English Standard Version (ESV)
3 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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us[a] for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed 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, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known[b] to us 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.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee[c] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[d] to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[e] toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Nobody likes to be rejected. I’m pretty sure that’s a universal statement. I can’t think of a single person who likes to be rejected. The tragic part of it all is, some people spend their entire lives being rejected.
It probably begins when we’re very young. I’m not going to go into family life, because for some people that’s a real hornet’s nest— so I’ll start with school. It becomes very tangible, very real when we put a bunch of kids in a group together, and we them dividing going on that’s self-directed and self-imposed, and we see splits and divisions even at the earliest ages. Who’s in the in crowd, and who’s not. It happens without any prompting, coaching, or instruction. But the worst part comes not in the classroom, but in the recess playground, and in the gym.
It’s a familiar scene. All the kids line up, and team captains are chosen to pick their teams for a game. Baseball, basketball, dodge ball, take your pick. On down the line, the first players are chosen—usually the bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic ones are first. Then the middle ranks, the ones who aren’t great, but aren’t terrible, the second string choices. One by one, the line dwindles as the precious chosen gloat at their luck of being chosen first. But dread mounts in the line, as the kids feel the sting of fear at the potential of being chosen last. And then it comes. The final kids. The ones nobody would choose first. The losers. The outcasts. The rejects. When one person is chosen over another, we see who really is the least of these.
Throughout our lives, we relive this experience over and over again, don’t we? But it begins to creep out into other things, not just games and sports. We see it in academics: who gets accepted into college, and who gets the letter that begins with the most hated words anyone can imagine: “We regret to inform you…”
We see it in the business world. Anyone who’s ever gone in for a job interview knows the fear and dread that comes with being examined, weighed and measured for a job. Anyone who’s done that knows the all too familiar sting of rejection when we’re passed over for some reason or another, be it fair or unfair. Deep down inside, we’re still that lost and lonely little child that’s at the end of the line, and no matter how old you get, that pain doesn’t leave too easily.
Nobody wants to be rejected. It’s a fact of life. I don’t care how introverted you are, how much you like being alone, at the end of the day nobody wants to feel like they don’t belong, or that they aren’t wanted. It’s like the old song goes: I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I’d love you to love me. We need to belong, even though we may not be a joiner, or we want to be independent. Independence is a good thing; but there’s a difference between independence and loneliness.
Which is where, my brothers and sisters, we need to begin when we talk about being the church.
Over the next few weeks I want to do something new. I’m going to do a sermon series, but in a different way than I’ve done before. You see, the ones I’ve done before have been based on a certain base topic, like evangelism, or what the Methodist Church believes. For this one, I want to do one based on a whole part of the bible—albeit a short one. I just read to you the first chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, which is a remarkable document, one that has profound impact on my formation as a Christian, and how I understand my faith and vision of the church. Believe it or not, one of my first sermons was on this chapter, and when I was told to preach on it, I was told that it was a difficult thing to preach on. I read it, and laughed. The problem with Ephesians is not that it’s hard to find something to preach on, as I expected; the problem is that it has so much, it’s hard to narrow it all down! I love Ephesians, so if you’ll allow me, I want to share some of my love for this letter with you. I’ll try to stay on topic, I promise.
I want to go back to what I was talking about a minute ago, how none of us wants to be alone, and how we all deep down would rather not be left out, or rejected. People deep down are social animals, drawn to each other, knowing almost instinctively that we have a better chance of survival with other people, rather than just on our own. While we may manage to survive on our own, the other side of that is quality of life; what kind of life would we live if we are all alone? I would make the case that we were made to live with each other, and be together. So would the writer of Ephesians.
As with most letters in the New Testament, Ephesians was written to a particular congregation (this one in the city of Ephesus) for a particular purpose, or a particular set of purposes all deeply tied to one another. However, the writer doesn’t outright say what this purpose is at the beginning. No, not at all—which is fairly unique. This letter does not sound like Paul wrote it at all, if you’re familiar with the other letters of Paul like Romans or the Corinthians. Paul was very much like a Hemingway—he wrote short, choppy, to the point sentences that were easy to understand. If you paid attention to this letter as I read it, the first thing you notice is that this is not simple. It’s so different that a lot of people think that this wasn’t really written by the same Paul, but actually a student of Paul’s writing the name of Paul. However, that doesn’t make this letter any less authoritative; in fact, this writer has a lot of amazing, authoritative, God-inspired, God-breathed, and above all, complex ideas that he wants to get across.
The writer develops an incredible opening speech and prayer for the church in this first chapter, building up to his central focus. He begins though, with a blessing. Bless the God and Father of Jesus Christ, who in Christ has blessed us. Thank God for everything that we have, because everything we have is in Christ. In Christ. Right there is the basic claim of the letter. Everything in Christ. You, me, them, us. Everything is blessed in Christ, because Christ blessed us. Keep that in mind, because with that in place, everything else makes sense especially the next thing he says.
“In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” There’s that word that really get up our hackles as Methodists. “Predestined.” We don’t like that word, usually. Why? Why don’t we like that word? The truth is, I chose this translation specifically for that word. There are others that change it to the less controversial “destined,” simply because of that theological problem of predestination, because we don’t really like the idea that things have been decided before we have a say in it. I definitely value the argument against the word “predestination.” I believe God gave humanity freedom to act, freedom to live, and freedom to do as we are want to do. But at the same, I also value and embrace the idea that we were predestined, for very Methodist reasons.
I embrace it because of the notion of grace, specifically God’s grace, Prevenient grace, the grace that comes before us. See, when I think of predestination in those terms, in terms of grace, it’s not such a daunting notion, nor is it impersonal or tyrannical bullying from God. It’s not. We are not a spider that God is dangling over the fires of hell while being angry at us!
When you think of predestination, that what God is doing here is in terms of grace, in terms of love, then things become clearer, because of what the writer of Ephesians is trying to do here, and what kind of language he’s using. I’m going to use one of my 10 dollar words here now: Ephesians uses very “theocentric” language. What does that mean? It means God (theos) is at the center of everything, the cause of everything, and the purpose of everything. It’s not about us. It’s about God, and who God is. Ephesians is riddled with this kind of language. This entire book is a great reframing: it takes our problems, but puts it in perspective with God.
So have you figured it out yet? Because God has blessed us, we have become a chosen people. We were chosen out of love, and we were chosen before we even knew God. God loved us so much, God destined us to be God’s chosen people, chosen to be adopted in Christ, so that we can fully receive the blessings available to us through God’s love! The truth of it all is, God chose us. We can’t do anything about that. We’re just going to have to live with that. However, the bigger question is not so much why God chose humanity, but for what purpose God chose humanity. To what end, what goal, did God choose us?
Ephesians gives us many answers. For God’s good pleasure, for the mystery of God, for the redemption of the universe. All of those are good answers, but underneath each of those is a simpler one: God chose us to be holy as God is holy, and for that to happen, we need to become the holy body of Christ. God loves us, and wants us to be more than just a family, more than just a gathering of people, more than just a congregation, but a body. A living, breathing, acting, moving, shifting, changing, and above all, loving, holy body. The writer of Ephesians gives us a vision of the Body of Christ, the Church, and it’s ultimate destiny of encompassing everything on earth and in heaven, encompassing everything with the fullness of the God who is love.
And we have been chosen to do this. We have been chosen because God loves us. God loves us like God’s own children. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore what that means. What it means to be chosen. What it means to be united by grace in Christ Jesus. And ultimately, what it means to be the Body of Christ. God loves you. Let’s live like it. Amen.