Other sermons in this series
Here we all are this morning… church. And I wonder why.
I wonder why we’re not still in bed. Sleeping in.
I wonder why we’re not home watching TV.
I wonder why we’re not at Valentina’s cafe just round the corner, where I hear they do a wonderful Sunday brunch.
I wonder why you’re not washing the car. Or walking your dog. Or visiting family. Or playing golf. I wonder why you’re not with the kids at Sunday sport. Or at Bunnings?
Maybe you’re just here churching today because there’s nothing much better to do?
I was talking to a young guy years ago, I still remember his words. He was telling me about the church he was part of that met every second Sunday. He said, alternate weeks, we go somewhere else. Look around. Try out other churches.
I said, but what if everyone does that and they decide not to come back?
And he said, that happens all the time. Doesn’t matter. He said, “It’s only church.”
I wonder if for you, you’re comfortable with the way those words run together. Only. Church. I wonder if for you, meeting as a church is only an afterthought. That fits in around anything else that’s on.
Because if you’re comfortable with the words “it’s only church,” I want to invite you to take a closer look with me at Ephesians chapter 3. Where you’ll notice the key word church is mentioned not once but twice. First in verse 10 – and then again at the end of the chapter in verse 21. Did you see it?
The word church in the original Greek is Ekklesia and it very literally a gathering; it’s not a religious word at all; it’s a functional word. A get together. The first Christians grabbed it as the most defining word of what they are; as the gathering of the people of God. As we saw in chapter 1 and 2, from an incredible range of backgrounds.
But in an age where if you happen to feel like a sermon you can listen to the world’s best preachers online whenever you want; and if you do for some reason want some community there’s always Facebook. I mean, actually gathering, it’s so inconvenient, isn’t it?
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
And in a world that offers so many other options on a Sunday morning, and they maybe seem so much more promising in terms of networking and of fun and of fitness and friendship; options that seem to hold out the promise of such good times and good coffee. You’d have to be really persuaded, wouldn’t you, of what we saw back in chapter 1 and 2. That we’re in a world of no hope. In a world that’s dead in sin. No matter what race you were born into. Everyone just pursuing whatever they most feel like. And hurtling towards death. Until God gathered us into his church.
Which is why Paul says church. Is God’s signpost of hope for the world. And in terms of our question, who do you think you are, it’s meant to be fundamental to our sense of identity; the starting point. That we’re first and foremost part of God’s great gathering.
Notice his wording. First in verse 10. That through the church, says Paul, the manifold wisdom of God… might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Manifold meaning not the spare part for your car. But literally in the Greek, multi coloured. The church is God’s neon sign to the universe. The church… is the public advertisement of the wisdom of God.
Or is meant to be.
Did you see the bishop of Newcastle on the ABC’s 7:30 program last week?
Because if you didn’t see it, the Bishop of Newcastle was sharing the way he himself had been sexually abused by a previous bishop, years ago as an altar boy. In a way that profoundly damaged him. He spoke with tears in his eyes.
Now he’s bishop himself. And he’s determined that the sleazy secrets of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle are going to be rooted out.
And instead of giving up; giving up on his faith. As many have. He’s gone ahead. With a huge determination. I emailed him straight afterwards. Or his office at least. And I said, good on you. Please keep at it.
Because it’s tragic for the people affected. And it’s a disaster that when our world sees that stuff, and that there’s been a blind eye turned to it, because it so does the opposite to what Paul’s saying.
Perpetrators defacing; destroying – what’s meant to be God’s display of his glory to the world and beyond the world… through the display of the love and unity of his people. And we’ve just got to relentlessly be reversing that with our integrity and our love for people.
Verse 20 and 21. Take a look down the page. Paul prays God would be glorified in the church. Through all generations. That the church in ways far richer than you could ever ask or think… would bring the world to its knees in admiration. Of the God whose church it is. Follow the wording. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think according to the power at work within us… to him be glory in the church… and in Christ Jesus… throughout all generations, for ever and ever Amen.”
That is, you aren’t doing anything more pressing.
That is, unless you’ve got a better offer.
That is, unless you kind of feel it’s more important to follow your sexual urges in a way that destroys generations of kids.
That is, unless you’re too busy chasing your own personal goals to care about being a church.
That is, unless you’d rather go to Bunnings.
We’re invited into God’s great gathering as the start of renewing the world, we’re called into a new unity across all kinds of boundaries, we’re called to be a living breathing demonstration of how to put the world back together.
And so often we’ve taken it for granted. As we miss the point that gathering together his church is God’s beacon of his glory in the universe.
And while your experience of church might have been disappointment, while your experience of church might be of something slightly boring, while your experience of church might be of relationships that have been less than what they could be… while maybe you’ve even been hurt in the past… can I ask you this morning to catch a glimpse of God’s good intentions. And recommit. And remember the times when you’ve been that and you’ve caught A glimpse of it in all its beauty.
Because the plan is devastatingly simple. And disarmingly beautiful.
Do you notice here in chapter 3, Paul’s language is littered with superlatives. He’s bubbling with adjectives of greatness. And so he’ll talk about in verse 8, the unsearchable riches of Christ. Or the “manifold wisdom” we’ve seen already in verse 10. That many coloured rainbow of God’s wisdom. The glorious riches of the Father. Verse 16. The love of God that surpasses knowledge in verse 19.
And they’re all talking about the same thing. The plan of God… to bring his church together under Christ from all kinds of people… in love.
JEWS AND GENTILES
Think back to what we saw in Ephesians 1 and 2. That the great inheritance, the great promises of God that the people of Israel had, the great hope of the coming king that the Jews held onto for generations… Paul says it’s arrived at last. In the coming of Jesus Christ. Whose blood brings forgiveness of sins. Whose resurrection brings the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
And the surprise is, he says you Gentiles get to share in it. So we saw how Paul talked about us Jewish Christians, who he calls the saints; and you Gentile Christians, sharing the hope. Sharing the inheritance. In all your diversity, he says, you’re all alike together under the death penalty of sin, all alike together being raised up and seated with Christ. Being built together as one dwelling place of God’s spirit. In the church.
Which is exactly the idea that flows into chapter 3. As he says in a nutshell, this is why I‘m praying that you’ll love each other. This is why I’m praying that the church will be a beacon of unity and love.
The logic’s kind of messy, because Paul starts a thought and then diverts. He starts his main thought in verse 1… and then sidetracks to remind them what he’s been saying. For this reason, he says, I Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles… and then the detour. Which doesn’t get back on the main road until verse 14. Where he picks up the thought again. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… and on he goes with his main point. And what he prays for. So we’ve got to kind of hold his train of thought while you travel round the detour.
GOD’S PLANS REVEALED
He’s going to pick up his point at the end of chapter 2 and say, because you Jews and you Gentiles are being built together to be a dwelling God lives in by his Spirit, I’m going to pray that you’ll work that out in practise.
Look, I’m not sure we can get the full impact of this. Although there’s a sense that culturally we’re moving back to a model of a kind of cultural suspicion. I guess it’s still there in Jerusalem; there’s a wall. A huge wall. With soldiers. And security. Between Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. They built it in 1994. A wall between the Jews and the Gentile Palestinians.
Donald trump wants a wall too. To keep out the Mexicans.
Canada wants a wall too. To keep out the Americans.
We say we don’t need a wall. As long as we can stop the boats.
Paul says, in Christ, something incredible’s happened. The walls. Are down.
That’s the theory again. He says, that’s God’s great plan.
It’s also the reason Paul’s in prison. Because to the Jews, it wasn’t something they were keen to hear.
You might sympathise.
But let me just remind you, Paul’s wall breaking mission and message … it’s the only reason Gentiles like you and me… find ourselves with any place in God’s family.
And it’s all because of what Paul calls the mystery that’s no longer a mystery. It’s all because of the plan that’s finally come together.
Run your eye down through verses 2 to 13, you’ll see he makes the same point over and over again. That the plan that wasn’t known before is now clear. That the mystery that wasn’t understood before, is now made known.
Follow it down. Verse 2, I’m assuming you’ve heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me, the way God made me a steward of his message. How the mystery, verse 3, was made known to me by revelation as I’ve written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which wasn’t made known before. But has been now. In the Apostles.
What was a mystery… is now crystal clear.
And my job is to talk about it, says Paul. Verse 7, Of this gospel, of this good news I was made a minister, a servant. To preach to the Gentiles, he says, the unsearchable riches of Christ. And to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.
And what’s the mystery? Spelt out very simply in verse 6. The mystery is this. He says “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Which again sums up exactly what we saw back in chapters 1 and 2.That people like us can join God’s family.
Which to you and me doesn’t seem mysterious at all. Because we kind of just think we deserve to be included. Until we remember that he’s talking about the crossing of the biggest ethnic dividing walls you can imagine. In a way that created instant hostility in the culture Paul was part of.
In Christ, the walls are down. And that works both ways. How are we going modelling that? As our culture gets more and more tense. And hostile. As like aligns with like on the overt things like race and colour and politics. Are you ready to say brother? To say sister? Across those lines? In Christ?
Paul says, The mystery is this. That no matter where you come from, no matter what colour you are, no matter what your ethnic background, when you’ve put your faith in Jesus you’re all part of the same body.
And the church, he says in verse 10 is meant to be the display of that. In full Technicolor love.
GOD’S PLAN IN ACTION
And there’s nothing Paul wants to see more than the Ephesians living out that reality. As he comes back in verse 14 to the thing that he’s most moved to pray.
Here’s where the detour’s finished and he’s back on his main train of thought. Although it’s a long and complicated sentence. That runs all the way from verse 14 to 19.
In the end it breaks down to a simple prayer. A prayer to the father. Who specialises in families. That the Ephesian church might really be a family.
A prayer that God, out of the riches of his glory, might do something amazing in them by his Spirit. A prayer that boils down in verse 17, to this. And remember, he’s talking to a church made up of saints who are Jewish Christians, and you Gentile Christians like us he’s addressing at the moment. And he prays that Jesus may so fill their hearts, that they’ll know what real love looks like.
And that’s the essence of the prayer. I’m praying, says Paul, that you – middle of verse 17 – I’m praying that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend, you Gentiles – together with the Jewish saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
That you’ll somehow comprehend, he says, how inclusive the love of Christ is. How wide. Deep. High. Broad. That the love of Christ encompasses all kinds of people. Do you really get that?
Because our love so often doesn’t. He says I’m praying, that you having been planted in love, will together in the church catch on to how big the love of Jesus is. And so be filled with the fullness of God. That when you catch on to the fact that Jesus loves not just the people like you but the people not like you. You might love that widely as well.
Is it working? Because that’s how the church becomes the great advertisement of God.
Did you see in your growth groups through the week the video of Lewis and Rikki?
There’s an example. If you didn’t see it, watch it when you go home. I’ve put the Web address on your outline. It’s worth a look.
Very. Different. People.
Very united in Christ.
Very. Different. People.
How deep and wide and broad is the love of Jesus.
We’re still so easily tribal in our thinking, aren’t we? Drawing lines. I mean, you could almost do it literally, couldn’t you? Who sits with who, and won’t sit with who else. Which family, which tribe. Which generation. People who’ve been part of the church for 50 years. People who are new. People who vote the other way than you do. People who didn’t go to the right kind of school.
If those lines are still there for you, maybe it’s because you haven’t fully absorbed how big the love of Jesus is.
In the video, Lewis says, “We don’t really have much in common. apart from Christ.” But that’s the point. That if you really catch on to the breadth and depth and height and width of the love of Christ, then you’ve unavoidably started down the path of loving one another. Against the odds. Across the generations. Across congregations. Across cultural dividing lines. In a way that not only astounds the world around us when they see the way we love one another, but amazes the spiritual powers as well.
Imagine that. That heaven looks down on our church and marvels at it. Marvels at the love. As the boundaries the world puts up come down between us. And we understand the sacrificial love of Jesus that took him to the cross and use that as the motive and model to love one another.
So why are you here this morning? And not home mowing the lawn? Why are you here this morning… and not enjoying coffee and toast and the Sunday paper?
You’re here to demonstrate to the universe that alienation and self-centredness and hatred and division don’t have the last word.
You’re here to work together to display that love in real ways to the world. And beyond.
There’s work to do to make the reality measure up to that. But there’s the challenge. Be here week by week and be part of God’s gathering. Be part of it. Because church on a Sunday is just scratching the surface of what church is about. Look for ways to love people. To build bridges to anyone new. Every way you can. Keep looking at the love of Jesus as you see it at the cross, and look for ways to imitate it.
There’s a great reminder at the end of Paul’s prayer that the potential for the church to be what it should be goes way beyond what we even dream of. And that’s what moves me; thinking about our future.
I mean, it’s easy to be discouraged isn’t it? Because we’re so disappointed when we see the public failures of others. And we’re scared. As we see an old priest executed in his church. And we’re intimidated. When we’re publicly accused of hate speech just because we’re in favour of old fashioned marriage.
And on top of that we so easily get lukewarm. Just because we’re busy with other stuff.
It’s the perfect storm.
WHO ARE YOU
So who are you?
That’s the question we’re asking through this series. How do you define yourself. How do you think of yourself in the deepest core of your being?
If “loved and forgiven member of God’s church” isn’t right on the tip of your tongue over and above a member of the garden club or New Zealander or broncos supporter, I want to encourage you to lift your eyes and hearts a little higher.
Because who you are is that you’re a fundamental building block of something incredible. That’s being built together by God from all kinds of people as the most important family in the world, all under the one Lord Jesus Christ.