Paul gets to the point. Doesn’t he. At least he is in his letter to the Ephesians. In some of his letters, he’ll spend some time praising the folks, or praying for them. In others he jumps right to the point. But no matter what approach he takes, he very much says what is on his mind.
In this letter, Paul starts jumps right into proclaiming and celebrating Jesus Christ, then he prays. He seems to be pretty excited and pumped up for what is happening. He’s really getting into the moment, and instead of spending the entire letter addressing some sort of issue that’s been revealed to him about the community, this letter comes across more of a “how to live” sermon with lots of great instruction on what it means to live in Christ. So for the next six weeks, we’re going to read through the book of Ephesians here in the church, and we’re going to see what it might have to say to us today.
But building on Paul’s excitement, I have to say that I’m pretty excited that we are back here together today. Over the summer, we had a great time worshipping with our friends from our neighbouring United Churches here on the Northside. And now we’re trying out some new things in worship. Our Sunday School has been reshaped in the hopes of giving our children a fuller understanding of the stories of the Bible and having fun while they do it.
One of the key functions of the church is to bring a community together to understand the significance of what Jesus Christ has done for us. We are to build up the body of the church, but we can’t do that unless we also grow in our own faith in our Lord.
So we’ve made these changes in our Sunday School so that our children will have the opportunity to learn more about our amazing God, but we are not forgetting the rest of us. Which is why we’ve turned to alternative readings on Sunday mornings, so that we will hear parts of the Bible we don’t hear from often, and have a chance to engage in what we’ve been reading together. We won’t be hopping around week to week, but instead we’ll be walking through books and stories of the Bible. We’ll be exploring facets of our faith, like our creeds and other faith statements we call our own, but may not completely understand. We’ll be exploring ways in which maybe our own faith can grow, how our own understanding of Jesus Christ might be deepened and how our lives can become witnesses to the great blessings he offers.
Which is why we’ll start with Ephesians. Paul’s letter of encouragement and instruction to the people along the southwest coast of present day Turkey.
In chapter 1, Paul reminds us of the great blessings we have received from God. He reminds us that we are chosen in Christ. And we haven’t just been chosen today, but we were chosen from before time began. We are chosen to be His children, to be holy and blameless in the love of God and in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
All of this, Paul tells us, has been granted to us through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is God’s love shown to us. Through Christ the mystery of God has been revealed. No longer do we have to rely on the interpretation of old rules, Christ has come to show us the true way to act, and that is to act in love and service, sharing the love of God, just as Jesus showed the love of God to us.
Paul has a unique understanding of the love of God shown in Jesus Christ. Paul was once known as Saul, a fierce persecutor of the early Christian church. It was him who captured and executed early Christians who were trying to share the news of Jesus Christ with those who did not know him.
But Paul had an encounter on the road. Blinded, he heard a voice. A voice calling him to a new life, a life he quickly embraced as his anger and hatred for the Christians changed into love. In his new life, he had great revelations revealed to him about what it means to call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ.
Paul became a great leader of the church. He mentored leaders in the region, he helped launch churches and continued to send them letters of encouragement, and letters of instruction.
It’s quite amazing really, how one’s life can change so dramatically. This says a lot about what happened to him on the road, in that instance where he was blinded by the bright light from the heavens, and he heard that voice calling him to a new life.
Which is why those words, at the start of this reading are so powerful. How Paul shares the meaning of Jesus Christ and how he was sent by God to bless us.
Let’s hear again those words:
“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.”
Paul reminds us that this gift, this gift of grace and love is free. We don’t have to ask for it. We don’t have to be a certain type of person. It’s free. It’s right there. Jesus is the one who has brought the gift, and we just need to accept it.
“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, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Jesus is part of God’s plan to bring the world back to the way God has planned. We, as a people, are fallen. We’ve turned our backs on God, and we saw it in the very beginning when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree. So enter into the story Jesus Christ, who came to make known, in person, the love God has for his children. All of us. So that we may know him and be blessed in life and life beyond death as God’s plan unfolds.
“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; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
We exist to praise and proclaim the love and goodness of God. We are open to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s seal on our lives, so that we may live in the inheritance of God. That is, we become children of God who live with him forevermore when we receive God’s gracious, free gift.
This excites Paul tremendously. There is nothing Paul loves more than Jesus Christ. Which is amazing given he hated all Christians passionately before his conversion. It is very clear in many of his writings, and is certainly clear in the first chapter of this letter.
With that passion, Paul wants the world to know just what it means to receive this free gift from God. He uses lots of words that may be hard for us to follow when he writes, but these are the basics of what God wants us to know.
God wants us to be His children. He wants us to know Him, and how we get to know Him is to know His son, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God reveals the depth of His love and the blessings we are offered.
Life can be pretty tough at times. There can be times when God feels like a million miles away, if you even care if He’s there at all. But through it all, God’s plan is always at work. God’s plan to bring all of us, His children, back into His family.
Paul prays for the church in this letter. He prays that God will bless the church with wisdom and knowledge, that as people come to know him more their eyes will be opened to the grace only God can offer. Paul prays and gives thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ, a gift that is unmatched anywhere, anytime.
We are on a journey. Together we are looking to continue growing in our faith. To direction from God as to how he wants us to follow the example of Jesus Christ, both as individuals, but also as a community of faith. This is so, as recipients of this amazing gift of grace from our Lord, we may be a blessing to those in our community.
The blessing of grace from our Lord God is given to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His son, so we may be with Him also. Both now, and forevermore.
Thanks be to God. Amen.