15th Sunday – Year B – The view from on high (Ephesians 1:3-14)
I am going on holidays in the middle of August to the United States. I haven’t been there before, so I have been looking around at various maps, trying to work out my itinerary. I have been using Google Maps to work out how to get to the places that I want to visit – like Denver to visit some of the pilgrims who stayed in our parish last year during WYD – and Toronto and Steubenville to visit friends. With these maps I can get an overview of the whole country to see where places are in relation to one another, but also to zoom in to see a place in a little more detail and to see the lay of the land. I don’t think that I am alone in wanting to do this – everywhere you go, whenever you find an accessible high place, our ancestors have so often built a lookout there so that you can see where things are in relation to one another. How many of you have been up Cambewarra Mountain to see the vista of the Shoalhaven; or visited Mount Ainslie in Canberra; Mount Wellington in Hobart; Mount Coo-tha in Brisbane; or No (One) Tree Hill in Auckland? If you do you can begin to see the way that the city works and functions and the way that it all connects together.
There is a need for us to do this – to have that sense of how the whole story fits together. And that is what Paul presumes when he goes into this magnificent prayer of worship in our second reading. He has the usual greeting in the first two verses (which are not in our reading) and then he goes in to this almost ecstatic prayer and he gives thanks and praise for the wonders of what God has done across the centuries. So I will take you on a brief survey of the whole of salvation history to provide something of a background for what it is that Paul is leading us through. The first thing that we as a Christian people – as the inheritors of the promise that was given to the Jews – encounter in the Scriptures as we read Genesis 1 is to read that God created the heavens and the earth. What we see around us is not the result of a fluke; it is not the result of a random series of events that have come to pass and somehow (miraculously) have formed what it is that we see. No we worship a God who created the world and created it as good. Over the course of the tens of millions of years, indeed the more than four billion years that the world has existed, the Lord’s hand has been there – forming and shaping and crafting. He created us as part of that process. He created us to be in relationship with him as part of his good creation; created us to be one with each other; to be good stewards of what he had created. But then of course as the story moves on, all of that very quickly began to unfold. There is the sense of those first few chapters of Genesis of what began to happen; as we began to compete with one another and began to compete with God. This is what scripture calls the fall – that sense of falling out of that intimacy of union and relationship with God and consequently with one another. That quickly began to unravel even more – within the first chapters of the book of Genesis you see this story becomes more and more violent. In the next chapters you have the story of Cain and Abel beginning to act aggressively and which ends with the murder of Abel. More and more the people begin to be alienated from one another and from God. As these mythical stories and tales lead us into an appreciation of and understanding of what is happening.
But God does not allow this to be the end of the story. God begins to act to deal with individuals and through individuals to form a people. That is the reason that we have the story of the call of Abraham as he is called to be the father of a great nation. He is called to be in covenant with God. This covenant continues through his sons – through Isaac and then through Jacob and his twelve sons when they travel down into Egypt. The story continues – the story of God forming a people. It continues with the great events of the Exodus and Passover; the journey into the desert to meet the Lord on the mountain of Sinai – when God again reaffirms the covenant with his people. He reminds the people that he wants them to be his hands and feet. He wants them to be his people. He will be their God; he will set them apart and consecrate them as his chosen people – to go into the world as the bearers of this mystery; the bearers of God’s righteousness and God’s justice. But of course, the people are still fallen and they don’t get it right – and so you have again and again throughout the centuries, even though God continues to send his prophets to lead the people back into proper relationship with God – they don’t get it right. There is the sense of the great failure of the people of God.
Then of course you have finally – as planned from the beginning of time – the Lord sending his Son. Jesus is born and teaches and proclaims what it is to live the truth of the kingdom of God. Then all this climaxes in the great events that we celebrate at Easter – the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah – the one chosen by God from the beginning to be the fulfilment of this calling. Finally we are given the opportunity to live this covenant. Finally we are able to have that freedom from sin so that we can indeed be the proclaimers of the kingdom of God. In the beginning we were called and created to be in the image and likeness of God – but it is only when Jesus dies on the cross; it is only when he is raised to new life – that we are actually able to do that.
Finally we see the fifth movement in this story: the first was creation; the second was the fall; the third was the covenant; the fourth was the redemption and now the fifth is the mission that we receive as church and the great commissioning. This happens, of course, in the power of the holy Spirit. This happens in the great outpouring at Pentecost of the Spirit which allows us to live this truth and to be this people that have been chosen by God.
When Paul begins this prayer, he begins simply by blessing the Lord and praising the God who, from the beginning chose us – not randomly – but in Christ. This phrase ‘in Christ’ appears again and again in this reading; it almost becomes a punctuation mark that Paul users to remind us that the whole of our life revolves around the person of Jesus. Everything that happens occurs in relationship to the Messiah, to the king, to the Christ. Jesus is the source of all that happens. He created us and chose us; he destined us to be in him. Even before we were created; even before our parents made love to conceive us; even before we were only a twinkling in our parent’s eyes the Lord destined us to be his own. Not simply to sit back and think that this is lovely; this is wonderful. No – we were commissioned for a purpose. This purpose is to ‘praise the glory of his grace.’ This purpose is to be his hands and feet; this purpose is to continue to build the kingdom of God here on earth – to be the bearers of his mission; to be the ones who bring the kingdom of God to birth in our world. That is that whole sense of the inheritance – that Paul talks about at the end of our reading. That the Lord has given us all of these gifts, all of these treasures and wonders as the first down payment of what is to come – that whole sense of the new creation that the Lord is preparing for us.
So we have this place in history – we have this place as his people; chosen to be his own. So I invite you today to take time to sit with this reading and read the first part of the letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:3-14). These 12 verses in a sense sum up so much of our whole history is about and gives us this opportunity to see the lay of the land and to see our place within it. Let us make this prayer our own. Let us also bless God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has chosen us to be his own adopted sons and daughters. Amen.
Recorded at St Michael's 9.30am (10'16")