The long view & our part in it

by susan on July 6, 2015

long viewYesterday, we returned to Sunday morning worship gatherings and back to the Third & Main Event Center.  It was a great morning of reconnecting and praising God together. We also began moving through the letter to the Ephesians, and here is the message that was shared during our gathering.

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,4just as he chose us in Christ* before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,* having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him 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; 14this* is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

– Ephesians 1:3-14, New Revised Standard Version

I can always spot a newcomer at the gym because I’ve been there. In fact, I am there everytime I try something new. Newcomers look very serious as we fiddle with equipment desperately trying to find the on/off button. We scan the room to make sure no one is watching us, and we try to hide that slightly scared feeling that we could be doing everything completely wrong. It’s like we assume that everyone else walked in on their first day, and looked at all of the weights, machines and routines and knew exactly what to do.

It’s the same feeling we get when we encounter long passages of scripture like this one, isn’t it? We might nod our heads in agreement, but come on. Inside, we’re like…huh? What meaning could this humongous run on sentence full of words we almost never use today possibly have to our lives?

Well, for starters, this massive introduction was originally part of a letter written to the church at Ephesus. Paul, a Jew who had a very dramatic conversion to Christianity, became an ambassador for Christ. He became so convinced of the good news of Jesus Christ that he took several missionary journeys to teach, preach and encourage early churches. One of the places he visited was the city of Ephesus, the capital of Asia Minor. He planned to spend three months at a church there, but three months turned into three years.

The church at Ephesus was one of the 15 named churches in our new testament.
While no one particular problem is specifically addressed; we know from the other letters and from stories in Acts, that the early church was a mess. Like any gathering of human beings, there were conflicts, divisions & challenges in their life together.

There were adults who acted more like children.
They struggled to reconcile their differences.
And, they were easily led astray from what had called them together in the first place.
They knew the feeling of wanting to give up, to throw in the towel and say the heck with Christian community.

So, what do you say to those tempted to give up on community? or maybe on faith all together? It’s a question we should be wrestling with today.

Paul or more likely someone writing on Paul’s behalf, begins this way. He begins with a word (or a bunch of words) about the beginning. And, he’s convinced that everything began with God. God has been quite active.
There are 7 verbs used to describe what God has been up to since the beginning of time.
God blessed, chose, destined, bestowed, lavished, made known and will gather up.

Paul wants these Christians to be encouraged that God is no haphazard, let’s just see how things go kind of Creator. God has not left us alone to fin for ourselves. God is intentional and deliberate. God has initiated a grand, long-term project and God will see it through.

It’s an interesting place to begin. Before launching into the bulk of his instructions, it’s like Paul is hitting a giant pause button. Before he begins giving his blueprint for who and what the church is for and about – he reminds them of what God is about.

I have confessed to some of you my addiction to Facebook over the past couple of weeks. Not only have I been overly interested in the variety of responses to the ruling on marriage, I have also spent too much time reading recent arguments on our neighborhood pages that have escalated into racial debates.

Although I believe that real life and the best discussions do not happen through social media, I’ve gotten consumed with what others are doing, thinking and believing…which, as it turns out is not really helping anyone.

Instead of being consumed with what God has done and is doing, don’t we all get caught up in worrying about what everyone else is doing or not doing sometimes?

Don’t we all get so consumed with what’s right in front of us that we fail to see the bigger, long-term cosmic view of what is unfolding?

Maybe that’s what Paul heard about these Christians at Ephesus. They were getting derailed by their debates, divisions & conflicts. And, knowing personally the dangers of getting caught up and consumed with the wrong things, Paul writes to them & he begins by hitting a giant PAUSE button. Hold on everybody: God is the one who has, who is and who will keep this whole thing going, not us.

So, what do we do with this humongous beginning of a letter written to a group of imperfect people trying to be church together?

There are endless possibilities, but I want to suggest two things:

First, let’s keep the big picture in mind.
God has been, God is and God will be active in the world.
We will not always feel it, see it or be certain of it. That is the essence of faith.
Instead of letting ourselves be consumed with every crisis, though, let’s take the long view.

This may require our stepping outside to get some perspective. Seeing the ocean, the mountains, our neighbors or neighborhood reminds us that God is much bigger and more active than what we see, feel or believe.

So, choose to take the long view. And, second, let’s find our part in what God is doing. We are not spectators to the show. We are part of it. Although God is ultimately running things, all that has happened and will happen includes us. We have a part to play!  And, maybe that part is not as complex as we tend to make it sometimes.

When we hear words of hate being spoken against our friends….
let’s be reminded that God is inviting us to speak words of love and compassion.

When we see arguments, debates and wars break out about theology, politics or the true meaning of freedom…
let’s remember that God is inviting us into the way of peace.

When we see images of fires burning down black churches…
let’s remember that we can spark conversations and bridge divides that exist in our own community.

God is reconciling all things and we are invited to be part.

As a gathering of imperfect people, we too will lose our way & we too will allow too many things to consume & control us. How might we take the long view & with God’s grace, find our part in the unfolding of God’s plans and dreams for the world?

Amen.

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