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Sermon for July 14, 2024 – Proper 10

Program Transcript

Ordinary Time: Ephesians

Through life’s changing seasons we witness countless transformations—seeds bursting forth into vibrant blooms, caterpillars emerging as butterflies, and the changing seasons painting landscapes anew. Each transformation whispers a tale of renewal, of shedding the old and embracing the new.

Yet, amidst these natural wonders, the most profound transformations occur within the human heart. It is here, in the depths of our souls, that the Spirit of God moves, shaping us into new creations, united in our devotion to Jesus and to one another.

As we journey through the second month of Ordinary Time, we are reminded that our identity is in Christ. In him, we find our truest selves, united in a bond that transcends all barriers and divisions. This truth is echoed in the words of Ephesians, which calls us to form ethnically diverse communities unified by our devotion to Jesus and to one another.

God’s vision for the new humanity is one of unity—a unity that transcends barriers of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and cultural identity. It is a vision of reconciliation and restoration, where every person is valued and embraced as a beloved child of God.

And so, Paul calls us to “Put on Your New Humanity,” to live and love like Jesus in every aspect of our lives. Through the power of the Spirit, we are equipped to stand strong against divisive forces and spiritual evil, bearing witness to the transformative power of God’s love.

As we journey through this season of Ordinary Time, may we be reminded of our call to transformation—to become new humans, clothed in the love and likeness of Christ. And in our transformation, may we reflect the beauty of God’s vision for a unified, diverse community, where all are included and cherished.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Let us, therefore, embrace our identity in Christ, united in love, and committed to building a community where all are valued and included. For in our transformation, we reflect the very heart of God’s kingdom on earth.

Psalm 24:1-10 · 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 · Ephesians 1:3-14 · Mark 6:14-29

This week’s theme is living in the blessing of God, and the readings for today range from David’s delight in bringing the ark of God to Jerusalem to the story of John the Baptist’s beheading at the hand of King Herod. Our lives often feature highs and lows, joys and great grief, so we can understand that living in God’s blessing does not mean that we will never suffer. Psalm 24 sings to the “King of Glory,” encouraging us to seek the Lord. 2 Samuel tells how David and all Israel danced “with all their might” as the ark of God was brought to Jerusalem. Mark 6 recounts King Herod’s distress over John’s beheading, believing that Jesus was John reincarnated. The sermon text comes from Ephesians 1:3-14, and its focus is delighting in our status as God’s dearly loved children.

God’s Candy Store

Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSVUE)

Have you ever watched a kid in a candy store? How did they behave? [wait for responses] You probably noticed them, wide-eyed and pointing at some treat to show their brother or sister, only to stop and point, mouth agape, at another treat that looked delicious or interesting. Though their parents probably limited them to one treat, they would have loved to taste them all. Our scripture reading from Ephesians shows the apostle Paul with much the same attitude as a kid in a candy store. He can’t believe our good fortune: the malted milk balls of adoption, the licorice twists of inheritance, and the bubble gum seal of the Holy Spirit. Paul is so excited to tell us how we are whole in Christ and able to live a life of love now, that our scripture passage is actually one long continuous thought! Let’s read through it together, picturing Paul pointing out all the blessings that God has given us through Jesus Christ.

Read, or have someone read, Ephesians 1:3-14.

The Context of Ephesians 1:3-14

The book of Ephesians was written to a mostly Gentile audience to share the good news that they are loved by God and inheritors of God’s promises. Notice what Paul has written in Ephesians 2:14:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he [Jesus Christ] has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us (Ephesians 2:14, NRSVUE)

Paul goes on to explain that living in diversity was God’s plan all along. He tells them, though, that loving someone that you’ve been taught to hate or despise doesn’t come easily. Living in diversity takes hard work:

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3, NRSVUE)

So Paul’s letter, which explains to the church at Ephesus about God’s plan of loving one another despite differences, starts off with a long, lyrical sentence (verses 3-14) praising God for even thinking of such a wild, grace-filled challenge for human beings. The length of the sentence alone helps convey the urgency that Paul seems desperate to get across to his readers. This passage is a metaphorical stream of blessings, one right after the other, and Paul is that kid in the candy store running from glass case to glass case. Let’s look at some of the “treats” God has blessed us with in Jesus Christ as we take in Paul’s extravagant explanation about what Emmanuel means for us:

We were destined for adoption.

God decided, from before “the foundation of the world,” to bless all human beings by adopting us through Jesus Christ. This blessing is not individualized, carving out just one or two “special” people, but a communal blessing for all through Jesus Christ.

How this works is a mystery to us, one that we accept gratefully:

He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10, NRSVUE)

We are gathered up and held in Jesus Christ. And if Jesus Christ is the full expression of God incarnate, writes Luther Seminary theologian Karoline Lewis, then “in Christ, God is making God’s self known to the world…in a new way.” This new way is demonstrating God’s commitment to us as a treasured part of the divine family.

We are given gifts that enable our understanding of God’s love for us.

To understand how deeply we are loved, we’ve been given specific gifts that convey the grace-filled love God has for all human beings:

In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:7-8, NRSVUE)

Our redemption and forgiveness as a part of the richness of grace through Jesus Christ permit us to know how deeply we are loved by God. God freed us from our shame and guilt and placed us on a path of grace. Barclay’s Commentary, referring to the words translated “wisdom and insight,” explains that the“the two words in Greek are sophia and phronesis…

The Greeks wrote much about these two words; if a man had both, he was perfectly equipped for life. Aristotle defined sophia as knowledge of the most precious things. Cicero defined it as knowledge of things both human and divine. Aristotle defined phronesis as the knowledge of human affairs and of the things in which planning is necessary…Cicero defined it as knowledge of the things which are to be sought and the things which are to be avoided…In other words, phronesis is the sound sense which enables men to meet and to solve the practical problems of everyday life and living.

Barclay goes on to say that Paul is claiming that Jesus brought sophia and phronesis to us, gifting us with the ability to understand the divine while living amidst the practicalities of ordinary life.

Our inheritance in Christ is shared with others who may be very different from us.

Paul discusses the way Christ unifies all peoples. He addresses the Jews as “we” in verses 11-12, the Gentiles as “you” in verse 13, and then ends the passage by using “our” in verse 14 for all humanity. This unified inheritance is “sealed” by the Holy Spirit as a “pledge” or foretaste of the fullness we will know of God’s eternal presence someday.

We read more about this inheritance by looking ahead to verse 18:

So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may perceive what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints (Ephesians 1:18, NRSVUE)

The hope we are called to, connects with this inheritance. Since the context of the book of Ephesians is living with the messiness of human difference and diversity, we might speculate that part of this hope and inheritance is realized when we learn to embrace those who are different from us. Notice that embrace means more than tolerate. It means an active, loving “yes” to the beauty of another, whether that person looks, thinks, or behaves as you do.

Paul’s exuberance in today’s scripture passage should be felt. As we read the passage in its entirety one more time, let’s see if we can feel the excitement Paul is conveying for us and for all humanity. [Read Ephesians 1:3-14 by putting your name wherever it allows, or you may choose to have selected members of your congregation read portions of it]

Call to Action: This week, consider calling God “Abba” or “Papa” during your prayers as an expression of the intimacy we have through Jesus Christ. Include a prayer of thanksgiving for the mystery that is our adoption and ask for the love you need to be able to embrace the messiness of human differences.

For Reference:

Simon Dent—Year B Proper 10

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Ephesians 1:3-14


July 14, 2024
Ephesians 1:3-14, “Chosen”

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Program Transcript

The Fullness of God w/ Simon Dent W2

Anthony: Let’s pivot to our next passage of the month. It’s Ephesians 1:3-14. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 10 and Ordinary Time on July 14. Simon, would you read it for us, please?

Simon Dent: Love to.

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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 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.

Anthony Mullins: Whew, man that’s some full-on good news right there. I tell you what, this pericope is a theological tour de force. So, I want to give you a few minutes here just to riff on the good news contained within. So, preach, preacher. Let us hear it.

Simon Dent: When you gave me this passage, I was thinking, Oh man, this is brilliant, what a great passage to talk about.

And then I thought five seconds later, man, how can I ever do this justice? It is such a vision of the amazing grace of God that’s come to us in Jesus Christ. And the drawing in of us by the Father in all that Christ is in his relationship in the power of the Spirit. And it’s just a beautiful gift for those of us who don’t deserve such an amazing thing. And yet it is God’s heart and is God’s love upon us, which flows out of this.

One of the things that we’re preaching and teaching on a text like this — it’s so easy for us to pull out the component parts and somehow lose the fact that this is really just an overflow of Paul’s heart. It’s an expression of worship and praise to God, as God has revealed all that he has done in Christ. And we just need to join with him [Paul] in praise, in some ways.

And the challenge is trying to hold onto the fact that — maybe it’s not a challenge — actually the joy of this is that we get to hold on to the great joy of this relationship that God has given to us in Christ. It’s so big and in some ways, you have — how do we even start with this? But I’ll have a go.

One of the key echoes in all of this is that we are in Christ. We are joined together in the relationship that Jesus himself has with his Father through the power of the Spirit. And that’s staggering and wonderful. And Paul goes into some theological depth as to what ultimately that means.

One of the key words in the very first passage — of verse 3, sorry, speaks of “bless” three times. 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. The word there for bless is eulogetos, and it’s the word that we get eulogy from — a eulogy at a funeral where you speak words of praise to the dead loved one who’s just passed.

And so, he uses this word as the blessing or the praises from us towards God, praising God for all that he’s done. But the second time, the same word of bless is used actually from the Father, that the father has blessed us, or in some ways, the Father has eulogized us in Christ.

In other words, the word that Jesus says that the Father says about us is a word of God’s praise. Because we’re actually in Christ. What I mean by that is God has eulogized or spoken a good word about us. God has noticed us. He said something about us. And we all desire to be noticed and loved and what a blessing that is.

And God speaks that good word to us. And the word that he’s spoken is the word of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1 says, “Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days, he’s spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things.” [verse 1]

So, Jesus is the good word, the word of praise, the word of joy, that the Father actually speaks about us, speaks to us. Every spiritual blessing in Christ, every good thing that can be said in heaven, we have in Christ. His relationship with the Father, his dynamic of love and the Holy Spirit, the freedom that he has, freedom from our own sin and our own brokenness, all of that has actually been given to us in Jesus Christ.

That’s what ultimately that blessing is for each of us. It is incomprehensible, but it’s true. Particularly when we’re so aware of our own sin and our shame this is an amazing grace, but it is all a part of a plan, as Paul says. And the plan says for the fullness of time to gather all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

So, when you get up, you look around the world, you look at yourself in the mirror, you look at our churches, our families, we say God’s got a plan. He’s going to gather all of this up in Christ. And that’s ultimately where our hope is. And I think that’s part of the expression of life and joy that Paul expresses here.

So, it’s like he chose us even before the foundation of the world. So, we don’t think of ourselves according to our behavior, whether we think ourselves too highly so that God’s chosen me because I’ve done all the good things, or that God’s rejected me because I’m a bad person and therefore I wasn’t chosen.

Before the creation of the world, Christ was chosen, and we were chosen in him to be holy and blameless. And this idea of holy and blameless is set apart relationally in love. It’s not just about morality. It’s not just about doing good or doing the right thing. Although that’s certainly very much a part of it, but it is primarily about relationship. That God has drawn us into this relationship of love, and everything is removed. All unholiness is removed because we are set apart to be in relationship with the Father. And that was his plan before the foundation of the world. And it goes on, so much more — destined us for adoption as his children according to his good pleasure. I love, all through this, you get these moments where Paul is expressing: God has not done this begrudgingly.

He’s not just saying, oh, I’m a good God; it’s my job to save these people. I will say, this is according to his will and his good pleasure. He’s chosen us. And so, what a joy that is to be delighted in and chosen. And that word adoption, it’s just a beautiful family word: given full rights of sons and daughters in Christ.

And yeah, just a great gift of all that we have in Christ: redemption through his blood; that gift of being saved and healed in the death of Christ; the forgiveness of our sins. And again, it’s according to the riches of grace that he lavished on us. It wasn’t under compulsion that God forgave us. It was because of the riches of his grace.

And that word lavished — I just think of eating too much cream on a bun or something like that. It’s a lot of — an overflow of his love. And with that, he doesn’t just save us, but he’s included us into his own knowledge of that will and purpose and plan.

We read in other places where we’ve been given the mind of Christ in that. So, we become full participants really, on the knowledge of God in all of this. In Jeremiah, we read:

“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” [Jeremiah 31:34]

Yeah, we’ve been drawn not only into this relationship, he’s revealed not only himself and his love, but also his plan to gather all things up together in Christ. And finally — sorry, there’s so much here, isn’t there?

And finally, I’ll just say, all of this, ultimately, is for the praise of God’s glory. And say, what does that ultimately mean? It means as partners together with Jesus Christ, as participants in the divine triune life, being adopted as sons and daughters in Christ, we therefore become eulogizers of God so that many others may hear the good news of the gospel and be sealed by that down payment of our Holy Spirit.

To be eulogizers of God so that others may also be sealed with the down payment of our inheritance, the Holy Spirit. So it is all, great grace and love and that calling to bring glory to God is participating in that good work of bringing everything together in Christ (as Christ is doing it), by speaking good words about who God is and what God has done for us, because God has spoken a good word about us in Christ.

Anthony Mullins: Yes. Thanks be to God that he is not reluctant in his salvation, that Jesus was not a reluctant Savior. But for the joy set before him, he went to the cross. And we know the atonement is just part of salvation, but it’s a significant part. And we’re so grateful for the words contained in it.

It’s almost like Paul is just bursting at the seams with good news. And it’s hard to contain the words in such a brief passage. And you pointed us to verse 4. God chooses us in Christ, the Father chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, which tells us something about us. But I think more importantly, it tells us something about the chooser, the God who chooses.

And that brings me to the next question I want to ask you. It just seems to me, Simon, that the big “C” church, the global church, has really emphasized the doctrine of justification. And thanks be to God that we are justified, right? But on some level, we have therefore de-emphasized or not emphasized our adoption as children through Jesus Christ.

And you alluded to it’s a beautiful familial term. So, is that a fair assessment? And if so, why should adoption take more, let’s say homiletic prominence in our churches?

Simon Dent: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that. And yes, I think the emphasis has been largely on justification and maybe not enough on adoption, partly because we see, again, perspective from our own views of what is needed. We see the glory of God. We read the Old Testament, and we see how God has provided means of justification for the Old Testament people through the sacrifices.

We read the New Testament. We see such amount of time given to the death of Christ on the cross — that is usually the pinnacle moment of our story. And yet, so little time really [given] to the resurrection and life beyond that. I think what Paul has given in this opening passage of Ephesians is, in some ways, a step back and actually see the ultimate purpose and the plan for what [inaudible].

And the plan actually is adoption. The plan is that they would be — that the whole world would be justified. That we can actually be in relationship with the Father and enjoy the joy that God himself enjoys as Father, Son, and Spirit in this dynamic of love and joy and all of that. It’s something that God wants us to participate in.

I think for a lot of us, we see through the lens of our own sin and our shame and our brokenness. And we look to the solution, and we see here on the cross is solution. And in many ways, some of our preaching has been about how do we get people to come to this moment of faith where they can put their trust in the fact that their sins are forgiven, and they’re brought into relationship with God.

And yet we fail in some ways to see what that life ultimately means, which is adoption and joy and delight. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t emphasized adoption much because we feel as though we’ve got to get to the problem. Let’s get people saved rather than recognizing Christ has saved us.

Let’s just walk in the joy of what that means. And the more we can walk in joy, the more beautiful our proclamation ultimately will be about justification.

Anthony Mullins: Well said, sir. Thank you.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever considered how the book of Ephesians relates to our world today with its focus on the messiness of human differences? What words of wisdom from the apostle Paul might be applicable to gender or racial inequities as well as other challenges of difference?
  • Read the scripture passage from Ephesians 1:3-14 out loud. How did Paul’s long sentence effectively convey his excitement about the blessings we have in Christ? In other words, how did the form of a long sentence express the urgency Paul felt about this important topic?
  • Many of the Bible’s blessings are addressed to the community rather than the individual. We tend to view them, however, as applicable to individuals rather than the collective, in part due to the cultural influence of individualism. How does changing our focus from an individualized faith to a communal faith enhance our lives now? How does it create unity and a willingness to cultivate harmony with those who are different from us?
  • Barclay’s Commentary explains the gifts of sophia and phronesis as equipping us to live in this world in a practical sense while maintaining an understanding of the divine and our participation in that divine work. What connections do you see with these gifts and our inheritance in Christ? How do those connections require us to accept and embrace differences?

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