A Sermon Preached at The Bellbrook Presbyterian Church< /br>
July 16, 2017< /br>
Rev. Diane Ziegler< /br>
TEXT: Ephesians 1: 1-14
One of the 20th Century space discoveries, I am sure some of you know far better than I, is that the universe is expanding. Scientists have named the force that causes the expansion “Dark Energy”. It is an anti-gravitational force that cannot be seen but its presence is inferred from the effects it produces. It is spread uniformly and seems to remain constant throughout space and time. It comprises 70% of the universe. There’s more. In addition to dark energy, there is dark matter. Scientists were studying and observing galaxies, some of which rotate at speeds of 60,000 miles per second, and asked “what keeps them from flinging apart?” The answer was dark matter. It is dense stuff that contributes to the gravitational field and holds things together. In a very simple form, it might be compared to a bunch of grapes. The stem and part that we don’t eat is the dark matter. The grapes are the galaxies that the dark matter holds into place. It is mind-bending stuff!
It seems appropriate to ponder such vast and mind-straining things as dark energy and dark matter as we begin our journey through four weeks of Ephesians this morning. Ephesians will stretch us as readers of scripture and people of faith, individually and as part of the church. There is no space, in on earth or “in the heavenly places” as Ephesians 1:3 describes, that where God is not. God is present, active and gathering all things up to Him.
The Letter to the Ephesians has long been attributed to Paul, but more recently scholars believe it was more likely written by a student/mentee of Paul. There is a long list of things that brought scholars to this conclusion and I would be happy to share more with you about that if you are interested. Ephesus is the named community in this text, a community that was located near the coast of what is now modern day Turkey. It was located almost directly across the Aegean Sea from Athens Greece. The letter does not mention a particular problem or concern, as many letters do, but is a document uplifting and encouraging the community and witness of the church that was circulated widely among many churches. Congregations would gather in buildings or homes and hear these words read.
As for churches then, today the language of Ephesians not only speaks of the dominion and work of God in all things near and far, but also provides direction and language for believers, for the church, in terms of how we are to live as followers of Jesus Christ. If you have the text out, look at these words with me:
“God has blessed us with Christ” (1:3)
“Chose us” (1:4)
“Destined us for adoption as his children” (1:5)
Why? “To the praise of his glorious grace” (1:6)
“In him we have redemption” (1:7)
“In Christ we have obtained an inheritance” (1:10)
“So that we might life for the praise of His glory” (1:12)
Ephesians paints for us this picture of God of the earth and the heavens; God who through Jesus Christ adopted us and brought us into relationship with, and because of that relationship and because of who God is - - a God of earth and heaven who is bringing all things under Him - - we are called, as believers, to live lives of praise. We are called as believers to live lives that show our relationship to this awesome God of heaven and earth. He chose us.
As we go forward in this letter we will hear it speak more of the church. If you read on and finish the first chapter, the church is mentioned. Ephesians is certainly a text with direction for us as individuals, but it is also beautifully informative and directive for the church. For us, as part of the larger church, us here in Bellbrook as we seek to be faithful in following Jesus Christ.
The children’s Sunday School over the next few weeks will be in part talking about the history of this particular church as we study Ephesians. Sitting here in the sanctuary we can see on the stained glass windows the names of some of those who made this building a reality - - some donated funds, some built, some donated time in other ways. Why? So that in Bellbrook there was a place of worship to call people to praise God as Ephesians tells us to. And for there to be a place and a space for the church that Christ calls into being to manifest Christ’s mission in this particular community. We are but one part of the great ecclesia - - the church. We are not formed and called by ourselves but by God, and our purpose is to live lives that praise the creator and ruler of heaven and earth. And this space calls us to that task.
But the building is only one part of the history of this congregation. Some years ago (2002?) the congregation underwent a lot of work to prepare a mission statement for the congregation which would articulate how this church would be a community of faith here in this community and part of the larger church. The mission statement seeks to articulate how this congregation will fulfill its life work of praising God as a church community. The Session reviewed that mission statement in this last year and affirmed that it still resonates and is meaningful. You will find copies of the mission statement in the pews.
Since Ephesians calls us to our task of praising God as the church, it seemed appropriate to take this opportunity to look at the mission statement of the church and see how it challenges us to do exactly that - - to praise God as we seek to be the hands and feet of Christ in this community. We will take one line of the mission statement for consideration with each of the four weeks of Ephesians.
Embracing the Community with God's Love
Providing a Home for Spiritual Nurture &Worship
Reaching Out to Those in Need
Growing Through Service to Others
You will see that the first line of the mission statement is to embrace the community with God’s love. We really need to think about these seemingly simple words because they are not simple at all. How will we fulfill them as the particular church in Bellbrook and in doing so praise God?
Let’s look at these words that were chosen.
Embrace. It does not say spread, share, or show but embrace. To embrace someone can be a risky venture. Theologian Miroslav Wolf has written an entire book on the theology of embrace! To embrace is to open our arms, draw someone else who is willing to be embraced in (it is never coerced), and then to release them again. It involves risk, intimacy, equality - - it involves quite a lot. Embrace.
The community. The Session and some of the other ministries are currently talking about what defines (geographically) the community of this congregation. But there is one aspect of “community” that Christ defines for us. That is the community outside these doors. Inside these doors, we as a church are a community. And we are to fulfill scripture and the mission of the church with one another. But this is not where community ends but begins. Christ said go. Go. Community is outside these doors.
And he chose us. He chose us to embrace the community.
How can we embrace the community? Across the street? Behind the church? How can we be a church that embraces this community and in doing so praises God?
He chose us to embrace the community with what? God’s love.
The writers of this mission statement were either feeling highly energetic or optimistic or better yet were filled with the wind of the Holy Spirit for it is no small mission statement! Embrace the community with God’s love.
God’s love is what? Perfect. Not judgmental. Understands. Welcomes in. Doesn’t seek to control. Welcomes even the most seemingly unlovable. Jesus ate and ministered to those in the temple, but also to those out of the temple. To tax collectors, prostitutes, and the sick, the dead, and the demon possessed. He ministered to Jew and Gentile. To Samaritan. To children. That is God’s love.
Most of us find it much easier to share love with people like us. People who share our values, our beliefs, our political priorities and party, our life experiences. But God’s love is different. It doesn’t divide people into groups of worthy and not worthy because the truth of the matter is that none of us are worthy. It is not by right decisions or sheer dumb luck that we are saved, but only by grace. Grace that comes from a loving God.
Go and do likewise, Jesus Said. Go and do likewise. He chose us.
Ephesians is going to challenge us to think about who we are as believers, as the church, and as a community of praise to the Almighty. Using scripture and the mission statement of this congregation, how can we be faithful to that which we are called in Christ Jesus?
Judy Cannato wrote a book called Radical Amazement about “black holes, supernovas and other wonders of the universe” and put them into the context of medications and praise to God. In her chapter on Dark Energy and matter she says this.
“Just as the vast majority of the universe is beyond our capacity to see or touch directly, do is the divine. But like dark energy and dark matter, we can see signs of God’s presence all over the cosmos. Just as dark matter works as an unseen gravitational force to hold galaxies together, so Mystery’s (God’s) presence draws us to the heart of a Holy Darkness. It gifts us with intelligence and personality, with relationships and work, with purpose and meaning. Mystery understands who we are and all that we can be. Holy Darkness draws us together, making us whole, and when we operate out of a place of wholeness we become luminous beings that radiate the Spirit’s presence and light up the lives of others just as surely as any star.”
He chose us to go and radiate the Spirit’s presence. May it be so. May it be so.
All glory be to you, O Lord. Amen.