Ephesians 2: 4-10 and Ephesians 2:19-22
Last week, we began this sermon series on the Letter to the Ephesians.
Because it’s the work in the New Testament that gives the most insight into how we might grow up or mature in Christ.
I sort of spoiled the surprise. If the question is how is it that we can mature as Christians, grow up in Christ you might say, then I told you right off that his answer, improbably as it might sound, is that we need the church in order to attain the full stature of Christ, to use Paul’s term.
Ok, you already know the final answer, but I’m betting there’s still some suspense as to how the writer reaches that conclusion. We’re going to spend the rest of the sermon series — these Sundays in Lent — trying to understand what in the world that might really mean.
Because we usually think of Ephesians as the Pauline masterpiece about how in Christ, God is bringing all things back together. And that’s no small goal or feat. In the words of the UCC’s motto, from the Gospel of John, not one of the letters of Paul, but they sound like they could be from Ephesians, “that all may be one.”
Or as it is stated in the title of my sermon: “The energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe.”
Think about that… There’s much going on in our world. In different spheres and directions. It’s sort of dizzying sometimes to see all the moving parts. Like too many balls to keep in the air at once.
The same can be true in our own lives. Or at least in my life. As I said, this week was one of those where the act of juggling didn’t go very well. Balls dropping and rolling away from me all week long.
Sometimes, even just in one’s self, all the parts can feel disparate and unconnected. Even chafing against one another. Or rejecting each other.
Much of this is what physicists know as centrifugal force. We’ve known it since we were kids– the feeling when you get on one of those spinning things at the park and go as fast as you can until it feels like it’s going to throw you off. Centrifugal force — tending or moving away from the center.
Like our universe, constantly moving outward, expanding, at increasing speed, after the initial Big Bang explosion.
Physicists call this the 2nd law of thermodynamics: in words a layman can understand (and the title of one of my favorite novels), “things fall apart.”
As I said, I know this from my own life. I think most of us do. Existence as we experience it is often quite chaotic. Things happen with apparent unpredictability and in a disorderly and disordering way.
Life can feel like a constant struggle against everything going to hell in a handbasket. We attempt to impose some kind of order on it all with our clocks and schedules, our rules and routines, even our expectations mean to create an orderly framework. But it’s sort of a losing battle.
For instance, the most well-organized household, just let it go even a few day without straightening up, organizing, repairing, cleaning… I preached a Reformation Sunday sermon once about how I like to imagine that if I get really organized and find a place for everything, afterwards it will all just magically stay in place. But it never works. The punch line — for Reformation Sunday of course — was “we always need to keep reforming.”
Let your garden go for a week or two, sometimes it seems like it only takes a few days, and the weeds overtake it all.
Machines run out of steam or bust or just stop working… Communities need constant attention or their rough spots start to cause them to splinter and fray…
The second law of thermodynamics — without constant work, almost anything can becomes what most of us would call ‘unlivable.’ When you think about it, it can start to feel overwhelming.
But, here’s the good news, even deeper than all that drives us apart and leaves us feeling scattered and in pieces,there is this other, opposite force. Centripetal force wherein everything tends toward the center, moving back together,towards becoming whole and one. This is integration. And reconciliation. Atonement, if we take that to mean making us one again. Making whole again all our various broken pieces.
And in the Letter to the Church in Ephesus, the writer says that in Christ, God is constantly striving to bring everything and everyone back together again.
In his opening volley (Ephesians 13-14), the writer uses a string of seven powerful verbs, ending with “gathering up,” to drive home the point. We aren’t lost in the cosmos. We aren’t left not knowing who we are or where we are. Not knowing where we have come from or where we are headed.
Instead, the writer is helping us to see how God in Christ reorients us in the universe. The root of the Greek word for gather is “head.” That is, in Christ, God is putting everything under one head. We are the body, working together, each member doing its own part but in concert.
Instead of a cosmos cluttered in confusion, we have coherence. Instead of one thing after another breaking or getting lost or falling apart and our endless exhaustion trying to manage all the loss, we have an organic unity. Instead of fragmentation and dismemberment, we find ourselves part of a body with Christ as its head. It’s persona and relational. It’s intimate and working together almost miraculously.
It’s the Centripetal force of God’s grace. And knowing that pull, the Letter also shows how in addition to having this work done in and for us, we are also participants in it.
Think about that way of understanding your life and your world. It leaves you with the new way of evaluating yourself: is every aspect and detail of our lives contributing to what Paul describes as God’s plan worked out in Christ.
Are you part of God’s long-range effort in which everything is being brought back together and summed up in Christ, everything in the highest heaven,everything on our planet earth?
Ephesians, chapter 1, verse 10 says it outright: “when times reach their fulfillment, to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
The letter is very specific about how Christ knits everything back together. But instead of tackling heavy theology, I want to end with something else today. I want you to consider how you find your place in the world, get connected, with help here at church. To help get you thinking, I want to offer a few examples from around here just this past week.
I hope they help you think of your own answer, and maybe even share it with me or someone else sometime…
How church helps gather all our broken pieces back together:
~ How Phyllis Smith, whose funeral was Wednesday, and at which there were twice as many church people as family… how Phyllis, who wasn’t either demonstrative or touchy, at Nancy’s last visit, just wanted to reach out and hold Nancy’s hand.
~ How a whole bunch of people, pretty much out of the blue last Sunday, heard Beth’s explanation of Juan’s being stuck in jail without bail after a false arrest, and how people came up with money — for someone they don’t really know, except that he was a kid and then a counselor in our Summer Camp — to get him out.
~ How a group of us gathered yesterday to talk about how we were doing in the daily, reflective reading of Scripture that is part of “Lenten Awakenings.” And how our “connection” turned out to be our struggles with this practice and what we are learning nonetheless.
~ How Mike Wass has become a significant help and constant friend to Stirling in his illness, a friendship of unlikely personalities occasioned by church.
~ Or how Stirling could talk to me about understanding the bible as gay affirming in front of his sister who’s not so sure about that.
~ How a whole bunch of people will get started today after worship figuring out how to motivate Jobs and Education voters in upcoming elections.
~ How we began this week gathering on Thursdays at 7 for a different kind of worship service.
~ How at a funeral I did yesterday for a family without a church, how we were reminded that we’re all in a long, dependent line of those who go before us and those who will follow…
~ Or the crowd of people working with Mindy yesterday to get the clothes in the shed sorted and organized so that we can better serve people on Saturday mornings.
Beloved, these connections are like love itself. As the Song of Solomon teaches: both the most fragile and powerful parts of creation. The appear where they will, a sign and the result of God’s grace… bringing us back together and making us whole. Amen.