BIBLE READINGS: Ephesians 3: 1-12 Matthew 2: 1-12
letter is from Paul to the church that gathers in first century Ephesus ... and
to the congregation that gathers at the 7 Ways intersection in Rockdale at the
beginning of 2015.
"This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles"
A prisoner. Paul is a prisoner. He has been arrested by the police and put in jail. This letter is written in a cell ... perhaps even smuggled out by a friendly guard so that we can read it. Paul is put in prison because of his preaching ... like John the Baptist before him... and like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. after him. All of them keep preaching from behind bars. But why has Paul been locked up? What crime has he committed? Let's read on ...
"For surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you,
and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation,
as I wrote above in a few words,
a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ."
Surely we have heard ... as he wrote above ... oh-ohh. Have you heard? Have you read this letter recently? Do you know what he's talking about? It's about a mystery, says Paul. Mystery. Life is full of mysteries. When you are a little child everything is so mysterious ... smells, tastes, sights, sounds. The world is a wonderfully mysterious place. But when you grow up and become an adult you sometimes forget just how mysterious the world is. And the biggest mystery of all for all of us of every age is the mystery of God. Where is God? What is God like? What is God up to? This is the mystery that Paul is writing to us about. "The mystery of Christ." Paul has discovered what God is up to in the world in Jesus Christ.
"In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind,
as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body,
and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."
This is the mystery that has been revealed to Paul: "The Gentiles share in the inheritance of God's own people". Gentiles? Who are they? You know them. They are 'them' not 'us'. They are the children in the playground that nobody wants to play with. They are the family in the neighbourhood that no one invites to dinner. They are the immigrants to the country who are made to feel as though they don't belong. "The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus". The outsiders get to share the insiders' inheritance. The 'non-religious' people belong right alongside the 'religious' people in God's Kingdom. Jewish shepherds and Oriental wise men have an equal share in the promise of baby the Jesus. Jesus is equally at home with those whose lives are as white as snow and with those whose lives are all messed up with sin. Now all of the ways in which we decide who's in and who's out on the playground, in the neighbourhood and in the church will not work any longer.
"Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace
that was given me by the working of his power.
Although I am the very least of all the saints
this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,
and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;"
Paul is a servant of the good news. Paul's whole life is now caught up in telling the everyone who will listen about the mystery that has been revealed to him. It has little to do with Paul himself. Even he says: "I am the very least of all the saints". It has everything to do with this message "of the boundless riches of Christ". This is the reason that Paul is so dangerous and must be put in jail. He is going around telling everyone that they have an invitation to join the household of God. That's right. Paul tells women and children ... he tells slaves and gentiles ... foreigners and total strangers ... beggars and crooks ... soldiers and ministers ... that they are all welcome to eat at God's table. And do you know what? Some of the people that Paul invites for dinner decide to come ... they come to the household of God and sit right down at the table as if they are God's very own adopted children. Which, of course, they are. Imagine. Little communities of people who used to be enemies ... people who never used to speak to each other, who wouldn't be caught dead with one another ... breaking bread with each other in public, every week. They call it 'church'. The religious leaders call it it 'disturbing'. The politicians call it 'frightening'. The authorities keep control by playing one group off against another. But now the divisions between neighbours and between neighbourhoods are getting blurry. Who knows what might happen. Better put Paul behind bars before things get way out of hand. Stop this thing called 'church' before it spreads any farther. But how are they going to stop Paul? From his prison cell he writes:
"so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known
to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places;
This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,
in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him."
Did you hear what I heard? It's not Paul who is creating this thing called 'church'. It is God who is doing it! "So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known" not only on earth but in the heavenly places as well! That's right. Through the little communities of 'outsiders' and 'insiders' living together as God's little children, God's rich and varied wisdom is made known. God's wisdom is seen in gatherings of infants and the aged, of seekers and theologians ... God's richness is revealed through a congregation made up of Anglo's and Koreans and Fijians and Chinese and Phillipinos and Malaysians ... through all manner of people who have nothing in common except that we, too, have been invited into the mystery ... the mystery of Jesus Christ, an open door to God, in whom we discover the boldness and confidence to approach God ... the One who is the Ultimate Mystery. Just gathering here to worship God ... just welcoming one another in Jesus' name ... just allowing God's own household to be full of a rich variety of people ... reveals the rich variety of the wisdom of God who has invited each and everyone of us to this place.
It is to God's own dining table that I invite you now ... all of you. Saint and sinner. Elder and child. Seeker and follower. Those who are whole and those who are broken. You who are wounded and you who have been healed. The deserving and, yes, the undeserving. Outsider is as welcome here as insider. All of you are invited to taste the mystery of God's hospitality. In the simple food of bread and wine ... in the human life of Jesus Christ ... God enters the world to build a new community and to create new lives. You are invited to share in this inheritance and to belong to Christ's own body. This is the mystery revealed: you have a share ... you belong. Welcome to the mystery.
Acknowledgement: Rev. Ed Searcy