Rooted and Established in Love!
Sermon: Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family
By: Donnell Wyche – February 3, 2019
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.
We are in part four of our sermon series “Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family.” We are making our way together through Ephesians learning about Paul’s view of the family of God and the work that Christ performed on the cross to remove the barriers to God’s family so that we can be given over to good works. We also have a READ class that’s happening alongside the sermon series that has just gotten underway to help engage the Bible in our everyday.
Let Me Let You In On A Secret
“Let me let you in on a secret,” Paul says. You know how you were dead in your sins, in your rebellion, in your transgressions, and how God demonstrated grace through Jesus, this was part of God’s plan from the beginning.
For this reason, Paul starts in Ephesians 3,
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. (Ephesians 3:1-3)
God was breaking into history with grace that reconciles, grace that saves. The sacrificial obedience of Jesus on the cross defeats the powers of sin, evil, and death and that sacrificial obedience also reconciles us to God and to each other. As Paul says, the hostility between us has been put to death on the cross.
Then it clicks all together for Paul, if Jesus is reconciling us to God and to each other, then this must be the revelation of God’s blueprint for creation, to form a new humanity, a new worldwide, multi-ethnic family.
4In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:1–6)
In the past, the only way into this family was through birth, through your adherence to the covenant, through circumcision. Paul says to keepers of the traditions of old that what Jesus did on the cross changed everything.
If you are willing to see it. If you are willing to accept it. This mystery is something that God has revealed; it’s not what we tend to think about when hear the word mystery, it’s not something dark, obscure, secret, or puzzling.
“This gift,” Paul says, “is a gift of grace for salvation.” It’s grace that reconciles all of creation, those near and those far. This reconciliation is not just for those who were born into this connection with the Creator already or even those who keep the covenant. God is flinging wide the doors to everyone. All that is needed is the ability to recognize your condition, that you were dead in your sins, dead in your participation in the rebellion, dead in your sins, without hope, in a hopeless situation. Then God broke into history with grace, grace that reconciles, grace that saves, but you only need that grace if you understand the condition you are in. Paul says, activate your faith, accept God’s grace, and allow this gift of grace to destroy the hostility and alienation that you have with God and each other.
But there were gatekeepers of the traditions of old, who disagreed with Paul. They are always those who oppose what God is at work doing. These gatekeepers weren’t ready to offer equality with the Gentiles. Sure, they could come in, but they would be second-class citizens. They have to follow our rules, they have to adopt our traditions, they have to maintain the status quo. We are happy to make space for them, as long as that space doesn’t require us to do anything. But Paul is beside himself. “He’s a prisoner to Christ,” he says. He understands the truth. There’s no way that Christ destroyed the hostility for anything except a new creation. A new family that’s multi-ethnic, and that’s open to everyone.
No Second Class Citizens, This is a New Family
This family would be something never seen before. Those who previously inherited their admittance to this family because of their birth, adherence to the covenant, or their circumcision, Paul says, that in Jesus all of that was put to death. Your admittance to this family isn’t because you are born into it. It’s not because you have been circumcised, it’s because of your faith in the grace that reconciles and saves you from “ruler of the kingdom of the air.”
When God is doing something new, history teaches us that it is easy for us to distort and corrupt the grace and salvation that God is offering. In the 1830s there was a revival among God’s people in the Americas, what’s come to be known as the Second Great Awakening.
Out of this spiritual revival and awakening, two liberation movements were launched, an anti-slavery movement and the Women’s Rights movement. William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slave movement and became a patron for a slave, Frederick Douglass. Because of his writing and condemnations of slavery, Douglass became the most photographed person in the 19th century.
I’ve been reading a new biography of Frederick Douglass and his enslavement. And I’ve been struck by Douglass’ clear-eyed condemnation of slavery, and more than that, his condemnation of a slaveholding Christianity. In Douglass’ own book, “Life of an American Slave,” Douglass sounds a lot like Paul.
There’s no way that you can call yourself a Christian and own another person as a slave. You do damage to Christ, and the work that God did in Jesus on the cross destroying the dividing walls of hostility.
Like Paul, Douglass, a prophet of freedom, says, if your Christianity allows you to own another, then that’s a Christianity that misses the gift of grace and salvation that God offers in Jesus.
“Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.” Frederick Douglass, Life of an American Slave, 1845
Douglass understood there could be no second class citizens. If the cross of Christ did anything it was to establish equality among God’s people. Paul understands this and becomes a prisoner of Christ to deliver this message.
Caught up by Grace – A Humble Brag
Paul is caught up in grace. And it’s grace in its fullest form. Grace that makes clear the underserved mercy and favor of God. If the grace of God is anything, it’s represented in God’s community, the ecclesia, the church of Christ.
I’m reading from Ephesians 3:7-9,
7I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
Even Paul understood the power and timing of a well placed humble-brag, I’m not the most important person in the room, Paul says. There is encouragement in how Paul describes his role and position, “I’m less than the least of all of the Lord’s people.” But it’s God’s grace that allows me to boast all the more!
Take note friends, it’s not always the people with the biggest platforms, the most followers, or the largest microphones who are entrusted with the message of liberation and freedom.
It seems that God also partners with everyday people, like you and me. People who are often eeking out our existence by trying to listen, surrender, and obey the Lord. That gives me hope and it should give you hope as well.
As we learn to continually discern the voice of God in community with others, God often meet us and invites us to become transformed, announcing an end of the hostility that separates us, and inviting us to the table of reconciliation and redemption as we announce liberation and freedom to those who are held in bondage.
One of the places that we do that announcement of liberation and freedom is right here in the church. Paul says that the church is place where the manifold wisdom of God is revealed.
10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Ephesians 3:7–13)
This is our responsibility, to create a place for the slow and steady process of transformation. “Be authentic, loving, vulnerable, and transparent!” Give away what you’ve been given. Our hope as a local church is to become a place where God can be discovered and rediscovered, again, and again. We want to do the things that mattered to Jesus like following him through the narrow gate into life, like engaging and serving in the places of deep pain in our community, joining God’s heart for justice, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
The church is the witness to a broken world that God is at work in God’s good creation restoring, reconciliation, and healing. It is my belief that the best reflection of the kingdom of God at work is found in a community that is diverse, in person, in tradition, in experience, and in expectation. It’s a community of individuals who are willing to put aside their assumptions about “the other” and extend their arms in welcome, instead of rejection or judgement.
In fact, it’s a community created in and marked by love echoing the sentiment that “To be known is to be loved, and to be loved is to be known.” This can feel like an impossible task, but this is the ongoing role of the church to reveal to the world and to the rulers, and authorities what the cross of Christ accomplishes.
That the cross of Christ can create something entirely new, a group of people who are declaring to those who are near and to those who are far that there is peace. That Jesus has rescued us from the coils of sin, which so easily entraps and entangles us.
Interceding In Prayer For You
Finally, Paul prays. Paul prays because he knows that none of this is possible with the partnership and presence of the Holy Spirit nudging, prodding, and leading us.
14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14–21)
I love how Paul phrases this part of his prayer; it’s so encouraging, “being rooted and established in love.” I pray that you may be “rooted and established in love” this morning. If you are here today and are anything but “rooted and established in love,” would you let us pray for you today? Because we want what Paul wants, that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.
God wants to heal someone who has, or has had, sharp pain on their right side near the bottom of their rib cage where the diaphragm would be. There is healing for someone who is carrying discouragement like a heavy weight in the pit of their stomach. There is healing for someone bothered by recurring headaches or a sinus condition.