August 27, 2018
“No Shortcuts to Heaven” ~ Sermon for August 26, 2018
For today’s reading we continue with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Scholars believe that Paul’s followers wrote this letter, along with Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and 2Thessolians, after his death toward the end of the first century.
These letters have a somewhat different tone, less personal, than the authentic Pauline letters.
The writer encourages the Ephesian believers to recognize that their struggle is not against human beings, but against spiritual forces of evil, and in order to stay strong they need to put on God’s armor and remain faithful in prayer.
Then he asks them to pray for him as he seeks to spread the Gospel.
Hear now a reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 6:10-20
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May He add to our hearing and understanding, his blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Holy God, grant that we may be strengthened in our inner being with power through your Holy Spirit and that Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith and that we might remain rooted and grounded in your love.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
As the summer winds down we conclude our reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Today’s passage calls us to prepare ourselves to live in a world where we will be continually faced with choices between good and evil.
The writer encourages us to remember that God’s power is greater than any challenge we might face.
Using the metaphor of military garb of the day we are encouraged to employ truth, righteousness, proclamation, faith, salvation and peace to ward off evil-in whatever guise it presents itself.
Finally, the writer encourages us to use prayer to bolster our relationship with God.
Everyday of our lives we are faced with the choice to remain faithful to Christ or to turn away.
The ancient writers knew, as we know today that we need the intimacy with God that comes through prayer and through sharing in the life of Christ to remain true to our calling.
We come to church to be reminded, to be encouraged, to get the armor that we need to fight the battles that come our way.
I’m not particularly comfortable with using war metaphors to characterize our lives, but for the writers of scripture and their followers these descriptions made sense.
So, what does it mean to put on the armor of Christ?
I think it describes a life rooted in faith; a life in which we always turn to God first – in all situations.
We turn to God when we have to make difficult decisions;
We turn to God when we are faced with loss or pain;
We turn to God when we are scared;
We turn to God when we feel blessed; when joy fills our hearts.
I have been reflecting this week on our exploration of the cultural disconnect between religious and spiritual.
I believe that all of God’s created beings have a yearning to know God.
Religion is one of the ways that humans have created to seek God.
Religious rituals are most often rooted in the believer’s quest for spiritual understanding.
The disconnect comes when religious rituals become requirements.
When seekers or believers are told that they must meet certain criteria for acceptance into God’s world, we begin to lose our way.
When Paul and his followers gathered the people together, it was to share what they knew, to foster community, to seek God.
Paul calls on the people to be ambassadors for Christ.
This is our calling.
This is hard work.
Anytime that someone puts their own desires or sense of entitlement ahead of the wellbeing of the community or the institution it is a breach of Christ’s teachings.
Paul’s earlier letter to the church in Corinth sums up our summer’s discussion far better than I ever could:
Now concerning spiritual gifts brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.
If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
If all were a single member, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
My friends, we are the body of Christ.
Each and every part of our body is needed to do the work we have been called to do.
If we are to transform the world, we must pay attention to the needs of every created being, putting the well being of community above our own personal satisfaction.
We were created to be in relationship.
This is the way that civilized society thrives.
We need institutions to provide structure and those institutions must be honored.
If you want to live in a free country, you must vote.
If you want to belong to a church that thrives, you must participate.
If you want to live in peace, you must obey the laws.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians closes with these words,
Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be with all who have an undying love our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, we know that you provide everything that we need to live as your children.
Grant us the grace to accept the gifts that you bring.
Help us to live our lives with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Help us to speak the truth in all matters and to treat our fellow human beings with dignity and respect.
Hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For the institutions that make up our world, we pray for wisdom.
We pray, O God, for those among us who struggle with mental illness, addiction, hatred and fear.
Let our light be a beacon of hope for all.
Help us to transform this world into your kingdom on earth.
Hear us now as we turn to you in the sacred stillness of this Meetinghouse with the prayers of our hearts….
Jesus taught them to pray in these words….Our Father…