Sermon; 14 Pentecost/Proper 16B; Ephesians 5:21-22, 25-28;p 6:1, 4, 10-20
Today we arrive at our final passage from Ephesians. Before I get started, I owe you an explanation about the passage we read today. If you open up your bulletins to the Ephesian reading, you'll notice a whole section surrounded by brackets. That section is not in today's appointed lectionary reading – I added it because, in the context of this series, it fits. One of the problems of the lectionary is how passages are chopped up, which can make for interesting/difficult sermonizing. So I fixed it . . . sort of. These additional verses help support the final argument of the letter.
So for one last time, let's take a look at one of my favorite letters of the New Testament.
First, remember that it may or may not have been written by Paul to a church or churches that may or may not have been in Ephesus. There is no issue that needed to be addressed. And it is just possible it could have served as a catechism to new converts.
Second, remember the funnel. It begins with a vast cosmic view of God and his eternal plan, through the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, Jesus breaking down dividing walls to bring together those who are far off and those who are near, being unified in Christ, to establish the Church that is rooted and grounded in love, leading lives worthy of our calling in here, out there, and at home. In short, God, Christ, Church, world, home. The funnel that began with God and the universe comes to its point today when we hear how we are to live our individual lives at home and on our own.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. This begins the author's discussion on the family. Where earlier we were encouraged to live lives worthy of our calling, to be humble and gentle, to bear with one another in love, and to maintain the unity of the Spirit, here were are reminded that that behavior is to be evident in the family. As we subject and model our lives on Christ, we also need to be subject to one another in the family out of that same reverence.
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. Before all you women storm the pulpit, we need to remember that the author is working with analogies here, using marriage as the image of Christ and the Church. Being subject to doesn't mean blind or meek obedience.
One verse earlier we were told to be subject to one another. In talking about being subject to, St. Jerome reminded church leaders that they were servants. Church leaders are not to boss their subordinates, but to serve them. And Theodoret reminded us that we are not to submit to unlawful or abusive behavior.
Which leads to the next section about husbands.
Before the husbands start quoting 5:22, pay attention to 5:25-28. Notice the requirements for husbands is much longer and carries more responsibility. If our short-sighted view sees women as inferior subjects to their husbands, this section should take care of that. Love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.
Here again is the whole idea of servanthood. Husbands are not to rule over their wives, but to love them and, if necessary, sacrifice their very lives for them, just as Christ did for us. As I said in a previous sermon, it is the man's job to ensure wives and children are safe. Only quoting the line about wives being subject to husbands simply shows how much you don't understand.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Here again our author is using an analogy to compare families with the Church. As we obey Christ, so too should our children obey us. But again, this doesn't mean children should obey parents who command foolish or hurtful things. Once again we look back to ancient wisdom for guidance.
And then, if you think kids are there to simply order around and serve you, pay attention to the next admonition: Do not provoke your children to anger. As John Chrysostom wrote: do not deprive them, do not oppress them with burdens, do not treat them as slaves.
They are just as much children of God and of the light as you – treat them as such. But nobody comes ready-made to be Christians, they must be shown the way. Therefore it is the parents responsibility to bring them up, to raise them, in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
And now, finally, we come to the end of the letter. After hearing about the vast, cosmic plan; after hearing that it is through Christ that all things in heaven and earth would be gathered up; after hearing that we have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit; after hearing about walls being broken down, people being unified, being rooted in love, living worthy lives, forgiving others, living wisely, and hearing how families are to behave, finally we get to the point of this letter/catechism. All of what has gone before leads up to this.
Finally, even though we have been called to be holy, even though we were called before the foundations of the world were lain, even though this place represents the body of Christ, we must remember our work is not done. The world is still under the rule of the evil one. We are still engaged with ungodly forces. Therefore we must be ready for battle.
But this is not a physical battle. Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, authorities, and the cosmic powers of this present darkness. The rulers of this age fight for themselves and those who benefit from them. God, through us, fights for those who are abused, abandoned, ostracized, and marginalized. In order to stand up against the rulers of this present age we must put on the whole armor of God.
We must fully comprehend God's truth and righteousness. We must be ready to go forth and proclaim the gospel of peace. We must shield ourselves with right doctrine. We must have God on our minds. And we must pray. Above all, we must not be lax in our prayer lives. Pray for yourselves. Pray for your fellow parishioners. Pray for the Church. Pray for those outside the Church. Pray for me.
Ephesians is a giant funnel:
eternal plan of salvation
unified in Christ
breaking down barriers
becoming one body
rooted and grounded in love
living in humility and love
learning right doctrine
building each other up
becoming wise and filled with the Spirit
emulating the Church in our families
and each one of us fighting to proclaim the gospel.
Ephesians works its way from the vast, eternal God down to each one of you.
But here's the interesting thing about that funnel: if you turn it over, it still works. So not only does everything flow from God to us, but we also direct everything back to God.
If we are prepared, we will be able to proclaim the message of the gospel with confidence.
If we are prepared to live for the gospel, we will work to have our families replicate life in the Church.
Replicating the Church in our families allows us to create what the Church should be in real life.
What the Church should be is a holy and safe place for all people.
A holy and safe Church is centered on Christ.
A centeredness on Christ brings us back into right relationship with God.
When we are in right relationship with God, that vast, eternal plan of salvation is fulfilled.
Ephesians is a very Episcopal-type letter because it leads us to see not one or the other, but both/and. So as we move forward, may we see the funnel of God reaching down to us individually, while we also work to proclaim and broadcast the love of God to the world.