Whose We Are and Who We Can Be

Jul 11, 2021

Sermon 7-11-2021
7th Sunday of Pentecost
Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Today’s reading from Ephesians 1 is a Biblical goldmine. In fact, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of Great Britain’s great 20th century preachers, once preached on it for sixth months. Can you imagine – six months!? The commentator who shared that gem of information described Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ congregation as “undoubtedly fascinated” by this six-month focus. (1) I have to say, that seems unlikely to me unless it was fascinating to count how often he repeated himself.
     Although to be fair, this Ephesians passage is one that can overwhelm us with its grandeur. When I was in college as a journalism major, I was taught to write paragraphs of no more than 30 words and brief sentences. Evidently, the Apostle Paul did not receive such training; what looks to us like 11 verses is, in the original Greek language, one 200-word long sentence covering immeasurable eons of time. It begins before creation and ends with the return of Jesus.
     This text invites us to look at things the way God looks at them. God is the initiator, the subject of the phrase eight times, as we are reminded of what we tend to forget. As Pastor Alex Evans points out in his sermon on this text: “We forget about God’s boundless and steadfast love that covers us. We forget that we have been chosen before the foundation of the world to be God’s beloved children, that God looks upon us and sees us – because of Christ – as holy and blameless, adored. We forget that we have been redeemed from anything that can separate us from God. We forget that we have a destiny – no matter what happens to us – our destiny is with God.” (2)
     In other words, this passage conveys the very essence of the Gospel. God chooses us in love, adopts us as God’s children, bears with us, forgives us, calls us to life and purpose with and for God. WOW! How blessed are we!
     It is important to remember that the verbs are plural, not singular; this Good News is not to be viewed as a “me and Jesus,” a singular reality, but a community experience. As commentator Susan Hylen notes, Ephesians is a letter about living together amid human differences. Paul is a Jew, writing to a Gentile audience, with the message that God has, in Christ, made both groups into one and has, quoting Ephesians 4, “broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”  
     Remember, these groups were previously at odds with one another on religious grounds; to live together requires effort. Quoting Commentator Hylen, “God graciously adopts not a single child or even a group with one ethnic or religious identity. Instead, God chooses and adopts a diverse group of people.” (3)
     Ponder that for a moment. During the past year a group of us first did a study titled “Multiethnic Conversations.” Then discussed a book titled “So You Want to Talk About Race,” which we are finishing today. Much of the emphasis has been on the importance of intentionally living together, despite human differences because Jesus envisioned a multiethnic community. There is, quoting the study, “…no clearer or more credible witness to God’s love for all people than the witness of diverse believers walking, working, and worshipping God, together as one in the local church.” (4)
      It is about relationships. The more we connect with those who are different from us, the more we learn about their struggles, the more the reality of being brothers and sisters in God’s family becomes. And the more we will, quoting verse 12, “live for the praise of his glory.” So how do we do that?
     First, we acknowledge that God chose us before we were even born to bring glory to God. Second, we orient our lives in such a way that we honor not ourselves but the Lord. Third, we encourage others to live for God’s glory as well. And fourth, we rejoice that God is making us more and more like Jesus Christ and eventually will draw us into God’s eternal presence. (5) You might say that these four things are key points of our purpose.
     People are always seeking their lives’ purpose. Doug Bratt tells a story he read in the Chicago Tribune about a man named Bill who had traveled to India to discover the meaning of life. He did not, however, find it.
     When he returned to the United States, he saw a sign outside a Chevron gas station that read: “As you travel, ask us.” So, each time he stopped at a Chevron station, he would say to the attendant, “I’m a traveler, and I’d like to ask you a question. “What is the purpose of life?” Maybe we should all try that and see what happens! As you can imagine, he got answers like: “I’m new here,” or “The manual didn’t cover that,” but mostly, he got blank stares.
     Yet, Bill’s persistence made him famous among Chevron employees. Eventually, a Chevron district manager called him to suggest he put his question on paper and mail it, with a self-addressed envelope, to the corporate headquarters. So, he did. And a few weeks later, he received a letter back from the Chevron customer service department.
     The response to his question was enclosed - an application for a company credit card; that was their answer to, “What is the purpose of life?” (6)
     Now, I suppose that is a good metaphor for many North Americans especially – the purpose of life is to buy stuff. But Paul offers us another answer in Ephesians 1: Focus on what God has done for us, and on our response, living in ways that honor God and ways that bless others, not for our glory, but for God’s glory.
     The other day I came across a Christian radio station as I scanned through the stations while driving and paused to listen. The pastor speaking was telling about a young man with little church background who came to the church he served. After attending for some time, having learned about Jesus and being involved in the church’s activities, the young man told the pastor that although he believed in Jesus, Christianity just wasn’t for him.
     No, it was not that the congregation or the pastors had disappointed him in some way; it was not that he disliked worship or had not made any friends. The problem was that he still had problems; being a Christian had not met his expectations, had not fixed his life. So, he thought he would move on – maybe to yoga.
     As often is the case, this young man did not grasp that being a follower of Jesus is not about “what’s in it for me,” at least not in the small picture of having a perfect life in the here and now. It is about the big picture of being chosen by God in love, adopted as God’s child, forgiven, and called to life and purpose with and for God. It is not about what I get but what I can give. It is about how I can grow in faith, how I can seek unity with others and how, doing so, I find that my purpose is to live for the praise of God’s glory, and in that, there is contentment. As the text proclaims, we are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; it is the sign of whose we are and who we can be. AMEN
(1) “Lectionary Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14” by Doug Bratt, www.cep.calvinseminary.edu
(2) “ALL” – Ephesians 1:3-14 by Alex Evans, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA., July 9, 2017
(3) “Commentary on Ephesians 1:3-14” by Susan Hylen, www.workingpreacher.com
(4) “Multiethnic Conversations” by Mark DeYmaz and Oneya Fennell Okuwobi, 2016, Wesleyan Publishing House, pg. 16
(5) Same as #1
(6) Same as #1