January 4, 2015 - Ephesians 1.3-14

“All Together Now…”

Ephesians 1:3-14

January 4, 2015

 

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In 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, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In 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; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

 

Robert Fulghum, popular writer and teller of tales, shares an experience that moved him greatly. He writes that every year he spends a week in Weiser, Idaho, a little tiny place that is hard to find on a map. Only 4,000 people live there. Little happens in that town except once a year when it becomes the home of the Grand National Old-Time Fiddlers' Contest. On the last week in June, people descend on that little village. Fiddlers come from Pottsboro, Texas; Sapulpa, Oklahoma; Caldwell, Kansas; and some people come as far away as Japan. They come to play, and sing, and have a good time.

He writes that, a few years ago, fiddlers were pretty straight country folk. The men had very short hair, their wives stayed home and cooked, and everybody went to church on Sunday. But through the years the Fiddlers' Convention has changed. Long-haired hippies began to show up. People with tattoos and leather jackets came on motorcycles. Some of these strange-looking people were wonderful fiddlers.

Fulghum asked one of the old-timers what he thought about the new crowd joining them. The old man said, "I don't care who they are or how they look. They can have a bone in their nose as far as I'm concerned. It don't matter. If you can fiddle, you're all right with me. It's the music we make that counts." Fulghum said that out there under the stars, with a thousand people picking, singing, and fiddling together, he looked out on fat and skinny, young and old, hippies and straights, people of just about every color. He said it was such a moving sight he came back year after year. He played his banjo next to a Weiser policeman. As they picked, the old policeman winked at him and said, "You know, sometimes the world seems like a mighty fine place."[1]

 

When Paul wrote this letter of Ephesians from a prison cell, he wanted his friends in those little house churches to capture a vision. He wanted them to see that in the middle of a fractured and divided world, there would be a church where all could come despite their very real differences. There they would find a place of safety and wholeness for all.  But salvation is not just a thing of personal experience.  Salvation is actually a tremendous cosmic event, inseparably connected to what God is trying to do with all of his creation.

 

What we find at the beginning of that letter in Ephesians 1:3-14 is really an overture of all that will follow. All the themes that we find in the six chapters of this book are embedded in these 11 verses. John Mackay has called these words "truth as melody." God desires to “gather up all things in him.”  All things, all people, all creation.  It is not surprising that this part of Ephesians became the basis for some early church hymns.

Like the fiddlers in Weiser, Idaho, it was the music they made together that mattered. It made no difference who they were or how they looked. All was subsumed under the larger goal of their music.

Do you see what God is doing here?  Do you see God breaking down the walls which separated the Jews from the Gentiles?  God is breaking down the walls which separated the poor and the rich, the male from female, the young from old, slave from free.  God’s salvation is the ultimate wall breaker, the complete boundary crusher that slays the class structure and puts all humanity on an even field.  Edward Gibbon blamed Christian salvation for the fall of the Roman Empire through its “failure to make proper distinctions between social classes and rich and poor.” Gibbon, may not be not much of a Christian, but he knew more about salvation than many of those who believe that we are “saved.”  Salvation is when we recognize that, “While we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  “All this is from God,” Paul writes to the Corinthians, “He reconciles us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18).

Furthermore, salvation is more than personal; it is cosmic. God’s salvation operation is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” The “rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers of darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in high places” are considerably more than our “enemies of blood and flesh” (Eph 6:12). Salvation that is merely personal, some new self-understanding that leaves the sun, death, the planets, and every living thing untouched, is hardly worth singing about. Salvation, as depicted in Revelation, is a glorious victory chant that shouts the completion of God’s intentions in creation: “Salvation belongs to our God . . . and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:10).

Salvation is a cosmic event.  The birth of a star is nothing compared to the saving of a soul.  Christ gives meaning to life when we perceive that he is not only the source and sustainer of the universe’s structure and fabric – or membrane – but as the destined Lord of creation he is the goal toward which all of creation is moving.[2]

 

Paul's overture had three stanzas. These three stanzas form the vision for any real Christian community. In verses 3-6 we are given first a hymn to God. Paul knew that whatever power those little beleaguered churches possessed was not of their own doing. They would never be overwhelmed by the powers and principalities when the focus of their singing was directed toward God. It was only when they moved away from this vision, relying on their own resources that they would flounder and fail.

So the vertical dimension is primary. Israel's faith is reflected in their first prayer book, the Psalter. Around a vision of praise, lament, thanksgiving, and doxology - all addressed to God - Israel found their center. That center lifted their eyes beyond the constrictedness of their lives, the harshness of their days, the impossibilities of their world, and they found strength to go on. And so they began their worship with God. And when they gathered to sing "Holy, Holy, Holy," something swept them up into a larger purpose than they had ever known before.

John Mackay wrote that the wonder of this music is when we see God as Father, the world is an orphanage no more. We are not left to some sort of cosmic solitariness. We are connected to one another. We are brought into the circle called family. This is what Paul saw in his great vision.[3]

The hymn moved from the vertical to the horizontal. In verses 7-10 not only do we know this is a hymn sung in praise to God, but this is a hymn to the world as well. Paul keeps faith with John 3:16 in this stanza. God really does love the world. Heaven touches earth. This father knows and loves all his children.

His vision says that in Christ we have been delivered and we have found forgiveness.

Salvation is first and last something that God does. Alas, we have become conditioned into thinking of religion as something we do. We have a tendency to become confused that Christianity is something that we do rather than something that God does.  The Good News is not something we thought up or decided to do.  We do NOT have it within us to save ourselves.  This is God’s doing.  The idea that we have it within us to solve all our problems is not Christianity, its Scientology!
      As Michael Horton puts it in his Christless Christianity, “You don’t need Jesus to have better families, finances, health, or even morality.” Lots of religions, therapies, and self-help regimens enable people to break addictions, control tempers, repair relationships, and even practice forgiveness. Many a social reform group serves their neighbor.
     The good news drills down deeper than this. As Horton says, “Coming to the cross means repentance – it is death and resurrection, not coaching and makeovers.” The deeper reality is that we are separated not from our better self –but from our Creator. This separation is real and fixed. It demands not a makeover but a start over, a start over so complete that it begins with death.

 

In God’s salvation, all things in heaven and earth are united once and for all. "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 all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph 1:9-10). No more pecking order. No more we's and they's - no more them's and us's. But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole world.

But even this global stanza does not end the hymn. In verses 11-14 the hymn becomes personal. Note the pronouns: "We have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined . . . we who were the first to set our hope on Christ." "You have heard the word of truth." "The gospel of your salvation." "This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people." From behind bars Paul knew this gospel spoke a personal word - a word to the heart.

 

When asked just who is saved and who isn’t, Karl Barth’s favorite response was to quote 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to Himself.”  Period.  But then note the following verse: “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

God’s desire is to save us all.

Christ has died and has provided salvation for all.

It is up to us to sing that truth so loud in unison and as loudly as we can.  God’s intention is to save everyone.  God reconciles the world to Himself.  Everyone who responds (repents) to God doing that (sending his son) will be saved.  “Be reconciled to God.”  It should be very Christian’s hope that Hell will be empty.

All our voices, lifted together, a great throng of worship and melody can only please God and reach people in a way that other methods simply cannot.  The most beautiful single, human voice is not nearly as glorious as 100 voices singing together.  If only the church could truly learn to sing about salvation together.

 

The wonderful writer Anne LaMotte, after years of drug and sexual addiction, suicide attempts, and great depression, tells about one Sunday when she heard the sounds of gospel music coming from a little church across the street. The building was not much to look at. It was just a little ramshackle building with a tiny cross on top. But, she said, the music forced her to stop and listen. She heard words of gospel songs she remembered from her childhood. Week after week she would come back, stand outside the doors and listen. After many weeks she got up the courage to move to the doorway of the church and listen to the songs. The choir of five black women and one white man were making glorious music. The congregation of 30 or so seemed to radiate kindness and warmth. She began to go back about once a month, always slipping out before the sermon. She grew to love many things about the church, their care for one another, their community mission program, the way they welcomed strangers. But she writes, "It was the singing that pulled me in and split me wide open." She got the courage to walk inside, sit in the back, and let the singing envelope her. That music, she said, was breath and food. She writes,

Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender. Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated. Sitting there, standing with them to sing, sometimes so shaky and sick that I felt like I might tip over, I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life. [4]

 

When the church sings this great song, not only do we begin to look at even the hard things of life with eyes of grace, wonder, and faith, but we begin to feel God’s new order being created in us.  This miraculous, cosmic salvation that we sing about is breaking through into our own lives – right now!

Salvation is an aspect of God’s great, cosmic, redemptive rescue operation worked in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God did something decisive about the problems between God and the whole world. Christians are those who have the joy of announcing this, “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

 

[1] (Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten [New York: Ivy Books, 1986], p. 154.)

[2] The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, 1971, Broadman Press, Nashville, TN, p. 135.

[3] (John Mackay, God's Order [New York: The Macmillan Company, 1953], p. 56.)

[4] (Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies [New York: Pantheon Books, 1999], pp. 46-48.)

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