3This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for* Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5In former generations this mystery* was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. 8Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make everyone see* what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in* God who created all things; 10so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.* 13I pray therefore that you* may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,* 15from whom every family* in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
Superheroes are everywhere these days, and you do not see me complaining about that at all. I have often proclaimed, and will continue to proclaim, my love for these pop heroes, and obviously I’m not the only one of us who loves them. Certainly, Hollywood has found that out, and has profited from quite a few movie tickets purchased by me in an effort to dive into the escapist fantasy that is the world of the superhero.
But really, what does it take to be a superhero? One part of it is that these characters that populate our cultural imagination are unique in that each of them has, through some twist of fate, acquired power of some sort. Allow me to explain the best way I know how. If you know it, you can join me. Ahem:
“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)… Yes, it’s Superman … strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman … who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”
The first and most important thing we know about Superman is that he has power, powers and abilities far beyond mortal men. Before his identity, before his origins, we know first and most importantly that Superman has powers. In fact, he’s so powerful, almost all the stories that he’s in revolve around a) Superman fighting some creature supposedly more powerful than he is, or b) someone finds a way to take away his powers. But how did he get those powers? Does anyone remember? What made him so special in the first place? Well, it has to do with the fact that he is, in fact, not really a human, but an alien, and his biology reacts with the light of a yellow sun to give him the powers and abilities that he has. So the truth is, he didn’t earn the powers; they were given to him by circumstances outside his control.
It’s part of almost every hero’s identity that they got their power from some outside source or even. Superman has the sun. Spiderman? Radioactive spider bite. The Hulk? Gamma radiation. Captain America? Super soldier serum. Wonder Woman? Created by the Greek Gods, and trained on Amazon Island. The X-men? Mutated genes. Batman and Iron Man? A mixture of horribly traumatizing events and lots and lots of money.
But does having some kind of power necessarily make you a superhero? Arguably, I would say no. These characters have power, but having a power doesn’t make you a hero. What makes them heroic is what they do with them. Like in Batman Begins, “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” Superman has a desire to inspire people, and live up to ideals like truth and justice. For Spiderman, it’s a matter of responsibility, that helping people is what he’s been given powers to do. For Batman, it’s a mixture of atonement and a thirst for justice, so nobody has to face the same kind of tragedy he did. I could go on and on forever, but I think you get my point. What you do with the gifts that are given to you is what makes the difference. And for Christians, it’s no different.
You see, not only do these heroes have powers; these heroes have been empowered by someone, some person in their lives. That’s what makes the difference, I think. Having a power means ultimately very little. These heroes have amazing powers, but they could easily abuse these powers. No, almost every single one of those heroes also has been empowered by someone, and guided into the heroic path set in front of them. None of them became heroes on their own. Superman had loving and wholesome parents, who instilled in him strong core values. Spiderman had Uncle Ben, who through his death, made clear the importance of stewardship and responsibility. The X-men have guidance of Professor Xavier, who instilled in them an ethos of civic duty and compassion, even for the people who hate and fear them. These heroes have powers, and they also have been empowered to do good for others. Likewise, we Christians are empowered, empowered by the Holy Spirit to live into our chosen-ness and salvation, to truly become the body of Christ.
In this sermon series on Ephesians, I’ve been trying to go through and figure out what it means to be the Body of Christ, the overriding description of what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to be a part of the church. We have a unique identity among the people of the world that we have been chosen for a purpose and that purpose is to be holy. We’ve been saved by the grace of God, and by that grace we are given the gift of love that only comes from God. Today, I want to talk about the result of our chosen-ness, the result of our salvation, and that is the idea that we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Now I know I’ve talked about the Holy Spirit before, and I’ve no doubt in my mind that all of you may be just a little bit sick of me talking about her, but the fact of the matter is, we wouldn’t be Christians if not for the Holy Spirit. Why is that you ask? I bet it’s never been put to you that way before, has it? Wasn’t the reason we’re Christians because Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and because of Christ’s actions of atonement we have been saved? Isn’t the reason we are Christians because we, at some point made the pivotal decision to accept the grace of God, and have been justified because of that decision? Well yes. These things are true… to some degree. But the truth is, that’s not the whole picture, because if you just look at your relationship to God primarily in the persons of the Father and the Son, and ignore the Spirit, you miss out on a huge and important person of the Trinity.
You see, the Spirit is active in all of history, and is pivotal in the lives of the people God chose to create. The Spirit is the one who is a primary agent, the primary actor, in revealing the truth of Jesus Christ to us. The Spirit is the one who actively shapes and molds our spiritual journey, who along the way guides us, gently in some cases and rather extremely in others, closer to the incredible vision God at work in our lives, God the creator, God the redeemer, and most prevalently, God the sustainer. The Spirit has acted, is acting, and will act on us all of our lives. The kicker of all that is most of the time, we don’t even know it until we look back on it in hindsight.
Honestly, the Spirit is perhaps the most relevant person of the Trinity in how you live your life. Ephesians makes this very clear. The writer here makes many references to the “mystery” of God’s plan. And what exactly is that mystery? It’s the idea that Gentiles, or rather, everyone that exists EVER, have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. But who revealed this mystery to the writer? That would be the Spirit. The Spirit is the revealer of truth, the greatest of which is the promise we receive through Christ! Not only that, the writer explicitly prays for the Spirit to act in our lives, that God would grant that we may be strengthened in God’s inner being with power through God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit is thus the source of our strength, and the giver of power to the body of Christ. The Spirit is the empowerer, if you will.
The Spirit is the one who gives us strength, who reveals the truth, and who grants us the ability to do the will and know the wisdom of God, to actually live into our chosen-ness and our salvation, and give us the ability to be the body of Christ. The Spirit enables us to worship God as God is meant to be worshipped. The Spirit is our source of life—the God given life, the life that God wants us to live! And the church is the body that is given life by the Spirit.
I feel like I’ve just spent like 5 minutes listing all the things the Spirit does, but the truth is you could probably go on forever talking about all the Spirit does, because that’s how versatile and how important the Spirit is! If you want to put it in terms of superheroes, the spirit is both the source of our power, the power to love, and the encourager and teacher of how to use this power. The Spirit all-in-one power source! And the Spirit moves in many different ways, it’s unpredictable nature really does keep you on your toes. In other words, the Spirit is what makes being a member of the Body of Christ such a powerful and moving experience, let alone an interesting one. The Christian life is always full of surprises, and the Spirit always manages to surprise me.
We regular humans, average people, have powers, like the power of intellect, or of physical ability, or of emotional compassion, and so forth. We have the opportunity to use them in many different ways. But if we aren’t empowered to use them the right way, to use them according to the will of God and in light of the movement of the Spirit, we are prone to use them the wrong way. The good news is, we are empowered. We are encouraged, and we are led by the Spirit to do good in the world. In that way, we have the capacity to become heroes ourselves!
Now I am not naïve. I have really focused on the positive aspects of the power of the Spirit, and that’s great I think for most people. However, I want to go one step further, and acknowledge the fact that there are going to be times in life where living according to the Spirit is not always the easiest path; rather it’s often the more difficult path, the road less traveled if you will. There are going to be times when we are weak. There are going to be times where we’re going to want to cry and scream because we feel so alone, so sick, so tired, so angry, and so so very sad. But even in these times, the Spirit doesn’t abandon us. No, with the most patient and faithful persistence, the Spirit sticks with us. When we’re sick, the Spirit heals. When we’re alone, the Spirit comforts. When we grieve, the Spirit soothes. When we’re angry, the Spirit calms. When we’re lazy, the Spirit gives us energy. When we’re weak, the Spirit makes us strong.
Christians are called to be the Body of Christ, and in that calling, we know without a doubt two important things: one, that we aren’t alone, because the body is more than just one person, but all people saved by grace, and two, that we always will be helped, encouraged, and most of all, empowered by the Holy Spirit. So I’m going to challenge you to be open to the movement of the Spirit in your life, and to be thankful for God’s presence and strength in all things. Life isn’t going to be easy, but we will have help, from one another, and from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is at work in your life already; all you have to do is be open to the freedom, the grace, the truth, the wisdom, the strength, that the joy that God can provide. Amen.