The translators of our English Bible have done us a great service with the lesson just read from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In the Greek version of this text, it was originally one long, run-on sentence. That is one of the evidences that Paul may not have been the author of this letter. As it stands in the New Revised Standard Version, this lesson is now divided into six sentences, each of which is sufficiently complex to make us slow down and ask: "Now, what is the point being made here?" In this regard we have an argument that Paul may well have been the author. Paul's thoughts are sufficiently complex to make my head spin. So, a caution with Paul: read him slowly and read him carefully.
When I did that with this text, I developed an outline which revealed seven themes that I find are central to the Christian faith as I have come to live and to know it. The subjects are: Adoption, Redemption, Forgiveness, Mystery, Inheritance, Truth, and the Holy Spirit. And underneath these subjects are a few more including Election and Grace. In this one Greek sentence there is, I suggest, the center and the heart of the Christian story and message. Don't worry; this sermon will not cover the seven.
What I to want to do, is to hold up just three grammatical points in this text. These are not theological matters, but they are the means by which we will come to understand some of what Paul has to say to his readers.
First, did you notice the number of times the preposition "in" occurs here? I count twelve. The preposition "with" is here three times; "through" occurs once; and then there are others like "for"and"to." I find at least 23 prepositions in all, and all with the force of showing us where you and I stand in the eyes and heart of God. We are "in Christ"; we are "with all wisdom and might"; we are chosen "through Christ". In short, it is clear to me that it is by God's work in Jesus, that we receive this remarkable message about God and us. God invites us. God loves us. God is for us and the creation. When we see this, we become aware that the Christian story is first about God, and then about us.
Now, the other side of saying this is to realize that all of this means that "I belong to God". That is a simple four-word prayer I learned in a little book entitled Space for God written by Don Postema about 1994. "I belong to God." Nothing has brought me more peace, or hope, or security than praying this prayer: "I belong to God". I pray it before I preach. I have prayed it before medical testing and procedures. I pray it when I have a hard time falling asleep at night. And, I have found that something else happens when I pray this little prayer. "I belong..." also becomes "Nancy belongs... Julia belongs... Chris belongs... Anne belongs ... Kevin belongs..." You get the idea. All people belong to God. That is the first and basic affirmation of this text and its prepositions. We are in and with God, through Jesus of Nazareth.
While I am on things grammatical, notice next the pronouns. When the writer is talking about people, do you notice that only the first and second person plural is used: "we", "us", "you". There is no "I" or "me" in this summary of Christian life. Notice this preponderance of the plural. And, there is not "they" or "their". There is no objectification of the other. The apostle does not separate himself from those to whom he writes. What you have here is "us", a community. "We belong to God." Karen Chokoian, a pastor in Granville, Ohio, comments on it in this way:
... the language of Ephesians is not individualistic. In Christ we have obtained our
... inheritance. Moreover, the constant plural pronouns remind us that this gift is not
... an individual blessing, but always for the community of Christ. *
Yes, the blessing is for me, but it is for me along with you. I am in Christ, for which I am thankful, but I did not get there all on my own. There was Mrs. Chappel, my third grade Sunday School teacher; there were my mom and dad; there were some wonderful pastors. Our Christian faith is from you, with you, for us. It is for God's people - all of us.
And that brings me to my final point. "In Christ," Paul writes in verse 11, "we have also obtained an inheritance." But what is this inheritance for: our own satisfaction, our own well-being, setting us up for the future? Look at how verse 11 gets completed with verse 12:
... so that we, who were the first to set our hopes on Christ,
... might live for the praise of his glory.
We inherit "so that", or to translate the Greek construction: "to result in." In other words there is a purpose beyond us in our following the Way of Jesus. It is to live "for the praise of his glory." And, how do we do that any better than when we go out to demonstrate the love of Christ to our world, be it in Wilmington, or the United States, or Mozambique? There is a purpose, a direction for us in this faith. It has to do, yes, with our own standing with God. But, it also has to do with sharing with others that with which we have been blessed. We are called simply to live from this center of faith out into the world.
At Trinity Church in Toledo, Ohio, the congregation was asked to respond to some questions one Sunday morning on some 3x5 cards. The first question was: "What first attracted you to Trinity?" Seven-year-old Jennifer spelled out in large letters: "GOD". The second question was: "What is your prayer for Trinity?" Eight year old Matthew wrote: "That they will always be here to help other people." These kids have something to teach us. **
Someone has written that the test of a mature church is: have they moved from "come and hear" to "go and tell". Do we bring people to us, or do we go to them? That is the point of this passage: from the center out.
*Karen Chakoian quoted in Daily Feast, Year B, page 379.
** From "Homiletics", July10, 1994.
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