Meditation on Ephesians 1:3-14
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
July 15, 2018
I was preparing to leave my office on Thursday to visit my parents after my Dad had a fall, when a man walked into the reception area. No one else recognized him, but I knew it was Phil, and it wasn’t just the telltale car keys clipped to his front shirt pocket. I had been praying for him and had left him a phone message that hadn’t yet been returned. Now here he was—bringing his offering to support the church. His church.
I had presided over his wife, Anita’s funeral in February 2016. Phil and Anita, though they hadn’t attended church in recent years, were members since the 1960s, when the Rev. Bill Lee led worship in what is now our fellowship hall. Phil and Anita raised their 3 boys –Russ, Brad and Clay– in our church. Anita was the first church secretary.
Russ called the church seeking pastoral care about a week before his mother died. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years. They welcomed me, though I was a stranger. And I enjoyed spending hours with them, at Anita’s bedside, as they swapped family stories. I became closest to Russ, who helped me plan the funeral and provided photos and art for the bulletin cover.
After Anita died, I prayed for Phil and continued to reach out to him with occasional calls, cards, and a visit near Christmas last year.
I prayed that Christ would draw him back into the fold.
For when we are called to be his disciples, we can’t just walk away from that call. The Lord keeps seeking us out. God is like a nursing mother, says Isaiah 49:15, who will not withhold compassion for the child of her womb. “Even these may forget,” says the Lord, “yet I will not forget you.”
No matter how old we are, no matter how we might think we have done enough and it’s time for other people to do the work of the church, your call is still valid. It doesn’t depend on our health or emotions or any circumstance in this world. The Lord wants us to shower us with spiritual blessings as we serve Him through His Church.
The Book of Order describes the responsibilities of our callings (G-2.0504) in the Church of Jesus Christ. Ministers of word and sacrament, along with choosing scriptures and music, preaching and worship leadership, moderating session and other responsibilities, are called to offer pastoral care to the poor, troubled, sick and dying, to pray for and with the congregation, encourage others to worship and serve the Lord, and enable and equip members for their tasks and roles in the ministry, helping the church to reach out “in concern and service to the life of the human community as a whole.”
The Book of Order says that the ministry of membership (G-1.0304) is “a joy and a privilege” and “a commitment to participate in Christ’s mission. A faithful member bears witness to God’s love and grace and promises to be involved responsibly in the ministry of Christ’s Church. Such involvement includes: proclaiming the good news in word and deed, taking part in the common life and worship of a congregation, lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support, studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life, supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents, demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the church, responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others, living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life, working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment, caring for God’s creation, and participating in the governing responsibilities of the church.” Members are urged to review and evaluate the integrity of one’s membership and consider ways in which one’s “participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.”
The most important things to know about our callings are that we were chosen by God. And we were chosen for love.
Our reading in the first chapter of Ephesians is Paul’s blessing to the church. It is one really long sentence in Greek that translators have separated by punctuation to help us grasp the meaning. His blessing is similar to traditional Jewish blessings that remind God’s people what the Lord has done for them and their identity and purpose for being. But unlike traditional Jewish blessings, we are blessed and chosen in Christ. He is the instrument by which God pours in us “spiritual blessing from the heavenly places.”
Outside Judaism, the word “to bless” in ancient Greek literature means, “to speak well of, to praise, to thank, glorify, and to confess.” In the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the blessing is what God promises to give to Abraham and the praise human beings offer to God. But it also means to consecrate or set aside for God’s purposes. Paul says, in verse 4, that this is what has happened to us. We have been chosen by God in Christ “to be (made) holy and blameless before him, in love.”
Then we read from the foundation of the world.….God has always had a plan for all of us. He knew that human beings would fall into sin, but it was “for his own good pleasure” that we have been redeemed.
He didn’t wait for us to choose Him. God revealed his love for us, when he “sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him,” says 1 John 4:9-10. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
With talk of “adoption” Paul employs legal language for those who receive a spiritual inheritance formerly thought to be only for Abraham’s descendants. He assures Gentiles and Jews that Gentiles are included in this new covenant, sealed with Christ’s blood.
The blessing comes from Paul’s heart of gratitude to God for his inexplicable grace. As he exclaims in 2 Cor. 9:15, “Thanks be to God for this gift too wonderful for words!
On Thursday, Phil’s visit to the church was an answer to prayer, confirmation that the Lord never forgets His children, those who are called to serve Him with their lives. Phil hadn’t lost his gentle sense of humor or storytelling gifts. But he was sadder and quieter than I have ever seen him. He told me about Russ, how after working for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, he moved back to Tennessee, where he had been born, and took a job working for the little town of Athens. He served as county planner and architect for McMinn County Government for 15 years. His most recent project was the highly regarded design and renovation of the McMinn County Courthouse Annex. Russ, who possessed the quick wit, humor, and storytelling gifts of his dad, made many friends in his community through his work, though he was “a liberal,” the mayor said, “working with a predominantly conservative government entity.”
Russ usually called Phil a couple of nights a week. The calls came more frequently in April, when he suddenly seemed to be struggling to find the words he wanted to say. Alarmed, Phil called his son, Clay, and asked him to see if Russ was OK. Clay drove to Athens, and brought him back to his home near Atlanta where he could see specialists at Emory University. Doctors diagnosed him with a rare neurological disease. Phil traveled to Georgia, staying with his sons for a month.
Russ passed away May 29. The community poured out their grief and at the McMinn County Facebook page. What they said convinced me that Russ was living out his calling, devoted to the wellbeing of the people of this small town. The mayor said he saved the community about $100,000 in design fees. People said they would miss his smile and laughter. He was a “wonderful public servant”– kind and considerate, with a “brilliant mind.” Others said, a “true friend.” They celebrated his life at a service in a Lutheran church. The pastor was one of Russ’s friends.
Phil stood up in my office and made to go. I reached for his hand.
“One of these days,” he said, “You’ll see me in church.”
On the way to my parents’ house, Russ’ last words spoken to me came to mind. At the funeral reception, he asked if I would reach out and visit his dad after the family had gone home. He said his dad was really good at saying no. “Don’t ask,” he said. “Just go.”
I promised that I would.
A few weeks after the funeral, Russ sent me a lovely thank you card, saying that his time with the church had brought back happy memories of his youth at MIPC and his childhood on Merritt Island.
The Spirit is at work in our community of faith, lavishing his grace upon us, pouring out spiritual blessings from the heavenly places. Today is a new day for the children of God.
The Lord wants to use those whom he has called before the foundation of the world.
You are one of them! You have been redeemed. Your sins have been washed away. In Christ, you stand holy and blameless before God.
You have been chosen for love!
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your gift that is too wonderful for words–your grace that has redeemed us when we were perishing in our sins. Thank you for choosing us, calling us before the foundation of the world, to be your adopted children, with spiritual blessings poured on us through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the heavenly places. Forgive us if we have ever drifted away, when we have been unfaithful to your call and selfish, looking to our own pleasures, rather than seeking to be pleasing to you. Use us now and forever, Lord, for your holy purposes. Build up your church and draw us nearer to you. In Christ we pray. Amen.