A Sermon Preached by Ms Leslie Spatt
Sunday 25th August 2019
We’ve been travelling through the letter to the Ephesians for this year’s summer season of sermons; an opportunity to go through one complete bit of the bible in much more depth than is normally possible during regular Sunday services. And the various themes, reflections, on Ephesians during these weeks have not only built up a picture of what that early Christian community might have been experiencing – with all its problems and temptations living in a large, important very diverse city – but also have offered us a vision of what Christians living together should hope to create and nurture; an example of full, enriching life to an often hostile and critical world around them which cares very little for what we might call “Christian values.” The letter to the Ephesians is a glorious rejoicing in what we have been given by living “in Christ”.
A very tiny jump through the past few weeks just to remind us where we’ve got to so far:
What is our identity, I wondered, near the beginning of the sermon series. Yes, we are all God’s children, but that of itself doesn’t make Christians different to anyone else. What creates the distinctiveness for Christians is faith in Jesus as Lord, the Christ raised by God from the dead who brings us into a special relationship with God and gives the freedom to create and nurture the Kingdom of Heaven. We’ve been offered the responsibility and work of helping our broken and imperfect world to see the glory of God reflected in Jesus.
What does the future hold? It’s a mystery, said Simon some weeks ago; and we tend to be uncomfortable with mysteries we can’t solve. However, the writer of Ephesians has allowed us to see something of the future, a far more comprehensive future than just the boring simple problems of everyday existence. And whatever the future brings, we are held by Christ, which frees us from worry about the future. Worrying is even more uncomfortable than mystery!
What of a Christian vision for the world? There were plenty of Gentiles living in Ephesus, who weren’t part of the Jewish or Christian understanding of God’s promises, God’s covenant. They didn’t belong to God in the same way as Christians did, but now they had hope of sharing in that promise because Christ has made everyone to be one. We can experience reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another: Ephesian’s vision of how the vocation of the church might be described – to be a people of reconciliation.
At the start of August, in his sermon Simon asked us, “Why are we here? Why do we bother coming to church and does the church matter?” And one of Simon’s thoughts was that the church matters very much because the mission of the church is to be a new way of being human; a way which goes far beyond the divides that separate human beings from one another. And then to bear witness to those with power and authority that unity with each other and with God is what God wants for all people.
God does not accept the way the world is: not then in Ephesus and certainly not now – where too many factions seem obsessed with building fences and obstacles to protect individual little empires. Insisting on narrow and mostly simplistic interpretations of what the Bible might or might not mean; demanding slavish obedience to traditions and beliefs which no longer have any relevance or real worth simply because “that’s the way it’s always been,” barricading national, physical and economic boundaries to shut out those who might rejoice in the opportunity for a better life; and possibly the worst: irrational hatred of anyone who doesn’t share the values or aims of those in power.
And then last week, the tone of the letter changed from developing mostly abstract theology into developing practical, real time applications of that theology. To put some substance onto the theological framework of the recent weeks. You might remember the sermon’s core question: do we know ourselves to be loved by God? Loved beyond all our understanding, beyond all our deserving of it, and to be freed from the burden of trying to prove ourselves to God, to others, and even to ourselves?
Ephesians says that we don’t have the worry of even thinking about doing this, and it isn’t an individual thing. Through Jesus Christ, a new united family community has been created, which we call the church. We, as the church, the corporate Body of Christ, are known and seen as people who know and share God’s love. Nothing we can do by our own efforts or what we call “duty” can contribute anything towards finding ourselves loved and accepted by God. We’ve already got that.
So we come to this week’s Ephesians offering – which turns much more towards the living-out of this vision of togetherness and unity. The lifestyle of Gentiles – in other words, non-Christians – in Ephesus who refuse to open their minds to what Christ has taught us are not good examples of how to behave. The letter says, “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts”…wonderful word, ‘lusts’… ”and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The “new self” does demand a change in behaviour: speaking the truth, avoiding sin to leave no room for the devil, forgetting about all the former, useless things we mistakenly spent time and effort in acquiring or achieving. Don’t say evil things which destroy, but only offer constructive stuff to help build things up. We need to eliminate bitterness, wrath, slander, malice, useless arguing, all those corrosive practices; and instead be kind to each other. Interestingly enough we are allowed to be angry, but we’re not supposed to hang onto anger – good psychology at all times!
We can show the world what it means to live a good and Christian life based on what Jesus taught and what God demands of us; which can be terribly difficult in many ways. However, we’re not meant to become passive doormats; or sanctimoniously pious people, who preach one thing when we’re with like-minded companions but practice another when facing the world outside church. Smarmy hypocrisy does give Christianity a bad name.
We are to be fully alive, faithful to what Jesus teaches us about creating the Kingdom of Heaven, loving God and neighbour. And careful how we live – but more of that next week!
The Good News which Ephesians declares is not just good news for us Christians – it’s good news for everyone. For a start, we don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love or to be forgiven. We have that already. And then, God has chosen the church, however imperfect it is, to be the way all people come to know this great mystery of uniting Jew (or Christian) and Gentile – in today’s language, of uniting “people like us” with “people who are most certainly not like us”.
It’s the eternal hope, the seemingly impossible vision of community and eventually world unity which God has offered us through Christ. We are the hands, the eyes and ears, the voices and dreams and hopes which can help to create the one-ness demanded by the Kingdom of Heaven – a one-ness and unity which can only be found with and within the love of God.
Tell the praise of him who called you out of darkness into light,
Broke the fetters that enthralled you, gave you freedom, peace and sight:
Tell the tale of sins forgiven, strength renewed and hope restored,
Till the earth, in tune with heaven, praise and magnify the Lord!
© Leslie Spatt 2019