Sermon for January 3, 2021

“To the Praise of God’s Glory”

Ephesians 1:3-14

            On the platform of a railroad station there was a large crate with a dog inside.  He was the saddest dog you can imagine.  A lady asked about him. “You would be sad, too” she was told, “if you were in his plight.  He’s chewed the tag off the crate, and doesn’t know where he’s going.”

            Can it be that sometimes people and even churches find themselves sharing in that lost dog’s dilemma?

             About two thousand years ago as the gospel of Jesus Christ began the Spirit of God moved upon the hearts of many, and through the ages millions have come to understand, experience, and believe in the person of Jesus Christ.

            What a difference it has made to so many.  One example,   In 1182 Saint Francis of Assisi was born in a wealthy home. He lived a life of revelry and social engagements with the aristocracy of his time.  As he got older though through disappointments and illness, he began to question the meaning of life and he came to have faith in Christ.  He began serving the poor and the sick of his time and spending much time in solitude in the fields.  So marked was the change in his behavior that the townspeople at first thought him mad and his father wanting to straighten him out took him before the Bishop to disinherit him unless he would change his ways.  It is said St. Francis response was to strip himself of his clothes and all the articles his father had given to him. He stood naked before the bishop and declared, that henceforth he desired to serve only “our Father which art in heaven” and then he walked out the door and through the town in just such a fashion.  One might have thought him mad, but Francis went on to a life of service to God and others. He began a movement that influenced many, even to this day.

            Our world is filled with many stories about people who came to know who they were and where they were going as they placed Christ at the center of their lives, and they came to live incredibly dynamic lives.

            Today as we come to the beginning of 2021, there are many who struggle within the shadow of the pandemic.  The General United Methodist Church is likely to split in the not-too-distant future.  Many local churches have continued to be in decline.  Sometimes when I consider these matters, I wonder: What has happened to that old gospel message that empowered and changed so many lives?   Do we hold faith within us? Why are the small churches of today struggling, sometimes even for survival, rather than being filled with members and vital in Spirit and ministry?

            My guess is that maybe we suffer a bit from that lost dog syndrome. We need to remember where we have come from and where we are going in order to move forward in the future.  We need to paste our shipping label back in place.

              The good news is that the Bible reminds us of where we have come from and where we are to be going in case we have forgotten. Hear the words from Ephesians and paste this label back on.

            In Ephesians with praise and glory we are told:

  1. We are blessed with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places
  2. We are chosen in Christ
  3. He destined us for adoption
  4. We have redemption
  5. We have forgiveness
  6.  God has made known the mystery of his will in that
  7. all things shall be gathered together in heaven and on the Earth
  8. We shall obtain an inheritance and
  9. We might live
  10. To those who heard and believed, these promises have been guaranteed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

            If we keep in mind what this text shares with us, then we should never be lost, but we should be living dynamic lives that threaten to change our world.  Let us think a little more about some of the particulars of this statement from Ephesians.

            First, We are reminded that our Christian experience is a spiritual experience.

            We have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. God has given us not what we could gain on our own, but in Christ he gave us that which was beyond our reach:  the adoption as children of God, the redemption of our souls, the forgiveness of our sins, and eternal life.   Sometimes people like to think that Christianity is summed up in how we live –the things we do, our acts of piety in this world, but really Christianity is about what God has done for us through Christ.  The real message is not how I love my neighbor, although that love is very important.  The real message is about how God has shown his love toward us.  God has poured out his grace upon us.  Our love for others is the product of God’s love for us.

            I once heard a statement that went something like this: A natural child of birth is born in a mother’s womb, but an adopted child is born in a mother’s heart.  The Apostle Paul used the language of adoption to speak of the heavenly relationship we have with God even here on this earth. The Bible reminds us that we a people born from God’s heart of love toward us.

            When we mail something out, usually we put down a return address.  That is where the package is from.  Because of Christ our return address is heaven. We have already been so vested with heavenly blessings that that is where we are from. 

            Now here is our destination Address –where we are currently headed:

1.  We are to be a Chosen people

                4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

            Two important and even mind-boggling truths:

            a. He chose us before the foundation of the world.  Before everything was created, on the blueprints of life, God marked us down as being chosen by him –This tells us that from the beginning God has a plan for your life.  God is not moving through life in a serendipitous way, but rather with intentionality and purpose.

            b. God chose us to be holy and blameless.   Note that this text consistently uses the plural.  It is not He, She, me or I, but it is us, and we.  God not only chose you as special, but even more exact, God has chosen us, that we should be holy and blameless before God.   Sometimes people talk about personal holiness.  This is good, but did you ever stop to think that we as a body of believers must all grow together towards a corporate life of holiness.  We as a group must belong to and live for God.  It takes everyone to be a church, because  in any church it only takes a few antagonistic individuals to destroy the spirit of a church.   Living churches are rather fragile things, and every individual has their share in making the church a blessing.  Now with people this destination would be impossible to reach.  It is only by the presence and power of God that such a life is possible. Perhaps more than anything this is why prayer is so important.  I think only a praying church is likely to be a living church.

2. We are to be a people of Destiny

5 He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  6 to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 which he lavished upon us. 

            Sometimes people do not like to hear talk about the Blood of Christ, or the redemption found at the cross, but God made it so that the cross can neither be forgotten nor ignored.  There is no getting around it.   The Cross spans a mighty Gulf between us and God. 

            In Christ we are destined to be and to be received as the children of God.  God has lavishly given us his grace. Christ has died for us so that we might come into a relationship with God.   

3. Finally We are a people called to a task for the praise of God’s glory.

9 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  

            Not only are we in God’s plan of salvation, but we are to be part of God’s plan of salvation.

            The late Dr. Fred Craddock, a noted preacher and teacher in recent times tells about growing up in Middle Tennessee.  Craddock’s father did not go to church.  In fact, he was very critical of the church.

            Once in a while the minister would come by to try and talk to Mr. Craddock.  It did no good.  He would say: “I know what you fellows down there at the church want.  You want another name and another pledge.  Right?  Isn’t that the business you’re in?  Another name and another pledge. If pushed he would go on, “You don’t care about me!  You want another name and another pledge.  That is how the churches operate.  You don’t care about me.”

            He must have said that a thousand times, except the last time Fred Craddock saw his father in a Veteran’s Hospital.  Because of cancer his Dad was down to seventy-four pounds, and he couldn’t speak.

            Around the room flowers were everywhere –on the table, in the windows, and even on the floor.    Little cards were sprinkled in all the flowers and every one of them read something like this –Men’s Bible Class, Women’s Fellowship, Children’s Division, Youth Fellowship.  Every organization you could imagine in the church had sent flowers along with stacks of cards from persons in the church.

            Craddock’s father saw him looking at the cards.  Unable to speak, he picked up a pencil and wrote on the side of a Kleenex box a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

“In this harsh world, draw your breath

in pain to tell my story.”

            Fred Craddock read it and asked his Father:  “Dad, what is your story?”  The speechless old man took the Kleenex box back, and wrote a confession: “I was wrong! I was wrong!

            I suppose most churches and most people would have given up on such a cantankerous old fellow, but they did not, and it made a difference.  How much the church as a body needs a similar calling within its own life.  To be God’s people despite the resistance that the world offers.  To draw a circle of Love around even the unlovable.  To work towards uniting all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.   All for the praise of God’s glory.  We are called to be part of the living working Body of Christ. 

            And so, to sum up: On our Return label Heaven is our address, and on our destination label we find out that we are chosen, destined, and called all for the praise of God’s Glory, so the next time we wonder about our direction, let us remember the One who has sent us forth in this world, who we really are and what we have to share.    Amen.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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