Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
God is... We are... So what?
Grace-Full - Living the Easter Life, an Easter season sermon series from Ephesians
Preached April 11, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship
Its still Easter! Yep, Easter is not just a day, but a season that goes from that first Easter Sunday all the way to Pentecost Sunday.
At the Easter sunrise worship, Caitlan asked us all a question… She noted how Jesus came among us, showed us how to live, died, and then rose again. Yes, that is a reason for an Easter Sunday celebration, and we did our best last Sunday despite COVID restrictions to celebrate God’s love and power the empty tomb reveals.
Then, Caitlan asked, So what? Now what? How does the resurrection of Jesus change us? How will we be different in the world because of everything about God, and us, and life itself the empty tomb signifies?
Today, and for the six Sundays of the Easter season, we will be looking for clues to remember and learn about living an Easter life, one full of grace, hope, and love. From Advent to Easter Sunday, we heard the Gospel of Luke, almost every chapter in order. Now, for this 6 week Easter season we are calling Grace-Full, Living the Easter life, Caitlan and I are preaching from the six chapters of Ephesians.
Scripture Ephesians 1:3-14
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus who are also faithful[a] in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
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 (God) chose us in Christ[b] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 (God) destined us for adoption as (God’s) children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of (God’s) will, 6 to the praise of (God’s) glorious grace that (God) freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
7 In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of (God’s) grace 8 that (God) lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 (God) has made known to us the mystery of (God’s) will, according to (God’s) good pleasure that (God) set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[c] having been destined according to the purpose of (the one) who accomplishes all things according to (God’s) counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of (God’s) glory. 13 In Christ 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 who[d] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
The Presbytery put out this week a newsletter update, and in it, reminded pastors, preachers, leaders in the community that if we use someone else’s creative material, a quote from a book, a song lyric, a line from a movie, a reflection from a commentary, to cite them, give them credit for it and acknowledge the parts of our sermons or devotions that are not original to us but borrowed from someone else.
For example, this letter starts out saying it is from Paul. Scholars have determined it isn’t. It was written much later than Paul. Its style is quite different than the letters we know are Paul’s. When Paul wrote, he was sharp, pointed, shorter sentences, and highly logical. Ephesians takes the core of what Paul learned and then taught the church and stretches it out, more poetry than prose, more emotion than logic, more “so what” than “what happened.” But the authors of this letter were so connected to Paul, they could not give themselves credit for what they wrote here. So they considered it only right and fair to give full credit of this letter to Paul.
In Greek manuscripts, there was seldom punctuation. So, when English bibles translate, or when preachers read, we make assumptions about where to put punctuation that can really change the meaning. We read 14 verses today, and I could have easily read 11 of them as one ridiculous non-understandable run-on sentence. So the translators and I made some assumptions about where to pause and put a comma, or where to stop, put a period. It's still a jumble though.
Let’s break it down, and see if we can find a few nuggets we can take home with us that will help us be full of God’s grace and live Easter lives.
I found FOUR things about God this text tells us:
God is our Father, our parent. Somehow God is both the source of our being and our adopter. God is both our creator parent and our adoptor parent. God made us for God’s family, and chooses us, adopts us into God’s family. And doing that makes God happy.
Jesus is the Christ and therefore our Lord. No one or nothing else deserves more of our attention and time than Jesus. The death we would have suffered, he suffered for us. The consequences of the mistakes we’ve made or will make, he carries those for us. The debts we owe to God, others, or ourselves, Jesus pays them off. And THAT makes God happy.
God is Spirit, and Spirit is the accomplisher of God’s plan. God is wise and strategic. God can anticipate and imagine, and because God knows us so well and loves us so much, God anticipates ways we might act or react. And God’s Holy Spirit is always anticipating us, reacting to us, and bending us and all things in heaven and earth back toward God’s vision and plan of holy community. That makes God very happy.
God is gracious. Grace is eyes-wide-open forgiveness. Grace is not forget-and-forgive. Grace is seeing and remembering, not forgetting, where we have neglected or harmed ourselves, others, or our relationship with God, then still forgiving us. God chooses over and over again to forgive us, to give us grace, freely, lavishly, and does so in Jesus by Holy Spirit without our deserving it or asking for it. And THAT makes God very happy.
Now, there are also four things I think this text tells us about us:
To God, we are saints. Like those in Ephesus, we are some of the first to set our hope on Christ. Whether its a lot of hope or a little, we are trying to believe, and though our wavering hope or limited belief isn’t enough all by itself, it becomes almost enough we when put all of ours together, and it becomes more than enough when God’s applies the faithfulness of Christ Jesus himself to us all.
In God, we are blessed. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. This doesn’t mean every individual has every blessing. It means in the collective, the community, there is every blessing. God’s blessing isn’t individualistic, but communal. We aren’t meant to have something of God just for ourselves or to benefit from a gift of God just ourselves. God’s blessings and benefits are not personal. They are always communal. The blessings of God given to anyone are meant to be shared with everyone, and the benefits from those blessings are not personal but also communal.
In Christ, we are chosen before the foundation of the world and are therefore by God’s choice attached to God’s promised inheritance. By God’s will, we are already written into God’s will. And when God died, God’s will was probated and read out loud and distributes God’s grace and peace to all God’s chosen, adopted children.
With Holy Spirit, we are destined for the purposes of (God). God has marked us with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. And this stamp in our passport is our map and our passage toward God’s promised inheritance, redemption itself, reconciliation of any brokenness or death inside us, between us, or with God.
Okay, that’s four things about God and four things about Us. Now what, or Caitlan’s question of us at the Easter sunrise service… So what? How shall we live the rest of our lives if all these things are true about God and us?
A grace-full Easter life hears the word of truth, meaning the good news of your salvation. I need to speak southern with you for a moment. In standard English, you and your can be singular or plural. Your Salvation here isn’t singular. It isn’t yours alone, or yours alone, or mine alone. It isn’t individual. It’s yall’s, you alls. The truth, the Good News of salvation is that is not about individuals. What makes it both NEW and GOOD is that it's plural, its yall’s salvation, it’s our salvation, and we hear it and receive it as true, that salvation is of a community, and we therefore we don’t worry about personal salvation. We trust it, and share it with each other and anyone who is a created, adopted child of God.
A grace-full Easter life believes in him. We don’t have to believe in order to be adopted. It says we are adopted, chosen, and destined. Therefore, believe. When we believe he is the way, his community is true and possible, and his life is the best way to live, we won’t hurt each other, or others beyond us. God’s love and grace are first. Belief and hope are second, and they inspire us to...
A grace-full Easter life will be holy and blameless. We will do our very best to speak, act, and live in the world with Christ’s love and grace for all. We will do our very best to be blameless before God, remembering, we will make mistakes. God will see them. That’s when we fall back on who God is, gracious, and who we are, chosen, adopted, destined children of God.
And last, a grace-full Easter life lives for the praise of (God’s) glory. Who gets the credit? God. Those actions we do to give ourselves a bit of glory, we are forgetting God is the author of all that is good, and right, and holy in us. Should something good and holy come out of us, we cannot take the credit or pretend that was our own creation. God gets the credit and the glory for the good, right and holy.
Who is God?
God is our creator parent and our adoptor parent.
God is Jesus, our Christ and our Lord.
God is Spirit, the vision of God’s plan and the guide toward God’s community.
And God is grace, eyes-wide-open forgiveness that isn’t earned or deserved.
Who are we?
To God, we are saints, some of the first to put our hope in Christ
In God, we are blessed, and together we have every possible blessing
In Christ, we are chosen as heirs of God’s promised inheritance
In Holy Spirit, we are destined for God’s community of wholeness and peace
So what? Now what?
We will hear God’s truth, the Good News that salvation is communal
We will believe in Jesus the Christ, not to earn anything, but to say thank you for what we’ve been freely given
We will be holy and blameless, knowing we will fall short and grace will catch us
And, we will do all we do, say all we say for God’s glory only, no one elses, not even our own.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown