Ephesians 1:3-12 Gratitude Season & All Saints
Elizabeth M. Deibert 30 October 2016
When you look in the mirror, what makes you mad/sad/frustrated? When you reflect back on your life, what makes you ashamed/disappointed/regretful? When you think about your daily life – what is it that you so much wish were different? There’s a lot that is changing in our world, the church, and culture. How do we make sense of it all? John Calvin said that to know God, we must know ourselves, and that to know ourselves, we must know God. Martin Luther said you cannot buy grace. It is the gift of God’s love freely given. If you want to hear more about the Reformation, Bill Yolton is teaching a class on it, starting today.
We start with admitting who we really are – behind the mask of the images we present to the world. Isn’t that the question we try to answer when we look at candidates? Who is the real Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Who is the real you? Who am I underneath my public persona? The agony and ecstasy of marriage and family life is that up close we truly underneath. We see the good, the bad, the ugly. We see the vulnerable self behind the mask, and up close we have enormous power to wound or to heal.
Today’s question is – are you satisfied with your life? On the surface that can seem a dangerous question. But I’m not inviting you to be self-satisfied. The people who boast the most about themselves might seem satisfied or secure but they are not. The people who are the most critical of others or the most boastful about themselves are just trying to deal with their own negative sound bytes. They have fear-based identities, so they are desperately needing to secure themselves by putting down another person. That’s real clear in the election, if you haven’t noticed. And we’re just like both the candidates, when we are down, we just try a little harder to prove ourselves, and usually everyone else can see right through it.
(slide: transformed) What I’m talking about is being satisfied with who we are in Christ, as we participate with God in our own transformation. Being secure in that identity, so we don’t need to trample anyone else. The next time you are tempted to rip into someone else, ask yourself first. What fear is there in me? What vulnerability in me is this person stirring up? Today, as we seek to draw nearer to the One who saves us from all our futile striving, let us take off our All Hallows Eve costumes, our deadly selves, the masks we wear to feel more powerful, more beautiful, more scary than all the ghosts and goblins we fear. As Christians, we are free to peel away the layers and be our authentic selves, free of fear. We are liberated to stop covering up weakness, and acknowledge how much we need God’s grace, and God’s glory shining on us.
The narrative of the scripture teaches us that we can be secure, as children of God, as people of the covenant, as those saints who belong to God, who are adopted by God and called for God’s glorious purposes. This is the only identity that will secure us. Every other identity is subject to our success or failure, or to the approval of others, but this identity, it will stick forever. It is as if the water in that baptismal font had paint in it, marking you with the love of Christ that cannot never be washed away – by anybody or anything. This is what makes us all saints. Paul writes this letter to the saints at Ephesus – people no more saintly than we are. He writes to them grace and peace – the same grace and peace – that I hope God is bringing you today as we gather here for Word and Sacrament, for truth and spiritual nourishment.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. (NRS)
(kid superman) You have been blessed in Christ with all the spiritual blessings of heaven. You have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. Blameless before God! God destined you for adoption through Jesus – just because it pleased God to do that. It makes God happy to freely give you glorious grace just because. There’s no reason for it, no earning it, no striving for more of it. We are saved, redeemed, rescued, forgiven according to the riches of grace, which God lavished on us in Christ. Little Christs we are!
And if that were not enough, God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, with all wisdom and insight. The reason for this is that God intends in the fullness of time to gather up all things in heaven and on earth. In Christ we have this great inheritance – this destiny according to God’s purposes, God who can accomplish all things – and all of this is so we will set our hope on Christ and live for the praise of his glory.
Don’t you see this is God saying, let me gather up all my glory, all my love, all my saving power, all my riches, and let me adopt these children and lavish them lavish them with all the love I have to give. Richard used to tell our children, if God put all the children in the world in a field, do you know who I’d pick, out of all the children in a field? I’d pick you!
(slide: 3 in autumn leaves) Every child and adult needs to know they are picked. They are loved, adopted, cherished, and lavished with God’s love. And we need to rise up against hate and overcome it with love. Haters hate because they fear. They fear because they are not secure in God’s love. God’s love is boundless. So we can stop hating even those who are haters, because with God, there is plenty of love to go around. There is no competition for God’s affection. God’s desire is to gather us all up in the fullness of time. Our job is to share that good news so the world might begin to change toward love. So to be satisfied with yourself is not an arrogant position. No, it is a humble but confident one. I’m not satisfied with myself because of my accomplishments, my gifts and talents, all that makes me special. No, I’m satisfied because I am aware of God’s grace that makes me whole, and I can live into that identity of wholeness, despite all my brokenness.
(slide) Nadia Bolz-Webber wrote a provocative book called, Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people. She rights that what makes us saintly is not our ability to be saintly, but God’s ability to work through sinners, people who really mess up. If you think you are the wrong person for the job, then that means you are just the kind Jesus chose to lavish with grace. Nadia says, “And this is it. This is the life we get here on earth. We get to give away what we receive. We get to believe in each other. We get to forgive and be forgiven. We get to love imperfectly. And we never know what effect it will have for years to come. And all of it…all of it is completely worth it.”
We are not dependent on the approval of other people, because our ultimate affirmation comes from God. Youth, are you listening? Rise above what your peers say about you. God thinks you are awesome. Despite all the things that make us mad or sad, or that shake us to our core, we will remember that we are beloved by God and called for a purpose – to set our hope in Christ and live for the praise of his glory in each in our own unique way.
(slide:prowling lion) So when the ways of the world’s thinking creep in and tell you to be dissatisfied with your life – when the messages of the world, the relentless advertising of consumer items and self-improvement products make you question life, when you start comparing your life with someone else, and think oh, I wish I had that kind of life, that kind of relationship, that group of friends, that kind of house, car, job, retirement, whatever. When the dissatisfaction devil invades your mind and you tells you that you don’t have enough or you are not enough, then watch out. You will either attack yourself or someone else around you. Unless you can quickly remind yourself of God’s affirming grace.
(slide: grammy) Peter and Robin Miller are in Chicago meeting their new baby granddaughter. Peter sent a photo of Robin holding baby Vaughn and beaming. That’s how God looks at us. So every time you are tempted to despise someone, think of a grandmother holding a baby she loves and know that the look of an adoring grandma is just a small fraction of the love of God.
(slide: Grace freely given) When we recognize the depth of God’s compassion, for those who are lost, confused, angry, misled, then we have to give second chances. To despise another is to be ignorant of grace. It will only take you down, down to that complicated and cloudy place of disgust that spares no one. When all the world around us is crumbling from mistrust, fear, and hatred, we will hold firm to the truth of God’s love. We will be satisfied in our inner being, satisfied with who we are and whose we are, because God has lavished us with this ridiculous, uncalculated, unmerited grace. From that place of ultimate security, we will have all we need to love others, even the ones who are hard to love. Hear Isaiah communicate the same message of belonging, of security in God, security beyond difficult circumstances, that we heard in Ephesians.
Isaiah 43:1-3a: 44-21-23
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. 22 I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. 23 Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. (NRS)
(slide: Created for God’s glory.) You are mine, God says. You are created for glory. I created you, I formed you. Do not fear. I have already redeemed you. I called you by name. I am with you. You will not be overwhelmed. I will save you. I have swept away your screw ups. You sins are evaporating like mist. Come home to me, because I love you. You are safe and free. You are not alone. Nothing you acquire or accomplish will fill you up – only I can do that, God says. So trust in me, lean on me, find in me your saving grace. (singing – slide of fearful child) I will come to you in the silence. I will lift you from all your fear. (slide of happy child) You will hear my voice. I claim you as my choice. Be still and know I am here.