This morning we make a shift from our series on the Psalms to the apostle Paul’s letter to the early church that he founded in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was a fairly busy business center located on the west end of present day Turkey and the people that lived there were known as Ephesians, hence the name of the letter. Some of Paul’s letters like 1 and 2 Corinthians were directive in nature, answering specific questions about how the teachings of Jesus applies to specific situations in our lives. Do this, don’t do that kind of stuff. The letter to Ephesians is a little more general and gives something of a 40,000 foot view of Jesus and how Jesus comes into our way of living. With the larger and wider view of Jesus, the book of Ephesians became one of the cornerstone texts for Martin Luther forming his view of how Christ applies to our lives.
In today’s reading Paul takes us on a bit of a ‘wayback machine’ ride. For many people today the Wayback machine is an internet archive of all webpages that have ever existed. The rest of us may remember the wayback machine as the way Mr Peabody and Sherman from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show travelled back in time to important historical events. In today’s reading Paul is taking us wayback through time as he sets up some very important things coming up in his letter to the church in Ephesus. It would be easy for Paul to write about just right here and right now but he takes a deeper look at what is going on in the faith lives of the followers of Christ.
Perhaps the first thing to pay attention to in Paul’s setup for the rest of his letter is his focus on God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It’s almost like he is saying, “I have some things to touch base with you about but first things first. Let’s get our minds centered on God and all that God is doing. Oh, and let’s pray about that, too.”
Look what Paul is doing here. The early versions of this passage are something of a never ending run on sentence rather than broken up with that pesky punctuation like we normally read it. The apostle Paul is known for his fairly frequent use of run on sentences. It’s like he’s a young child full of enthusiasm and he just can’t quit writing until he gets it all out. I like punctuation as much as the next person but sometimes I wonder if we let our preconceived notions get in the way of being full of childlike enthusiasm in our love of God. Reading Paul’s never ending run on sentence is a pretty good way of reading and experiencing the never ending run on presence of God.
As we look at God through the eyes of a child and with the same kind of reckless enthusiasm, how do we see our relationship with God? It is easy to put our filters up and tell ourselves we don’t have time. We don’t want to look foolish. We don’t want to commit.
And yet in spite of our occasional lack of enthusiasm, God keeps busy. God keeps busy both because of us and in spite of us. Because of us because we are God’s creation, claimed in the waters of baptism. And in spite of us because God loves us in spite of our frequently used ability to sin. We’ll deal with that issue here in a little bit with our confession as we are assured once again that God knows all about our ability to sin but loves and forgives us anyway.
Look at all the things God is up to in today’s reading: blessed us in Christ, he chose us, destined us, grace that he freely bestowed on us ,grace that he lavished on us, he has made known to us that he set forth in Christ, to gather up all things, destined according to the purpose of him, we were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.
Paul is writing to the Ephesians a couple of thousand years ago but really, nothing has changed for us. God still destines us, God sill chooses us, God still blesses us, God still does all these things plus we are still marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. God keeps busy, no?
And like the Ephesians, Paul’s message has a few of things to say to us. One, the obvious one we just talked about. All the things God is doing for us. And we don’t have time this morning but something you might do this week is go through this reading and see if you can find all the things we get from God. Redemption is one, see if you can find the others.
Secondly, there is a very practical point that Paul is making to his readers. In the 15th century Dante’s Inferno solidified for us the concept of hell being somewhere down below. But in Paul’s day the forces of evil were not seen as being ‘down’ like we tend to think of a demon filled hell. Instead, evil forces were part of the air, flying around trying to weasel their way in between us and God. I think that is probably more of an accurate assessment of evil than the burning hell underneath the surface of the earth. I’ve never had any experience with demons down below but is there anyone here who hasn’t felt like evil is working against them in the here and now? Paul is assuring his readers that God is actively working on their behalf, God is working at not letting the forces of evil come between them. Likewise, we share in that same assurance. God is present and working on our behalf. God keeps busy.
And lastly I think Paul is being very clever in a literary sense by combining all the things God is doing on our behalf so that we have the sense that there is something good to come. And indeed there is something very good headed our way but we’ll be talking about that in the coming weeks. And yes, I freely admit that is a shameless plug for you to come and see what Paul is up to in the next few weeks.
In the meanwhile, no matter what is going on in your life, be assured that God is present with you. Because of us or in spite of us, God keeps busy.