Who Does God Say We Are?

Posted: July 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

2 Samuel 6:1-19

Ephesians 1:3-14

Who Does God Say We Are?

Paul is writing to the little struggling church in Ephesus. This is nothing new and we can empathize with Paul because we have plenty of evidence that in every age and in every place at some tome or other churches struggle, and their issues and challenges are often very similar, even in very different times and very different circumstances. The commentators make this clear: empire, in one form or another; the surrounding culture, with its many and powerful messages; our drive to divide and be divided; and the questioning human spirit, longing to understand our lives, both individually and communally tells us that struggles are not just personal they are communal, tribal, national and in every form of human gathering.

I recall meeting with two presbytery people a couple of weeks ago, who wanted to know what I thought about establishing a network of parishes in the inner city and when I had finished one of them said to me; and what hopeful thing do you have to say? I was surprised that I had sounded so negative and I think it was because he only saw the struggle as a problem without hope, whereas for me it was more about realism and openness and honesty when facing questions of change in a human environment. No point in going into a task with one’s blinkers on. Perhaps this was not unlike the little church in Ephesus, note it’s a little church in the bustling metropolis of Ephesus. Paul’s letter to this struggling church would have raised the reality of their struggle and yet in this case the heady mix of reality lead them to experience Paul’s exuberant poetry as an uplifting message of both meaning and hope because it fixed them firmly on the sure foundation of God’s own purposes and love.

One of the challenges when confronting this text is to avoid seeing it as solely a catechism or a systematic statement of beliefs. It is not this because it is heart language as much as head language, as poetry and praise ought to be. Like all of our talk about God, it is partial, too, for our human comprehension is limited. Lewis Donelson says that Paul’s “propositions are flashes of insights into the being of God. They might be true as far as language is true, but God is still transcendent”

I am reminded here of a quote from Rene Giraud when he wrote; “It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human”. Paul’s, propositions are flashes of insights into the being of God. They might be true as far as language is true, but God is still transcendent”

This approach invites us think about context and even do a little exegesis in approaching this text. Who wrote it? Paul probably might be the nearest we get so to whom was it written? Again, the best choice is that may have either been a letter written specifically to the church in Ephesus or as a circular letter written for many churches eager to receive further teaching and guidance. The latter reason suggests it might be speaking to a common theme among struggling churches. And this might also suggest that it has something to say to us.

So, if this passage is poetic, it’s task is first and foremost inspirational, motivational and heart moving. It’s like our school vision that is both inspirational, motivational and seemingly so logical that one wonder why others can’t see its worth. Our text is a burst of exuberance from Paul where he gets wound up and launches into his writing. His sense of gratitude and wonder at everything God has done, is doing, and has promised yet to do, leads him to soaring heights of praise in which he acknowledges God as both blessed and blessing. How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! In fact, this text is so beautiful, especially in Eugene Peterson’s version in ‘The Message’ which makes the passage much more accessible and moving as well. He puts the text like this. He says “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone”. Again, it is less about an argument for a divine Jesus and more about a poetic rendition of the timeless presence of the Mystery we call Creativity God. Long before us. Long before our involvement, human life was part of the mysterious purpose.

This then leads us into todays poetic rendition of truth, life Creativity God. In recent years, for example, we keep learning more and more amazing things about the way the universe works. Something called “the God particle,” that is, the Higgs-Boson particle, has been discovered, but it seems to provoke both wonder and questioning more than clear and firm answers about “the meaning of it all.”

VIDEO- Higgs Boson

It might be a bit of a leap but Paul seems to be in a sense, exploring a similar question when he sings out his praise for “the big picture” of God’s purposes. He’s certainly not taking a scientific approach, or even a philosophical one, to his work. Instead, he sings from deep faith, from intuition that sometimes whispers and suggests, and sometimes bursts out in assured conviction of God’s goodness and mercy, of God’s amazing grace. That’s what this first part of the Letter to the Ephesians is about: God’s amazing grace. It’s about how things are put together in God.

While I might want to question the idea of objectifying human brokenness, Eugene Peterson writes evocatively about the brokenness of our lives and the way God puts things back together, as they should be: Paul “begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, ‘sets’ this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones–belief and behaviour–knit together and heal” (The Message).

In an evolutionary, creativity approach this is what continues to unfold right before our eyes, if we take the time to notice, the great evolutionary reality is about bringing everything together in one marvelous unity, in Paul’s words this is unity in Christ. In every age, in every day, in each of us and all of us, together this great wonder is unfolding. And it is when we seek to understand our God and how our God works, we get a sense of who we are as creatures formed, lovingly, in God’s own image. Again, as Giraud wrote; We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human”.

The timeless nature of this view is that while it may be an ancient one, rooted long before the earth was created, it also stretches forward, too, far into the future, and we have our own place within it, in this moment of history. In honouring the mind, we recognize the human construction of this, in living the questions we live meaningfully in this moment, and in exploring the adventure of humanity we see ourselves not only as heirs, as those who receive these blessings, but as ancestors as well, for the mystery we call creativity God is part of all that will come after us, and with a grace-filled purpose for it all.

Returning again to our text we find Paul singing God’s goodness and it reminds us of our own human response to goodness, of which Paul also sings. We hear often today people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” yet they also speak of their deep longing to find a place and a community of worship where they feel both deeply moved and a sense of belonging. Interestingly, these are people who lead lives that have many marks of discipleship: healing the sick and broken, working for justice, sharing generously, forgiving and seeking reconciliation and peace. But they long for a spiritual community where they can sense, with others, the presence of this motivational, aspirational, comforting, purpose-filled existence in quiet moments in community, in ritual, in music, in worship. They seek a sense of connection with this Creative, evolutionary energy we call God.

What never ceases to surprise me is how many Spiritual but Not Religious folks are actually hungry for traditional ritual and liturgy. Barbara Brown Taylor is one of many writers who draw our attention to our worship life and to our spiritual hunger: in her sermon, “He Who Fills All in All” she wonders if we are offering the spiritually hungry “a place where they may sense the presence of God, among people who show some sign of having been changed by that presence.” And here we have the challenge of evangelism, proselytization, bums on seats, church growth and ultimately community. What is a faith community as opposed to a book club, a classroom or a rugby or netball club?

One Anthony Robinson has written that “People want to experience the divine, the sacred, the holy. They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery, and not for want of by-laws, committees, and sign-up lists. At least they don’t want those things instead of God”

What I like to think I do every Sunday is bring these two threads of worship and the unfolding of Creativity God’s great living plan for all things, together, I try to blend the sermon with images of the universe, photographs returned to us by our long-distance spacecraft of the heavens, the stars and the earth, which may inspire awe at times as effectively as our words and music and sanctuaries. And then we can picture our cities and countryside in many different settings, our neighborhoods and the people they hold, nature, including images of the very smallest things, even drawings of particles and other such incomprehensible objects. Such use of the visual and the imagination during our service along with the text, and the music, might make it a bit easier to ponder God’s grand living plan for all things, or in non-religious language, we might find an understanding of evolution and the scientific unfolding of creation.

And finally, and again returning to the text it is clear that Paul is making a case for those who follow the Jesus Way or he is introducing the ethics of discipleship in this letter to the church in Ephesus. Sadly, we Christians today seem to spend far more time talking about the rules than raising the quality of our time in connection with the mystery we name Creativity God. This might be especially true as we follow our passionate commitment to justice and healing for a broken world. It’s a good thing that we work hard on the issues, but we also need to be able to return to a base camp where we can renew our spirits, where we can tap into the deep roots of our tradition, ask questions of the ancient songs of praise and lament, the text and the blessings that we have received and will share with those who come after us.

We have, after all, been brought together not only to work but to pray and praise, to remember and remind, to celebrate and to hope as well. We can draw on that time together and find the courage to hope, as the Letter to the Ephesians will say in two more chapters, for “far more than all we can ask or imagine” (3:20). Amen.

 

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