January 4, 2009
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 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on 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 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
You have heard the old adage: “If life gives you lemons —” [Let the congregation finish this]. 2008 was a real lemon of a year. On this first Sabbath of 2009, we look forward to what we hope will be a vintage year for lemonade.
Many kids are taking this quite literally. While their parents are wondering how to make ends meet, many kids now have an opportunity to make literally some great lemonade and make some money.
Inc. magazine calls itself the “Resource for Entrepreneurs,” and loves the entrepreneurial spirit of the cul-de-sac lemonade stand, so they started a contest a few years back to honor “The Best Lemonade Stand in America.” [Inc. magazine. Best Lemonade Stand in America Web site. inc.com/lemonade/2008.] Each year, entries come in from around the country with pictures of fresh-faced youngsters smiling behind jugs of sparkling liquid gold. The optimism of these kids, though, goes way beyond racking up cash for summer fun. Many of these young CEOs are building their lemonade stands for the benefit of someone else. The 2007 winner, 11-year-old Grace Bova from MacUngie, Pennsylvania, got her whole neighborhood involved in a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research in response to the plight of a neighbor suffering from melanoma. Grace called it the “Race Against the Sun” Lemonade Stand and, along with friends and neighbors, raised more than $4,000 for cancer research.
Grace Bova has some lessons for fundraising. First of all, she was not raising money for herself. Secondly, she spent as much time on publicity as she did on making lemonade. She involved her whole neighborhood. Maybe that is something to remember the next time we do fundraisers.
But there is more here. As you read the stories of these kids and their lemonade stands, you get the idea that focusing on attitude and potential instead of circumstances and problems is the key to an optimistic outlook. Remember that: Circumstances are not as important as your attitude toward those circumstances. When it comes to achieving your god-given goals in life, problems should not dominate your potential to solve those problems.
Now you might say that I am out of season this morning in talking about summer lemonade stands in January. Maybe so. It is hard to appreciate kids in shorts and t-shirts, selling lemonade on the sidewalk when it is cold outside. But it is not hard to appreciate what the Apostle Paul is saying in our text today. He is talking about what he wants his life and our life to be. And if we have lemons, he wants us to have the best lemonade stand on the block. As a goal for this the first Sabbath of 2009, that is not bad.
In the opening lines of the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul is bubbling with giddiness and optimism. In the Greek, Ephesians 1:3-14 is all one sentence which reads like a breathless, excited greeting of the kind you hear from a wound-up preteen. Imagine it is Christmas morning and a ten-year-old girl is trying to explain to you what she got for Christmas. She is bubbling over with excitement and joy. The words come tumbling out, running into each other, stumbling over each other. That is what Paul sounds like when he is talking about Jesus.
But we know that Paul is dealing with some serious lemons in his own life. For example, in this same letter, in 6:20, he speaks of being in chains. Paul is in jail when he is writing this letter. That sounds like a fat lemon to me, but he does not care about that because Christ means so much to him that nothing else matters.
So, how can we ensure that this year we’re going to have the best lemonade stand ever? How can we increase the chances that our lives will be —
Sweet, rather than sour?
Fertile, rather than fallow?
Fulfilling, rather than futile?
Paul has the answers for these questions. He does not deny that life has its share of lemons, but he wants us to understand that as Christians we are the recipients of the best-ever blessing possible, and thus we can look this new year in the face with hope and expectation.
Despite his circumstances and surroundings, Paul begins the letter by laying out for the Ephesians some reasons for optimism. The theme of the letter is all about “blessing,” a word which appears three times in Ephesians 1:3 alone. “BLESSED be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED us in Christ with every spiritual BLESSING.”
Paul’s point is that, in Christ, God has provided us with a reason and a rationale for hope regardless of how things look at any given moment. The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus had burst upon the world like a heat wave in the middle of winter, changing everything. Paul may sound a bit like a hyped-up kid on Christmas morning, but what he is talking about is hope in the midst of hopelessness. He is talking about the refreshing and renewing benefits of life in Christ.
Paul breaks those benefits down into three essential theological flavors — three ingredients, if you will.
First, we were chosen by grace (vv. 4-6). “Before the foundation of the world” God had already planned the salvation of the world and “destined us for adoption” as God’s own children. The thrust of the message here is not so much about the predestination of individual souls as it is about God’s plan for all of creation. God has established a plan of holiness for humanity and, indeed, all of the created order; a plan of salvation, making God’s adopted children “holy and blameless” through the “glorious grace” of Christ, who is God’s own “Beloved.” Our individual salvation is part of the larger purposes of God. We were not chosen for our own sake or because of any worthiness on our part. Rather, we were chosen because God wants to accomplish something through us. When we follow the Cosmic Christ of this text, we live our lives for a greater purpose than just ourselves. When we engage in acts of justice, mercy, and peace, we are accomplishing God’s plan for the world, what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.” If you are looking toward the new year, you can make no greater resolution than to see your purpose within God’s plan. Take a clue from little Grace Bova; find where God is at work around you and go to work there.
Next, we were redeemed by Christ’s blood (vv. 7-10). Here Paul evokes some Passover imagery. “Forgiveness of our trespasses” means release from the slavery of guilt and shame we carry with us from our pasts. God did not allow us to wallow in the poverty of spiritual slavery, but instead God has “lavished” the “riches of his grace” upon us. In Christ, God’s plan, “the mystery of his will,” has been revealed and accomplished “according to his good pleasure” and in “the fullness of time.”
For some people, starting a new year is a daunting task because the past is such a heavy weight. What an awesome thing it is to know that God has released us from all that and offered us a clean slate through Jesus Christ. Paul wrote joyously about this release from bondage while chained to a prison wall. Think about that. Paul does not focus on being in Jail, he focuses on the real source of his life, Jesus.
Last, in Christ, we have an inheritance (vv. 11-14). These days we think of an inheritance as simply money we unexpectedly receive or some property that can be turned into money. In the ancient world, an “inheritance” was usually received in the form of land that could not be sold. To continue the exodus motif, the Israelites enslaved in Egypt held on to the hope that one day they would return to the land given to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was this hope that kept them going in the midst of horrific oppression. Paul picks up the imagery of the exodus and expresses it in spiritual terms. Having been delivered from slavery to sin and death through the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul reminds us that we are promised an inheritance, too.
Many Christians would say that our inheritance is heaven, which is often defined as a distant spiritual place for believers. But Paul’s idea is different and bigger than that. In verse 10, he says that, in Christ, God would “gather up all things … things in heaven and things on earth.” All through this passage, Paul has been assuming that God is the creator of the universe and that God will not abandon his creation. Instead, God’s purpose is to redeem the world and renew it, which is the whole reason Christ came into the world in the first place. Our inheritance, then, is a new and renewed world; a world that is being made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus and will be completed when he comes again. That is what we pray for every time we repeat the Lord’s Prayer — that God’s will and purpose would be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven.” Notice also that Paul’s description of our inheritance is in the present tense. We have obtained it, meaning that we are to live and work with that inheritance as a present reality. Because of what Christ has done for us and in us, we are to be at work now accomplishing his purpose for the world.
Yes, 2009 may bring us some lemons, but if we take Paul’s good news seriously, we can have a completely different outlook as we plan for a new year. Like kids in a big neighborhood full of thirsty folks, we have something refreshing and renewing to offer, something that can profit the whole world. We have been given the tools, the ingredients and the menu to put together the best spiritual lemonade stand ever — one that quenches the deepest needs of the human soul. In and through Christ, we have what people need. We need to realize that and offer it to them.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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