Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14
Let us pray:
In the divine silence of our souls, help us, O Lord to discern the calling of your voice, that we may be obedient to your will for us in this time and place, now, in the midst of the ongoing beginning of your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.
Have you ever had one of those days when you are just filled to the brim with joy? So filled with love and laughter that you just want to sing? The words from the writer of Ephesians seem to echo that kind of day. Blessings upon blessings, praises upon praises, and thankfulness upon thankfulness. We would do well to keep the same spirit within us; a spirit aware that all we have is a gift from God. Yes, even the struggles.
While the early church was just beginning, in fact, through the movement from Jewish sect to separate religion, both the Apostle Paul and others were writing letters such as Ephesians, interpreting Jesus Christ and his teachings for their time and place even as we must do in ours. The core message of salvation is the same. Each community of faith, however has its own needs and complexities to work out together in light of their interpretation of the life and teachings of the Lord.
As a letter, Ephesians is one of those interpretations for a specific place and time, roughly in the second half of the first century A.D. Some scholars will even pin it down to around 60 AD, written by Paul from Rome while he was in prison to believers from either one or several churches he founded in the city of Ephesus.
We know from Acts and other scriptures that Paul worked and preached in Ephesus for several years. But the Lord called him to move on to do the same in other places, leaving the believers to work out their own new identity in the face of changing religious and political times.
Is that any different from what we must do? At some point in the past, around 1904-1905, founders of this congregation gathered together because the Word of God inspired them in some way to form an officially recognized community of faith. Rev. William O. Forbes came as a guest preacher in November of 1904, and as a result of his sermon 24 people gave their names to be enrolled as founding members; a few months later elders were ordained, trustees elected, and in February of 1905, organization was completed and baptisms administered. 23 members entered into covenant as charter members. Only one and a half years later, in August 1906 this church was completed and a dedication service took place. Thus, this community of believers began their common life and ministry together. A life and ministry centered around praise and worship of God and service to one another and the community of Trout Lake. Salvation history for this congregation had begun.
Salvation history is more than a walk through the Bible highlighting an ancient culture’s encounter with the living God. It is also a portal-a window, if you will-into how our own lives in our own culture interact with the ancient scriptural witness. We, too, have our story to tell – and more often rather than not, we can identify with parts of the ancient story we read – identifying our own journey with that of the ones who have gone before.
I was reflecting on our Christmas Eve service just two short weeks ago. It occurred to me that a lessons and carols service is, actually, a shortened version of the entirety of salvation history. It begins with Creation, continues through the Fall and highlights stories from Israel’s colorful past as they move from free to subjugated people back to somewhat free again. The story unfolds from dry times through prophetic voices telling of the Messiah yet to come. And then in the midst of another time of subjugation, Jesus comes! The story doesn’t stop there, however. The early church is formed and spreads, letters such as Ephesians go out to the early churches encouraging them, and when necessary exhorting them. Salvation history is still unfolding.
Ephesians is one of those interpretations for a specific place and time, roughly in the second half of the first century A.D. Some scholars will even pin it down to around 60 AD, written by Paul from Rome while he was in prison. We live and move and have our beings in another place and time, but we are still recipients of the texts from long ago, and the grace of God extended to us with the advent of Christ’s coming.
Commentator Thomas Steagald tells us this passage from Ephesians is like a Jewish berakah – which is the formal blessings of God customary in Jewish worship and prayer. As such in structure and use it is most similar to an ecstatic liturgical utterance. In other words, a hymn, a doxology, or a benediction: a once-for-all exaltation of God and the enthronement of Christ on the praises of the church – and the consequent blessing of those in every time and place who join the never-ending song. What a strange place to write such a glorious hymn of praise to God!
I would love to say that I find myself so closely held within the center of God’s will that doxologies come easily for me; however that would be far from true. It is a rare occasion when I am able to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually put myself in a place to simply be in joy. I am convinced, however, that the path to true happiness lies closer to being able to participate in this blessing of those in every time and place. Another facet of this, I think, is the practice of daily, regular dialog with God. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians tells us to “pray without ceasing.”
Creating space for dialog with God to happen on a regular basis may be hard for some. Dialog meaning pouring out prayers to God, yes; but also remembering to be silent before the Lord in expectation that God will speak in some way – O Lord, open our ears that we may hear! For now, we begin a new year once more, and enter into a ministry covenant together. May all glory be unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.