The Interesting Thing about Religion is God

Keith McFarren

September 12, 2021

Ephesians 1:3-14

 


    When it comes to getting out of bed in the
morning, are you a “springer” or an “oozer?”
Do you spring out of bed, excited to do what you have to do, waiting to
see what lies ahead?  Or, do you slowly ooze
out of bed, wondering if it’s even worth getting up…wondering what’s going to
happen next that will drag you down?  I
think it would be safe to say that we’re all a little bit of both, springers
and oozers, depending on the day.
    But what I want to really talk about today
is one word: hope.  One of the main
reasons that people have a hard time getting up in the morning is because deep
down inside, there is a lack of hope that the future holds any real
promise.  
    So, I have to wonder, when you think about
the future of your life, where you’re going or what you’re going to do or when
you think about the future of the world, are you a springer or are you an
oozer?
    Our past shapes our present, and you know
as well as I do, you can’t go back to the past.
The future, on the other hand, shapes our present upon how we perceive
it…how we envision it.  If we think the
future is bright, we are more likely to spring forward with hope.  But if we think the future is nothing but
doom and gloom, then we might be more prone to reluctantly ooze forward into
the future.
    In our scripture reading today, the
apostle Paul gives us a perspective on all of this.  He tells us to forget the past because we
can’t do anything about it…it’s over and done.
Instead, he tells us that our present attitude should be based on the
future and what the future might hold.
    Paul, if you will remember, was a guy who
started off as a Pharisee, a guy who had a promising future in the Jewish
hierarchy, a guy who was making a big name for himself by being a hardcore
persecutor of people who followed Jesus.

    Then, one day he encountered Jesus on the
road Macedonia where he was going to persecute Christians, and he was radically
converted right on the spot to follow Jesus.
He gave up everything, his power as a Pharisee and a promising future
and became a worker for the Christian cause.
He became a missionary to the Gentiles, the hated, non-Jewish people who
lived in the Roman Empire.  
   In his letter to the Ephesians, a letter
written during the latter part of his life while he was in prison in Rome, Paul
is writing to a church he may have put more time and energy into than any other
church he started.  He left there about
five years ago, so he is writing to encourage them that despite all the
negative stuff that was going on in their lives, God was still with them and
still blessing them.    
    While being pressured by outsiders to
worship wealth and possessions and to begin worshiping various Roman idols in
Ephesus, Paul challenges the church members to unite and to put their trust in
their inheritance in Jesus and his complete sufficiency rather than the ways of
the world around them.  
    That’s the key throughout Paul’s entire letter
to the Ephesians – unity – gather together all the good things, the peace, the
joy, the salvation, that comes to us in Jesus Christ.  Let’s face it…without Jesus there is nothing
but chaos, disunity and disharmony.  Without
the unity that Jesus brings we are a divided people, separated from one another
by barriers and by walls that have been built.
Barriers and walls that separate nation from nation…class from class,
person from person and ideology from ideology.
    In each and every one of us there is a
tension that is a lot like a bomb that is waiting to go off.  We’re torn between our desire for good and our
desire for evil.  We hate our sins but then
again, we love them at the same time.
But worst of all, because of who we are and all that we continue to do,
there is a separation between us and God.
Men and women alike, people who were created to be in fellowship with
God, are separated from him because of what we do and what we say.  It is not what God wanted; it is not what we
were created for.  
    But because of the love of God, and
because of his grace, Jesus comes and Jesus gives us hope…hope for today and
hope for the future.  Through Jesus we have
the opportunity to tear down the walls and the barriers and become united as
one.  “The innumerable broken strands [of
mankind] can be brought together in Christ, knotted again into one, as they had
been in the beginning” (William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians
and Ephesians, Louisville, Kentucky: WJK Press, 2002, 77).
    That’s what the first chapter of Ephesians
is all about…it’s about a God that takes center stage.  It’s about God’s grace.  It’s all about what God has done for people
like us…people who have screwed up, people who have messed up, people who have
turned their backs on God, people who deserve absolutely nothing from God.
    Despite who we are and despite all that we
have done…God turns around and blesses us with the gift of his son.  We were under the power of sin and we were
under the power of the world around us but God chooses for us to be in Christ.  He has chosen to adopt each of us and calls
us his children.  He wipes out our past
and he has blessed us with his grace…a grace that has been freely given to us
despite all our warts and all the baggage we carry with us…and he’s done it all
of his own free will…all because he loves us.
    Our scripture reading this morning is like
an inspired hymn of praise…kind of like a doxology to the God of the universe…“Praise
God to whom all blessings flow…”
Within these few verses we become aware of God’s providence and God’s
wisdom, and all the plans he has for us as he continually watches over us with
a watchful eye.  It’s like the song we
used to sing when we were kids, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.  He’s got you and me, brother, in his hands,
he’s got the whole world in his hands.”
    God provides for us.  He’s been at work in our lives before we were
even aware of it…day in and day out…even when we’re sleeping, he’s at work in
our lives.  He has a plan for each of us,
a plan that is deeply rooted in John Wesley’s concept of preeminent grace, a
grace that is deep down inside each of us on the day we were born just waiting
for us to respond.
    Paul talks of God’s providence, of God’s
wisdom, but he also talks of God’s power.
A power that allows us to live “in Christ” just as he lives within us.  
    With all that’s going on in our world and
in our lives it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless…and it’s easy to feel like
we’ve lost control of just about everything and that life is closing in on us.    
    Twenty years ago yesterday our lives
changed drastically.  It’s as though our
world began to close in on us on September 11, 2001…and then along came the
pandemic caused by to COVID-19 virus that has us separated from family and
friends and all the world around us…and instead of getting better, things seem
to be getting worse as the virus continues to spread.  We’re faced with decisions and with
challenges we never thought we’d be faced with.
It’s as though our needs grow greater as our resources become fewer and
fewer.
    But let me remind you once again that Paul
isn’t writing this letter from his vacation home in the south of France as he
sits and drinks wine and eats fancy French food and pastry.  He’s writing this letter from a prison cell.  He’s in bondage in Rome, shackled in chains, not
knowing if he’ll live or if he’ll die, and yet he knows and believes in the
power and presence of God and he continues to claim the power and presence of
God despite all the bad things that are going on in his life.
    That’s because God continually provides
for us.  His power is with us and is
always for us.  In the early Christian
church, people knew that they were different from the rest of the world.  So much so that they knew that they would be
hated and oppressed by the non-believers and that the chances were pretty good
that they would end up dying for how they lived and for what they
believed.  
    But the tendency today is to play down the
difference between the church and the world in which we live…between us and
them.  The idea today is to casually fit
in to the world around us.  Live a
decent, law abiding, respectable life.
Be cool, go to church and call yourself a Christian.
    But that’s not the way it’s supposed to
be.  As Christians there is to be a
distinguishable difference between us and them, just like there was back in the
times of Paul.  All said, it should be
easy to distinguish a Christian because while we set out to abide by all the
laws and rules and regulations around us, we are also to abide by the rules and
regulations that God has set before us.  
    Don’t worry about stuff.  Don’t worry about money.  Be more concerned about social injustice,
about hatred and about bigotry.  Be more
concerned about the needs and the concerns of those around us…especially those who
are less fortunate than we are.  We get
up out of bed each day not just to satisfy the rules and regulations of the
places we work and play, but we get up each day ready to satisfy the rules that
Jesus sets before us…to love others as much as he loves us…to love our
neighbors as we want to be loved and to treat our neighbors as we want to be
treated.
    As we age and as we watch what’s going on
in the world around us, it’s easy to become anxious about the future because we’re
not sure what lies ahead for us tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.  But know that we have a God who provides for
each of us.  A God who led his people out
of slavery.  A God who led his people
through the wilderness.  A God who will
give us exactly what we need when we need it.
A God who will never, ever leave us.

    None of us are perfect.  We’ve all failed.  We’ve all sinned…we’ve all fallen short.  Others of us struggle to connect with God to
help us make sense of who we are or where we’re going.
    But we can discover our purpose…we can
overcome our sinful lives…we can discover why we’re here in this world.  We can discover God’s liberating power in us
and for us, a power that will make us want to spring out of bed in the morning,
when we give our lives to him and worship him…the one who gathers all things
together in Christ…and it’s all within the loving context of God’s
unconditional love and salvation for people like us.
    It is God’s purpose that one day all
things and all people should be one family in Christ.  May we connect with this God who provides for
all our needs through providence, power and purpose…and may we each come to
know and worship the God whose greatest desire is to bring unity through
salvation to the entire world.