Monday, January 12, 2009

Ephesians 1:3-11 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. 9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ-- everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

COMMENT: For many folks, Romans is the epitome of Pauline teaching and doctrine, but for me, it has always been the book of Ephesians. Maybe it's because my Father (who raised me in the Lutheran tradition) had a favorite verse... 2:8 - "By grace are you saved through faith". Or maybe it's because I like the rest of that passage - it is not our doing, but God's gift. We can't brag about anything at all. For we are God's creative masterpiece, an artistic expression of God's grace (my paraphrase of the beautiful Greek word poiema, from which we get our English word "poem") - and we have been recast in God's image to display God's glory through the way we live our lives - to the praise of God's glory. Or maybe it's because one of the best classes I ever took in Seminary was The Christological Epistles taught by Dr. Willard Taylor (what a scholar/saint/instructor!) who passed on his love of Ephesians to me. Or maybe it is because this opening passage climbs the summit of Pauline insight into the redemptive plan of God - that what God is about ultimately, urgently, and undeniably is the grand work of reconciling all things in and through God's own Son, Jesus Christ.

I am about to teach a class on the parables of Jesus - and we will be listening to a sermon by BBT (perhaps my favorite preacher) on the Prodigal Son. She notes that the American Church tends to interpret this parable as a repentance story... and what American Church doesn't need to repent? However, for most pastors and people in the church, what they have in view is individual "personal salvation" kind of repentance (which of course is a message for outsiders and others, not for "us")...rather than the corporate repentance that is needed by most of our churches and institutions ...characterized and  compromised as they are by greed, lust, power, and other more subtle forms of corruption.

But BBT sees this parable as a story of reconciliation, revealing to us the heart of a God whose "honor means nothing to him where his family is concerned... he will do anything to keep his whole community together" and she sees the father coming out to the elder son, not running this time, because he is worn out with these "warring, wasteful children...of how little it means to them to belong to one another, of how much more interested they are in being fulfilled and fed, or blameless and right... than they are in being reconciled with each other, as if securing their own identities were more important to them than living in peace with one another." 

Again this week, I have heard from another young minister who has been chewed up, spit out, and cast aside by a denomination that is caught up in power games that secure and establish their own honor and control - rather than taking the way of reconciliation and redemption. This young minister and his wife could very easily leave the church that they love - and yet, they, and the hundreds like them all over the US - are the hope of renewal for the North American Church - a church that needs renewal at the core of who we are. However, I am excited that, when we open up the parables of Jesus, a new world of kingdom righteousness, kingdom priorities, and kingdom peace breaks in upon our hearts - and our imaginations - so that, hopefully, we who attend to these stories will begin to see the world as God sees it, and make the reconciliation of all things to God our highest prayer and most urgent work.

Paul uses an interesting, one-of-a-kind word in Ephesians 1:10 to describe God's eternal plan. In Greek, it is too long to transliterate... but it is literally translated: "to bring all things together under one head" and is often translated "to sum up, gather, or bring together all things". The image could be likened to an excel spread sheet - different rows and columns of all different kinds of people - color, ethnicity, language, religion... and all different aspects of God's creation - animal kingdom, plants and rocks, the entire cosmos... and here God is, putting the cursor over every cell and uniting them (summing them all together) in Christ... 

God's plan is more than a personal relationship with me and you... God is about the work of reclaiming all of creation - reaching out to all people and every creature to redeem us all - in Christ. No wonder Paul breaks out in song 3 times in verses 3-14 of chapter one, closing each stanza of his poem with the refrain: "to the praise of God's glory!"

Lord, help me today to be your messenger to the church, that desperately needs to remember that our only business is to align ourselves with your business, which is the wonderful and costly work of reconciliation, reunion, and redemption of all creation - even, and most especially, the part of your creation that we call "other" and would just as soon avoid at all costs. May this vision and passion send us into the broken and fractured people and places of this world - intent on being your agents of reconciliation - to the praise of your glory!

Soli Deo gloria

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