“Adoption & Grace”
Ephesians 1:1-14, July 15th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words of scripture taken from the New Testament, The letter of Paul to the Ephesians, chapter one, verses three thru fourteen.”
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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. 13 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; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
“Having heard this ancient writing, let us now set our hearts at discovering how their meaning pertain to our lives as we live the life of Christians in the Twenty-First Century.”
“Adoption & Grace”
Last Sunday, we, and millions of other faith communities around the world, prayed for the rescue of twelve young boys and their coach, trapped in a cave in Thailand. Miraculously, and with a tremendous team effort involving experts in this type of rescue, they were all brought to safety on Tuesday. It is first and foremost, a wonderful conclusion to what could have been an awful tragedy. What was distinctive about this event, was the full media coverage of it; bringing communities, nations and a large percentage of a diverse people throughout the world together with a common cause. Nowhere, did we observe or hear about anyone suggesting that the rescue was a waste of money and time! The kindheartedness which prevailed, as heart felt support was heard around the globe, was extraordinary. It was as if, for a moment, the world stood still, while this drama played out to its triumphant rescue! This is a bittersweet victory due to the sad loss of one rescue worker.
In the world of theology, in which I live, breath and sleep, the word grace is tossed about quite a lot. Kindness, mercy and charity, along with prayer, blessings and thanksgiving, are often associated with grace! When we speak of ‘the grace of God’, we often think of forgiveness and God’s benevolent leniency and God’s clemency for the wrongs we humans commit on a daily, if not on an hourly and/or on a minute to minute basis! When events such as the rescue in Thailand, catch the public’s attention, one can only hope and pray, that grace and all it stands for and represents, shall abound and proliferate; flourishing on the spark of kindness and concern seen surrounding, all whom were involved, throughout this rescue effort! When we take a moment to think how we, as a faith community, prayed together, last Sunday, and how countless other communities and individuals did the same. It can send shivers down one’s spine, realizing how utterly amazing God’s grace can be at times! The beauty of simply imagining that millions of people from many races, creeds and colors, were simultaneously, at the same time, praying about the needs of children; in this case young boys whom play together as a team and a young coach whom was leading them. Can you imagine what the world could be like, if we, if all people prayed together about all the problems we face around the globe, with the same compassion and concern?
Holding the image of joyful parents and families and whole communities rejoicing together, let us take a moment to see how our scripture text fits into this global event. The Apostle Paul begins by offering us all a greeting. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” /Ephesians 1:2/ Such a simple, yet powerful greeting, one in which I almost left out of our lesson this morning. Having set the tone for our conversation, Paul goes on to speak of ‘adoption’, ‘redemption’ and ‘forgiveness’. Three very powerful words representing the writings of thousands of theologians throughout the ages trying to help us grasp the fullness of their meaning. Let us start first with adoption. We know what the word means, being accepted, embraced and welcomed through a formal agreement. Most commonly associated with the adoption process for young children. In this case we are being adopted into the family of Jesus Christ. This is crucial for us to grasp, as Jesus was born a Jew and we were born as gentiles, non-Jews. As such we were consider outsiders, especially in the realm of Judaism. As Jesus was and is considered the Messiah, by those whom follow his teachings, it is important for Paul to clarify, for us all, that we are welcomed through the grace and through the Living Holy Spirit of Christ into the family of Christ! We have been adopted! And like all Christians whom are baptized into the community of faith, we share in the forgiveness and redemption which is offered to us through Christ. Forgiveness means we are released, we are liberated from our humanness; redemption speaks of our rescue, our release and recovery from our former selves, as we are born anew into the family and fellowship of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ!
In verse eleven, of our reading, Paul speaks of how “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.” / Ephesians 1:11a/ Amazing, we have just learned we have been adopted, now we learn we have received an inheritance as well! We have received God’s grace and we have been blessed and bestowed with the Holy Spirit! All that is asked of us… is to believe in Jesus and to give praise to God for all which we receive! That is what was and is so special about the rescue story coming out from Thailand… we can feel the joy! We can praise God for the many gifted and brave rescuers, as-well-as give thanks for all the support and supplies and truly ‘hard work’ that went into this community rescue effort! We must relish this event and bask in it, like we would bask in the sun at the beach on a beautiful summer day! We need to record every feeling and emotion that has been spoken of and felt by so many! We need to remember, that this is what is possible… every time, people come together for a common cause! No dictator, nor oppressive government action can take this away from the people of God! When the hearts of people are joined together, crossing all barriers and divisions, it is utterly amazing what can transpire!
In every lesson there is usually, a stumbling point or a difficult transitioning moment before the lesson itself can be accepted, as a valid learning or a useful example which can then become of value to us, in our lives today. Now, how do we transcend from this one powerful reminder of what can occur to what truly is, all around us! Consider this one writing from a theologian whom, like ourselves, has reached this point of transition. She writes this editorial for us to ponder and grapple with. “In a world full of injustice, pain and division, these words of adoption, grace and gathering all things up are sometimes hard to hear. Indeed, there is tension between what God has already done in Christ and what is left to be done in the world.” /Elizabeth Smith/ When we look at this rescue story coming out of Thailand it is easy to see God’s grace and mercy. Yet, we can also see what is left to be done without much effort.
We do not need to look very far, do we? The ongoing war in Syria, with innocent women and children being caught up in the killing. The blatant human rights issues in various areas of the world. Even within our own country, we are struggling with how to deal with a continuing crisis, surrounding the issues of families, women, children and adults of all ages, seeking refuge in the United States. It is a massive and complex problem. A problem which our nation, the most powerful and the richest nation in the world, has not been able to come up with a ‘program or policy’ which addresses these complex issues, while upholding the values we as a nation historically have fought and stood for! The question remaining for us Christians is this: when, where and how, do we implement that vision of grace and mercy, which Paul so lavishly speaks of in our lesson today?
What about this vision which we are offered from Paul? Perhaps we did not hear it when we first read the passage. Let us look again and see what we can see. Starting half-way through verse seven, we hear Paul’s insights surrounding God’s vision for us and the world we live within. “According to the riches of God’s grace which God has lavished upon us. With all wisdom and insight Christ has made known to us the mystery of God’s will, according to God’s good pleasure which God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” /Ephesians 1:7b-10, adapted/ Reverend William Loader speaks to this vision statement for us. “The vision of Christ is then a vision for the church and the whole world. It already shows itself where barriers and prejudice are broken down.” This vision is centered around the teachings we ascribe to in the four complementing gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We have already lifted-up grace, forgiveness and reconciliation; which we can easily compliment with Jesus’ teachings about kindness and social justice for all! Add in the universal understanding of God as the personification of love; as we are given image after image of God’s love for all the children of God, throughout the world! This is dramatically lifted-up when we look to our understanding of Easter and that of Christmas. God incarnate, embodied in Jesus at his birth. God, alive in Jesus, as he endured our human suffering and died into our rebirth as a people! Can we envision living into Christ’s vision for us?
We can do this! We are a people whom live in a free society. We are a nation based on a constitution and a bill of rights that speaks to our religious biases as a God-fearing nation, formed on Christian principles! As such, we, like Jesus, believe in equality for all people. We believe in kindness, love, compassion and justice. We believe in self-government, by the people and for the people. Our roots, as a church, comes from the Puritan movement, which was the beginning of democracy as we understand it! We are a people who have come together during national emergencies of every kind. People come together all the time when they see the common needs of others in peril! The Apostle Paul is simply reminding us of our adoption; he is reminding us that we are part of the Church of Jesus Christ! As such, we have received God’s grace and mercy. Through Christ, God clarified that we must also knock down the walls of prejudice, just as Jesus did so many times. The accounts in the gospel are clear about this! As Paul points out, now that we have been brought into the family of Christ, we need to praise God, praising Christ in our words and in our actions!
Yes, the rescue of that group in Thailand was spell-binding and heart wrenching all at the same time! I am so pleased that we were reminded to join our hearts in prayer, lifting-up feelings of kindness and compassion for the children and their coach. We owe thanks to the news media whom kept us abreast of what has happened there. Because of their good reporting efforts, we were able to follow this event: hour by hour, day after day, till its joyful conclusion! Let us unite as ‘the children of God’ as we seek to multiply and grow as a grace filled people, whom care for the wellbeing of others, just as Jesus did!