Welcome to the Revolution!
Sermon: Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family
By: Donnell Wyche – January 13, 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 are launching a sermon series today, “Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family.” I’m always cautious when trying to predict the future, but we hope to use the next several weeks to consider what happens when a community’s identity is changed as they encounter God in their own place and time.
To get started, we will consider Paul’s letter written to the community of Jewish and Gentile believers gathered in and around Ephesus and Asia Minor. Ephesus was a former Greek colony, now the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor. Ephesus is also the home of the Roman goddess Diana (Artemis). The temple to Diana is at the center of the economic prosperity of the city, and the Gospel that Paul preaches is so threatening, the entire city raises up in opposition to Paul and his missionary work.
Paul says that the cross of Jesus, his death and resurrection, ushers in a new world order. God is reconciling all of humankind. This reconciliation is in repentance of the false gods and idols and in the acceptance of the creator God and his son, Jesus. Paul has this grand sweeping vision: Christ is now enthroned with God. The story of Jesus’ victory over death, evil, and sin on the cross reverses the affects of the rebellion in the garden with the first humans and creates a new unified community that is multi-ethnic and reflects the grace of God.
This new society, a single new humanity is being created in Christ, and nothing else. This realization, the Gospel of Jesus, should affect how those of us in Christ should live out every part of our lives, in our neighborhoods, our communities, and our families.
The Jewish and Gentile converts and believers who are the recipients of this letter find themselves like the Israelites in Egypt, subjects of an Empire. This time, it’s the Roman Empire that spans from modern day England & Spain to the west, Egypt and Northern Africa to the south, Europe & Turkey to the North, and Syria & Iran to the East. Ephesus is a major trading port, a religious center filled with aristocrats, wealthy land owners, Romans citizens with all of the rights and privileges that come with citizenship, artisans, freedman, working class, and slaves. This community of faith is gathered together through shared faith in Jesus. They belong to Christ, and they are in Christ. They are the saints.
As we dive into Paul’s letter to the church in Asia Minor, let’s consider what Toni Cade Bambara wrote about the job of a writer, she says,
“The job of a writer is to make a revolution irresistible.” That’s what Paul is intending to do in this letter, remind the people of God of the revolution to remake, reshape, and restore the world.
Join the Revolution!
Paul invites us to the revolution with worship, “Praise.” I’m reading from Ephesians, Chapter 1, verse 3:
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
In an invitation to worship that acknowledges that God has been and has always been at work in creation to bless creation. Paul is echoing what God promised Abram in Genesis 15:2-3,
2“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
In this opening, Paul is reminding the people to whom they belong and who they are. You belong to God. God has purposed to bless you with every spiritual blessing in Christ. There are lots of ways to understand what it means to be “in Christ.” Here’s another, In Christ, God is reordering the world. God’s people are invited to join in this activity of reordering the world. This is what I mentioned last week, that I wanted us to be a community of people who live with our hands open filling in the gaps. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 25,
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Simply put, those of us in Christ don’t live in the world as it is, we use our prophetic imagination to ask that God’s kingdom comes to the earth and that God’s will is done here as it is heaven. Practically, this looks like adopting orphans, caring for widows, befriending the lonely, announcing hope in places of despair. It’s what James, the brother of Jesus, calls true religion in James 1:27. It’s the intersection of faith and works.
This God, the Creator God is reconciling humanity to Godself through Jesus. God has called together a people who are to be image-bearers of the Creator in the world. The result is a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-generation, community who trust Jesus and whose good works reveal the faith they have in Jesus and God, his Father. Paul continues in Ephesians 1: 4 through 10.
4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 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 1:4-10)
Paul hits on our past, present, and future in this single sentence in the Greek that’s been translated into 11 verses. Our past is a mess of success and failure, our present is full to overflowing of God’s love forgiving and redeeming us, and our future invites partnership with God in the restoration of all things. In Paul’s view, the gift of God’s Son is the blessing that contains all of the other blessings, so if we have Christ, we have everything in him, everything we need, everything we could ever want or hope for.
He’s trying to inventory the mercies found in Christ: we are holy, we are blameless, we are loved, we’re chosen, we’re adopted, we’re received as sons & daughters all for God’s pleasure and will. Then Paul can’t hold back any longer, so he calls it a “…glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves”
6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:6)
If you see the glory of God, you’ve seen the ultimate display of God’s being. God’s glory is the display of God’s very being and nature. Paul is saying that grace is God’s supreme, and ultimate self-manifestation. If God is anything, God is grace. Put simply, God is full of grace.
Grace is not a side-line for God, something God’s occasionally capable of—like the bank teller who waives a bank fee because you’re a good customer, this grace is subject to the the whims of the mood of teller. Paul is saying that grace is the heart of who God is. Those called by God’s name should reflect this reality. We are invited to become instruments of grace.
Paul continues, “…which he has freely given us.”
6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:6)
Grace means freely given. So many of the gifts we given are given with some sense of obligation. But grace is under absolutely no obligation. When it is given, it is freely given.
When the prodigal son in Luke 15:20–24 returned to his father’s house after blowing his inheritance, about a third of his father’s wealth, dishonoring his family name by his selfish and moronic behavior, the Father in the story runs out to meet him, throws his arms around him, kisses him, put sandals on his feet, places his favorite robe around him, gave him his own signet ring, and killed the fatted calf to throw his wayward son a party. It was a demonstration of glorious grace, freely given, and it overwhelmed the son, but it wasn’t what the son deserved. The son thought he would return to be a servant of his father.
This glorious grace, freely given is “in accordance with God’s pleasure.” There’s nothing at all reluctant about the grace of God. It’s entirely in accordance with God’s pleasure. It’s something God wants to do and that God takes pleasure in doing.
Paul continues in 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. (Ephesians 1:7)
When Paul refers to the riches of God’s grace, how affluent, how abundantly wealthy, the most frequent measure of God’s wealth is God’s grace, mercy, kindness.
When the father in story of the prodigal son ran out to greet his son, that meant something to the prodigal son (prominent men never ran in public); when he threw his arms around him, that meant something (deserved a beating but received an embrace); the kiss meant something…the sandals for his feet (servants didn’t wear sandals)…the robe meant something (father’s robe, with father’s smell on it)….the signet ring (restoring son’s authority) when the father killed the fatted calf, not only his favorite meal, but enough for whole village (father wasn’t ashamed to have his son back).
It’s lavish, but it’s also pregnant with meaning because it’s lavished “with all wisdom and understanding.”
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)
What’s Paul doing here — 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. The cross is like the Passover, it’s 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 defeated. For what purpose, that we might be forgiven, redeemed, and restored. Which creates unity. 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.
I want to circle back to grace. How can we join God in being instruments of grace. Think back to a time when you didn’t get what you deserve. How could you trust God, believing that you are in Christ, and expend grace and mercy?
Here are some prayer senses:
- Grace for those who are struggling with guilt that you are unable to resolve.
- Grace for those who feel like they have lost their spiritual hunger and are feeling distant from God.
- Grace for those who are dealing with anxiety that they experience as fear in their chest and uneasiness in their stomach that won’t go away.
- Grace for those who have repeated thoughts of having failed or being a failure and wants to give up.