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A Great, Big, Huge, Positive Affirmation About Our World
a sermon based on Ephesians 1:3-14
by Rev. Thomas Hall

One of the great positive statements of Christian literature comes from the book of Ephesians. This book contains no conundrum, no puzzle to be solved. You’ll find no controversy, no squabbles, no deep questions to which it responds. Paul the Apostle-or a later disciple who wanted to sum up the teachings of Paul-wrote this letter as a way to offer a thumbnail sketch of a life time’s worth of Christian teaching. Paul could have written this during a stint in the local Caesarean jail; makes sense. He would have had plenty of time to think about Christian faith. But no matter where or whom put the final touches on this letter, the words of Ephesians are magnificent. They are the result of mature and well-thought out statements about the Christian life.

In the Greek text, our entire passage is one long sentence that meanders through participial phrases, parentheses, and semicolons. But look at what Paul says in that one sentence! He thanks God in a lyrical outburst of praise for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We don’t even have time to stop for a second to catch our breaths. He floods us with a deluge of affirmations which are our affirmations.

First, we are blessed! Christmas has come early for Christians! Yet not the same kind of presents that we’re used to getting. No wild silk ties or recliner chairs or Aunt Martha’s "footprints" couch covering. These "spiritual blessings" have to do with the quality of life and relationships.

Secondly, we are chosen! My first reaction to being chosen was to recall those sweltering summer days in Fairmont, Minnesota when we picked teams for sandlot baseball-we were picked on how good we were. I usually got stuck out in left field and batted last. But God chooses quite differently. Remember how God chose his team? His team was called the Israelites. Of them God said,

"It was not because you were more numerous
than any other people . . . for you were the
fewest of all peoples. And it was not because
of your righteousness; for you are a
stubborn people!"

God said that the team was chosen even though they were stubborn and puny! So God takes the initiative to claim our lives for God’s purposes. But I suspect it’s not because of our shining qualities either. When God chooses humanity, God has a special purpose in mind, a special task or mission for us to do. So God solicits our help and then through us chooses to call others to join the team. God has chosen Christians to be a special kind of people, morally pure and covered with his love.

Third, we are adopted! When I act in a way that my daughter interprets as strange, she tells her friends, "I’m adopted." God, however, adopts us as family members. Commentators suggest the God-adopting-us blessing as being another example of God taking the initiative in human beings. Adoption requires someone more powerful deciding to bring someone powerless into a relationship-in the hope that a growing, healthy, family relationship will result. Paul says that is something about what God is up to in our lives.

Fourth, we are forgiven! Sometimes the three most important words we need to hear in a worship service are, "You are forgiven." In Christ, God has set us free from the enslaving power of evil-that’s what we act out in our Sunday services across the globe. We re-dramatize episodes of God’s liberation of our lives. That’s what we do at the Table this morning: we remember, we re-enact the part of the story where God liberates us from sin in all its evil forms. "We may not be perfect," Paul could have said, "but we are forgiven."

Fifth, we have an inheritance! Not only are we adopted, but we’re given a family inheritance ahead of time! There are forty million bumper stickers out there on our highways proudly adorning Lamborghinis, motor homes, and Harleys: "I’m enjoying my kid’s inheritance now!" So are we, says Paul.

Sixth, we are marked people! Etched deep within our psyche, we carry the seal of the Holy Spirit; this mark ensures us that we’re God’s special possession. God too, carries a mark that recalls our unique relationship with God: "I have written your name on the palms of my hands . . . you are mine." The scars in the hands of another recalls the same message to us: "you are mine."

But Paul hasn’t quite finished yet. While our minds approach overload with affirmation stacked on affirmation, the writer closes with one final, gigantic affirmation. The statement sums up the entire book of Ephesians. It is the greatest thing that God has done for Christians. Hear this affirmation read in free translation:

God set it all out before us in Christ,
a long-range plan in which everything would be
brought together and summed up in him,
everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth. [1]

What a mouthful! What an affirmation!

Paul, a bow-legged, spindly little guy arches his toes and calves to peer out of his prison cell window. From that vantage point, he sees a tragically divided and disordered world. He beholds a daily scenario: a slave owner kicks another human being as if she were an empty beer can; Paul is aware of the age old cycle of violence that exists between men and women-a relationship in which one becomes the abused and the other the abuser; a cycle that continues for years behind closed doors. He sees a serious rift between human beings and their environment; he sees fellow human beings killing each other on battlefields, and beyond that he envisions another diabolical warfare extending to the supernatural realm of spirits and demons. But in the furthermost horizon he witnesses the greatest tragedy of all-a great gulf that divides men and women from God. And he knows that the gulf must be bridged before any other divisions can be healed.

That’s what makes Ephesians so appropriate to us as we enter a very uncertain and frightening millennium. Division is the single greatest fact we have to deal with. And it runs deep. Like Paul, we can look our from our stained glass windows-or look in through them-and see the walls that separate us from each other. We see glaring gaps between parents and children, between African American and Caucasian, between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews, between laborer and corporation owners. We have a growing rift between us and our natural environment, and a division in our inner life that has split us apart like fissioned atoms. In economics, politics, in our society, among our races, in our environment, and in the human soul, we live in a totally divided and fractured world.

Yet to this very totally divided and fractured world-in the first and twenty-first century-Paul addresses his great affirmation about God’s ultimate purpose to unite all things in Christ. Paul says that disunity is not inherent in the scheme of things. God created a universe; we created a poly-verse. But God is not satisfied to leave things that way. The gospel tells about God’s intention to reverse the process, to restore the original unity of creation; and we have been tapped on the shoulder to help. But can we actually believe that this Jewish carpenter, this teacher of Galilee is somehow the goal of all history, the Agent of all this healing? Can we see Jesus as the cohesive power that will heal all our divisions and unite the whole creation in its obedience too God? Can we believe Paul’s gigantic affirmation?

Suppose we do believe it? Suppose we take the apostle’s word that God, who presides over this divided world is working to heal its divisions and unite all things in Christ? At the very least we’ll appreciate what the book of Ephesians is about and why this letter is so upbeat and positive. We’ll discover the sheer joy of looking at life from God’s perspective and not just from our small windows and silos. Ephesians dares to direct us to what God is up to, what God has done, is doing, and what God intends to do. And we’ll discover that over against the biggest single fact in our world-disunity between human begins, environment, and between God-Ephesians sets the great fact that in Jesus Christ, God has revealed an eternal purpose to bring unity out of disunity, order out of chaos, harmony out of disharmony, and peace out of strife. This is Paul’s great affirmation. And this is our great affirmation. So stay tuned! Amen.

[1] Eugene Peterson’s version "The Message."