The Seal of the Holy Spirit

Sermon: Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family

By: Donnell Wyche – January 20, 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.

Surveying the Landscape – Between the Worlds
We have just launched our sermon series called “Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family.” Over the next several weeks we are going to consider what it means to have a community’s identity changed and impacted as they encounter God in their own place and time.

Last week, I had to end early, so I want to pick up where I stopped last week.

We were considering that what Paul offers in the opening verses of Ephesians is this idea that since the beginning, God has been at work to bless creation. Paul says that we belong to God. And that God has purposed to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

So, let’s jump back in with verse 7,

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:7-10)

Paul is revealing the back story. The story of the Exodus from Egypt. In that story God partnered with humanity (Abram, Joseph, Moses) to liberate humanity from the powers of sin, evil, and death that were unleashed in the rebellion in the garden. Now, Paul is retelling the story again, this time it’s the cross of Jesus, this costly act of obedience that is used to mysteriously liberate God’s people once and for all. This act of sacrificial love and obedience is used to liberate the people, and now not just the people of Israel, but as Paul notes, the entire world, Jew and Gentile.

It’s helpful to understand Paul in context. Paul is a traveler between cultures. What I would describe as an echo of the race codes in the Americas, the notorious “one-drop rule.” If you had one drop of Black or African blood, then you were considered Black. In a worldview that divides the world into Jew or Gentile, you could say that Paul in this case was biracial. On the one hand, Paul was a Jew, an heir of the covenant and the relationship Paul’s people had with the Creator since the Exodus from Egypt. And at the same time, he was also a Roman citizen. He had certain rights and privileges that the Empire conferred on its citizens. He had the freedom of movement, and in some cases, the freedom of speech. His Roman citizenship, like “passing for white” in the Jim Crow south, allowed Paul to move freely within the Empire and to challenge its basic assumptions.

The Shaken City
That’s what Paul is doing in Ephesus. He’s challenging the basic assumption that Diana is the way. Paul says, “Nope.” In point of fact, Diana is a false god, she’s an empty idol. She lacks power, authority, and standing. She should be discarded. Accept Jesus instead, Paul says. God, since the beginning, has purposed to bless creation, and Jesus is the fulfillment of that blessing because on the cross Jesus has reconciled the creation to God.

When the Gospel is proclaim and demonstrated, it’s transformative. Here in Ephesus, Paul’s Gospel declaration threatens the very economic heart of the city because the Gospel declares there is one God and one creator of the universe and this God has reconciled the world through his son Jesus. The Creator God is no idol, this God is alive and at work.

23About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the skilled workers there. 25He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” (Acts 19:23–27)

Demetrius saw it clearly. The gospel was bad for business. Demetrius was also shrewd because he made the connection between the well-being of the city and the prevailing religious ideology that they had adopted. Demetrius, using this insight, evoked the fear of those threatened by the Gospel (the call to abandon our idols and to surrender to and follow the creator God) by stoking the people’s fears and inciting their hatred, which easily led to violence. Demetrius understood that the crowd is always susceptible to fear. Then the demonic forces at work use this fear to push people into a demonic imagination.

Which is why it is important for the people of God to present, filled with the Holy Spirit. Present in private and public spaces, declaring the truth of the good news of the Gospel, proclaiming and demonstrating. Just as Jesus confronts the powers (evil, sin, death) on the cross through sacrificial love, God’s people are called to the same vocation. Sealed with the Holy Spirit, we declare there is another, through non-violence, suffering, repentance, peace-making.

Sidenote: Let me just say that every time the church stands on the side of the Gospel, condemning the idols we create, it is met with hostility, hatred, and violence. Because the truth (the way) of the Creator that we declare is rebukes the powers, which creates the hostility, hatred, and violence. This was the experience of the early Christians in the Roman Empire when they were exiled. This was present when the Quakers joined the abolition movement. This is what the champions of Civil Rights found when they resisted the idol of white supremacy. When faith communities led by the Black protestant churches joined the CR movement to resist the evils of the segregated south and disrupted the powers. This action was met with hostility, hatred, and violence. For example, four little girls (Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair) attending 16th Street Baptist Church lost their lives one Sunday morning because of this hostility, hatred, and violence.

Ephesians 1: 11-14, speak of our inheritance, that God has predestined those who, in Christ, reflect God’s will: a reconciled and reconciling community, bearing witness to the work that God purposed in Christ to bless creation. Then Paul says that we have been marked with a seal, the promised outpouring of the living God, the Holy Spirit, who is, as Paul says, “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.”

11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14)

This deposit guaranteeing our inheritance is how God “puts a ring on it.” God claims us as God’s own. This seal of the Holy Spirit continues the work of removing the hostility between us.

This Holy Spirit is the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. This Spirit has the power to bring the dead back to life. And that’s what we see in the proclamation and demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit’s healing presence in Ephesus (in Acts 18 & 19). The Spirit is a real and present threat to the very core of the temple worship cult of the Greco-Roman gods. Specifically, Paul’s kingdom activity threatens the worship of the goddess Diana and the silversmiths who rely on her temple and her devotees.

In laying on of hands, Paul is declaring something about the power of the Creator God. The Creator is not the same as the gods and goddesses of the pagan Greco-Roman world. God isn’t just some divine force, a vague or loosely defined entity, known only as “the sacred.” For Paul, God is the real creator of universe. The Creator isn’t a powerless idol.

The cross of Christ, like the Passover, is bloody, and it requires an innocent life. People held in bondage are freed, however. Liberated. Just like God acting on behalf of Israel in the clash of the powers with Pharaoh in Egypt, God acts again on behalf of the people. This time in the person of Jesus, submitted to a gruesome death on a Roman cross. Victory in vulnerability. The powers (sin, death, and evil) are defeated so that we might be forgiven, redeemed, and restored so that we can liberate others. All of this creates unity. It removes the wall of hostility. Only Jesus could bring together those who were previously only hostile with each other. The unity we witness here in Ephesians that Jew and Gentile are reconciled is only possible by the work of the cross that has now destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.

This is why Paul prays for us in Ephesians 1:17-22 to have wisdom and understanding (he says revelation).

“Knowledge without wisdom can be a menace,” scholar FF Bruce writes in his commentary on Ephesians – this is the constant challenge of the people of God. What does it mean to act on what we are called to do or be in Christ. How do we live what we believe? Paul prays for us–that we would have wisdom and understanding (Ephesians 1:15-22)

15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all his people, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:15-23)

The early church responded to this inheritance by doing two significant things in a culture fixated on the Greek ideal. Children born with a defect or deficiency in the ancient world were discarded. The Christian violating Roman law would retrieve these children and raise them as their own. As Rodney Stark notes in his book, The Rise of Christianity, Christians stayed behind in the ancient world when the plagues would devastate a city. Those who had means could and did escape, but the Christians willingly stayed behind to care for those who were left behind. These two acts of deep care reflect the response of those in Christ to remove distinctions between the haves and the have-nots. We join this stream and follow their examples when we partner with the Holy Spirit, open our hands, and ask the Father to lead us.

What then, how do we respond?
As the people of God we are aware of injustice, but what’s does the Gospel require of us? If you follow Luke’s account in Acts of the presentation of the Gospel in Ephesus, you will note that it requires a proclamation and a demonstration. But what are we called to? That’s the discernment question that we must consider.

As a local church community interested in proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, we are gathering tonight at Cultivate Vineyard to spend some time in group discernment to see how we might proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel in our community. Two weeks ago I talked about a dream that we have as a church to help fill the gap between Head Start and Early 5s with a free Pre-K. Why this? Good question. As leaders and congregants, we have been praying about and considering what’s next in our social engagement in the places of pain in our community. As we become the people of God, we want to respond to God’s love in our generosity, joy, and gratitude. We have been given so much, and we have earned a little favor in the early childhood intervention area. There are already people within our community who are skilled, passionate and called to this work. We already have experience in this area, and we can partner with others. Plus there seems to be an opportunity and a need; Ann Arbor is the 8th most economically segregated community in the US. But does that mean we should do it? Another good question. I think it means we should consider this opportunity and discern together what God is doing–who is already here, what is needed, and how we can proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel.

So, come to Cultivate Vineyard, Sunday, January 20 at 5:30pm and help us with our group discernment. If you can’t come or don’t want to, pray for us that we might have what Paul says we need, “wisdom and understanding.”

Prayer senses
How can we be aware of what the Gospel requires if we are not first aware of what it requires for ourselves? How can we partner with God in His acts against justice if we are not fully pursuing what it means to be a child of God, to be filled with the Spirit, to identify our own hostilities and our own prejudice and our own bondage? 

  • “Forgiveness in place of bitterness, Peace in place of fear.” I sense that the Lord is providing grace for folks to step into this. 
  • Grace for those feeling alienated from the Christian community or a family member.
  • Grace for those who feel they are separated (estranged) from God’s love or unable to receive God’s blessings.
  • Grace for those who long to experience a deeper intimacy with God.
  • Healing for someone experiencing pain in their neck and/or left side of their back/shoulder area