Sunday, January 03, 2010

Destined to be God's Heirs -- A sermon

Ephesians 1:3-14

    The Christmas season is drawing to a close.  In fact, we will take down the Christmas decorations after the service, even though technically the season of Christmas doesn’t end until Tuesday.  By my count, this is the tenth day of Christmas, and so my true love should give me “ten lords a leaping.”  Now, I don’t know what I would do with them, should Cheryl decide to give me this gift, but, according to the song, that’s what’s on tap for today! 

    While the decorations and the celebrations of the Christmas season are wonderful, a new year has begun, and so it’s time to get on with the journey.  That is the message of the song we will close worship with this morning, that great song of Epiphany:
    O star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright,
    Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light. 
                            (John Hopkins, Chalice Hymnal 172)

As we begin this new year, heading toward God’s perfect light, we don’t yet know what we’ll encounter along the way.  In spite of the unknowns that lie before us, the journey has begun.

  One of the questions that seems to continually confront us as we journey through life, has to do with life’s meaning and purpose.  This has become an increasingly vexing question, now that evolutionary biology has offered us a convincing description of how we came to be.  It’s a question that gets asked in many different ways and forms – including in the world of film.   Think for a moment about the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life or another classic – A Christmas Carol.  It appears as well, in one of this seasons most recent releases –  George Clooney’s Up in the Air.  In this new movie the focus is on whether or not there is life beyond our jobs.  In this movie, Clooney plays a man, whose job it is to travel around the country firing people.  While it’s his job to inform people that their company no longer requires their services, he faces the prospect that his job is about to change drastically.  Being a person whose “home” is the airport and the hotel, he finds it difficult to envision the settled life.  As he contemplated his future, he struggled with the question of life’s meaning and purpose.  

1.  What is my destiny?

    Another movie, one that is quite famous, asks the question: What is your destiny?  We hear Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that it was his destiny to join him in following the emperor.  Luke, however, embraced a different sense of destiny, and in doing so, he redeemed his father, Anakin Skywalker, who had become lost in the persona of Darth Vader.  This conversation raises the question – is our destiny fixed or not?  Do we have a choice or are the cards stacked against us?

 When we consider the question of our destiny, our reasons for asking the question may be different from one person to the next:   If we’re young, we may frame the question differently than if we’re older.  No matter where we start, the question of our destiny is raised in this morning’s text from the opening verses of Ephesians.    While there’s some question as to the identity of our letter’s author – it might or might not be St. Paul – it offers an answer to the question of life’s meaning and purpose, and it does so in the form of a rather lengthy benediction that comes at the beginning rather than at the end of the letter.

        In answering the question, our author declares that the God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, has also chosen us, from before the beginning of time, to be heirs of the kingdom.  Yes, from the moment of creation, God destined us for adoption, so that through Christ, and by God’s grace, we shall be God’s children.  It would appear, from this text, that our destiny is determined by our family connections.  It’s like that Smuckers ad, where a little boy asks his older brother why he never gets asked what he wants to be when he grows up. The older and wiser brother points out that he’s a Smucker, and that means his future is already decided.  Why would he do anything except work for Smuckers?

    So, the question of the day, as we look into the future is: Who am I?  In answering this question I can safely say that I’m not a Smucker, but I can also say, that I am a child of God. That is, my destiny.     
2.  Is it God’s choice or my choice?    

    I expect that even though this text makes the case very powerfully, it can still be a bit disturbing.  This is true even though recent surveys suggest that 60% of Americans, including a whole lot of church goers, believe in astrology, which assumes that the stars and planets determine our life paths.  For some reason, we don’t mind letting the impersonal nature of the planets determine our life path, but many have a problem with a God who determines our life paths.  So, even if the destiny is a positive one, we would like a say in the matter!  After all, just because I’m a Smucker, doesn’t mean that I want to work for Smuckers!

    It’s easy to get caught up in the word “destined.”  Even the word “chosen” could be a bit disconcerting.  That’s because we tend to hear in this passage the word predestined.  But, maybe this passage would make more sense to us if we moved from a focus on our individual life stories, and heard the message in a more corporate way.  That is, instead of saying that the course of our lives is predetermined, the text offers us, as children of God, a word of assurance.  If we can hear the text in this way, then what we might discover is a set of three promises.  As Rollin Rasmarrin puts it, our author wants to assure us that God is good, that God is faithful, and that God will “reorder the cosmos with righteousness and peace through the kingly rule of Christ.”1    
3.  Blessed to be a Blessing

    The good news is this: We are children of the living God, and therefore, we can walk into the future confident that the God who has chosen us in Christ to be God’s children, is good, faithful, and is currently at work transforming the world in which we live.

    There is another text that gives us a similar word of assurance.  This one comes most assuredly from Paul, and it says quite powerfully that:
    [N]either death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39NRSV).

This is what it means to be chosen by God to be God’s heir.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and this promise has been sealed in us through the mark of the Holy Spirit, which I take to have occurred in our baptisms.

    And what shall we do with this legacy?    Well, we can start with worship, giving thanks that God has chosen us in Christ, so that we might live our lives full of hope and purpose.  This sense of hope is, Jürgen Moltmann writes, “based once and for all on the remembrance of Christ.”  He goes on to say:
    If the crucified Christ, on the foundation of his resurrection, has a future with God, then this means, conversely, that everything that is said about Christ says not only who he was and who he is, but must also say who he will be. . . . But in the promises of the gospel and the awakened hope of believers, his coming already acts, conversely, on the present, and makes believers ready to open themselves for his future.2

In our worship we declare ourselves ready to embrace God’s future with a song of praise – maybe even a stanza of the Hallelujah Chorus.
    And as we break out in songs of praise, let us remember also that the God who has called us children of God, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.  And if we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, which includes all those spiritual gifts that get named in Romans, in the first Corinthian letter, and here in Ephesians, then our destiny is this – we have been blessed so that we might be a blessing to the world of God’s creation.   Over the course of 2010, I expect that we will discern new ways of being a blessing. 

    And as we rejoice in the blessings of being an heir with Christ of God’s blessings, it is important that we receive these blessings with due humility, taking as our guide the attitude of Jesus,  who though he was in the form of God, chose to empty himself of his glory and  become a human being, humbling himself to the point of dying on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).   With this sense of purpose and calling as our guide, may the year 2010 be a fruitful season of ministry for all God’s children.      

1.  Rollin Rasmarrin, “Ephesians 1:3-14," in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Edited by Barbara Brown Taylor and David Bartlett, (Louisville: WJK, 2009), 1:187. 

2.  Jürgen Moltmann, In the End – The beginning: The life of hope.  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), pp. 88-89.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
2nd Sunday after Christmas
January 3, 2010

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