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01.06.13 The Mission of the Church Ephesians 3:1-12 Sermon Summary

by on January 8, 2013

There are two movements in the process of reconciliation: the Magi movement and Mystery movement. One’s already been made. Will you make the other one?

Summary Points

  • The two movements of reconciliation
  • What grace is, and why it is a mystery
  • Three ways we live into the mystery
  • Questions for Discussion and Reflection

This is a message for Epiphany, the day set aside in the church tradition for remembering the trip the Magi from the East made to pay homage to the baby Jesus. This is a story found only in Matthew, constructed from elements borrowed from Isaiah and the Psalms.

In all reconciliation, two movements are required. In our reconciliation with God, one of these is the Magi movement. The Magi come from the East. What motivated them is unclear. Were they curious? What questions were they trying to answer? A religious folk of sorts, were they trying to satisfy a longing?

Whatever their motive, they represent the movement required on our part for reconciliation with God. They went on a journey to find the divine.

In the book of Ephesians, an author using Paul’s name describes the reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews, called Gentiles. Ephesians 2 identifies Christ as the means of peace between Jews and Gentiles, paints a picture of a dividing wall of hostility being brought down, describes a new humanity being created by God consisting of Jews and Gentiles together.

This is the Mystery movement. Ephesians traces its origin from the creation and even before (chapter 1). In contrast to the human Magi movement originating from the East, this is the divine initiative to go “East,” to retrieve a humanity that had been exiled “East of Eden” (Genesis 3-4). (Notice that the divine initiative to reconciliation precedes the human initiative, which is why we baptize infants.)

So these are the two movements of reconciliation, movements which bring together estranged parties. Our human movement out of curiosity, longing, or need—the Magi movement. And the other movement out of grace—which is a divine Mystery.

This divine movement towards reconciliation in grace is foundational for Ephesians. But it came as a mystery that God would include the Gentiles. For the author and all Jews, the covenantal relationship with God was reserved only for Jews. Gentiles were to be avoided, tolerated, or best yet, converted. But the gospel of Jesus, which Paul proclaimed and Ephesians exalts, is one of Gentile inclusion.

Paul, and Ephesians following him, accepted this mystery. Paul had a personal understanding of mystery. It was a mystery to him that God had included him in the covenant of Christ. Ephesians faithfully represents Paul’s self-understanding by referring to him as the “very least of the saints.” Everything Paul proclaimed he received by “revelation.” Ephesians uses lots of passive verbs to describe this: it was “given to me, made know to me.” Paul hadn’t discovered it—God had to make it known. God had to do it.

And here is the two-fold nature of grace

  1. Only God can do it
  2. God is inclusive

Ephesians refers to the “boundless” or “unsearchable riches of Christ.” As simple as the nature of God’s grace is, it always, from the life of Jesus to the preaching of Paul to the letter to the Ephesians to the present day, raises a question: How much does God include? How far does grace go? Is there any darkness left unaffected by this light?

For many religious people, beginning with the Jews, the answer is obvious: Grace extends to my religion, but no further. Many in the Christian church today still make this claim.

Even within a religious tradition, we draw boundaries around the boundless riches of Christ. In our tradition we have said that grace: applies to men, but not women; to adults, but not children; to white Europeans, but not Native Americans or Africans; to Protestants, but not Roman Catholics; to straight people, but not gay.

How quickly we forget the two-fold nature of Grace: It is God’s to give (not ours); God determines the extent of it (we don’t).

But does this mean we have nothing to do but to receive grace, give thanks, and let God do it all? Does the Mystery movement make the Magi movement superfluous? What can we do?

We in the church have a role. Ephesians says, “through the church, the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Our role is to live into the mystery of reconciliation. By our lives, we are to prove it, to verify it, to “epiphanize” it to the world.

The mystery in Ephesians is the inclusion of the Gentiles by grace. What was hostile is now reconciled. There exists now a “new humanity”: Jew and Gentile together. Now we are to live the mystery, to receive but also to give grace. It starts with ourselves being reconciled with God. No matter how far “East” you think you’ve gone, no matter how dark you think your sin is, God’s mysterious grace has come to you. Now move like the Magi, and come pay homage to Christ.

Second, we live into the mystery by our being reconciled with others. Jesus says if making our offering at the altar and there remember estranged brothers or sisters, we are to go and be reconciled with them. (See Matthew 5:24)

Third, we are always and actively to welcome the “Other,” no matter how we define that Other. Throughout our history to the present day, we have defined “Others.” For the Jews of Jesus’ day, the Others were Gentiles.

We can be reconciled with God, and with one another, and hopeful for all “Other” people, when we are grateful recipients of grace. We are grateful for the mystery that God has done this in our lives, and we can trust God’s initiative to do it in the lives of others.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • Reconciliation is not a onetime occurrence, but an ongoing relationship. Think about the times the mystery of God’s reconciling grace has appeared to you (“Epiphany” means “appearance”). Have you made corresponding Magi movements to fully experience reconciliation with God?
  • Ephesians 1-4 teaches that reconciliation was God’s original plan. So it is actually a return to our nature as God intended it. We can live into the mystery of reconciliation because we were created to do it, and we are destined to do it, and God is with us in doing it. What are some concrete ways you can manifest (another word related to “Epiphany”) reconciliation in your life?
  • Who are the “Others” in the church today? Who is an “Other” in your own life? Do you believe God’s grace does not include some people? Who are they?

 

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