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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Or, as we might write it today; a Tale of Two Americas:
The letter to the Ephesians opens with the lengthy prayer of thanksgiving. In Greek, these 13 verses are one long, continuous statement — as though the author, so caught up in the wonder of God’s work through Christ on our behalf, simply could not stop for breath. Consider all the theological issues covered in this prayer — God’s work through Christ, the plan of salvation effected, a repeated emphasis on God’s sovereignty in this plan, the re-creation of humanity as a result of Christ’s redemptive death, the forgiveness of sins, our adoption as God’s children and the confirming seal of the Holy Spirit. Now that is a whole lot of stuff! Even German biblical scholars, notorious for their own convoluted long-windedness, call Ephesians 1:3-14 the most garish grammatical goulash to be found in Greek NT!
Ephesians reflects mature Pauline theology, focusing pointedly and poignantly on what is most central, most crucial for new Christians to understand as the divine plan for salvation and as overwhelming evidence of the continuing power of divine love. Indeed, the author begins this prayer on the note of excessive blessing. God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (v. 3). The “heavenly places” referred to here are part of a timeless, eternal realm where all the spiritual blessings occur. Other scholars have stressed this “place” was “not defined by geographical limits but determined by the exertion of power,” a power that “exerts its influence on life, history and conduct on earth.” The eternal nature of God’s concern for humanity is again stressed as verse 4 affirms that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Our chosen-ness is completely beyond human ability to influence or earn. Our chosen-ness does not indicate that we chosen ones are “better” or “higher” than others; what God chooses us for is service. The service we are called to, in union with Christ, is nothing less than to be a part of the redemption of all humanity. The clear sign of our redemption is peace – the peace of the Holy Spirit that the world neither gives nor understands
Instead, this text focuses on God’s sovereignty. Everything has been accomplished according to God’s good plan. God is the one who saves — God acts through Jesus Christ in order to effect this salvation. The Holy Spirit’s presence is the final evidence that salvation has been accomplished. Christ’s role — while crucial to God’s plan — is not the author’s primary focus here. This writer is not as concerned with how salvation has come to be, but from whom it has been given (God) and to whom (all humanity) and to what end it is being offered. It is hard to read this prayer of praise and not feel the special grace of being human. Again and again, this text manages to emphasize God’s unique love and concern for us. “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (v. 4), “God destined us for adoption as God’s children” (v. 5), “God’s glorious grace that God freely bestowed on us” (v. 6), “the riches of God’s grace that God lavished on us (vv. 7, 8).
How God has affected this redemption is the topic of the next several verses. “Through Jesus Christ,” “according to the good pleasure of his will,” “through his blood” and “according to the riches of his grace.” All the activity is directed by God’s hands. Even the sacrifice of “the Beloved” is viewed entirely as a function of God’s will. For this writer, the humanity of Jesus, who endured suffering and death, is subsumed completely by the obedience of the Christ who fulfills God’s plan. Revealing this “plan” is the writer’s aim. The whole of God’s purpose is condensed by the writer in verse 10 as “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” The sign that this unity has been accomplished — that newly redeemed creation shall “praise his glory” — is revealed three times in this prayer (vv. 6, 12, 14). Of course, it is Christ himself who makes this plan a possibility, for the purpose of this plan is set forth “in Christ” (v. 9). And for those who have responded “in Christ,” there is a final sign that God’s plan is under way: “the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (v. 13).
*****This is the tension in which live the people of God: the harsh reality of a broken world of sin, fear, anger, defensiveness, aggression, resistance, retreat, and, the promised kingdom of God, whose gift of peace on earth reflects the peacefulness of heaven, whose presence is alive and vital like the ever moving surface of Lake Erie, in whose eternity our temporary, transitory lives are not lost by claimed, who embraces us with all our warts and flaws as an adoring parent hugs a child, and who gives to us without end, in mercy, life without end.
Let me suggest, if you will, and you may not, but if you will, let me suggest a few ways to live in the kingdom that is coming, but not yet arrived, and so bring more peace into your life and the lives of those around you – family, friends, neighbors, strangers.
The first step is to recommit yourself to Christ. This can take many forms: my grandmother would have you on your knees at your bedside; a college roommate would have you make a public confession of faith. Regardless of the form, a recommitment begins with the affirmation that the writer of Ephesnians was correct: God in Christ is fulfilling (active tense) a plan of rescue and restoration that isn’t foreign to creation but embedded within creation, and which includes you, me, us without a question. To recommit is to accept God’s promise.
The next step is to become more conscious of your surroundings, and more aware of the world around you, and then extend your acceptance of God’s real time presence into this moment a little bit deeper. MLK.. Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa.This is what I do, or try to do, when I visit the sick, and the dying; I am less attentive when speaking with the shopkeeper or sales clerk, the maintenance worker and local banker. I forget that every single moment is pregnant with the presence of God!
The third is to worry less about what you are not able to do or accomplish, what change you are able to bring about, and focus on what healthy and holy change you are able to accomplish – first in yourself, and then in someone else.
*****The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. If you want your child, spouse, client, or boss to shape up, stay connected while changing yourself rather than trying to fix them. (Failure of Nerve, Friedman, ix).