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Second Sunday after Christmas
St. Stephen’s Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, January 5, 2003

Second Sunday after Christmas

Text: Ephesians 1:3–6

It is the beginning of a new year. Many of us look back and look ahead as we begin a new year. We ask what we hope for in the new year. I have asked myself that question about my ministry. What is it I hope to see for the people alongside whom I minister?  In other words, what do I hope for you?

Those are worthy objectives. And they are achievable objectives. If we, as Christians, accept what God is telling us,

I couldn’t have picked a better way to start the new year in pursuit of these hopes than with the Letter to the Ephesians, from which we read today. The Book of Ephesians has been called the “Queen of the Epistles,” for its lyric beauty, and the glory of what it says to us. The message of Ephesians is about God’s eternal purposes, and our place in God’s plan. Ephesians seeks to expand our horizons on two counts:

If you will look at our excerpt from Ephesians with me, you will find verses 3–6 in the first eight lines.

In these few lines, and in the remainder of this letter, we are given a vision of God and of ourselves that humbles us, inspires us, and encourages us to be all God wants for us.

I grew up as a church-going boy. I was an acolyte. I sang in a cathedral choir in Salt Lake City during college. I worshipped regularly at Riverside Church and St. John the Divine in New York in grad school. My faith stayed with me in the army when I was drafted. But as I reflect back on what my faith was, I can see that I was unaware of the glory of what God had done; and I was unaware of the glory of what God had for me to do as one of His people.

As I understood the faith, God loved me. God supported my life. God listened to my prayers. And in turn, I was supposed to be good—keep the commandments, be kind to my neighbor, tell the truth. It was all good Christian stuff. It was all true. But it lacked the grandeur of the big picture. I thought my faith was all about me—me and my success and my happiness in life and my future in heaven.

I was into my forties when the wisdom that is found in these verses of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians began to unwrap itself in my heart. I first became aware of the us that Paul is talking about. My faith wasn’t all about me—it was about us—the whole body of Christ, the Church. And then I began to see what God wants for His Church. We are a new society conceived by Christ in love. And through this new society, God is going to transform the world. And then I began to discover how it isn’t even our own resources that make it possible for us to play that role in God’s plan. But God Himself, in the power of the Holy Spirit, supplies everything we need.

How different everything looked. And yet, all that I believed remained true. It was just that it all fell into place. God isn’t part of my plan for the fulfillment of my life. I am part of God’s plan for the fulfillment of His purposes. We are part of God’s plan for the perfection of His creation.

It’s all here in Ephesians. I challenge you, as the new year begins, to spend some serious time with the Letter to the Ephesians. Read it slowly. Read little pieces at a time. Ask many questions of the text. And let its wisdom unfold in your heart. I promise you, your vision of God’s graciousness and of your place in God’s plan will be greatly expanded.

Let’s take a look at just one verse, and I’ll show you what I mean by, “Ask many questions of the text.”  Verse 4 tells us that

[God the Father] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him [in love].

  1. What does it mean, “before the foundation of the world?”  It means that even before God created everything, he intended that you and I were going to be part of His plan. Before one atom came into existence, God knew who you and I would be and had a plan for us.
  2. What did he choose us for?  He chose us to be holy and blameless before him.
  3. What does holy mean?  It means set apart, consecrated by God for God’s purposes. It means pure and worthy of being an offering to God.
  4. What does blameless mean? It means that we will not be found guilty of doing that which is contrary to God’s will.
  5. So, holy and blameless people are a thing of beauty to God. They are his, and they have a quality that God wants his people to have.
  6. Did God choose us because we are a rare breed that is capable of being holy and blameless? Absolutely not. We are holy because God Himself has set us apart. We are blameless because God Himself has said we are blameless.
  7. Then what makes that so? It is “in Christ” that God does all this. God did not choose us because we deserve it.  God doesn’t expect us to achieve holiness and blamelessness on our own. It is all in the power and the gift of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and wipe away our blame.
  8. So then, we ask ourselves, we don’t need to try to manifest that holiness? We can go ahead and live a life that people would see is blameworthy? No.

The Anglican writer John Stott has wrestled with this question, as does Paul in Romans Chapter 6.  Stott says that our election by God is an incentive to holiness, not an excuse for sin. He says that our election by God is a stimulus to humility, not a ground for boasting. For God has, through the work of Jesus, made it possible for us to even imagine being holy and blameless. The holiness that God intends for his faithful people is a thing of beauty that will shine in the world and make it different. When God imputes blamelessness to us, it gives us new life. It gives us the possibility of becoming better than we are.

Now, some, when they confront this text and the notion of God’s choosing us, protest that it is exclusivist and elitist.  Their concern is for those who are not so chosen. When you understand the grandeur of God’s plan, and the grace inherent in His involving those he chose into that plan,

All of which begs one further question of verse 4. What is this grand plan for which God chose you and me to be holy and blameless? The answer is in a verse that was skipped in today’s passage. You will notice that our passage today goes from verses 3–6 and 15–19. Well the missing piece is what says specifically what God’s grand plan is.  Verse 10 tells us that God’s purpose is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Jesus Christ.

This wonderful creation God has spread across the cosmos is not the perfection it is going to be. Everywhere there are the tragic symptoms of division and conflict.

This is not what God created the world for. This is all contrary to the beauty that God intends for His creation. And it will all be healed in the fullness of time. All things will be brought together under Jesus Christ.

Do you want a grand vision for yourself as part of what God is doing?  Do you want to be passionate about your faith? Do you want joy in your faith? Do you want to experience God’s power working in you? This is all God’s gift to you in Jesus Christ.  Look again at verses 3–6:

Past, present and future.  Yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Time and before time and for all time, Christ is the way, and the truth and the life, given to us by God as a gift.  And with our participation, He is God’s gift to all the world.

©2002  Rev. Jeff Cerar

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