It is great to be back with you all,
after my two months of shared parental leave.
Now as other parents or carers can testify,
it wasn’t all a walk in the park, far from it,
but we did begin this period of leave with a trip
to visit family and friends in South Africa.
One of the most elevating, joyous and transporting experiences
of our visit to that beguiling country, for me,
was when I climbed Table Mountain, in Cape Town, with a friend.
We began our ascent in the lush Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens,
climbing the gentle lower slopes of the mountain
before hitting Skeleton Gorge and using it as a guide
to get most of the rest of the way to the top.
On the top it is a sandy, chalky moonscape in places,
and as we continued along the top towards the cable car
(no, we were not planning to walk back down again!)
we entered an area of such extensive biodiversity and fertility
that it is its own distinct floral kingdom.
There are 9000 species of plant within its bounds,
and the majority are native to that area,
occurring naturally nowhere else in the world.
This plant paradise is more diverse
than the richest tropical rainforest, even the Amazon.
And all that is without mentioning the views,
which, quite frankly, left me speechless.
For much of the nearly 5 hours it took us,
my heart was just overflowing with rapture,
a fizzing joyous energy
and a reveling in the beauty and wonder of the place.
Friends, the good news I want to share today
is that this joy, this rapture,
is not an experience only for the privileged few
who live or can travel to such a place as Table Mountain.
It is the divine inheritance of us all,
the God-ordained purpose for all creation.
Because the experience of enjoying the beauty and wonder of creation,
is the basic quality of praise.
No matter who you are,
no matter what faith – if any – you have,
when you revel in and enjoy the beauty and wonder of life,
you are praising God, the creator and giver of life.
As St Paul tells us in his letter the Ephesians,
Christ came so that we might live for the praise of his glory.
Before we dig any further into the Ephesians reading
let me just say that our sermons over the coming summer months
are going to focus on this letter from Paul
to the people who lived in Ephesus.
So you’ll be able to use the following weeks to delve deeper
into this one book of the bible,
and hopefully together we can all get a stronger sense
of its character and themes.
Rather than dipping in and out of various books each week.
Feel free to keep the notice sheet to hand
so that you can refer back to the reading if you want to.
Now, this section of Ephesians we’ve been given this morning
is actually one single long sentence in the original Greek.
St Paul, who is generally believed to have written it,
is exulting, he is reveling, he is euphoric and ecstatic
with the wonder of what God has done for us in Christ.
So much so that he cannot pause to take a breath,
he cannot stop pouring out his extreme and deep pleasure
in words that are more poetic than prosaic,
high rhetoric that flows with blessing and admiration.
And as Paul does, so he says in verse 12:
it is God’s will that we should live for the praise of his glory.
Our purpose as his creatures,
is to revel in his glory,
a glory that is revealed most profoundly,
if we stop and pay it some attention,
in the bare fact of life, of consciousness, of breath.
We are alive! Wow! Think about it.
But not only the fact of life,
but the richness of it too,
of our lovers, our friends, our family,
of the light of the morning sun reflecting off the river,
the wonder of newborn baby,
the friendly touch of stranger on the bus,
the smile of a shop keeper,
the slobbery wet kiss of a dog.
And yes, the glory of Table Mountain too.
We are made for praise.
It is the purpose and chief pleasure of our lives,
a truth borne out by science
which has recently caught up with this ancient theological truth,
concluding that gratitude, a form of praise,
is essential to human happiness and wellbeing.
Without praise, human beings cannot be well or happy.
We must praise God, its who we are!
So that’s the first thing.
Our purpose is praise.
But its more than our purpose,
it’s also our identity. It is who we are.
In verse 5 we read that God has destined us for adoption
as his children through Jesus Christ.
A sentiment that echoes Jesus own words in the Gospel reading
who says rejoice that your names are written in heaven!
We are God’s children,
for whom he cares infinitely.
This is our identity,
it is who we are individuals,
but it is so much more too.
In verse 3 and 4
it is clear Paul is speaking to a group not of individuals,
but those who share a collective identity.
Verse 3: God has blessed us in Christ
And verse 4: God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
And verse 14: we are redeemed as God’s own people,
to the praise of his glory.
God did not send Christ to bless us as individuals,
but to create from a group of individuals
a Holy people – a community of praise.
God’s intention is not for us simply to praise him on our own;
it is not only his intention for us to have a personal and private relationship with him;
it is also, and vitally, his intention
that we see ourselves as members of his body on earth,
a people group, a collective,
a community that gathers to share in worship and praise
of him who created all things well.
But not only is it our purpose and identity
to be a distinct people of praise,
a visible community of worship and adoration.
The God who blessed the whole creation in Christ,
has called us to be a blessing to the whole world.
His plan for the fullness of time, verse 10,
is to gather up all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.
This whole church thing is global, its universal,
Because God’s big agenda – for the fullness of time,
is to restore all things into right relationship with himself,
so that all will be “in Christ”, verse 11,
and learn to sing and revel in his glory too.
The church is the earthly agent of the God
who is out to reconcile and bless
until all “things in heaven and things on earth” (verse 10)
harmonize “in Christ,”
and are tuned to the glorious music of God’s own joy.
But this blessing and reconciliation that we are called to bring
can also be seen as a threat to those in power.
We are called to reinterpret and challenge
the stories that abound in the world,
stories of despair, of hatred, suspicion, fear and scarcity;
stories that define worldly success and worthiness
in terms of money, power or fame.
We are called to tell God’s story,
– just another way of saying, sing God’s praise,
and to live our lives within that reality.
That story will often align of our experiences in the world,
but there will be many occasions
when we feel at odds with the stories in the world.
One way you might sing God’s praise
into the darkness and despair of this world,
challenging the status quo,
changing the story
and bringing God’s light and love
to those desperate for hope,
is to stand with us as we hold vigil
at the scene of the fatal stabbing of Tesfa Campbell
tomorrow, Monday evening at 6.30pm,
where Burns Road meets Latchmere Road.
By standing there we will be challenging the assumption
that such acts are inevitable and just the way the world is.
That we should simply put up with them,
and the deeply ingrained social conditions that make them so common.
We will be witnessing to the all-encompassing love of God.
Praise is our purpose,
we were made to revel in God’s glory
which is everywhere to be found,
from the Table Mountains of this world,
to the daisy growing in the crack in the pavement.
We must claim our identity as beloved children of God,
and learn to see the world through this lens,
as a place of beauty and brokenness, yes,
but a place which is beloved of God,
whose plan for the fullness of time,
is to gather all things together into Christ,
so that the whole creation may share in the ecstatic joy
that our good God has made us for.
So as we leave this place,
let us go into the deserts of our city
with the light and love of God,
and through his praise
tell a different story,
that God made us each one,
that he knows us each one,
that he loves all of us,
even those the world has forgotten,
and that together we are all being redeemed
so that we might revel in his love,
so that we exult in his praises,
and celebrate all that he has done in Christ for us.