Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Power of Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

    With a sermon title like this, you’d think it was Valentine’s Day!   But that’s still a couple of weeks off.  Or, maybe you think I’m going to talk about an old “Huey Lewis and the News” song from the 1980s.  But, again you’d be wrong – in part because I probably wouldn’t have thought of the song, except Chris Cartwright asked last Sunday if I was going to talk about it in my sermon!   So, even if it’s not Valentine’s Day, and I’m not talking about an old pop song from a movie about time travel in a Delorean car, the questions remain: what is love and what is its power?

    I think you will agree with me that the word love can have a lot of different meanings.  It can speak of romance, but not always.  So, when I say “I love you” to Cheryl, hopefully that means something different from saying “I love the San Francisco Giants” or “I love pizza.”   Love has to do with feelings and emotions, but feelings and emotions can be fickle and fleeting.  You can fall desperately in love one day, thinking it’s the real thing, and the next day move on to someone else, especially when you’re young.  

    If all of this is true, then what do we mean when we say:  "God is love?”   Could this love be as fleeting as a teenager’s crush?  I don’t mean to put down teenage emotions, because I was once a teenager myself, and I remember what it was like.  The question here concerns whether God’s love dependent on the moment?      

1.  Love Defined

    1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the best-known love song in history.  Although  I’ve used this text in numerous  wedding ceremonies, this isn’t a wedding song.  What it offers is a definition of divine love and then it invites us to share in it.  As we listen to the song, it becomes clear that the love described here is more than an emotional response to a person or a thing. 

    So, what does it speak of?   As we try to answer this question, a problem of language pops up.  The problem is that the English  word “love” has many nuances and uses,  which is why I can use it to speak of my spouse, my favorite food, and God.   In the English language, context usually determines meaning. 

    Paul, on the other hand, was writing in Greek, and the Greeks had at least four very precise words that typically get translated into English as love.   C.S. Lewis placed these four words into two categories:  Gift-Love and Need-Love.  He wrote that:    
    "The typical example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a man to work and save for the future well-being of his family, which he will die without sharing or seeing; of the second, that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother's arms."1 

As we listen to the reading of 1 Corinthians 13, a hymn Paul likely borrowed rather than wrote for this occasion, it appears that his definition falls into the first category.  In fact, by reading this passage in the context of the Corinthian letter, we discover that Paul was focused on resolving a church conflict, which means that this is a song about practical living, not emotion.  It’s a love that calls on warring factions to lay down their arms and embrace each other.  That is a very powerful form of  love, and I believe that it’s the kind of love that only comes from the heart of God.
   
2.  Marks of Love   

    Listening to this song, three words emerge concerning the power of love:  
  •   Love is Essential
    This hymn of love begins in the first person:  "If I speak with tongues"; "If I have all prophetic powers"; "if I give away all my possessions";  "if I embrace the flames of martyrdom."  All of this might be good, but it matters nothing without love.  Tongues, prophesy, sacrificial giving, and martyrdom, they may all have their place in the church, but without love, they have no value, no purpose, and no power.  They are nothing more than noise and useless gestures.   But, if they are accompanied by divine love, then these gifts and abilities -- which Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 will give the church the power to change the world.
  • Love is Practical
    The Greek word used for love in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape, a word that’s related to the Hebrew word hesed, which means "steadfast love."   This kind of love is very practical.  It’s outward looking, pushing us to seek the best for others rather than for our selves.  According to the song, it’s patient and kind; it isn't jealous, boastful, arrogant, or rude.  It doesn't insist on its own way, nor does it become irritable or resentful.  It protests injustice and rejoices in the truth.  As the New Living Translation puts it:  "Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."  This kind of love is full of hope, and it is a love that enables us to welcome everyone into the community of faith.   
 
    Such a love isn’t easy to come by, but then it isn’t a human emotion .  It is, rather, a gift of God.  It comes to us by grace, as we allow God to dwell within us and transform us.  This transformation, which begins on the inside and continues to work its way outwardly, doesn’t happen overnight.  It requires maturity and commitment.  Often it emerges out of suffering, but as Paul reminds us elsewhere suffering leads to endurance, and endurance to character, and character to hope, and hope comes to us through the love of God that is poured out upon us through the Holy Spirit  (Romans 5:1-5). 

    Of course, none of us perfectly live out this love, and yet it’s still our calling and our purpose as followers of Jesus — the one who perfectly embodied God’s love.  As Jesus said to his disciples, “I came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).  
  • Love is Permanent
    “Gift-love” has an important partner in “need-love,” because it calls forth from us the  “gift love” that comes to us from God.  Ultimately this  “need-love” doesn’t last, but that doesn’t make it bad, it just means it’s not permanent.   Lew Smedes, who was my seminary ethics professor, had this to say about Eros:

    "Eros flickers and fades as the winds of desire rise and wane.  Change is the way of life for Eros.  This indeed is part of the power of Eros.  Its very fragility creates the possibility of repeated excitement.  We could not endure a steady stream of Eros at its highest pitch:  we need the valleys to be inspired by the peaks."2 

Eros ebbs and flows, it rises with the excitement of newness and dies when that newness fades.  That doesn’t mean we should despise Eros, it just means that it is impermanent.  While agapic love is essential, life needs more than this one kind of love.  Agapic love needs Eros, because, despite its limitations, it is, as Lew Smedes writes,
     "The driving power for personal growth.  It may not endure unchanged into eternity, but its unrelenting urges move us beyond ourselves in this life.  All creativity rises from the need-power of Eros.  Eros is a drive created by human need for a share in what is beautiful; it is life's aesthetic power.  . . . Eros is a drive rising from human need for personal completion and human communion."3

    Eros drives us, but agape transforms us.  Eros drives us out into the world, but agape motivates us to serve the leper, the homeless person, and the one who is dying, even though no reward will be forthcoming.  Therefore, it’s agape, which is permanent, that finally enables us to do what we wouldn’t otherwise consider possible.  This is the kind of love that enables a spouse to stand by the other through serious and even debilitating illness.  It’s the love pictured in the parable of the prodigal son that allows a parent to keep loving and caring for a rebellious child.  It’s the love that enables a congregation composed of very different personalities and needs to stand together as one people.  Yes, agapic love is what allows us to risk our lives for one another.   But this love only exists because of an infusion of God’s grace.   Perhaps this is why the older translation of the word is Charity. 
   Divine love doesn’t replace natural love, as if we must, in Lewis’ words, “throw away our silver to make room for the gold.”4   It’s simply this: that which is natural is transformed by grace into sweet charity.  And there’s no better expression of this than the incarnation. As Christians we affirm the mystery that God has become flesh and dwelt among us.  In Christ, the human and the divine come together to perfectly display the power of love.  And it is a love that embraces us and empowers us to love others even as God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, loves the creation.    

  1. C.S. Lewis The Four Loves, (HBJ, 1960), 11.
  2. Lewis Smedes, Love Within Limits, (Eerdmans, 1978), 120.
  3. Smedes, 120-21.
  4. Lewis, Four Loves,  184.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Troy, Michigan
January 31, 2009
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Listen for the Word

    Nehemiah 8:1-10

    Legend has it that when I was a very young child I would stand up in my crib and  preach.  I'd shake my finger and prattle away, speaking to no one in particular.  I can't say that I was a great preacher in those days, but I did make an impression on my grandmother.  She told my mother: “Someday Bob will be a preacher.”  Now, I can't confirm this story since my memory doesn't go back that far, but if it’s true, I hope the quality of my preaching has improved!

   It’s one thing to preach from a crib and another to preach from a pulpit.  In fact, it  does take a bit of audacity to be a preacher.  Take for instance Barbara Brown Taylor’s comparison of a preacher to a tight rope walker:
    Watching a preacher climb into the pulpit is a lot like watching a tight rope walker climb onto the platform as the drum roll begins.  The first clears her throat and spreads her notes; the second loosens his shoulders and stretches out one rosin-soled foot to test the taut rope.  They both step out into the air, trusting everything  they have done to prepare for this moment as they surrender themselves to it, counting now on something beyond themselves to help them do what they love and fear and most want to do.  If they reach the other side without falling, it is skill but is also grace -- a benevolent God's decision to let these daredevils tread the high places where ordinary mortals have the good sense not to go.  (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life,  Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1993, 76.


There is much truth to this description of the preacher’s daring, because you never know what’s going to happen once the sermon begins.  There may be those in the congregation who will be offended, and others might decide that what’s been said isn’t worth the time given to it.  And yet, others just might find in the preacher’s very human words a word of challenge or hope from God.

    Preaching has always played a central role in the church’s life.  So whether it’s long or short; eloquent or halting, we expect to hear a word from God that will encourage, console, challenge, or even incite us to action.  We come to worship hoping that the God who spoke the universe into being will speak to our lives so that we might be transformed.  As a preacher, I come to the pulpit praying and hoping that my very human words will be transformed by the Spirit of God into this life-changing Word from God that the gathered congregation seeks to hear.    I know that once uttered my words are no longer under my control, and so I must trust them to the Spirit who speaks to hearts and minds.

1.  THE REQUEST FOR THE WORD

    A sermon is more than a speech, and so it involves more than simply a speaker and an audience.  A sermon, even if it is, like most sermons, a monologue is a communal act that involves preacher, congregation, and God.  This means that a sermon cannot succeed if the congregation and God aren’t part of the process.  It doesn’t matter if the delivery is eloquent or not; what matters is that the people hear in the words of the preacher a word from God.

    When the Jewish exiles returned home from Babylon, they found their homeland in ruins.  Years after the first wave of exiles returned, a priest named Ezra arrived in Jerusalem to take up his duties, and all that he found was a small temple and city walls that were still in disrepair.   He found a people struggling with daily life, wondering if God even cared.  He quickly discovered that what they wanted to hear was a word from God that would break through their despair and give them hope to face tomorrow.  As he was seeking to minister to this people, someone found a scroll containing the Torah, and the people begged the priests to read it to them.  The job of reading that scroll fell to Ezra.

2.  A TIME FOR READING AND INSTRUCTING

    In many ways Ezra functions here in our text as a new Moses.  He offers them a new word from God, but instead of speaking from the mountain of Sinai, he has a wooden platform constructed so the people can hear him read the newly discovered text.   He mounted that platform, accompanied by his fellow leaders, all those people whose names Ray had to read.  As he began to read from the scroll, the people stood there in rapt attention, listening to every word spoken, believing that this scroll contained something special, something that would change their lives.

    According to this account, Ezra began reading at 6:00 in the morning, and he didn't stop until noon.  It took a long time to read that scroll, but no one fell asleep or daydreamed; they just stood there glued to the words of the text.  He  could’ve been reading from Leviticus or Deuteronomy, Genesis or Numbers.  It didn’t matter because the people were so hungry for a word from God that nothing could distract them.

    As Ezra continued reading, the people began to prostrate themselves on the ground and lifting their hands toward heaven.  As the day wore on they began to worship, and the Levites taught them in small groups, interpreting the text so that the people could understand it and apply it.  You see, it’s not enough to read the text, you have to interpret it, so that it makes sense in one’s own context. 

    How do we hear a word from God?  I’ve always liked the way theologian Karl Barth spoke of a threefold Word of God.  He said that God's Word comes to us first in Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate.  From this Word comes the second word, the Word written, which we call Scripture.  Scripture is a word of God because it points us back to the incarnate Word.  And then there’s the Word of God proclaimed – what we call the sermon.  Barth believed that when the sermon is rooted in Scripture, and pointing us to Christ, then it becomes for us a Word of God. 
   
3.  THE RESPONSE OF FAITH    

    Psalm 19 says that the Law has the power to revive the soul, making wise the simple, causing the heart to rejoice, and enlightening the eyes.  Because it endures forever, it’s more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey.   So powerful is this Word that on this particular day, a group of  people who hadn’t heard the Law read in generations found themselves listening intently and receptively.  As they listened, they discovered the disparity between who they were and who God wanted them to be.  And so, when they heard this word – with interpretation --they fell on their faces and began to weep.

 Although many of them heard a call to repentance in this proclamation, Ezra believed that there was another word to be heard.  He wanted them to know that the Torah offered them a word that would energize and liberate them for the future.  He wanted them to know that the Torah was more than simply a set of rules and regulations.  It was instead instruction on living together as a covenant community.  If this is true, then the Scriptures should be interpreted anew in every generation, so that the words contained in this book might truly speak to our present condition.

 Ezra understood why they were weeping, but instead of telling them to put on sack cloth and ashes, he told them to celebrate God’s gracious word with a feast of rich food and sweet drinks.  He also reminded them to share their bounty with those who came unprepared.  This serves as a reminder to us that our meals as Christ's body are communal and they are open to all who would come.  They may have felt the need to mourn, but one cannot mourn on a day that’s sacred to the Lord.  The only proper response is to rejoice that God has reached out to us in grace so as to transform our lives.    As we hear our own word from God, a word that liberates and transforms us, may we hear this promise of Ezra as a word to us:   "The Joy of the Lord is your strength."

    It is this word that causes us to break forth in song, singing together:
    Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life,
    Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.
                             (Chalice Hymnal, 323).

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
January 24, 2010
3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Experiencing God's Delight

    Isaiah 62:1-5

    A bride always stands out at a wedding, overshadowing even the groom. Perhaps that’s because the bride is simply more beautiful than the groom.  Because of this, no one pays much attention when the groom and his attendants enter the sanctuary with little or no fanfare.  But, when the bride's maids enter the sanctuary, the crowd grows quiet and attentive, because they know that the real show is about to begin, and the person they’ve all come to see is about to enter the room.  When the appropriate music begins, the crowd turns around and watches expectantly, hoping to get a good look at the bride as she walks down the aisle in all her glory.  Watching her enter the room with much pomp and circumstance, the audience “oohs and aahs” at her beauty, her splendor, and her radiance.  Yes, bedecked in her flowing white gown, a dress  she’ll likely wear only once at great cost to her family, it’s quite apparent that she’s the star of the show.  

    Now, when the groom sees his beautiful bride, he’s just as impressed as everyone else.  He beams from ear to ear, because at the end of the day he gets to go home with this wonder of beauty.  I speak of this spectacle from experience, because I too was once a groom, and my bride looked radiant the day she walked down the aisle to meet me at the altar.   
     
1.  A CHANGE OF NAME

    As we listen to this morning’s text, we hear a word about a wedding of great importance.  Like an attentive groom, God declares his joy at seeing the beauty and splendor of his bride, even though this bride is in reality a scraggly group of exiles wandering home to the holy city of Jerusalem from Babylon.  This remnant people returned home to find a wasteland, where the Temple and the palaces had been destroyed.  As they surveyed this land of theirs, they didn’t feel much like a beautiful bride.  But into the midst of this scene of despair comes a word of hope.  God is ready to transform and vindicate his bride.

    Although a patriarchal understanding of marriage and family stands behind this passage, an understanding that we would no longer affirm, if we can separate out the chaff from the wheat, there is a word to be heard in these verses from Isaiah. 

    It is still customary for the bride to take the groom’s name, but names carried more meaning in the ancient world, and so when we hear, in this prophetic word, God changing the bride’s name, the change serves as a sign of hope.   Indeed, in this name change, we hear a promise that old is gone and the new has arrived (2 Cor. 5), to paraphrase Paul.   The one who was named “Desolate” is now to be called “My Delight is in Her.”   Yes, God says to the bride, from now on, you’ll be a "crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand" of God.  And your name will change from "Forsaken" and "Desolate" to "City of God's Delight" and "Bride of God."   Yes, the prophet declares:  The "Lord delights in you" and "your land shall be married." 

2.  THE JOYOUS GROOM

    I may be reading too much into the text, but I come to this passage  from the perspective of one who has been a groom.  I remember my heart leaping with joy when I saw Cheryl standing at the doorway of the sanctuary.  I was thinking how incredible it was that someone that beautiful would marry me, a poor seminarian with few prospects for the future.  I knew that when Cheryl was growing up, she never envisioned marrying a seminarian or a preacher – in fact I believe her father had envisioned her marrying a lawyer or a successful business man -- but on that sunny day in July, she seemed happy to be taking the plunge with me.  And I considered myself  blessed!   And so I wonder, could God have looked at Israel with similar eyes? 

    I don’t know what was going on in the mind of God, but the prophet does write that "as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."  This is no ordinary joy;  it’s a joy that can’t be contained.  Indeed, this isn’t half-hearted joy; God seems to be absolutely jubilant.  God reaches out to Israel and promises to be its protector and provider, so that on that day, the bride who had seemed to be barren and forlorn, is forsaken no more.  Again, if we can move past the patriarchalism that’s present in the text, we can hear God’s promise to stand with us no matter what the situation is.      

3.  THE BRIDE OF CHRIST

    What is said here in Isaiah gets reflected in passages found in the New Testament, where we hear the church spoken of as the bride of Christ.  While this image again reflects an understanding of marriage and family that is different from ours, it does describe the intimacy that exists between Christ and the Church. 

    In these passages we hear Jesus saying to us, you are my bride and I rejoice over you.  If you have felt forsaken and desolate, know that you are now an object of God’s delight.  We hear bridal imagery in the book of Revelation, where we hear the declaration that Christ and the church will live together in intimate union, with the church being adorned with God's glory and radiance (Rev. 21:9-14). 

    When Ephesians 5 urges husbands to love their wives, even as Christ loves the church, we can hear the voice of the gushing groom of Isaiah 62.  Seeking to present his bride to the world as holy and full of glory, Christ washes the church with "water by the word," and he makes sure that the bride is without spot or wrinkle.  Everything is in place, so that the bride’s beauty might declare the glory of God to the world.  

    Yes, there is more than a hint of patriarchalism in all of this, but if we’re willing to listen closely, what we’ll hear is an invitation to enter an intimate relationship with God through Jesus.  And, the promise we hear is that God will bless us and care for us, transforming us into agents of transformation.  That is, having been transformed by this intimate relationship with God, we can invite others to share in this same life-changing relationship, one that is rooted in the story of the one who himself died and was raised to new life for the benefit of others. 

    The goal of this work of transformation is the birth of a new world, where people will be included rather than excluded, a world that shares rather than hoards, a world where the color of one’s skin no longer matters as much as the content of one’s character, a world where love rather than fear is the guiding premise of life.  This was the dream of another prophet named Martin Luther King, Jr.,  whose memory we honor this weekend.  

    Dr. King had a dream, but he didn’t live to see it realized.  In a sermon preached just a month before he died of an assassin’s bullet, he acknowledged that this dream, even if not yet fulfilled, can give us hope for the future.  He declared to the congregation:
       Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: “It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying.” You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart.
He goes on to say:

    In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right.  Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on the right road.
Isaiah offers a promise of freedom and liberation.  It may not be a promise that is fulfilled in our lifetimes, but it is a promise that can sustain us as we join with God in a life of faithful service.  

    We hear this word from God on a day set aside to remember the life and words of a modern day prophet, and during a week that saw a nation stricken by a horrific natural disaster.  The nation of Haiti is one of the poorest and most neglected of the world’s nations.  It has been poorly served by its leaders and by its neighbors, and now it has suffered a severe blow.  As we contemplate the magnitude of this situation, can you not hear God saying to the people of Haiti through our gifts and prayers: “My Delight is in You.” 

    As we hear this word today, may we hear God saying to us, I delight in you and I stand with you.  May this word bring you joy and may it inspire you to join God in the work of redemption and restoration of this world that God loves.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
January 17, 2009
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
   

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Destined to be God's Heirs

Ephesians 1:3-14

    The Christmas season is drawing to a close.  In fact, we will take down the Christmas decorations after the service, even though technically the season of Christmas doesn’t end until Tuesday.  By my count, this is the tenth day of Christmas, and so my true love should give me “ten lords a leaping.”  Now, I don’t know what I would do with them, should Cheryl decide to give me this gift, but, according to the song, that’s what’s on tap for today! 

    While the decorations and the celebrations of the Christmas season are wonderful, a new year has begun, and so it’s time to get on with the journey.  That is the message of the song we will close worship with this morning, that great song of Epiphany:
    O star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright,
    Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light. 
                            (John Hopkins, Chalice Hymnal 172)

As we begin this new year, heading toward God’s perfect light, we don’t yet know what we’ll encounter along the way.  In spite of the unknowns that lie before us, the journey has begun.

  One of the questions that seems to continually confront us as we journey through life, has to do with life’s meaning and purpose.  This has become an increasingly vexing question, now that evolutionary biology has offered us a convincing description of how we came to be.  It’s a question that gets asked in many different ways and forms – including in the world of film.   Think for a moment about the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life or another classic – A Christmas Carol.  It appears as well, in one of this seasons most recent releases –  George Clooney’s Up in the Air.  In this new movie the focus is on whether or not there is life beyond our jobs.  In this movie, Clooney plays a man, whose job it is to travel around the country firing people.  While it’s his job to inform people that their company no longer requires their services, he faces the prospect that his job is about to change drastically.  Being a person whose “home” is the airport and the hotel, he finds it difficult to envision the settled life.  As he contemplated his future, he struggled with the question of life’s meaning and purpose.  

1.  What is my destiny?

    Another movie, one that is quite famous, asks the question: What is your destiny?  We hear Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that it was his destiny to join him in following the emperor.  Luke, however, embraced a different sense of destiny, and in doing so, he redeemed his father, Anakin Skywalker, who had become lost in the persona of Darth Vader.  This conversation raises the question – is our destiny fixed or not?  Do we have a choice or are the cards stacked against us?

 
 When we consider the question of our destiny, our reasons for asking the question may be different from one person to the next:   If we’re young, we may frame the question differently than if we’re older.  No matter where we start, the question of our destiny is raised in this morning’s text from the opening verses of Ephesians.    While there’s some question as to the identity of our letter’s author – it might or might not be St. Paul – it offers an answer to the question of life’s meaning and purpose, and it does so in the form of a rather lengthy benediction that comes at the beginning rather than at the end of the letter.

        In answering the question, our author declares that the God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, has also chosen us, from before the beginning of time, to be heirs of the kingdom.  Yes, from the moment of creation, God destined us for adoption, so that through Christ, and by God’s grace, we shall be God’s children.  It would appear, from this text, that our destiny is determined by our family connections.  It’s like that Smuckers ad, where a little boy asks his older brother why he never gets asked what he wants to be when he grows up. The older and wiser brother points out that he’s a Smucker, and that means his future is already decided.  Why would he do anything except work for Smuckers?

    So, the question of the day, as we look into the future is: Who am I?  In answering this question I can safely say that I’m not a Smucker, but I can also say, that I am a child of God. That is, my destiny.     
   
2.  Is it God’s choice or my choice?    

    I expect that even though this text makes the case very powerfully, it can still be a bit disturbing.  This is true even though recent surveys suggest that 60% of Americans, including a whole lot of church goers, believe in astrology, which assumes that the stars and planets determine our life paths.  For some reason, we don’t mind letting the impersonal nature of the planets determine our life path, but many have a problem with a God who determines our life paths.  So, even if the destiny is a positive one, we would like a say in the matter!  After all, just because I’m a Smucker, doesn’t mean that I want to work for Smuckers!

    It’s easy to get caught up in the word “destined.”  Even the word “chosen” could be a bit disconcerting.  That’s because we tend to hear in this passage the word predestined.  But, maybe this passage would make more sense to us if we moved from a focus on our individual life stories, and heard the message in a more corporate way.  That is, instead of saying that the course of our lives is predetermined, the text offers us, as children of God, a word of assurance.  If we can hear the text in this way, then what we might discover is a set of three promises.  As Rollin Rasmarrin puts it, our author wants to assure us that God is good, that God is faithful, and that God will “reorder the cosmos with righteousness and peace through the kingly rule of Christ.”1    
   
3.  Blessed to be a Blessing

    The good news is this: We are children of the living God, and therefore, we can walk into the future confident that the God who has chosen us in Christ to be God’s children, is good, faithful, and is currently at work transforming the world in which we live.

    There is another text that gives us a similar word of assurance.  This one comes most assuredly from Paul, and it says quite powerfully that:
    [N]either death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39NRSV).

This is what it means to be chosen by God to be God’s heir.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and this promise has been sealed in us through the mark of the Holy Spirit, which I take to have occurred in our baptisms.

    And what shall we do with this legacy?    Well, we can start with worship, giving thanks that God has chosen us in Christ, so that we might live our lives full of hope and purpose.  This sense of hope is, Jürgen Moltmann writes, “based once and for all on the remembrance of Christ.”  He goes on to say:
    If the crucified Christ, on the foundation of his resurrection, has a future with God, then this means, conversely, that everything that is said about Christ says not only who he was and who he is, but must also say who he will be. . . . But in the promises of the gospel and the awakened hope of believers, his coming already acts, conversely, on the present, and makes believers ready to open themselves for his future.2

In our worship we declare ourselves ready to embrace God’s future with a song of praise – maybe even a stanza of the Hallelujah Chorus.
  
    And as we break out in songs of praise, let us remember also that the God who has called us children of God, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.  And if we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, which includes all those spiritual gifts that get named in Romans, in the first Corinthian letter, and here in Ephesians, then our destiny is this – we have been blessed so that we might be a blessing to the world of God’s creation.   Over the course of 2010, I expect that we will discern new ways of being a blessing. 

    And as we rejoice in the blessings of being an heir with Christ of God’s blessings, it is important that we receive these blessings with due humility, taking as our guide the attitude of Jesus,  who though he was in the form of God, chose to empty himself of his glory and  become a human being, humbling himself to the point of dying on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).   With this sense of purpose and calling as our guide, may the year 2010 be a fruitful season of ministry for all God’s children.      


1.  Rollin Rasmarrin, “Ephesians 1:3-14," in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Edited by Barbara Brown Taylor and David Bartlett, (Louisville: WJK, 2009), 1:187. 



2.  Jürgen Moltmann, In the End – The beginning: The life of hope.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), pp. 88-89.




Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
2nd Sunday after Christmas
January 3, 2010