“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
Call to Worship*
Blessed be God! Praise to the Father of Lord Jesus Christ!
In Christ we are blessed, in Christ we are chosen
In Christ we belong in the family, adopted
to live in the praise of his glorious grace!
In Christ the great mystery of God is revealed;
In Christ we are called to be blameless and free,
to live in the praise of his glorious grace!
Blessed be God! Praise to the Father of Lord Jesus Christ!
Moment of Silence welcoming Christ into our midst
“There’s a Song in the Air”
John 1:10-14(NIV) Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSV)
This is the Word of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Morning Message Living the Celebration
So, we spent Advent getting ready for the Company that would come: the Christ child born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger.
And now we celebrate that company, the Christ who came to earth to dwell among men.
As John said best in John 1, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And it might seem odd that we now abruptly jump to the book of Ephesians, but really Paul’s writing here is a celebration of the Word becoming flesh: of Jesus who would live and then die on the cross, rise on the third day, and give all men, women, and children, the opportunity to become children of God.
Here in Ephesians 1, Paul celebrates, practically gushes, the blessings we have as followers of Christ, as God’s children.
AND, he reminds us that we are supposed to live out that celebration in our lives every single day.
There are plenty of Bible passages that need to be savored; to be read slowly, lingering on every word for every ounce of meaning and depth.
This is not one of those texts.
The beginning of Ephesians is designed to be read quickly, without taking a breath.
Paul wants you to get caught up in the emotion and the spirit of the words.
This is a passage that is meant to be felt more than understood.
It is to be poured out over the readers and listeners, like a fountain of sparkling water that bubbles and foams and lightens the heart.
When Paul wrote these words, it was done without hesitation or pause.
In Greek, this whole text is one sentence.
Clause after clause pours out as though ideas and thoughts and emotions were weaving together almost on their own.
It’s as if to stop them would be like trying to contain a waterfall, at the top, to keep any from flowing out over the edge.
I imagine the scribe working with Paul had trouble keeping up, because I don’t imagine he stopped to take a breath.
And when these words were written to the Ephesian church, they brought with them great hope and joy.
Joy that must be experienced before it can be believed.
This does not mean that there isn’t anything worth wrestling with intellectually in these verses.
There is plenty of depth here.
And time should be spent digging deep into the themes and promises and hopes tucked away behind the lines and phrases.
It’s just that you can’t move toward understanding, full understanding, until you enter into the spirit.
This passage is like a song that has to be sung before it can be examined, before it can really be understood.
And this morning, we’re going to focus on two specific themes: “blessing” and “believe.”
It is first a song of blessing. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us . . .” (verse 3)
This is praise to the source of blessing.
It is an acknowledgement of the blessings that have poured down over us.
By “us” we mean the church, the chosen, the children of God.
Many commentators point out that this text is like the Jewish berakah, which is the formal language of blessing of God, that is common in Jewish worship and prayer.
So, Paul presents us with liturgy, an act of worship, as we read these verses.
Not only that, but there is a table of contents here for the rest of the letter to the Ephesians—topics that he will return to later are all here in summary form.
Ideas like the mystery revealed, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the will of God, are all touched on in this prelude of grace.
The exceptional thing about this text is that it is wholly God-directed, God-inspired, and God-drenched.
Yet, it also manages to invite us to explore the blessing placed within us.
It celebrates the God who is at work in us and around us.
We were blessed, chosen, destined for adoption, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with grace, taught the mystery, given an inheritance, so that we might live for the praise of God.
It is about living a life of praise, of celebration, for what God has and is doing in us.
And it is worth dwelling on a few things in this amazing list of blessings.
You can choose which ones speak to you most deeply, as you seek to live the celebration of Emanuel, God with us.
But consider theis first.
First the mystery: verse 9, “He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure”
Paul speaks of the mystery seven times in this short letter.
It is obviously central to the thinking in the letter.
In fact, it is a mystery that is no longer a mystery.
In the Greek, mystery (musterion) has a number of meanings, but for Paul it refers to the supreme redemptive revelation of God through the gospel of Christ.
Paul presents it to us as a gift, as the knowledge that will lead us through this life, that God is working through Christ to gather all things together unto Himself.
Now let’s dwell on that for a moment. Gathering all things. Verses 9 and 10, “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.
Gather up all things in heaven and on earth: We cannot imagine that gathering up, can we?
Especially when it comes to people: all political parties gathered up, all races gathered up, broken families gathered up, gathered up nicely in peace and in joy, united in Christ.
Even among Christians we struggle to see any of us gathering well, even our own denomination.
Yet, here we read that in the fullness of time, God will gather all things up.
We can’t, but God can because with Him all things are possible.
And He will.
Gathering has the meaning of unifying, making one under a single leadership, God in this case.
Scripture supports this: In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.
So, along with this passage, we now know that we are working God’s purposes, we are living out God’s will, when we ourselves are in the business of reconciliation, making one, uniting.
It’s not a mystery because we don’t understand it.
Or that it waits to be revealed.
It is musterion because it is the source of all that we do, the knowledge that drives us.
Above all else, we know that it is our calling and our joy to bind together, to bring together things of heaven and things of earth.
Or as Jesus puts it, to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength,
and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Blessing.
The second word we will spend some time reflecting on is “believe.”
Paul concludes our text by saying, “remember how this worked?”
Remember how you came to faith?
You heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation and you believed in him, and were sealed by the Holy Spirit. You believed in him.
Verses 11-13, “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, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 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.”
The danger here is this: Too often, we reduce this word “believe” to the barest minimum of meaning.
You made an intellectual decision regarding the idea of Christ.
You agreed with an argument.
You accepted a fact or a truth.
You made the decision to believe that Jesus really did live, then die, then rise from the dead.
And you believe because you believe this you will go to heaven when you die.
And while all these things are true, and I believe them too, this is not the full meaning of the word “believe.”
We believe a lot of things in life.
Like that the Steelers are the best football team ever, or that country music is superior to rock and roll.
But the belief in Jesus Christ is something much deeper than that.
There is a weight to this word that many of us have lost.
What Paul argues here is that when you heard this Gospel, when I brought you this story, this person Jesus, and handed him to you like a gift from above, you changed everything about who and what you are.
You put your life in His hands.
You secured your future to his grace.
You wrapped yourself around him like he was now the air that you breathe and the bread that sustains you.
We cannot be satisfied with an intellectual nod of the head to some cliché belief about salvation.
True belief in Christ is more than head knowledge. It is also heart knowledge that can be seen in how we live our lives, how we treat other people, how we embrace unity and forgiveness.
And so, we conclude our Advent/Christmas series with this idea once again that we are called to live our faith, not just accept it.
Not just think about it, but to live it fully and wholeheartedly.
Christ has come, and we are now called to open our doors (and hearts) to the wider community because we are called to gather all things together in God as a precursor to the gathering that will be done someday when Christ returns.
We live each day in celebration of that mystery, that hope.
Company has come. Jesus is with us.
My hope for you this year is that you make an unrivaled effort to carry on the spirit of Christmas this whole new year of 2021.
Not with decorations or carols or gifts or cookies.
But by remembering the hope that the arrival of the Christ child brought to the world that first Christmas night.
By living out the celebration of his arrival in your own life.
In the way you love, by being a peacemaker, and by living generously.
May this year be the year in which we all join the great choir of angels by bringing the Good News to all, and singing “Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men.”
Response to the Word Wesley Covenant Prayer UMH 607
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” Blue Hymnal 218
The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.
Let Christ’s light shine in the darkest corner of your life.
Let Christ’s love shine in the darkest corners of our world.
God is with us. Alleluia. Amen.
*Ruth Duck, Bread for the Journey, Pilgrim Press, 1981, p.26.