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Tuesday, July 17 2012

Ephesians 1:3–14

          Today is the first of what I hope to be a series of talks on the book of Ephesians.  We’re going to be taking a break from Mark’s Gospel over the next 7 weeks in order to spend some time in this wonderful letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus. 

          Now – I have been to Ephesus two times in my worldly travels.  The first time was when I was 16 years old.   The second was some 15 years or so ago.  Today, the ancient city of Ephesus is a city of ruins, still under excavation.  In the time between my visits there, it was amazing to see how much excavation work had taken place in that roughly 25 year gap.

          Ephesus, in the time of the New Testament was a thriving commercial city on the coast of what is now Turkey.  The city became abandoned and fell into ruin as the shoreline of the Aegean Sea moved further west as silt from the Cayster River caused the shoreline to recede until now the city is some 8 Km away from the shore, no longer allowing ancient Ephesus to be a port city.

          But it is to this once thriving city that Paul wrote one of his letters – the letter that we know as Ephesians – or the Letter to the Ephesians. 

          In several of his other letters, Paul addressed specific issues and problems in the churches that he wrote to.  This is particularly true in his letters to the city at Corinth, and the area known as Galatia.  Ephesians is different.  We might say it is more universal in that it does not address specific issues unique to one place or another.  It deals with topics that are at the very core of what it means to be a Christian. 

          Ephesians can be divided into two almost equal segments.  In the first three chapters Paul lays out certain truths about Christianity that all of us need to pay attention to.  In the second three chapters he describes how Christians ought to live.  So the first half contains certain truths that state, “Here is what we believe,” and the second half gives some answers to the questions, “How then shall we live?”

          I want to suggest to you that the first three chapters are dripping with grace – in other words – God’s undeserved love and favor.  By grace, God forms us – his church – into a holy community.   By grace we are adopted as sons and daughters into this faith community.  All the while, Paul wants us to know that we have this grace as a gift because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

          The second half of this letter focuses then on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  It focuses more on lifestyle, choices and actions.  You can’t miss this transition between the first half and the second.  You can’t miss it.  Paul begins the second half of this letter with these words: “I therefore…beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” 

          What we will see when we get to the second half of this letter in a few weeks is that Paul is urging the church at Ephesus – and therefore also encouraging us – to move towards maturity.  In other words – Paul wants us to grow in Christ.  To become more and more like Christ in our thoughts – in our words – and in our actions.  Which – quite frankly – is a process.  And it is a process that I would hope all of us would be involved in.  And if not – well I just want you to know that it’s part of my job to encourage you to grow up – and to learn what Christ-likeness means – and then to actually put it into practice.

          So I don’t care how old you are – or how long you’ve been a Christian – you never outgrow your need to keep on growing – keep on learning – keep on becoming all that God wants you to be.  Because there is a real danger – a real danger – when followers of Jesus Christ get too comfortable.   It is possible to get too comfortable with this thing called faith. 

          So I guess a key question I could ask you today is, “How are you doing?   How are you doing in your walk with the Lord?  How have you changed – how have you grown – what difference has faith in Jesus Christ made in your life?  And as we go through the book of Ephesians together – I want you to keep asking yourself those kinds of questions.  And I hope that in the next few weeks you will see that your growth in Christ is going to happen most often when you are in the company of other Christians.

          And I would also ask you – I know some of you read your Bibles faithfully – some of you read it every day.  But let me encourage you to start reading the book of Ephesians over the next few weeks.  Whether you’re a regular reader of Scripture or not – crack this book open – and just read a chapter at a time – or perhaps a section at a time if your Bible shows those kinds of divisions.  But do read it – and if anyone has any questions about anything you read – I would be happy to do my best to address your questions.

          So – now that half my sermon has been taken up with background information – let’s get to today’s reading from Ephesians.  Ephesians chapter 1.

          There are a lot of things going on in chapter one, but I want to focus on one specific area.  I want to talk to you today about being part of God’s family.  And more specifically, I want to talk to you about how it is that you are a member of God’s family.

          By the way, did you know that none of us was born a Lutheran?  Even if your parents were Lutherans at the time of your birth, none of us was born a Lutheran.  You weren’t even born a Christian – even if you were born into a Christian family.  No.  But you were made a son – you were made a daughter – you were welcomed into God’s family in the waters of baptism. 

          But the language we use – and the language that Paul uses here in this first chapter of Ephesians is the language of adoption.  Listen:

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 (in other words, through Jesus).  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.

          Now I know that some of you are adopted.  You were adopted by your parents.  You were chosen by your parents.  Likewise, some of you adopted the children you called your sons and your daughters.  Most of you know that Nancy and I have a daughter who came to us from Liberia, Africa when she was 15 years old some 28 years ago.  We did not officially adopt her, but we chose to be her parents – and we still are.  And her two daughters call us their white Grandma and Grandpa.  Any adoptive parent knows that this is something that you chose to do.

          And I think that that’s another great word to use to describe how God thinks about us.  God chose us.  God chose us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ.

          Paul uses the concept of adoption in the legal sense.  You see, it was quite common in the Roman world for wealthy families who did not have sons to adopt one in order to have someone to inherit their property. Girls weren’t adopted in that time since, under Roman law, they could not inherit property. Girls – ladies – that’s just the way it was.  But it was a very special thing in the Roman world to be adopted.  And quite frankly – it still IS a special thing to be adopted today.

          Paul says that you and I have been adopted – welcomed into God’s family – through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And that’s why we can also say that – according to Romans chapter 6 – that through our baptism we receive the gift of adoption – as sons – as daughters – because according to Romans chapter 6, when we were baptized into Christ Jesus – we were baptized into his death, and therefore into his resurrection as well.

          Now the neat thing about adoption is that we are also heirs of every good thing God has. And what does God give us as heirs?  We inherit the gift of eternal life with God forever.  We inherit the gift of the abundant life in the here and now.  We inherit the gift of God’s grace – in other words – God’s undeserved love and favor.  I like how verse 8 here in chapter 1 describes it.  He lavished it on us.  When it comes to God’s grace – when it comes to God’s love – he lavishes it on us.  What a wonderful word that is, “lavishes”.  When’s the last time you lavished your love on someone.  When’s the last time someone lavished their love on you?

          So we were adopted.  We were chosen.  But there’s one last thing I want you to notice.  We were chosen for a purpose.  And not just to be the object of God’s love and grace – which He lavishes upon us – but to be holy and blameless – and here’s the key phrase – “in God’s eyes”. 

          Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Well that’s just dandy Randy.  I don’t think that word holy applies to me. If you only knew.”  Well, okay.  But let me tell you that maybe in your own eyes you’re not holy – or sometimes you don’t feel too holy.  And let me tell you – in my wife’s eyes – I’m not holy either.  But don’t miss that phrase – “In God’s eyes.”  In God’s eyes – you are holy.  Why?  Because one of the gifts of God’s grace – one of the benefits of being an heir of God’s riches – is the gift of forgiveness.  And when God forgives – God forgets.  Your sins are gone!  In God’s eyes you are without sin – and therefore you are – what?  Holy. 

          When we began this worship service, I declared to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the name of Jesus.  Did you believe that?  Did you?  And if your sins are forgiven then let me tell you – you are holy!  So how many holy people do we have in this room?  Every hand ought to go up. 

          You are holy because God has made you holy.  You are a son – you are a daughter of God.  Joint heirs with Christ.

          And if you’re still having trouble with that word holy – because you associate it with the word “perfect” and you know you’re not perfect – then let’s use the word “excellent.”

          As adopted sons and daughters of God, let us make it our aim to excel in faithfulness, generosity, in our worship and prayer life, and perhaps most importantly learning to excel in loving God and loving our neighbor – because we know that nothing else matters. May I suggest that we all learn what it means to work towards excellence – not perfection – but excellence in all things.

          God has given us His best.  Through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ – God has given us His best – and now calls us His adopted daughters and sons.  That we might become holy and blameless in His eyes.

          Welcome to the family.

                                                                                                    Amen

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656
Email:
zionoffice@zionclarencecenter.com

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