Sunday, September 17, 2017

17 September 2017

Ephesians 6:10-20
17 September 2017


This afternoon, I head to Portland for the fall installment of my twice-yearly Bowen Family Systems Theory continuing education event.  This event – called Leadership in Ministry – is all about building the life-posture of leadership.   Which means … in the face of constant and chronic anxiety in the systems in which we live … family, school, work, church … in the face of that anxiety, Family Systems Theory helps us practice the Jesus-patterned skills of differentiation:

Self-regulation (otherwise known as non-anxious presence); this is that Rudyard Kipling “If” skill, that shows itself in “keeping one’s head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you;”
Self-definition – being clear about where you stand, with one’s thoughts, values and goals; not having a failure of nerve but remaining committed and defined;
Connectedness – remaining in relationship even and especially with those whose anxiety plays out in sabotage against your leadership, not cutting off or detaching.

You will recall that last week I shared that one of our founders of Family Systems Theory work, Rabbi Edwin Friedman (who died in 1996), saw the current state of the world around us as a “societal regression.”  Recall also that he called out three times in particular as “societal regressions:”

·      The middle ages of the late 15th century, the time of plague and pestilence, feudal states, and a tyrannical church … when life was brutish and short … a time which ended in the Reformation and the long European wars.
·      The 1920s and 30s in Germany, Japan and Italy … accompanied by the rise of fascism, and the Second World War.
·      And the United States after WW2 – with a distinct ramping up after 1980 and a spiking after 2008, which we are living in and through right here, right now.

So after last week’s message, someone came to me and asked, “Those examples you cited of societal regression … the first two ended in huge wars which changed humanity forever.  What do you think about the third?  Are we headed for war now?”
Honestly, I don’t know.  I wonder if, the way we appear to be headed these days, in what anyone who pays any attention to what’s going on around them, would have to say, is a terribly divided nation … a way I see working its way out, could be some kind of a civil war.  And certainly the war drums between our country and others … North Korea in particular … get louder and louder by the week.
The chronic anxiety in our country is getting intense.  Listen to Rabbi Friedman’s expanded description of societal regression:

·      Reactivity (intense unthinking emotional reactions of individuals and /or groups to events and to one another) – with rising tribalism;
·      Herding (a process through which the forces of togetherness triumph over the forces of individuality and differentiation and move everyone to adapt to the least mature members) – again, showing itself in tribalism, where leaders – in families, organizations, nations – are chosen who are the least fit for the office;
·      Blame displacement (in which members focus on blaming others (who are different from them)), and take on a victim mentality, rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny)
·      A quick-fix mentality (developing a low threshold for pain, an inability for disciplined and purposeful actions, and thus seeking symptom relief rather than fundamental change)
·      A lack of well differentiated persons in leadership positions, leading to a failure of nerve in leaders that both stems from and contributes to the first four characteristics.

What this looks like in organizations – families, churches, nations – is that humor disappears, along with playfulness and curiosity, replaced by a sense in which everything appears dire, and the repertoire of responses to problems shrinks, and shrinks, and shrinks, down to the base animal instinct of “fight or flight.”
Make no mistake … throughout history, it has been the differentiated who have led humanity through and out of these times of societal regression … through leadership … of which, Family Systems Theory states, is really, an incarnate, in the flesh, living out, of Paul’s words in Ephesians, words we’ve heard here every week during our exploration of this letter:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Leadership – is reflecting God’s gift of grace, in and through differentiated, regulated, defined, connected lives – into the world.
And so as we move into these concluding verses of Ephesians today, we see, and hear, and receive, this word of grace, for our lives, for any time, but most especially, in the midst of these anxious, anxious times.
Although, as our text begins, I am sure that some, perhaps many of you, were, are, skeptical.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

The first thing we run into – headlong- in this text – is two words, one word which in English includes the other … ones which, enlightened, post-Enlightenment, post-modern people, most likely dismiss as some kind of quaint, pre-modern throwback to people who needed to create an opposite, a demi-urge to explain away their own anxiety … but which, who, doesn’t really exist, does he?
The devil.  Evil, in some kind of sentient, bodily form.
Oh, but pastor Bob, you don’t mean to tell us that you actually believe in Satan, do you?
Well, if you mean the red-suited, John Lovitz character from 1980s “Saturday Night Live,” or even earlier, from the 1960s, the one Flip Wilson always referred to when he said “The Devil made me do it” … no … I think that’s just silly.
But what about the devil of the Scriptures?
Here’s a quote from a recent article that points out the “credibility gap” problem, when it comes to Scripture passages such as this one we have before us today:

Polls suggest a large number of Americans don't believe the devil exists. A Barna survey reported that nearly 60 percent of Christians in America view the devil as only a symbol of evil. Only one quarter of participants strongly affirmed the devil's personal existence, though this figure more than doubles among "born again" Christians.

People before the time of the Enlightenment knew the Devil as not just a symbol but an incarnation of evil.  Luther spoke of knowing the Devil well:

I am of a different mind ten times in the course of a day. But I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away. When he tempts me with silly sins I say, “Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?”

But with the Enlightenment, post-enlightenment, modern, post-modern, technological solutions and explanations for seemingly everything … well, as we just heard, the Devil’s personal credibility has hit hard times. 
So, here, we could get into a long and winding road of an excursus, in and out of the text, about the development of the theology of the Devil … from the one simply called “the accuser” in the book of Job … ha satan … to a more personalized character in the Gospels … to today, when people use the term Devil to name and identify those who are different from them, physically, intellectually, politically, theologically – DEMONIZING them.
But we will not go there today … for many reasons, time being one of them, but also, because the text doesn’t go there, to either increase or suspend belief in One Single Solitary Prince of Darkness.
In the text, “the struggle” is said to be against not “enemies of blood and flesh,” but

against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Now, that, we most certainly know.  Evil in the world, its effects and wake.  The biggies:  Murders.  Molestations.  Terrorism.  Racial conflicts.  Mass shootings.  Sabre rattling threats of war.  But also, these:  Poverty.  Pollution.  Cancer. 
In other words, whatever blocks, whatever prevents the good and gracious will of God.   That’s a good definition of evil.  And what we should be standing against.  What we should be fighting, right?
Ah, but look at how we are called to fight “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
With defensive weapons.  With defensive weapons.

The whole armor of God
The belt of truth
The breastplate of righteousness
Feet coverings to aid proclamation of the Gospel of Peace
The shield of faith
The helmet of salvation

Everything’s defensive.  It’s as if we are to turn that old saying on its head, and instead say, “the best offense is a good defense.”
The Christian faith, quite plainly, is not to be used to be on the attack. 
Let’s say that one more time, because so many need to hear it:  This (cross) (Bible) is not a weapon.
Now, there is one offensive tool, here, yes, but note clearly what it is, and is not:

Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

OK.  But how are we to use this Word?
 
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.

Prayer is the only offensive that Jesus-followers are given.  Everything else … all of those other things … armor, belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet … those are all for our defense and the defense of the Word that we are called to bear into the world.
Prayer is our only offensive weapon.  The Bible is not a weapon to use against those we would demonize.  The Cross is not a weapon to “force” a faith, a piety, upon others.  Prayer is our only offensive weapon.
We are called to pray, and pray, and pray … to pray at all times for “the saints,” our brothers and sisters, those who have heard and seen and received the Word, through others, through us.  To pray for those who, like Paul, are called to give their whole lives to the proclamation of the Gospel … so bishops, pastors, deacons, missionaries. 
As for myself, I thank you for your prayers.  Thank you.  I can feel them.  I can.  There’s no way I can live out this calling without them.  It is, simply, too difficult for me to be on my own.
But more.  We are called to pray for “the saints.”  Literally, these are our brothers and sisters in the faith.  And our prayers are supplications … simply, thanking God for them, and asking and reminding God … of God’s promises for God’s people ... to be with them, to be with us, and provide them, and us, with these defensive gifts which Paul cites here.  Gifts to help them, and us, live in faith and hope and trust in this world of societal regressions and chronic anxiety … and not just survive, but give us HOPE … hope to awaken each day in trust and joy that we are, together, of the family of this God who gives us the great good news that God so loves the world that God gives the only Son into, for, the sake of the whole world, the creation and the created, us … so that we would not perish of the evils that surround us, but that we would strive and survive through them, and not just survive, but LIVE … and not just for the world to come, but the world that is, right here, right now …
… and in that HOPE we will go out and go forth into God’s world … as REACHOUTCHURCH … not worried about our future, will we be enough, will we have enough, can we do enough … no … we will go out and risk and try, wearing the full armor of God … put on here at this font and here at this table and here in this assembly as we gather and are filled with God’s Word … to go out and live and serve where we will find God is living and active in the world, and just waiting for us to follow the call and come alongside.
This is our Word – God’s Word, for us.  This is our calling, and this is our hope.
Friends, We. Have. Work. To. Do.  Much. Work.  No matter your age, your physical condition, you have a calling from God.
Is there, could there be anything more exciting?  More rewarding?  More joyful?
We. Have. Work. To. Do.

Let’s get to it!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

10 September 2017

Ephesians 4:1-16
10 September 2017


Today is our third week of four in this study of the letter to the Ephesians … and, as in the past two weeks, we continue to find strong points of connection in its words to us, in our place and time, right here, right now.
My Bible labels this section of 17 verses “an appeal to unity amid diversity.” 
As Lutheran Christians, this reminds us – so very strongly – of words which cite these very verses of Ephesians … written about 1500 years after Ephesians, in one of our central confessional documents, the Augsburg Confession – its 7th article:

It is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.  It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere.  As Paul says, “One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all …”

Meaning, simply, that we Lutheran Christians confess, say we believe, that we don’t all have to be “we think alike, we act alike, we walk and talk alike, we do alike” to be one.  At least, that’s what our Confessions say we believe.
It is one of the first lessons we learn as children … or, again, at least, we are taught it.  We don’t have to be totally identical in every way, to be “right,” to be “one.”  We can express ourselves differently, in work, in play, so long as we stay “within the lines” of not causing harm to another.
This is my favorite part of Lutheran theology.  I am Lutheran by choice, not “by birth and baptism,” and this is one of the reasons I stay Lutheran.  Freedom and diversity.
I remember back in first grade, when we were being taught cursive script with the Palmer method … remember that … those long green charts which circled our classrooms, with directions on how to make each letter perfectly alike … and the twerpy kid next to me, seeing that I was not holding my pencil to make each letter in that green-carded way, tattled to my teacher … who took me to task for “not following directions.”  To which I dutifully apologized … and when she left … I went right back to making the letters the way I best could made the letters look like they were supposed to look.  The outcome was the same, after all!
Or maybe I’m just stubborn.  Well, that’s a Lutheran trait, too.
Ah, but stubbornness is not what this is supposed to be about, either Augsburg 7 or these scriptures.
So let’s take a closer look.
There’s a fairly clean three-part division to the text.
Verses 1-6 have to do with Unity.
Verses 7-13, are about Diversity.
And Verses 14-16 conclude the text with a word about Maturity.
First, unity.
Remember that Paul is writing this letter to the Ephesian church, a faith community made up of both Jewish Jesus-followers – people who had heard Paul speak in the synagogue and through his speaking, heard the call to follow Jesus as fully part of their Jewish faith … but also Gentiles … non-Jewish people of Ephesus who had set aside their worship of the local and Greek gods (in Ephesus, not an easy task, since the Temple of the goddess Artemis was located there, one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World, a place to where people from all over the world flocked) … but again, the infant Church at Ephesus had these two diverse backgrounds.
Remember, too, that Paul and Peter and the Jerusalem church had had “no small conflict” over what was necessary to be a Jesus-follower.  Peter and the Jerusalem church were saying, Jesus-followers needed to become Jews first, men needed to be circumcised, and all needed to follow the Jewish dietary laws and holy day observances.  But Paul said, no, all that is necessary is faith … not works … as he so eloquently states in Ephesians 3:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Now, here, in today’s text, Paul reiterates where the One-ness of the Church is found:

There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

For those of you who have studied a language other than English … you will remember that in many other languages, there are “masculine” words and “feminine” words and “neuter” words.  Russian – my sort of second language – is like that.  ON is he – masculine … ONA is she – feminine … and ONO is neuter case. 
And different words have different cases … I don’t know why, they just do ... like volos … hair … is masculine case … ploshad … square … is feminine … krasnaya ploshad, Red Square … and mesto, place … is neuter … thus, yevo mesto … his place, his is neuter case because it ends in an o … well, anyway, you get the idea, I hope.
Here in the Greek, that sense of all-inclusion shows itself in verse 5:

eis kurios, mia pistis, en baptisma

ONE (male case word) Lord … ONE (feminine case word) faith … ONE (neuter case word) Baptism.
So what’s important here … is that Paul says the ONENESS of Lord … Faith … Baptism … encompasses all the living, human, animal, cases of being … just putting in another way what he says in Galatians …

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The oneness of Christ … faith … baptism … this is what creates Unity among the believers … not circumcision, or diet, or religious observance.
And then, as we move to the second point, Diversity, now we hear how there are different ways of expressing that unity.
Now, the list of vocations that Paul puts forth …

Apostle … prophet … evangelist … pastor … teacher

… these may sound like he is only talking about people like me, those who are up here every week.
And there is a sense of that … now … as the church has grown and changed over the centuries.  Lutherans talk about “good order” and how we have ordained people “for good order in the church” … it simply wouldn’t practically work to have everyone standing up here leading worship … and, too, there is a sense in which ordained ministers must professionally function with all of these gift-states in some form.  Though, from life experience, I know that many – perhaps most – congregations – would be perfectly happy if their pastor simply functioned only as a pastor (the Greek word here means shepherd) and wasn’t ever prophetic.
Ah, but I digress.
So let’s look at what these words, terms that Paul uses here – what they mean.
An apostle – as we heard two weeks ago, at the beginning of this letter and the beginning of our series, an apostle is simply one called and sent with a mission.  In the faith-sense of this word, these are the church-starters, the community-organizers-in-the-cause-of-faith-being-lived-out-in-the-community-called-the-church.  Whew!  A big phrase.  And a big job.
Prophets – are those who speak God’s truth, publicly, without apology, most usually around issues of justice. 
Evangelists – and here, the word in Greek couldn’t be more clear, literally, these are the “Good News-ists,” these people are the “Good News speakers.”
Pastors – as I said earlier, the word is literally “shepherds,” as in, “of a flock.” 
And teachers – that’s self-explanatory.
Now, yes, there is a sense that this section is for the ordained, and indeed, these verses are most often read and heard at pastoral ordinations and installations … including mine, here at Faith several years ago. 
But in another sense - these words are for all Jesus-followers.  In Paul’s time, the office of ordained ministry – and the structure of the church we have now, with bishops and pastors and deacons, well, it simply didn’t exist.  So these words had to apply to everyone who followed Jesus. Even if they weren’t actually written by Paul, but one of his later followers … it’s still very early on in the life of the church, long before the structure that exists today was fully in place.
So ALL … ALL are called to some kind of ministry – and each, all are gifted for SOMETHING to do … something to do … WHICH WILL BE DIFFERENT FOR EACH ONE WHO IS GIFTED … and note the reason why:

To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Gifts are for being shared, into the world.  And we, we have an abundance in God’s grace, as we’ve heard earlier in Ephesians.  Created in God’s image, everyone is gifted; together, we have what we need, all we need, to share God’s Word into the world.
So how do you find out how you are gifted?   It begins here, at this one table, gathered around the one water, hearing the one word, experiencing the one call of God together.  And then, being sent … to experiment.  To try different things.  To learn from others, in conversation. 
Through all these we grow, we mature, in faith.
Which brings us to the final verses of our text.

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ …

These are some of the toughest verses in Scripture, because they are so hard for us to do.
The literal Greek makes them even tougher … especially that first half:

We should no longer be infants, tossed by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching, by the cunning of humans, with craftiness leading to the scheming of deception …

This is all about ANXIETY … the anxiety of the world, the anxiety of those who live in the world, the anxiety which those who are anxious themselves so like and wish and will upon others.  We laugh at such terms as “misery loves company” but it’s true, especially with anxiety … those who are anxious seem to like nothing better than to share and increase the spread of their anxiety.
But maturity is different.  Maturity … as reflected in the person and character of Jesus Christ … means being differentiated.  Having gifts to deploy and goals in life to work toward … and being a non-anxious presence in the midst of the anxiety that swirls around us.
Do you remember that old poem by Rudyard Kipling, which used to appear on so many graduation cards:

If you can keep your head when all about you  
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you …
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

That’s differentiation. 
You may know that I’ve been doing a lot of work in Family Systems Theory … a theory for life, which can show itself in and be quite helpful for pastoral leadership … which is all about practicing the skill of differentiation.
Especially these days, in the world, in the church, this is most important.
Hear these words of Rabbi Edwin Friedman, one of the founding workers in Family Systems Theory, about the state of the world he saw us in (Rabbi Friedman died in 1996) … which, if anything, has increased and become more exacerbated today. He called it societal regression:

The focus (of life) shifts toward pathology rather than strength; safety becomes more important than adventure, adaptation is toward the dependent (the weaker members) and empathy becomes more important than responsibility.

Thus we have polarized and totalistic (black and white, either / or) thinking, reaction rather than thoughtful action, deadly seriousness and little playfulness, endless searches for “the quick fix” which will take away the pain … a focus on rights rather than responsibilities, peace over progress, and scapegoating … and the organization … society, church, nation … is organized around dysfunction rather than function, and letting the weakest, most immature members “run the show.”  And anyone who challenges this anxiety-driven tribalism and reactivity will be sabotaged.
Sound familiar? 
It should.  We live this every day, here, in the good old USA.  In Friedman’s view, there have been three great societal regressions:  late 15th century medieval Europe (the time of the Black Death and feudalism, right before the Reformation and the great European wars) … in post-Great Depression Germany, Italy, and Japan, leading up to the fascism that started World War 2 … and, yes, the US since the end of the Second World War, with a ramping up after 1980 and a spiking after 2008. 
These are anxious, anxious times.  Some days you can just breathe the fear and anxiety around you.
And the differentiated … attacked, sabotaged though they are and will be … but continuing to be a non-anxious presence, like Christ, staying in relationship even with those who considered themselves his enemies, not cutting them off but also not caving in to them … the differentiated will lead us through this.
Or, in Paul’s words:

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and kit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

No one ever said faith would be easy.  Sometimes, many times, it will come with a cross for us to take up. 
But always, always, it begins with the One … one Lord, one faith, one baptism … around this one table, fed on the one bread and one cup, we who come from many different backgrounds and places ARE ONE, in and through the Christ who calls us together and makes us so, in him … so that we can go back out into this world of anxiety and fear, and speak and live the One Word that will calm the waves and wind, that will challenge and cut through the cunning and craftiness and deception, with the authentic love of the One who stands behind it and with us … who lived and served and died and rose so that it could, and would, and does, flow through us … our hands, our hearts, our voices, many and different and diverse, but all, empowered through him, in the one Spirit … so that we can and will go forth to experiment, to risk, to try … sometimes, to fail, always to learn and grow, keep growing, into him who is the One who is above all and through all and in all.
So once again, yes, say it with me …
We. Have. Work. To. Do.
So let’s get to it!





Sunday, September 3, 2017

3 September 2017

Ephesians 2:11-22
3 September 2017


Today we continue in our four week series on the New Testament book of Ephesians.
As we heard last week, this is a letter written by the apostle Paul (perhaps) or one of his students or followers (perhaps) – around the end of the first century of this era.  The “perhaps” refers to how we can’t be positive about Ephesians’ authorship, because of how this letter does and doesn’t fit into the rest of the canon of Paul’s correspondence.  (For our purposes, though, we will refer to the author of Ephesians as “Paul.”)
Ephesus, you may recall, is a place, an ancient city in what’s now Turkey, but a Greek city at that time, one where Paul spent some time evangelizing and helping found a church. 
Ephesus was the site of the ancient Temple of Artemis, so there was a substantial religious presence about that Greek god there, increased because Ephesus was also a seaport and visitors came there from all over the ancient world.  There was also a synagogue and a Jewish community.
In last week’s message, we looked at chapter 1 of Ephesians, and Paul’s introduction – and invitation – into the life of being apostle-people … called by God and sent with a mission … each, all of us … to share the story, the work, the love, the service, of following Jesus the Christ.  For the sake of the world.
Now, today, we have a text that is all about the two different origins of the Jesus-followers in the church in Ephesus … those Jews who considered Jesus to be the right “next step” in faith … and the Gentiles who had heard the call to follow Jesus.
Earlier this year – in late May and early June - we spent some time reading from the book of Galatians – another letter of Paul’s, this one, about the difficulty Paul encountered as he moved between the predominantly Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem, and the Gentile or non-Jewish Christian churches he was founding throughout Asia.  The problem was that the Jewish Christians were insisting that the Gentile male Christians be made fully Jews first, before they became Christians … and that meant their being circumcised.  There were also discussions (and arguments) over diet and religious observances. You may remember how Paul addressed this in Galatians … how he pointed out the hypocrisy of Peter, who, at first, had followed the call of Jesus, to move toward the Gentiles in love, to set aside the dietary restrictions and live in closer fellowship with those who were not Jews, but who were eager to hear the word and the Way of Jesus Christ.  But then Peter changed his actions.  He started insisting on more rules and regulations for the Gentile believers … and Paul, seeing this hypocrisy, lit into Peter:

I said to (Peter) before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

And the rest of that letter to the Galatian Christians is about the place of the Law and the new unity that comes to both Gentile and Jewish Christians, in Jesus:

The law was our custodian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

And so, with that background, we are ready to receive our text for today.  Almost.
Because just prior to this, there’s a verse we didn’t hear today, but it’s one, as Lutheran Christians, we ought to have ringing in our ears every day.  These are the words which are “Martin Luther’s great discovery” in the Scriptures, the clarion call of the Reformation:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

This is the ‘set-up,’ if you will, for what we receive today.

For (Jesus) - he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

Whoa.  That’s just two sentences.
But those two sentences pack a lot … and are the heart of our reading today.
Let’s take a closer look.
First, let’s look at that second sentence, the one which starts out with

He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances …

Now, this sounds different than what Paul says in Galatians.  It’s stronger language.  As if the Law was … blown up, destroyed … when Jesus came.
But … doesn’t Jesus say something which is the opposite of this?
In Matthew 5:17 –

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

So how can Paul say that Jesus has abolished the law?
Well, what we have here is a failure to translate.
This is why Lutherans send their pastors to theological seminary to learn Greek and Hebrew, the primary languages of the Scriptures.  Because Martin Luther insisted on this primary knowledge, to know the Scriptures well, to be able to proclaim them faithfully.
And here, the Greek is clear where the English is not.
This is, literally, what Paul is saying here, about what Jesus has done:

The law of the commandments in dogma having annulled …

Which is very different from our English translation.
What it means, is that Jesus has taken away in his body, on the cross, the human dogmatic interpretations and interpolations of Scripture that The Religious have, through the centuries, laid upon and burdened believers.  That unbearable yoke of “precept upon precept, precept upon precept” which twists the life-giving gift of Torah … the Word, the Way of following God … which we receive in descriptive commandments, “As God’s people, this is the way we live;” these, which The Religious turned into self-justifying “Thou Shalt Nots.” And we still see it today, in dogmatic religion that strangles life and leads to death … death of relationships between people … despair and death of those unable to live up to their whipped-up demands … these doctrines and dogmas and statements … these words which the religious continue to put up and spew out to justify themselves, one over another … yes, these are abolished, through Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross, and his resurrection from the dead.
In other words,

I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it … complete it … perfect it.

So Paul’s words in Ephesians don’t contradict Jesus.  Not at all.
What they do, is expand Jesus’ words.
By moving the conversation to … a wall.
That’s right.  A wall.
And once again, the Greek helps us understand.
The sense of the Greek language which Paul uses here is this … pay close attention, because this is at the heart of his argument … the “dividing wall” is literally, a middle wall.  In construction terms, this is a non-load bearing wall; it’s a separating wall, which was put up later than the outside, load bearing wall or walls of the structure.
You know that I came here from Nativity Lutheran in Renton, now, almost four years ago.  What many of you don’t know is that Nativity is a round church.  Like most round structures, the only load bearing wall is the outside one … which is supported by a ring, from above, holding the roof and outer wall up by tension.  It’s an incredibly sound structure … one which will remain standing through “the big one” earthquake, when other traditional structures will likely fail. 
The inner walls at Nativity are all non-load bearing.  They were put up later to divide the space up into smaller, more humanly manageable units.  But for the sake of the integrity of the structure, they are unnecessary.  And they often … in their supposed “permanence,” get in the way.
This is the way, I believe, Paul wants us to think about this passage.  In creation, God put up the outer, load bearing wall – which is the circle which defines “humanity, made in God’s image, male and female God created them,” in the words of Genesis.
The “middle wall,” we, humans, put up later, to divide. 
And what’s that middle wall do?  What are the divisions we make with it? 
Paul points out one, right here, today:  Jew vs. Gentile.
But there are more.
How about, Christian vs. “other” … Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, “None of the Above.”
White vs. black.
Male vs. female.
Child vs. adult.
“Contemporary” vs. “traditional.”
Protestant vs. Catholic.
Rich vs. poor.
Old vs. young.
“Straight” vs. gay.
Native vs. immigrant.
You see, Paul is very clear here … that “middle wall” was, is NOT put up by God … WE humans put that wall up.  And it is ugly, and non load bearing, meaning, it is unnecessary, it is superfluous to the integrity of the structure. 
Because God made the structure perfect already, as ONE.
So Paul says, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL, people of God.  Because, in Jesus, it is torn down already.
Or, in Paul’s further words,

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

In Christ Jesus, there is no room for “middle walls,” separating people from people.  In Christ Jesus, all are one in him.  There is no room for these “middle walls” to be spoken of or seen anymore … so tear them down … tear them down … and live as one, because in Christ Jesus, WE ARE ONE …
One through baptism …
One in our eating and drinking at this table …
And one in our serving … as we are all, called, gathered, fed and strengthened, and then sent into God’s world.  We have every spiritual blessing; together, we have what we need, to be ReachOutChurch, to live fully and fully live, with that wall between US and THEM torn down forever; there is no more US and THEM, just US, no longer strangers and aliens but friends, brothers and sisters, children of God, called to fully live, to live fully as we are created, sent to live in the fullness and wholeness and integrity of following Jesus, and living in him … not for our own sake, but for the sake of the world. 
In a world filled with walls … and more going up every day … this is a revolutionary, life-changing, life-giving message.
Walls … bring death. 
Christ … brings life. 
Friends, we have work, much work to do.
So, again, Lets. Get. To. It.





Sunday, August 27, 2017

27 August 2017

Ephesians 1:1-14
27 August 2017


Our final summer worship series is as we began the summer, with a focus on a single book of the Bible.  For the next four weeks we’ll be sojourning in the New Testament letter to the Ephesians.
And, as we started the summer Psalms, with an introduction to that book, so we shall start this series as well.
The Letter to the Ephesians … otherwise known as an Epistle, attributed to the apostle Paul, it appears in the New Testament canon between Galatians and Philippians. 
It is a letter.  Its form is most certainly that, we get that from the opening verses:

Paul, an apostle … to the saints who are in Ephesus … grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is a letter … written to “the saints who are in Ephesus.”
Ephesus is a place, a city, in what was then called Asia, what we today would call Turkey.  Today, you can go to the ruins of ancient Ephesus by traveling to Sel-chook, Turkey, and asking for directions … it’s about 3 miles southwest of there. 
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city, a most important seaport, on the Ionic coast.  It was most famous for the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Artemis is the Greek version of the Roman goddess Diana … both of these, one and the same, she was goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows.
Paul traveled to Ephesus during one of his trips to Asia.  In Acts chapter 19 we read a whole story of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  According to Acts, all these interesting things happened there during Paul’s stay:

·      People were baptized in Jesus’ name and had a Pentecost moment of their own, speaking in tongues and prophesying;
·      Magicians brought their books and burned them publicly, in a demonstration that Jesus’ name is not a magic word, but brings the work of the Holy Spirit;
·      There was a near riot as the silversmiths (who made little souvenirs of the Temple of Artemis for visitors – think of those little miniature Space Needles tourists buy here) – those silversmiths were afraid they would lose their livelihood because of Paul’s evangelization in Ephesus.

But we also read of Ephesus in the book of Revelation, where the city is mentioned as the first of the seven churches of Asia, to whom that letter is written … the believers there are told that they have abandoned the love (for Christ) they had at first.
But back to the Letter to the Ephesians.  It is attributed to Paul, and indeed, in the opening verse, we’re told it’s from Paul.
Maybe.  But maybe not.
There are some clues in the Greek text of the letter that it’s not written by Paul, but more likely, by a later follower of Paul who attributed the letter to him to give it more weight and importance.  The sentences are long and complex … unlike the letters of which we’re sure Paul is author (Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans).  And Paul leaves out some points which he almost always makes in his other letters, and highlights others which don’t appear in those generally-accepted-to-be-authentic letters.
However, there are some other clues that perhaps, yes, Paul did write Ephesians.  Most important is that it sounds a lot like Paul’s letter to the Colossians, for which there’s a much stronger case for actual Pauline authorship.
So we can’t be positive one way or the other if Paul actually wrote Ephesians, or if it instead was one of his disciples or followers, writing this letter after Paul’s death, toward the end of the first century of this era. 
(Now, for our purposes these next four weeks, we’re going to use “Paul” as our reference to the author / central human figure in this letter.)
But regardless, what we can be sure of, is that there must be a word for us in this text, as it is and has been part of the Scriptures for nearly 2000 years.
And indeed there is.
The first, is right there in the beginning, in those words we’ve already heard now, twice.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God -

Once in seminary, one of our professors started his chapel time by announcing that the reading was from Ephesians – “Paul, an apostle.  Here ends the reading.” 
And what followed was a whole message on the deep significance of those three words.
We’d do well to sojourn here a while as well.
Because this first line …

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God -

… this first line informs the rest of the letter.
Paul, an apostle … emphasizes that Paul’s authority to write this letter to the Jesus-followers in Ephesus comes not from himself … but from his being called, by Jesus Christ, called to be send with a mission, a purpose.
To be an apostle … the literal meaning of that word, apostle, is one who is called to be sent with a mission, a purpose.
And that mission, that purpose, of course, is what the entirety of this letter is all about … sharing the story, the work, the love, the service, of following Jesus the Christ.
But … lest we think that this is Paul’s deal, that it’s all on Paul to do the work of an apostle … well, he takes care of that in the next verses …

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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us for adoption as his children, according to the good pleasure of his will …

See, Paul is saying here, apostleship may come to him in particular in title, but the work of being an apostle … being called to be sent with a mission, a purpose … this is for every one each and every Jesus-follower.
This is why we are, as the text says, “destined” – really, the word means “set apart, set aside” … and of course, then, implied, is that we are set aside for a purpose, a reason.
That reason, is to do the work of apostleship. 
There are two phrases on which I’d like us to focus for the rest of this word.
First,

Every spiritual blessing …

Now this is fleshed out in the verses which follow,

In him we have redemption … forgiveness … riches of his grace he lavished on us … the mystery of his will … an inheritance … that we might live to the praise of his glory … marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

WOW!  That’s a lot.  That’s an abundance.  An abundance of riches.
It sure blows apart that theology of scarcity – the way of thinking and talking about God, so often exemplified in words and actions such as these:

Oh, we’re too small … too old … too tired … we don’t have enough money … enough youth .. enough members … enough talent … to reach out … to make a difference, in our community.

Before I came back to Washington to serve as pastor, I was in the SW Minnesota Synod.  If there was a synod that could plead scarcity, that’s it.  No big cities – the largest community is St. Cloud – the synod is mostly made up of small rural churches in small rural towns where the young people are moving out and moving on … leaving a dwindling number of white-haired and bald heads in the pews.
Yet this was and is a synod focused, not on scarcity, but abundance.
Here’s their mission statement:

The congregations and all the baptized who are the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are claimed by this mission: God places us in cities, farms and towns together under one prairie sky. The Risen Christ surprises us with opportunities to plant God’s Word in the world.
Walking together in confidence,
we cultivate life-giving congregations,
nurture partner ministries, and
cooperate in the life of the ELCA.
By God’s grace, together we have what we need.

By God’s grace, together we have what we need.
A real-time, rephrase, restatement, of these verses of Ephesians.
And the same is true for us … by God’s grace, together we have what we need. 
Called, to be sent, with a mission.  Being called, to be sent, with the purpose, of sharing the story, the work, the love, the service, of following Jesus the Christ.  For the sake of the world.
That’s this word of Ephesians, for US.  Right here, right now, today.
So I need to tell you that there’s a phrase you’re going to start seeing a lot of, around here, going forward.
ReachOutChurch.  All one word, jammed together, ReachOutChurch.
It’s a phrase which some others of my colleagues are using, as a missional catchphrase, building off of these words in Ephesians, and also, these words of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which you have heard from me, here, before:

The church is church only as it exists for others.

Meaning that, meaning that, EVERYTHING we do here, MUST be run through this filter, this question:

How does this affect others – call to others – have an impact on others – outside this place?  Outside our number?

Friends, we can’t, no, we won’t, start our conversations here anymore with the question, What’s in this for me, for us?  How’s this going to make me – make us – look good?  How am I, how are we, going to be taken care of?   Not that we ever should have started our faith-talk like that … but we know that we have … yes, we have … and of that, we must repent.
We must repent but that is so NOT where these words of Ephesians take us.  We don’t start with how we focus on ourselves inside these walls … no, it has to be about them first or else there’s no point for US to be US.  Anymore.  Ever.
As ReachOutChurch, we start our thinking about worship, in how worship will empower and feed us for going out to connect with our neighbors.  But we don’t end it there.  No, not at all! 
We are called to be about much, much more than just worship.  ReachOutChurch is not one-hour-a-week church.
We think about our hospitality by focusing on how we can provide opportunities to connect with and get to know our neighbors and community … our recent block party and picnic is an EXCELLENT example of this, as is our becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation, as we will continue to grow into being a place and a people of hope for our LGBTQ+ neighbors here on the Eastside. 
We plan our serving in the community by first, going out and listening to our neighbors … not assuming we know what they need, but we go out to simply … listen … and in that listening, we’ll hear where God is already actively at work in our community, and then, we can find ways to become partners and friends with this work.
We start thinking about this building … our endowment … youth ministry … adult education … all in the same way.
What about our neighbor?  Our community?
This word from Ephesians for us today, is so, so clear.

By God’s grace, together we have what we need.

Every spiritual blessing. 
An abundance … redemption … forgiveness … given to us to be apostles … called, and sent, with a mission, a purpose … to be ReachOutChurch to Education Hill, to Redmond, to where and to whom we connect with the world …
THIS is how God’s glory will be praised.  By ReachOutChurch … ReachOutYouAndMe … for the sake of this world.  We are church … not for our own sake … but for the sake of the world.  A world that starts here … and here … and here … and leads us right out those doors.
Friends, you and I have work to do.  Whether you or I are 9 or 90, we have work to do.
Work to do in the name of Jesus, who calls us and send us in his name.

So Let’s. Get. To. It.