Sunday, 14 July 2013

Preaching at GMC on Ephesians 1:3-14

Today saw a new experience for me.  I shared a service with our minister who is leaving next week.  She led the worship as I had done for her a few weeks ago and also oversaw the infant baptism and confirmation of members of a family in the congregation.  I preached on Ephesians 1:3-14.  It turned out to be interesting experience writing this message, as I re wrote it yesterday after having my wife proof read it for me.  She was absolutely correct - it needed a re-write.  I think it went well.  I received some positive feedback after the service.  I will attach it to this blog so that anyone who visits can judge for themselves.

On the business of re-writes, I am currently re writing my exegesis for the Faith and Worship.  It seems my writing is sometimes too academic.

I have however progressed through the assignments reasonably well to date, and am on course to complete the course next Spring which is in plenty of time.

Message: (I couldn't link it so here is a copy)

Let us pray
Father, let us humble ourselves as we come to listen to your word this morning.  Unblock our ears and our hearts to you, that your word may rest within us,  healing us and helping us to grow in your image

Amen

For the first time, I have found writing a sermon to be hard.  I am grateful to my wife who proof read my effort yesterday, and pulled one of her faces.  The pause said it all really.  The study loomed to listen afresh and to perhaps write afresh.  The reading we heard from Ephesians is challenging to write a sermon about, however when I initially chose the reading, there was something within it that called out to me, so it seemed that the problem was with the clarity of my interpretation rather than the reading itself.

The part of  Ephesians is a reading that is in effect an introductory part of a letter.     This is the part of a letter that acts as an introduction to the main body of the letter, it occurs just after the greetings, in other words just after the Dear Sir/Madam part.  Paul certainly doesn’t waste ink on small talk.    Mind you, he was used to hard work.  When he had lived in Ephesus, with Priscilla and Aquilina, he had been used to hard manual work, living a very hard existence as a tent maker, working full time at a trade whilst evangelising for the Gospel after work.  All this from a one room apartment, something like a bed-sit today, shared between a family.   Paul would have been used to making every minute count and no doubt every word.
It is also worth noting the context that this letter was sent in.  Paul is a prisoner in Rome.  The letter was probably written in the early months/years after his arrival, sometime around 60 A.D.  Paul is still relatively optimistic about the outcome of his time in Rome, Nero has not gone crazy yet indulging his narcissism by finding that slightly kooky group the Christians a useful target for his more sadistic tendencies.  However, Paul is chained to his guard at night, so he is writing this letter from a position of restriction and imprisonment, and yet he speaks of love, freedom and redemption.
I would like to draw your attention to a phrase Paul uses in vv 5 and 11.  In these two verses, we see an almost verbatim repeat.  In V 5, we get “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons… in accordance with his pleasure and will”, whilst in V11 we get “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity to his purpose of his will”   The first thing that struck me when I read this was that for Paul to repeat a whole phrase almost to the word, then what he was saying must have seemed very important to him.  But what was he saying?  The word predestined, has often caused controversy, but if we focus instead on the Will of God then what we get may be that perhaps all things that are of God and from God are worked out in the world, according to the will of God.

The bulk of the reading focuses on the Praise to God for blessings in Christ, for it is only in relationship with Christ that we can enjoy relationship with the Father.

The first point Paul makes is that we were chosen to be “holy and blameless in his sight”.  In other words; although we may commonly miss the mark, in God’s sight, from his perspective if you like, he sees us as holy and blameless.  That’s quite a thought.  Take a minute to look at the person sitting next to you.  They are holy and blameless in God’s sight.  He has chosen us as his children – and here is the first use of the phrase about praise – to the praise of his glorious Grace.  The Grace refers to Jesus, as Paul tied it in with the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus – all of this so that all things will be as God originally planned them to be.  Our relationship with the Father is made right again by the sacrifice of Jesus, in his life, his death and culminating in his resurrection.

The phrase of for the praise of his Glory, then get two further uses, first in association with the first followers of Jesus, who would be there for the praise of his Glory.  In their living and being, and in most cases, sadly suffering and dying.  The first followers offer a clear link to Jesus, who led the way, in living, suffering and dying for the praise of his Glory.   Jesus leads the way, and the disciples are called to follow Jesus’ example.

Paul then reaches out to the Ephesian community, and reminds them that just as the first followers are in Christ, they too are in Christ, having a seal within them of the Holy Spirit.  Why should this be so?  For the praise of his Glory!  Paul is reminding the Ephesian Church that just as Jesus chose his close followers, and charged them with the great Commisssion, he has also chosen his followers in Ephesus who are called to follow the same path, reflecting the light of Jesus in all that they do and say.  All Jesus’ followers are called to reflect the Glory of God.

All that we do, all that we think, all that we are should therefore be for the praise and Glory of God.  If this is so, then this becomes the acid test of whether we are with God or not.  I find this reminiscent of 1 John when the writer says this, “if we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not live by the truth”.  The author then of course follows this with a gentle reassurance to all of us in “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.
In John’s letter we find the reassurance that if we are honest with ourselves and God, then God will purify us from all unrighteousness, thus making us holy and blameless in his sight, and in Paul’s ;letter we find encouragement to press on in the knowledge that we are loved by God, forgiven by God and kept by God.  Loved by the Father whose creation is holy and blameless in his sight, forgiven by God through his Son’s sacrifice at the Cross and kept by God via the gift of the Holy Spirit, a living gift sealing us against the evil one.
So we have a reminder from Paul of the way that the creation is planned to be, what it can be now and what it will be, “when the times will have reached their fulfilment”.  Isn’t this a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven as often spoken of by Jesus.  Life in Christ.  Life in the trinity.
Of course, we, as humans, are prone to failure and that special life, when we live in relationship with God is often transient.  The storm then inevitably rises (events in life, someone cutting us up on the highway, a friend hurting our feelings, a row with a partner, an irritating work or church colleague) we lose our place and rapidly sink into our own ideas which separate us from God.  We become like Peter, when he climbed out of the boat.  I am sure you remember the story in Matthew’s Gospel.   Of course, we need to remember, that at least Peter had tried. At least he had got out of the boat.  At least he had stood up for Jesus, and was willing to risk everything for him.   And because of that, you will all remember what happened when he did start to sink.  Jesus reached out for him to save him.

So be reassured that as we go out to our jobs, our families, our schools this week that we are loved, forgiven and protected.  Trust in the armour of God.  Trust in his love, Trust in his forgiveness and grace and let the Holy Spirit speak within you. 
The more we do this, the more we will hear those whispers of God that we have been studying recently and respond in a fashion that reflects the Glory of God.

In Jesus name

Amen