2021 August 29 “Remembering Ephesians”

Scripture   “This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.  And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. [Eph 3:7-10]

Message    ”Remembering Ephesians”         Rev. James R. Renfrew

We’ve been finding our worship inspiration from the Letter to the Ephesians over the last two months, so today we will remind ourselves of some of the gems we have found here.

I think my favorite verse of all in Ephesians is this one: “Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious, but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”  So much of how we serve the Lord is filled with caution, calculation, and even suspicion, but this verse gets us thinking about love, mission and service as “over the top”, filled to the brim, and spilling over the side for others in your life.  “Love like that” the verse concludes.  Three little words that boil down everything we do as Christian people, “love like that!”.

I’ve heard of different Christian churches that try to capture the meaning of the Gospel in the form of detailed doctrine, as if to say that you can’t be a Christian unless you agree with our doctrine. In our church records you can find that 175 years ago people joining our church had to sign a lengthy faith covenant, three or four pages in length, that spelled out exactly what Presbyterian Christians should believe. Before signing it, church elders tested each prospective member on the contents of that doctrine.

I think I prefer the approach suggested in Ephesians, all that we ask is that people wanting to get on board simply tell us “I want to love like that”!  It’s not spelled out in detail like 175 years ago, but it is a response to an invitation. We may not grasp it all, we may be a long way from figuring everything out, but “I want to love like that” is a good place to start.  Love like Jesus, love like that person who offered love to you as you grew up, love like all of the people  Jesus has inspired.

Can we “love like that”, extravagantly, with things we do not fully grasp? We pray, sing and preach about the Cross, resurrection, forgiveness and healing; we may know about them intellectually, but do we really understand?  Even Paul, the author of Ephesians, feels the limitations: “And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.”  When we come to worship on a Sunday we can easily feel overwhelmed by our unreadiness or inability to fully receive what is offered – forgiveness, grace, mercy, a new start.  In over our heads, we often think that God’s love is too hard to find, too rare to receive.  But we miss the good news in thinking that because “In over our heads” means that what we lack, God supplies in abundance.  So “in over our heads” is not an admission of defeat, it means that God is all in, all the time, with an abundance of what we need.

Let me tell you that I have often been in over my head. Even with a lifetime of wisdom and experience, even with the preparation offered by one of the finest seminaries, there are times when that hand on the front cover of the bulletin looks an awful lot like my hand.

On my vacation I was asked, “If God is so powerful, don’t you think the existence of evil is powerful evidence that God is actually weak.”  That was quite a conversation. I felt like I was in over my head.  My questioner knew he was in over his head, too. He was not a skeptic just throwing stones at faith.  In fact, he has been in AA for 35 years, and gives all credit to the higher power that saved and transformed his life.  So there we were, both of us in over our heads, trying to figure that one out. I think we made some progress, and where we fell short, God supplied what was missing.

I think of our church as a place where many people are in over their heads, maybe all of us, with so many challenges happening in the world all around us.  But, remember, we are disciples, servants of Christ, we are not geniuses or experts in all things. Jesus found those original disciples when he saw a spark of possibility in each one, not the entire package, just a spark, and it was enough.  We may be in over our heads, but Jesus has seen that spark. That’s why we are here because he has found each one of us.

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