Monday, September 11, 2017

9-10-17 "But Wait...There's More!" - First in the “There Is UNITY in CommUNITY” series on Ephesians

9-10-17 “There Is UNITY in CommUNITY” Ephesians Series
 Week 1 - “But Wait! There’s More!”

   I don’t know about you, but I’m a person who wonders about things. I’m curious - how did this come to be, who was the greatest at or the first to do that, why is this “whatever” this way? I’ve always been a questioner, and with the advent of Google the answers to my endless questioning is often only a few keystrokes away. So, do you ever wonder, what is the greatest invention of all time? I mean, which inventions, over the course of history, have made the biggest impact on the world? It’s a big question, and of course, the answer you get depends largely on who you ask. 

   Well, my work in researching and preparing for this sermon admittedly often took a circuitous route, not un-like the route Billy often takes when asked to do something in the comic The Family Circus, by Bill and Jean Keane. Like Billy in that cartoon, I sometimes begin with a particular task in mind and after meanderings through the Bible, books, online commentaries, a timeout for another cup of coffee, You-Tube videos, my iPhone music playlist, Google, more coffee, and any number of other stops along the way, I end up with something different than what I started out looking for. 
So, here’s kind of what the process looked like for me, this time.

   I began by reading the scripture - good place to start, right? And as I read chapter one of Ephesians the writer points out that God’s plan is for much more than just the forgiveness of our individual sins, there’s more to it than that. And then my brain made the connection of “more,” first to the song by Steve Lawrence (sing “More than the greatest love the world has known…) but I didn’t stay there long before I moved to the TV informercials and the line that always pops up - and became the title for this week’s installment, “But Wait, There’s More!” And that connection made me think about all of the things we’ve seen advertised on these ads over the years, from the Popeel Pocket Fisherman (which I know for a fact Tom Pettit still uses to this day) 

to the Vvegematic, Flex Seal tape and thousands of other As Seen On TV inventions. This, of course, led me to the question, what is the greatest invention of all time? Which led me to Google, and that’s how we go to this point, right here, right now
   So, according the website BIGTHINK.COM, (by Paul Ratner, October 30, 2016) the top ten greatest inventions of all time, in descending order are:

10. STEAM ENGINE - invented between 1763 and 1775 by James Watt, who built upon the ideas of previous steam engine attempts. The steam engine powered trains, ships, factories and the Industrial Revolution as a whole.

9. ELECTRICITY - utilization of electricity is a process to which many bright minds have contributed over thousands of years, going all the way back to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, when Thales of Miletus conducted the earliest research into the phenomenon. The 18th-century American Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin is generally credited with significantly furthering our understanding of electricity, if not its discovery.

8. PRINTING PRESS - invented in 1439 by the German Johannes Gutenberg, this device in many ways laid the foundation for our modern age. It allowed ink to be transferred from the movable type to paper in a mechanized way. This revolutionized the spread of knowledge and religion as previously books were generally hand-written (often by monks).

7. GUNPOWDER - this chemical explosive, invented in China in the 9th century, has been a major factor in military technology (and, by extension, in wars that changed the course of human history).

6. PAPER - invented about 100 BC in China, paper has been indispensable in allowing us to write down and share our ideas. 

5. COMPASS - this navigational device has been a major force in human exploration. The earliest compasses were made in China between 300 and 200 BC.

4. OPTICAL LENSES - from glasses to microscopes and telescopes, optical lenses have greatly expanded the possibilities of our vision. They have a long history, first developed by ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, with key theories of light and vision contributed by Ancient Greeks.

3. NAIL - The earliest known use of this very simple but super-useful metal fastener dates back to Ancient Egypt, about 3400 B.C. If you are more partial to screws, they’ve been around since Ancient Greeks (1st or 2nd century BC).

2. WHEEL - the wheel was invented by Mesopotamians around 3500 B.C., to be used in the creation of pottery. About 300 years after that, the wheel was put on a chariot and the rest is history.

1. FIRE - It can be argued that fire was discovered rather than invented. Certainly, early humans observed incidents of fire, but it wasn’t until they figured out how to control it and produce it themselves that humans could really make use of everything this new tool had to offer. The earliest use of fire goes back as far as 2 million years ago, while a widespread way to utilize this technology has been dated to about 125,000 years ago. Fire gave us warmth, protection, and led to a host of other key inventions and skills like cooking. The ability to cook food helped us get the nutrients to support our expanding brains, giving us an indisputable advantage over other primates. 
   But the power of Google to provide answers aside, I have to disagree. Having lost untold hours of my life that I will never get back watching thousands and thousands of commercials for everything from the Aqua Dog canine water bottle to the Flippin’ Fantastic Perfect Pancake flipper to the Spin Mop, I think the greatest invention known to humanity HAS to be… the digital video recorder. 
Why? Because it allows the user to skip past all of those ridiculous commercials and saves you hours of couch time that would otherwise be wasted! But, as a means of giving credit where credit is due, were it not for the Billy Mayes, Ron Popeils, and others who interrupt our viewing of CSI and Law and Order reruns with ads for mops, all things plastic, and time savers in the kitchen, we might never have heard the phrase, “But wait, there’s more,” and WHO KNOWS where this sermon might have gone! 

   Seriously though, “But wait, there’s more!” is the core of the message of Paul or pseudo-Paul -  remember from our earlier series, Ephesians is one of those letters that we can’t say with certainty that Paul actually wrote, or whether it was one of his followers who wrote in his name. We’ll call him Paul to keep it simple. And likewise, the earliest versions of the letter don’t have the name “Ephesus” included in it, leading some to believe that this letter originated as a more general letter and that “Ephesus” was added later. Regardless, the gist of the message in our passage today is, “But wait, there’s more.”
   And the letter begins with Paul pronouncing a blessing on God rather than any kind of thanksgiving for the Ephesians themselves, one of the traditional marks of the genuine Pauline letters, by the way. And then Paul, in verse 5, at nearly the beginning of the letter, makes clear the implications of God’s work for those to whom the letter is written: they (and we) have been adopted by God. And then Paul proceeds to list many of the things that God has done for us:
  • God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence even before the creation of the world.
  • We have been freed through Christ from those things which bind us or hold us captive.
  • We have forgiveness for our failures through God’s grace.
  • God revealed God’s plan in and through Jesus Christ.

   And then comes the “But wait, there’s more” moment. In addition to all that God has already done for us, this is God’s plan for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. All things, all people, all of creation - all means all!

   Paul says that we are insiders to a much bigger plan than even the lavish grace that forgives our sins and frees us from all that would seek to own us. 
God intends to gather all things up into Christ, so that the love, healing, wisdom, and welcome that we associate with Jesus will be the way the whole creation works. This is our destiny and that of the whole creation: to “live for the praise of God’s glory.”

   But what does this mean for us, today? 
What does this look like for us - made in the image of God as co-creators with God? And what does it look like for church, the hands and feet of God in the world? And how are we to think about what it means to “live for the praise of God’s glory?”

   Let’s think about it in three ways - a kind of a trinitarian approach. We begin with the idea that God provides. God is at work in our lives before we are even aware of it, before we can even think about responding to that providence. God has a plan, not a detailed step-by-step set of controls that dictates everything we say, think, or do, or everything that happens in the world, but a plan, a desire, a preferred future as it is sometimes called, that is not only for our good and our redemption, but for the redemption of the whole world
It’s a providence rooted in grace, particularly what John Wesley called prevenient grace, the grace that precedes or goes before us. It is the love of God for all of creation that tugs at us, loves us, woos us into relationship with God even before we have awareness of it. 

   So there is God’s providence, and there is also God’s power. We see and experience God’s power as it makes us whole, holy, and blameless before God. 
It’s a power born of love, not of control; a power that defers to our free will; that desires our love but never forces it. And the source of this power can be found in the phrase “in Christ,” which is found multiple times in our reading for today. To live “in Christ” is to live in such a way as to strive to glorify God as we seek to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ, who came to reveal God’s self, God’s plan of redemption, and God’s irresistible love most fully to us, glorifying God in how he lived and died.
   So what does the power of God mean for you and for me? At the end of the letter, in Eph 6:30, Paul refers to himself as an “ambassador in chains.” 
That is, even as he is in prison awaiting trial, Paul still clings to the power, the love, the grace of God. By all obvious measures or appearances, Paul is powerless. Some of us sense that we are powerless in this life, that we have lost, or never had control of our destinies, that our lives and the world is closing in on us.

 Since that fateful day sixteen years ago, when two planes brought down two towers, and stoked the fears of the world, the world has become much smaller - too small for some.  Corporate decisions seem to have been removed from us, the adage “follow the money” speaks to how fear, including the fear of scarcity, has replaced faith for many and points to the idol that many people truly worship if the truth be known. The challenges in the world seem more immense, the needs greater, and the resources fewer. Paul writes as one in bondage, and his writing challenges us to consider, to what are we in bondage? Fear? Idolatry? Racism? Materialism? Privilege? Consumerism? Militarism? Greed? But even as Paul writes from a place of physical bondage, he knows and claims the power of God. And he tells us in our reading today, that the power that he claims is promised to us, is an inheritance to us, as well.

   So God provides for us. God’s power is with us and for us. God also has a purpose for us, that we might live “to the praise of God’s glory.” That is, that we might live lives that testify to the presence of God in our lives and that doing so brings glory to God. And what does that look like for us? A clergy colleague shared a wonderful illustration with me several years ago that I’ll share with you to help us picture this.  

   Have any of you ever been to Redwood National Park, or seen redwood or sequoia trees in nature?  These majestic trees are said to be the tallest living species in all of God’s earthly creation.  They can exceed 300 feet in height, and can be 44 feet around at its base. With trees this big, you would expect them to have huge, deep roots underground, supporting and stabilizing them, right?  But, in fact, redwood roots are very shallow, growing only 4-6 feet deep.  This isn’t much support for a tree that grows 30 stories high and more than 40 feet around, is it?
   A redwood’s roots don’t grow deep, but they do grow wide, spreading as far as 125 feet in all directions.  And redwoods never grow alone, they grow in groves, or communities, so that as each tree’s roots grow outward, they interlock with those of its neighbors, to form a network of roots.  It’s as though they’re holding hands underground, forming a web of roots that allows the trees to withstand even the greatest of storms. God created them in such a way that they must grow in community with other redwoods.

   Now, I’ll ask you to turn and look at all of these who are gathered here with you today - those on your left and right, those in front and behind. These are your redwoods - this is your grove, your network of roots, your community. This is who God has provided for you, planted alongside you to interlock with, to hold hands with, to grow with, when the seasons get testy, when the world seems cold and violent, when the wind of change blow hard and the fire of conflict appears ready to bring us crashing down. 

   This unity is our purpose; the unity that Jesus modeled in selecting twelve to follow him, twelve to stand together. Only one of the twelve fell - the one who attempted to live outside the grove, the one who tried to go it alone. And this is the unity in community as a church family that is our purpose that we are invited into when we share together in our worship, in our service, in fellowship, in our giving, in our living. Where any one individual or family cannot, on its own, do all the work of living in a way that glorifies God, when we are joined together in community, then all things are possible through the God’s providence, power, and purpose. It is in that unity that we support one another, love one another, provide care for one another, and hold one another up, bearing one another’s burdens, carrying each other.
    In a couple of weeks we’ll ask you to make two commitments to unity in our community. The first will be with your pledge of financial support for the next year, answering after prayerful consideration, “what percentage of your income God is calling you to give to support the vision, the mission, and the ministries of your church for the next year.” And second, we’ll ask for your commitment to giving of your time and talents to both support and extend the community to those around us through our mission and ministries here at Crossroads. 

   As an act of worship this week we invited you to help us prepare the soil for the seed that God has planted in our community. As we shared in our last series, the Tree of Life was present in the garden “in the beginning,” and had become a grove of its own “when God made all things new” in the new Jerusalem. The Tree of Life, in some ways, represents all that God desires for us and for all of creation; it represents the life-giving presence of God with us, as well as the “more” that Paul promises us in the opening of the letter to Ephesians. And it represents that unity that we find in Christ, as a Christ-centered community.

  So as we conclude, I want to invite you, you mighty redwoods, to join hands with those around you, to your right, to your left, in front of you and behind you, that our roots might combine to hold one another up, as I share with you some lines adapted from a brief reading titled, 

“Thoughts from a Garden.”

All the seasons will be yours,
but remember, too,
that gardens are not just happenings.
The more wonderful the garden,
the more skilled the gardener.
So you will have to care deeply for the life that is yours together, and nurture it.
You will have to appreciate your differences and cultivate them.

You will have to take care of yourself,
if for no other reason than out of love for the other.
And you will need the support of family and friends to reach full growth.
As you caringly chose this place to [to connect to God’s community],
so remember its lessons for your life together through the seasons that are yours to share.
And may those seasons bring you joy and happiness [in God]. Amen. 

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