The Interesting Thing About Religion is God

Ephesians 1:3-14  CEB

        Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design[a] to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. 10 This is what God planned for the climax of all times:[b] to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. 11 We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. 12 We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. 13 You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. 14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.


  1. Today we begin a summer series on the Epistle of Ephesians — it is a letter written by Paul to the church in Ephesus — which is now in Turkey. It is a very culturally rich city with significant ancient biblical ruins.
  2. The Letter to the Ephesians lifts up the importance of character formation and spiritual maturity in the church. 
    1. Growing up “healthy in God, robust in love,” as Eugene Peterson (the author of The Message) puts it, is a particularly appropriate subject in light of Easter and our call to be resurrection people.
  3. So it is that today we start a new sermon series on the book of Ephesians which is all about growing and maturing as people of faith.
  4. Generalizations can be dangerous, of course, but I think it is accurate to say that people in the U.S. have little tolerance for, and much less practice of, a centering way of life that yields to the conditions in which growth— in both spiritual and personal—takes place. 
    1. Taking time to be quiet and patient becomes the fertile soil of maturity.
      1. We are so busy with our daily routines that the idea of taking some quiet time, and relaxing and pondering God’s grace in our lives.
    1. It is safe to say that the American church is uncomfortable in these conditions, so in the name of “relevance,” it all too often adapts itself to be indistinguishable from the culture around us:  noisy, busy, controlling, and image conscious.
  5. Meanwhile, what has previously been a major concern of the Christian community, becoming men and women who live to “the praise of God’s glory” has become a mere footnote to the church’s life. 
  6. Ephesians calls us back from this secular drift by centering us on the resurrection of Jesus, — where Jesus is alive and present with us through the Holy Spirit.
  7. The practice of becoming resurrection people does not take place in a vacuum.  Church is the context in which we mature in Christ, but as we know, church is difficult. 
    1. Sooner or later, though, if we are serious about growing up in Christ, we have to deal with church. 
    1. So, it might as well be sooner, I’d say.
    1. Why church, you ask?
    1. The short answer is because the Holy Spirit formed the community of faith to be a signpost of God’s eternal life and love in the midst of our everyday lives. 
    1. In other words, church is what provides human witness to the Kingdom of God and is its physical presence in the world. — we did that again this past Friday as we honored David McElroy.
  8. It is easy to dismiss the church as ineffective and irrelevant, and many people do. 
    1. It is easy to be condescending of the church because so many who make up the church are not very impressive by cultural standards of success.  We are ordinary average people who seek to live a godly life. Complete with its ups and downs.
    1. It is common to become disillusioned with the church because of our expectations—of the pastor, the programs and worship and mission, and the other members—will eventually be disappointed.  We want worship to be our way – so we also tend to be critical of the way in which in unfolds.  
    1. It’s obvious that we are not a utopian community.
    1. We are not God’s avenging angels.
    1. And we are not making much headway in eliminating what is wrong in the world.
  9. But, do you suppose, is it possible that the church we have right now is exactly what God intends because this imperfect church provides the very conditions and proper company for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature? 
    1. Maybe, just maybe, God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church — and that is what Ephesians is all about.
  10. The church at Ephesus was a missionary church begun by a Jewish preacher Apollos. 
    1. Paul stopped by to visit this fledgling church during his second missionary journey, met with the twelve people who comprised this tiny congregation and guided them into receiving the Holy Spirit. 
    1. He stayed on for three months, using the local synagogue as his home base for preaching and teaching.
    1. That three-month visit extended to three years during which time Paul was pastor to this Christian congregation.
  11. There are fifteen churches named in the New Testament.  All but two of them, Antioch and Jerusalem, have letters addressed to them or were visited by Paul.
  12. The Ephesian letter is unique in that it is the only one that is not prompted by a problem of either behavior or belief which has led some scholars to wonder if it was a general letter that circulated among a number of first-century congregations. 
    1. The lack of a mitigating issue allows Ephesians to explore what gives church its unique identity, namely, God’s glory.
  13. Ephesians is clear that church is not what we do; it is what God does, although we participate in it.
  14. This idea goes against our grain:  church, the spiritual life, and mission all too often become what we do—our activity, our action, our feelings, our preferences, our emotions, our beliefs. 
  15. Ephesians orients us toward God and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
    1. What is our purpose? Why are we here? We discover answers to these questions as we worship God, the God of Ephesians 1, who gathers all things together in Christ. This God has a purpose for each and every one of us, and that purpose is always within the loving context of God’s love for us. We come away from worship, we hope, wondering about that.
  16. Our Sunday worship provides the basic form and content for practicing resurrection life and growing up in Christ. 
    1. As lovely and wonderful as moments of solitary worship on a beach or wandering in a garden or sitting on the top of a mountain are, these will not lead us to spiritual maturity.  They are stepping stones in faith.
    1. Ephesians does not give us the option of excluding others from our worship or worshiping selectively with only those who are like-minded.
    1. Maturity develops as we embrace in worship and friendship those who are friends of God, not just those who are our preferred friends. 
    1. Worship shapes us not only individually but as a community, a church. 
    1. If we are going to grow up in Christ, we have to do it in the company of everyone who is responding to the call of God. 
    1. According to Ephesians, whether we happen to like them or not has nothing to do with it.
  17. Think about how God brought Jesus into human history.  We have the story of what God could have done but didn’t. 
    1. God could have sent his Son into the world to turn every stone into bread and solve the hunger problem worldwide, but God didn’t. 
    1. God could have sent Jesus on tour through Palestine to fill up the seven grand amphitheaters and hippodromes, amazing everyone with supernatural signs to impress people with God’s reality and presence.  God didn’t.
    1. God could have set Jesus up to take over governing the world—no more war, no more injustice, no more crime. God didn’t do that either.
  18. What God did, in fact, do was to give us the miracle of Jesus, a miracle that came in the form of a helpless infant born in poverty in a dangerous place without understanding or support from the political, religious, or cultural figures of his day.  Jesus never left that world he had been born into, a world of vulnerability, marginality and poverty.
  19. God gave us the miracle of congregation the same way he gave us Jesus, by the descent of the Dove.  The Holy Spirit descended into the womb of Mary. Thirty or so years later the same Spirit descended into the collective spiritual womb of men and women who had been followers of Jesus.  The first conception gave us Jesus. The second conception gave us the church.
  20. It was a miracle that didn’t look like a miracle, a miracle in the form of the powerless, the vulnerable, the unimportant—not so very different from any random congregation we might Google on the internet, and not so very different from our own congregation. 
  21. We are the saints to whom Ephesians is written.
  22. We are the saints in whom and through whom God chooses to be present to the world.
  23. There are no “successful” congregations in Scripture or in the history of the church.
    1. There are only sinful and flawed, but forgiven, women and men who gather for worship, who hear the call of God and respond by walking, people who are maturing in Christ, people in whom the Spirit of God has been let loose.  May it ever be so.
  24. Thanks be to God!
[1] April 22, 2018 Michelle Fincher Calvary Presbyterian Church

[2]  September 8, 2011