Sermon from 3rd Jan 2021

Ephesians 1:3-14 (EHV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

He did this when he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, so that we would be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. He did this in accordance with the good purpose of his will, and for the praise of his glorious grace, which he has graciously given us in the one he loves.

In him we also have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in keeping with the riches of his grace, which he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. He made known to us the mystery of his will in keeping with his good purpose, which he planned in Christ. 10 This was to be carried out when the time had fully come, in order to bring all things together in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have also obtained an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in keeping with the purpose of his will. 12 He did this so that his glory would be praised as a result of us, who were the first to hope in Christ.

13 In him, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and in him, when you also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession, so that his glory would be praised.

Dear Heavenly Father, lavish us again with your grace through your Holy Spirit so that we may rejoice in the fact you chose us and redeemed us for your own through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever had to choose a team before?

Perhaps you were at school and you were assigned as the captain. You then had to choose from your classmates so you could assemble the best team possible. If you did this, what would be the criteria which would help you choose your team?

Perhaps you chose your friends first, followed by a few others who would add strength or versatility to your team. Sometimes your friends would advise you who to choose and who not to choose. Then came the more difficult task of choosing between the unwanted people who you had to pick, even though you didn’t want to have them on your team.

As you played, you may have worked well with your friends and the gifted ones, but you may have avoided some of the others who were just there to make up numbers. Sure, you may have tried to be polite and involve them for a little while so they might feel important for a moment, but otherwise you may have chosen to use them as little as possible. Of course, it may not have been a very positive experience if you were ever one of the last chosen!

In a sense, we do this every day.

While we don’t always get to choose our family members, who we get to work with, or who’s part of our congregation, we often choose who we’re going to favour over others.

Think about the members of your family, or your neighbours, or the people in this congregation. Who do you talk to the most? Who do you look forward to talking with? Who do you seek to avoid?

Of course, some people are easier to get on with than others. Some people are more pleasant company and have common interests. Some people are good at telling us what we want to hear, while others aren’t. Some people hurt us or break our trust. We don’t want to give these people the opportunity to hurt us again. We may even attempt to get back at those who hurt us.

So, whether we’d like to admit it or not, we all do it. We choose to be good and generous and gracious and forgiving toward those we prefer, and we can be apathetic, cold, nasty, and unforgiving toward those we don’t like or trust. We judge each other based on whether we want them to be one of ‘us’ who we choose to be nice to, or whether they’re one of ‘them’ who we feel justified to treat them with contempt, indifference or payback.

When St Paul wrote to the congregation in Ephesus, one of the issues he was tackling was the ‘us and them’ way of thinking and living which had crept into the congregation. It was Jewish Christians versus the Gentile Christians. The unity of this early Christian congregation was being tested.

But what’s interesting is the way Paul tackles the problem.

We might expect him to call a big meeting so they could air all their grievances to ‘get it out in the open.’ We might also expect him to knock their heads together or plead for love and unity and peace and forgiveness and harmony. We might think he’d put some issues to a democratic vote, hoping the weight of popular opinion will force people to agree with each other. Perhaps he’d let the division increase and let everyone go their own way, and good riddance of anyone who decided to do this.

But Paul doesn’t use any of these tactics.

His starting point wasn’t pointing to them or their differences or their arguments or majority rules or even the problem at all. His starting point was to praise God!

He pointed to who God is and what God does – not just for me and my favourites, but for all of us, after all, God doesn’t play favourites.

God chose you and me and all those we struggle to get along with. He didn’t choose any of us because we deserved it, but because it was his choice to love and adopt all of us as his children through faith in Christ. He didn’t wait to see if any of us would deserve his choosing, but chose us anyway before the foundation of the world. He chose us despite the fact we often play favourites. He chose us knowing we can be quite nasty to those around us. He chose us knowing we’ll often think we know better and will rebel against his ways. He even chose those we struggle with because he loves them too.

He chose us all to be holy and blameless. Not because we’re holy or blameless, but because that’s what he makes us. We want to think we’re holy when we’re not. We want to blame others for our unholy actions and reactions to those around us. Yet through the blood of Jesus, you and I are made holy and innocent once more through his forgiveness and cleansing.

He chose to adopt us as his children. This wasn’t our choice. It’s God’s choice. And his choice isn’t based on what we bring to the family or whether he likes us more than anyone else. God’s choice is based on his grace and love to choose us anyway. It’s also his choice to adopt those we look down on or criticise or argue with or gossip about. This means we don’t get to choose who we treat with respect and love and compassion as our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s God’s choice, not ours. If we have any choice at all, we can only choose to go along with God’s choice to love and serve everyone he chooses, or we can choose to rebel against his choices.

He chose to redeem us. This means he had to buy us back from someone else. This redemption didn’t cost silver or gold, but cost him the blood of his beloved Son, Jesus. Like the Israelites in the past, he needed to buy us out of slavery. We’ve been enslaved to serve our own desires, our own fears, our own prejudices, and our own pride. We’ve been captured and enslaved by the world’s and the devil’s deceitful lies. But the blood of Jesus paid for our freedom so that we might serve within God’s kingdom of grace and peace and love and forgiveness and hope. We no longer need to serve the other masters of fear and pride and anger and favouritism any longer.

He chose to lavish his undeserving grace on all of us. Unlike us who are often stingy and miserly and frugal in our giving and loving and forgiving and serving, God is prodigal, wasteful and extravagant in his grace. He chose to be gracious to you and me, then he chose to be gracious again, and again, and again.

He’s so generous with his love and grace and mercy, that it keeps overflowing. It’s like he can never be too abundant with his grace. He lavishes us with his grace upon grace because we need it. You see, we often abound in selfishness and rebellion. His abundant and overflowing grace is needed as the heavenly cure to overcome the disease of our self-centred sinfulness. He did all of this (and much more) so that all things would be united in him.

This means God’s eternal answer to our problem of disunity and division is blessing us through his choosing to adopt us, redeem us, forgive us, and be gracious to us.

Therefore, unlike the world’s answers to our human problems, which always seeks to control or separate or punish, God’s ways are much more gracious and loving and merciful.

Through faith in our loving and gracious God, who would rather punish his own beloved Son instead of punishing us, we’ve all inherited his promises of forgiveness, life and salvation. We’ve been adopted as his own children so that we may love and serve him and each other without the need for prejudice or favouritism. We’ve all heard the word of truth and believe the gospel of our salvation. We’ve all been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance through faith.

Trusting in God’s grace, and believing in our heavenly inheritance, we no longer look at each other as the world looks at us. Seeing each other through the redeeming cross of Christ, we consider each other as equally loved, equally saved, and equally recipients of the lavishness of God’s grace. Who are you or I to treat each other any differently?

After all, to show favouritism or judgment toward our brothers or sisters in Christ would be to place ourselves above God. By attempting to choose who’s in and who’s out of our good books would be to think we know better than God about who’s worthy of our love and attention. When we attempt to become our own little god who chooses our own selfish ways instead of God’s ways of grace and love, we end up rejecting God’s kingdom of grace and mercy. God forbid we would want to do that!

Thankfully, for all those times we’ve favoured and judged and threatened and punished those around us, we believe God still chooses to lavish us with grace upon grace. Because we know God is gracious and forgiving, we eagerly repent of our selfish pride and look to be lavished again with his grace and mercy. Through faith in Jesus Christ we’re forgiven and become holy and blameless once again. Through repentance and faith we trust in God’s promises of grace and blessing.

Together we’ve been chosen to live under God’s kingdom of righteousness, holiness, unity and grace. We’ve all been marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit in our baptism into the one Triune name.

The promises of Christ don’t distinguish between us and them. Our worthiness to stand before God without fear depends on Christ himself, and not any distinctions of favouritism or separation. In fact, God’s plan for his royal household of redeemed children depends on Christ breaking down any walls of hostility which separate or divide us.

Therefore, praise be to our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places so that he may choose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In Christ alone we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in keeping with the riches of his grace, which he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight.

Which is why the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.