2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 18, 2017
We will be “off -lectionary” for the next few weeks, reading and preaching from the Book of Ephesians.
Ephesians 1: 1-14 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser
Ephesus was an important seaport on the southern edge of modern day Turkey. Now however, the river has silted up and the ancient city is several miles from the current seaport of Kusadasi. The seven churches of Asia Minor mentioned in the beginning chapters of Revelation surround Ephesus, it was the mother church for the smaller communities spread across the hills and valleys. Teams of archeologists have assembled and preserved much of ancient Ephesus, so you can walk down the marble streets to the restored façade of the famous library and then into the amphitheater which is still so acoustically perfect that you can hear a conversation on stage from the highest rank of seats. Tradition says that the Apostle John took Jesus’ Mother, Mary, to live there with him, and her house and his tomb are in Ephesus.
This letter to the congregations in the area of Ephesus has caused quite a bit of controversy for modern Biblical scholars. The earliest manuscripts are not inscribed with an address and it is tradition that addresses it to ‘the saints that are in Ephesus.’ Modern scholars are not sure when it was written, nor are they certain that Paul was actually the writer. Because of its themes, it seems late in the collection of Paul’s letters, and the only date we have with any certainty for Paul and for Peter is the tradition that they were executed in Rome in AD 64. So all dating works back from that date to suppose when Paul was in various places. There are significant enough differences between Paul’s own narrative as it shows up in his letters and the one of Luke in the book of Acts, that even that guide is not always helpful.
This letter shares Paul’s most compelling theological claims; an emphasis on justification by God’s grace, accepted by humans through faith; the conviction that this grace comes through the coos of Christ; the transforming work of the Holy Spirit expressed in differing gifts and reconciling the community across ethnic and social boundaries; the emphasis on the relations between Jew and Gentile as part of God’s plan; and that Paul’s own ministry to the Gentiles as a revelation from God.
However, there is another theme which does not show up in the letters known to be written by Paul; the ‘good news’ of the Gospel is framed as part of a cosmic battle between truth and falsehood, good and evil, light and darkness; human freedom is situated in a struggle for the cosmos; human alienation from God means enslavement to forces that fight God. The reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles is the prime example of God’s power over the forces that divide, and the church united in its work in the world is the sign of that reconciling power. So Ephesians’ emphasis on the church as the place of God’s reconciling power is a central theme here, and new to Paul’s thought. You can find trustworthy scholars who come down on either side of this debate. But none can deny the beauty of the language and the deep, prayerful spirituality of this letter. Evidently no one cared about the details of date and authorship in the church, they loved this letter, red it over and over, and they saved it for us.
The letter begins with a blessing for God rather than a thanksgiving for the Ephesians themselves, as in Paul’s other letters. We meet the triune God right away: The God and Father of our Lord who has blessed us with every spiritual gift in the heavenly places; Jesus as the Beloved through whom we are adopted as God’ children, forgiven of our sin and given the key to the mystery of God’s will to gather us all into heaven at the end of time; and the seal of the Holy Spirit, our guarantee that all we have believed will be our destiny, our redemption, so that God will be praised.
Did you catch that this was God’s plan all along, even before the beginning of the world? God always intended you to be saved by God’s love which makes you holy and blameless. And even before the world was created he knew you would be God’s, saved by God’s love in Jesus, and destined through adoption to be gathered up with all that God loves into those heavenly places which have always awaited us.
Awesome mystery, indeed. This scatters all the hellfire and brimstone preaching that has dogged us all our lives, and still is so present in the Christian tradition today. God always meant to save us, and God’s love has always been the power than can do it. No matter how good or bad you are, it is God’s love that saves us. We are created to live praising God for all that has been done for us. what freedom. What joy we have. What good news we have to share. We are saved by a love so powerful that it can transform our mean and self-involved hearts to overflow with god’s love, filling the world around us with it. It is transforming. My Gospel professor used to say: If you have been in a wheelchair and your legs are healed, no one has to tell you to take a walk. If you have been blind and your sight is restored, no one has to tell you to look around.
We formally said farewell to Michelle yesterday; Music Camp kids sang; Sunday School teachers and the Praise Band sang. WE sang some of her favorite hymns and remembered what we loved about her. Even the kids had Michelle stories to share. Her love of music and her love of God were one and the same thing. It was Frederick Buechner who said that we find our true vocation at the intersection of our deep joy and the needs of the world. This is much the same message that Paul has for us in this, the first chapter of Ephesians. Your destiny is to praise God for all that has been done for you through the love of God, manifest in Jesus. Your destiny is to be gathered up at the end of time into the heavenly places to be with God forever. And in the mean-time your destiny is that “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. (Ephesians 1: 17-20)
 Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1999) 412-3