Back-to-school and a crisis for students; my summer is over!
A closer than expected race in the American League Central division and a baseball crisis for Detroit Tiger fans; we might not make the playoffs!
Mommy and Daddy keep fighting and it’s getting louder and louder; a child’s crisis is his family is falling apart.
A shooting, some rioting, and a town – Ferguson – and a nation – the United States face a racial crisis; or more accurately, we turn our face back to a racial crisis that has not resolved.
Terrorism, war, death, and humanitarian crises run through every Middle East nation.
So much demands the attention of the church. How do we bring it all together – the news, our individual lives, our specific community? How can looking to God make sense of everything?
For the next five weeks, we will search for the answer to this. From the chaos, we seek order and peace by opening the Bible to Ephesians and looking for God. We are not simply seeking information about God. We seek God – a meeting with the almighty.
Ephesians is written as poetry. The sentences are impossibly long. In Greek, Ephesians 1:15-23 is one long sentence. English translations do not usually depict this. English translations of the Psalms do; most English renderings lay out the Psalm in verse, with stanzas. Ephesians is cleaned up so that we English readers can digest it as prose – neat sentences arranged in tidy paragraphs.
This morning, as we go through Ephesians, we pay special attention to the verbs. In the spirit of back-to-school and in the search for God, we read with an eye toward God’s activity.
I am reading the NRSV. In other versions this will be worded differently and due to the nature of Ephesians, there is potential for a wide range of English readings. If the Bible version you normally use is considerably different, don’t worry. Rather, pray. Ask God to help you hear His living word as you read the Bible. Ask God to make the words of scripture come to life in your everyday life.
Here is what God does.
God the Father … has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (v.3). God has blessed us. The online dictionary I used lists about 6 definitions of bless, blessing, and blessed. The Greek, euloghsas, is the root of the English word eulogy. In Ephesians 1:3 it specifically means benefits given by God. Fine! Blessing is benefit. What exactly is the benefit?
It is presence. In Christ, we know we have God with us in personal relationship and we are with God. It doesn’t mean life is always easy, but it does mean we have God with us in all times, including the hard times. God blesses. This is who God is – one who blesses by benefiting us with God’s presence. God is for us.
Ephesians 1:4-5: he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. And he destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. God blesses – God also chooses and adopts. God chooses to adopt you and me. God does this by sending Jesus as the atonement for our sins and at the same time, God nudges us toward Jesus. This is an adoption we can resist. God intends the death of Jesus to be the means of salvation for all people because God loves all people. God loves the police officer who shot Michael Brown. God loves Michael Brown. God hates that death happens, but God loves all people. Therefore Jesus has come and through Jesus God the Father invites us to faith and in faith we become children of God.
God blesses. God chooses. God adopts. What else does God do?
“In Him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he has lavished upon us. … He has made known to us the mystery of his will” (from 1:8-9). Here Ephesians moves fluidly to the point that identifying the precise subject of each verb is a challenge. It seems, reading in the NRSV, that Jesus, the Beloved Son, lavishes grace upon us. Instead of a bucket of ice water, God pours grace over us and keeps pouring more and more grace. But this is no challenge. God does this out of love, not because we agreed or accepted or stepped up. God’s grace is amazing because we don’t deserve it but God gives it anyway and in all-you-can-eat buffet sized portions.
No matter how meanly you speak to others – Jesus has a basket of grace for you. You are accepted and acceptable to God because he loves you. No matter how many times I repeat the same mistakes – the same sins – forgiveness comes as an expression of grace. Jesus douses me in grace. Jesus covers every sinner.
Then in the very next clause, same sentence, God the Father makes known to us the mystery of his will. If someone tells you they have unlocked the secret code in the Bible stop listening and walk away. Well, that would be rude, so maybe that’s not the best response. Instead point them to Ephesians 1:9. God doesn’t keep secrets from us. We don’t need to have advanced degrees in Greek, Latin, Hermeneutics, and Theology. There is nothing to unlock. In Christ, God the Father makes known to us the mystery of His will.
I wonder at this point if you noticed something. We are seeing God by what God does – God blesses, God chooses (us), God adopts (us), God makes known God’s will. All this is God the Father. God the Son, Jesus, the Incarnation, lavishes grace. God is presented as Trinity – the Triune God – in Ephesians 1; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Don’t look for the word ‘trinity.’ It is not here nor is it anywhere in the New Testament.
Rather, look to God. See how God is revealed. What the Father does, the Son does. What the Son does, the Spirit does. Each is a unique personality, but the unity is so perfect, the relationship of love within the Trinity so complete, we can accurately say God is three, God is one.
Verse 12 then says we live for the praise of God’s glory. Our reason for existing is to worship God. If we could draw all the world’s troubles into a worship service, the problems would dissolve as the holy glory of God forced all darkness to flee and all evil to evaporate to oblivion. The day will come when exactly this will happen. Until then we live to praise God amidst the chaos. We declare in the face of defiant sin and death that the lasting story, the more real reality is eternal life with God. And verse 13 says our guarantee of this is we are marked by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit had to get in on this. The Father is blessing, choosing, adopting and illuminating. Jesus is lavishing grace. The Spirit does things; we in Christ are marked with the Spirit’s seal. This is the pledge of our inheritance. We are God’s people (1:14). We don’t worry about the future because are promised eternity. We try to transform the world today by telling the story of the hope we have in Christ. Even when we mess up – and Christians do mess up – we are marked by the Spirit.
The prayer in Ephesians is for God the Father to give us – we who have been marked by the Spirit, wisdom and revelation (1:17). Already it has been stated that God has made known – past tense – the mystery of his will. We are saved by faith in Christ. With His Spirit dwelling in us and with the wisdom and revelation he gives, we then are God’s spokespersons.
In a country ravaged by racial strife, in a world damaged by the horrors of terrorism and war, and in a town in which so many are confused and hurt, by God’s grace we, God’s church, can and must point people to God. We do this with words. We do this with Vacation Bible silliness and warm coffee pot laughter. We do this when we build ramps, hug those who weep, pray at the hospital bedside, open our doors with welcoming hearts, and draw all who enter into songs of praise. By God-given wisdom, we share the revelation that hatred is not humanity’s only story. There is another possibility – the gospel – and, it leads to eternal, joyful life.
Stepping out of the grammar boundaries we’ve set, I look at verse 19 which does not have a verb describing what God does. Rather in the NRSV it speaks of “the immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power for us who believe.” In this verse, God’s power works even if it does not exactly say, “God is working it.”
When we love beyond our ability to love, when our compassion is so great it seems like Jesus put it in us, when we serve in pure agape love with unquestioned regard for the other, these are indications that is God at work. The word for power, dunamis, points to the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1 does not explicitly say the power mentioned repeatedly beginning in verse 19 emanates from the Spirit. However, when we think of God’s constant presence in all places, we think of the ubiquitous Holy Spirit.
The chapter ends with verbs describing God’s work in and for Christ (vss 20-22). The Father raised the Son from the dead, seated him at the right hand of the Father in Heavenly places, and made him head over all things. What does God do? In the case of Christ, God resurrects, God elevates, and God exalts so that we see that Jesus is human and at the same time divine. Jesus is literally king over all kings. He lived in a particular place at an exact time in history and died. And he rose from death to reign in sovereignty and love.
Finally, the chapter ends with that elusive verb ‘to be.’ It is a different kind verb in that it describes not what something does but what something is. In this chapter full of verbs that show an active God whose involvement in our lives is immediate and unavoidable, this final verse tells us about ourselves. The church is the body of Christ. Christ is God and we are the location of the presence of God in the world.
In a world of shootings that shake up a community, we are here to say, “God is here and healing is possible.” In a world where terrorists kill in genocidal proportions, we are here to say, “Death is not the only story; life is possible and we love our brothers and sisters who suffer. We pray for them and with them and open our doors and hearts to them.” In a community where many are in individual crises we stretch out our arms, God’s arms, and say, “Come in. Don’t go through your trials alone. We’ll walk with you.”
How are we able to do this? Ephesians says we are the body of Christ, but as we look around the room at each other we can plainly see we are a bunch people with weaknesses and limitations. We also have gifting and strength but are our attributes enough to heal Chapel Hill let alone the world? No, of course we are not enough. So how is it we can so calmly, confidently say, God is here?
There’s one more verb and I almost forgot it.
The end of verse 23 says God fills all in all. Now is this God the Father, God the Son, or God the Spirit? In the English, it’s not clear. It could be Father or Son. But when we think of filling, we think of the Spirit. I don’t know that the question can be answered. I doubt that precise distinctions can be made in identifying the actions of the individual members of the Trinity. I don’t think we need to pinpoint whether it was Father, Son or Spirit every time.
We need to see God. We need to feel the vibrations of the drumbeat of God actively working in the world. We are splashed with warm grace as God acts. We know He is here and He loves us and will be involved in our lives. This is true for all who come to Him in confession and in faith.
Blessed involvement to bring out hope and life: that is what God does.