Sermon; Proper 12B; Ephesians 3:14-21
We have some catching up to do.
Two weeks ago we began our journey and exploration of Ephesians. Remember that this is a disputed letter, meaning that it may or may not have been written by Paul to a church that may or may not have been in Ephesus. Remember also how this letter is constructed – like a funnel that begins with a vast, cosmological view of God working its way down to individual spirituality. Two weeks ago we were at the wide opening of that funnel when we heard about the omnipotence of God, his eternal plan as Lord of the universe, and the very beginnings of trinitarian theology.
The lectionary unfortunately skips over a sizable chunk between two weeks ago and last week. This skipped-over section runs from 1:15 – 2:10 and includes prayers for the church/or churches to whom the letter was sent, thoughts on the power of the Resurrection and Ascension, and a reference to Christ and Church as one body, with Christ in control as its head.
Included in this section is also the story of God's people, both Christian and Jew, over the past, present, and future. The author touches on what we have labeled “the Fall” and universal sin, humanity's life outside Christ, God working to bring all of humanity back into relationship through Christ, and what our life in Christ should look like as we live into that fulfillment.
So again, we begin with the universal and cosmological view of the eternal God, that we are adopted in Christ, and that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. The letter slightly narrows to a view that the power of the Resurrection brings us back into relationship with God through Christ. And it is in this skipped-over section where we see the author's understanding of all this as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. It was through God's covenant with Abraham, remember, that all nations would be blessed.
But people were not able to hold up their end of the Covenant. Instead of a fence around the Torah that protected it from unintended or willful damage and to keep it as a garden of precious plants for all to see and use, people turned that fence into a wall designed to keep others out and delineate between Us and Them. It was because of this sin of separation that God, through his great love and mercy, gave his Son Jesus Christ so that all people may be reunited with God; thereby fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant that all nations shall be blessed.
Last week we had Fr. Bruce Torrey speak about his relationship and mission with Food for the Poor, so we missed out on looking at the Ephesians reading. So, as part of our catching up . . . Last week's reading begins to explore and explain the unity we have in the Church regardless of race and culture. The author reminds his readers that Gentiles were outside the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenant and having no hope. It is through Christ, though, that those who were far off (Gentiles) are now brought near to God. And it is Christ who has broken down that wall of separation that I mentioned earlier. It is Christ who has abolished the law of separation in order to create one new humanity, making peace across racial and cultural lines. It is Christ who reconciles all people to God, putting to death their hostility toward each other. It is through Christ that all people are unified. And it is Christ who builds the household of God, the Church, and who becomes its cornerstone.
The eternal, universal God, working through his Son, Jesus Christ, works to bring all people back into his loving embrace, through the work of the Church.
We have moved from the universality of God, to the mission of Christ, to the reason and mission of the Church. This reason and mission is found in another section omitted by the lectionary. In short, the reason, purpose, and mission of the Church is to “make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the Church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.”
And this, finally, brings us to today.
This is the reason for the Church: to make known the plan of mystery and to make known the wisdom of God. Another way to say this is, “On earth as it is in heaven.” So Paul prays that this may be so. And this is our reading today – the prayer of Paul for the Church.
He prays that Christ may dwell in your hearts, being rooted . . . . that is, being set apart as a precious plant and protected from both unintended and willful damage. He prays that Christ may dwell in your hearts, being grounded . . . that is, being firmly established as a building with Christ as your cornerstone. He prays that this rootedness and groundedness will be based in love.
And he prays that through your rootedness and groundedness, you will have the power to comprehend the love of Christ in all its breadth, and length, and height, and depth. This is the vastness of the eternal God being revealed through Christ, in the body of the Church, represented by you. As the Church, you are in Christ and Christ is in you.
It is the missio dei, the mission of God, to reconcile all people to each other and to bring all people back into his loving embrace.
It is Christ who has broken down the walls of separation through his acts of love, and who has put to death hostility, bringing together those who were far off and those who were near.
It is the Church, as the body of Christ, that reflects the love of God and works to make the wisdom of God known to all.
And it is you, the individual members of the body, gathered up by God's plan before the foundation of the world and marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, who will proclaim all this to the world.
It is you, filled with the fullness of God, rooted and grounded in love, who will help break down barriers and walls so that the eternal plan of God may be made known.
The unimaginable vastness of the eternal God who chose us to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world was lain, set forth in Christ a plan for the fullness of time. God put this power to work in Christ by raising him from the dead, defeating death forever. And now, this power to defeat death, to break down walls of separation, to make known the mystery of the ages that is rooted and grounded in love, resides in the Church and is brought to fulfillment through you, the individual members of Christ's body.
May we never forget from whence we came, or for why we go forth.