Then and Now – Sermon on Ephesians 1.11-23

Ephesians 1.11-23

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, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put his power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

allsaintsday

Today is All Saints’ Sunday, a particular fixture in the Christian liturgical calendar, often celebrated the first Sunday of every November. All Saints is a time and opportunity to name the death of our saints over the last year. And for us, as United Methodist in particular, “saints” refers to all Christians past and present, so we celebrate the church universal as well as those we have lost. Today is a day about remembrance and honor.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “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, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” What is this inheritance that he is referring to?

Bob Foley. Bob Foley was a long time usher at the church where I grew up. As a kid I can remember Bob handing me some of the children’s bulletins that I doodled over throughout the church services, and I can remember him patiently waiting on Christmas Eve’s services with candles in his hands. The first time I ever talked to Bob was when I was fourteen, the first Sunday that I ever ran the sound-system for our services. Bob fulfilled his usher obligations, handing out bulletins, helping new visitors and families find a pew, when he finally stood behind me looking over my shoulder. Now imagine with me if you will, a fourteen year old standing in front of a mixing board with hundreds of knobs, lights, and volume controls, at a church with a large sanctuary with hundreds of people prepared for worship. So with fear and trepidation defining my inner struggles Bob leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “good luck.”

soundboard01_big

I’m sure I messed something up that morning, perhaps I forgot to turn off our minister’s microphone so everyone wound up hearing him horribly attempt to keep the tune to “Be Thou My Vision,” or I turned the volume too high and there was feedback in the sanctuary, or no one heard the prayer over the Tithes and Offerings because I forgot to turn the microphone back on. I’m sure I messed up, but Bob walked over to me after the service ended, shook my hand, told me to call him Bob, and smiled while telling me how proud he was.

Thus started an incredible friendship that played itself out every Sunday morning as Bob and I would joke around in the back. He was old enough to be my grandfather but he never treated me like a child; he was encouraging, and respectful, but above all he was a happy man. Whereas many people would drag themselves into church on Sunday mornings, wiping away the sleep from under the eyes and trying to find a trash can for their coffee they had just chugged, Bob was always standing by the door with a smile because he genuinely cared about the church, he loved being there, and he loved God.

When Bob passed away it crushed me. I’ll never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach when my mother called me during college to let me know what had happened, and I’ll never forget the awful feeling of walking back into the church for the first time without having Bob there with his customary smile.

Paul talks about an inheritance from Christ, something we receive through his mighty acts in the world. There is something special about getting to share the stories of the bible with someone, young or old, to talk about what God did with God’s people, but there is something indescribable about the way God is working in the world right now.

Bob Foley was a saint in my life. But what Bob offered for me and my Christian life was more than the typical church friendship. Bob never sat me down with scripture or told me how to live my life. He never criticized my decisions or offered unwarranted advice. What Bob did for me, was demonstrate how important faith is in the now. He might’ve loved to hear those old stories from scripture, but Bob felt God living in the world in the immediate, thats why he committed to being in church and sharing his smiles with everyone else; to him there was nothing better than being a Christian because he felt God’s presence.

When we read from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, its as if he’s saying “It is such a great thing to be a Christian!” But, I wonder if that is the first thought that comes to our minds when we think about our Christian heritage today. May it be that the joy and excitement of the gospel has grown stale for many of us? Is living out our Christianity filled with images of too many commitments and disappointments? Have we grown complacent with what it means to be the church in the world? Perhaps a lot of us here are like the elder brother from Christ’s great parable, we see our wayward younger brother return home for a celebration and we are envious. Maybe we hear the words from our Father saying, “You are always with me, and all that I have is yours,” but the thrill and glory of these words have seemed to vanish.

Why are we here? Why did we wake up this Sunday morning and come to church? What brought us, what drove us to ever join together in the first place?

All of us are here because someone loved us enough to bring us, to invite us, to nurture us. Who was that person for you? Who was that saint in your life?

Paul writes about a “love toward all the saints” present in the community in Ephesus. That same love may, in fact, be half-present today in our lives through the casual “hello” at the Food Lion, in the wave as a car drives by in the neighborhood, and in the church fellowship activities in which we participate. But there is a temptation to take all of these things for granted, to live into them everyday, and never value them for what they really are.

I’m not proud to admit that I never realized how important Bob Foley was to my life until after he died. It was only in his absence that I began to appreciate the joy that he taught me every Sunday morning. I took my relationship with Bob for granted and I wish that I had lived into our friendship more while he was still here with us.

Like our relationship, it has taken me some time to discover what made Bob’s faith so worthy of emulation. I have wondered what it was that made him excited about the church, when so many others arrived more out of obligation than expectation.

Have you ever noticed that Paul almost never writes about the actual life of Jesus in his letters? Do you find it interesting that as a leader for the blossoming church in the first century, Paul rarely referenced the exciting life of Jesus Christ? He paid little attention to the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the miracle stories, or other moving elements from the gospels. It seems, therefore, for the first Christians, what was most important was not what had happened in the past, but how Christ was living in and through them in the present. They most certainly remembered the words and actions of Christ in their worship, but their Christianity was exciting because Christ was still moving in their world.

Paul wrote to the church, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” The key word in this whole passage is “power.” When the first Christians appealed for conversion to the new faith they did not just talk about what had happened on a hill outside of Jerusalem in the year 33, but they witnessed to what Christ had done for them in their own lives.

Christ is a present power, rather than simply being an admired person from history, Christ transcends time and is with us in the present; that was the paramount miracle for the early church.

On this All Saint’s Day we are called to remember the saints of our lives, the Bob Foleys of the world, to be thankful for what they did for us, but to also live in the present. Be grateful for what they did, and live out our faith today. The saints and Christ are not just some historical influences in our lives but continually live and move through us in the ways that we continue to be faithful in the world.

Do you know God? I don’t mean some sort of dense theological knowledge, but real and tangible and simple. Do you know God in your life? We cannot have knowledge of a person until we see them in action and we shall not have faith in God until we trust and experience his divine love in the world.

There is a difference between the Word of God (Jesus Christ) and the word of God (scripture). Our knowledge of God in this community rests upon God’s Word as Jesus Christ. The Bible is not a textbook in the ordinary sense as a collection of facts that need to be checked and memorized but it is instead a story. In contains the majestic drama of God’s interaction with God’s people. The climax of the story is God’s coming down to dwell among us in the form of flesh, dying for us on a cross, rising again from the grave, returning to glory, and leaving behind a people of God endowed with knowledge of him.

When we remember the saints, when we gather together to read and proclaim scripture, it is important for us to remember God’s mighty acts in the world. However, what makes church and faith compelling, what moves us toward excitement, is God’s present power in the world! Today is the day that we can celebrate the lives that we have lost while also living into the exciting faith of what it means to be Christ’s body for the world.

Today we are called to remember those saints from our lives who shaped us into the people we are now. It is the time to remember disciples like Bob Foley who lived out his faith in his relationships with others, who felt the joy of Christ in his own life and in his own heart.

We remember those who have gone on with joy and with longing, for they are being held in the arms of our great Lord and we anticipate with joy the great reunion of all the saints of the church in God’s time.

Christians are not called to be motivated by the question: “what happens to me when I die?” but rather ”what am I doing with my life right now?” What we do in the here and now, how we live out our faith in the world, is what makes being the body of Christ an exciting and wonderful thing.

Jesus Christ is not a man of the past, a person to be remembered and recorded in history. Christ is alive! Christ is with us here and now in the gifts of bread and wine. Christ continues to live and breathe and change the world because we partake of him when we gather at his table.

If you are looking to find Christ in your life, if you want your faith to move from remembrance to lived reality, and if you want to find a joy worthy of celebration, then come. Come to Christ’s table and discover the inheritance that will change your life forever.

Amen.

Communion

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