godís power, and to surround ourselves with Godís all-encompassing love.

Last week there were hoots and hollers as we all received the exciting news that Claireís blood counts were going up rather than down!

Thatís the kind of joy Paul had in mind when he began to pray for the church in Ephesus.  Itís a prayer of celebration;itís also a prayer that the lessons learned may continue to influence our lives and our behavior.

As Claireís mother, Jodi, reflected on this prayer of Paul, she observed that indeed she feels this experience has allowed her to gain wisdom so that she Ė and we Ė may know Christ better.  And there is no doubt that her heart has been enlightened because she had learned the essence of hope[4].

That is not to say that the past few weeks have not been filled with doubts and worries and anxieties.  But there is a tremendous joy in the final outcome Ė a joy that we can remember whenever we face anxieties or doubts or fears in the future.

Let me read for you again what Paul said:

ďI pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to comeĒ (Eph. 1:17-21).

Today, as we baptize a different little girl, we are claiming that prayer for her as well as for us.  Paulís words could easily become ours as we offer our prayers for Kamryn and her family Ė prayers thatshe and her family will have the eyes of their hearts enlightened, to know the immeasurable greatness of Godís power in her life.

But itís also important to remember what Jodi has learned.  In her words, ďyou have to believe that there is something bigger than yourself and your family that is guiding usĒ[5].

Paul is expressing exuberance because the church haslearned those lessons Ė and he offers a prayer for us that we may continue to remember themas we continue to reveal Christ to the world.

God has a plan and we can trust Godís guidance to bring us joy and hope.

And that is a reason to celebrate.

Thanks be to God.


[1]  There is some scholarly debate about the author of Ephesians.  I will speak as if it were Paul, knowing it may have been someone else.

[2]  As in all cases where I use the names of real people, I obtained permission to tell this story before including it here.

[3]  I wonít try to confuse people by saying the name out loud Ė Transient Erythroblastopenia of Childhood.

[4]From a personal Email from Jodi to me.

[5]From the same personal Email.