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St. Paul’s – Christmas 2 – 1/2/22

We are still enjoying the afterglow of Christmas. A fresh, new year is upon us. Many of us are continuing to relish the blessings of no school, Christmas vacation, and holidays. What a blessed time.

Appropriate that the lectionary should give us a biblical text—the opening of the Letter to the Ephesians—that foregoes exhortation and instruction and bids us to enjoy blessing God. Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven.

We begin our meals by saying a blessing, blessing God for the gift of food. How appropriate that we should on this Sunday bless God for what has happened in Christ’s birth.

And yet the blessing of Ephesians is for a particular, specific gift of God. God chose us in Christ…. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love…. according to his goodwill and plan. 

Picture in your mind the gathering of this little congregation at Ephesus (now a town in Turkey). They have been brought together (we think most of them were Gentiles, former worshippers of pagan gods) to worship and serve a Jewish Messiah named Jesus. Why have they congregated? What in the world are these Gentiles doing reading Jewish scripture?

Ephesians says this has all been predestined by God. They have been adopted as part of God’s goodwill and plan. They have been forgiven for our failures. Grace has overflowed to them, filling these once confused outsiders with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, God’s grand plan to bring all things together [even Jews and Gentiles] in Christ.

Did you notice that word destined when this lesson was being read? This blessing that opens Ephesians has caused much debate and some mischief in the church down through the ages. Theologians have speculated on the meaning of this secret plan, and just what predestined or destined means—are some chosen and saved by Christ and others rejected and damned by Christ?

Please, let’s not get into such speculation and debate this Sunday. Rather, let’s join Ephesians in blessing the gift that God has given us, the destiny for which God has chosen us, in Christ. We are here, in church this Sunday, in the afterglow of our celebration of the incarnation, at the beginning of a new year, not because of who we are but because of who God is. We are here affirming this faith, living this life, not because of the merit of something we have done for God but because of what God has done for us.

Ephesians bids us to bless God for the gift of God’s choice, God’s election of us to be together with God. Hold on to your hats. I am going to tell you the significance of the great wonder we have witnessed in the birth of Christ, God With Us. We are going to talk about the blessing of election.

As soon as God promised, I will be your God and you will be my people (Exodus 6:7), the direction was cast for human history. First God elected Israel, not because of any positive quality in Israel, not because they had earned God’s choice, but simply because God loves you (Deuteronomy 7:7) Chosen not for privilege, Israel is given a task—to be a light shining forth to all nations (Isaiah 42:6). Israel is to be a living, breathing showcase for what God can do once God chooses a people to be for God. All the world will sit up and take notice of the good that can come from God’s love.

God’s universal intent for all the world’s people is accomplished through the choice of this particular people. In the story of election, God starts small— Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17)—expands to a people, Israel, then contracts into a Jew from Nazareth, enlarges to twelve disciples (Matthew 10:1-4), then seventy (Luke 10:1-23), exploding into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, as Acts put it (Acts 1:8). That seems to be the way God gets what God wants—a few chosen for the universal good of all.I’m going to take back my beloved but wayward creation, says the electing God. Guess who’s going to help me?

Now this fledgling congregation in Ephesus blesses God for making them part of God’s great reclamation operation, the major means for God’s recovery of God’s creation, God once again reaching out to the whole world through a few who are chosen, not for privilege or status but for a task.

If you’ve been led to believe that God is a cosmic bureaucrat, just following the rules, treating everyone the same, think again. God gets things done by playing favorites, giving them not privilege but rather responsibility. As God told Abraham and Sarah, through their family, all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). God is blessed in this morning’s epistle lesson because God has blessed us to be a sign of God’s blessing for the whole world.

As Paul told one of his little churches, God chose what is foolish in the world. Why? To shame the wise, to mock the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). Jesus elected us to show the world it has been loved, elected by Christ.

God’s choices of a few individuals, a small family, a little congregation to carry out God’s plans for the whole world are inscrutable. Why is Abel chosen over Cain? Why Jacob rather than Esau? Why Israel instead of Egypt? Why this St. Paul’s/St. James/St. Stephens and not the or Rotary? Most inscrutable of all: Why me? Why you?

Knowing that we have been chosen, elected, selected by God to be with God and to work for God—not because of who we are or what we have done but because of who God is and what God in Jesus Christ is doing—is not only a great responsibility; it can bring blessed freedom. As 

Jesus told his bumbling disciples, You didn’t choose me, but I chose you (John 15:16). If we have insight into the mysterious work of God, if we should know the truth about who God is and what God is up to, as Ephesians says, it’s all by God’s grace, all an undeserved, unmerited, unearned gift.

So when someone says, You are a sorry excuse for a Christian, you can retort, Take it up with the Lord! My discipleship was Jesus’s idea of a good time before it was mine. You think I would have chosen this path if Christ had left the choosing up to me?

So this Sunday, let’s bless God. Let’s bless God that—though we don’t know why any more than First Church Ephesus knew why—we like they have been picked by God to be God’s people in our time and place. Let’s bless God that we have been given insight into the hidden workings of God in the world, that beneath the clash and clamor of contemporary events somehow, someway God is moving the world toward God’s ultimate purposes. Let’s bless God that we, even us with all our limitations and faults, have been chosen by God to be a blessing to the world. Blessed to be a blessing, a showcase of what God can do once God chooses people to be for God.

Rachel Held Evans’s book Evolving in Monkey Town tells Rachel’s story of being brought up in a world of conservative, closed, certain Christianity, where the world was divided into the chosen and the unchosen. Rachel was given a more expansive vision of the love of Christ than the one she inherited. She came to doubt her inherited version of Christianity in order to embrace a faith that saw God’s love as extended to all. Most of the people I’ve encountered, she writes, are looking not for a religion to answer all their questions but for a community of faith in which they can feel safe asking them. Ephesians is right. We can be secure asking our questions, stumbling and falling from time to time in our faith, sure in the knowledge that we know the secret: God is bringing all things, things in heaven and things on earth, together.

Though we don’t know why God has chosen us to be for God in the world, we know wherefore. We are blessed to tell the world that which it can’t know on its own, to show the world what God is up to in the gift of Christ and his salvation. We are chosen not for privilege but for responsibility.

Therefore, it’s worth asking, I wonder what God has me to do for God in our time and place? And collectively……I wonder what God has chosen this congregation to do for God in our time and place?

Let’s enter upon this adventure today saying the following Litany….your response is We Bless you, Lord which follows each petition….

Let us pray:

For the gift of the Christ child, born to us, gift to us for our salvation,

We bless you Lord.

That you loved us enough not to leave us to our own devices but came to us even though time and again we showed that we couldn’t come to you,

We bless you Lord.

For the gift of a New Year in which we shall have opportunities to witness to you and your loving intent for all the world,

We bless you Lord.

For all the good gifts you have given us all year long, for the blessings of our work, our families and friends, and for the gift of this congregation where we find your love present and active among us,

We bless you Lord.

For the insights and encouragement, the comfort, and the challenge that we feel during our times of worship in this congregation,

We bless you Lord.

For your choice of us, even us with all our weaknesses and failures, to be your people in this time and place, to share your word and to participate in your work here and now,

We bless you Lord. Amen