Reformed Theology in a Nutshell

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14

Place puppet “Fuzzy” prominently on the lectern.

Let us pray:

In the divine silence of our souls, help us, O Wisdom, to discern the calling of our Lord’s voice, that, with you, we may be obedient to God’s will for us in the midst of this ongoing beginning of the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

Accompanying today’s revised common lectionary passages are two beautiful passages from the Apocrypha that describe a Jewish understanding of the agency of God’s work and grace upon the earth during the intertestamental period. During that time, Greek philosophy began to be appropriated into Jewish thought, these passages reflect this new blended understanding. The first reading is from Sirach 24:1-12, the second from the Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21, both listed on the insert. Reading these passages can assist our understanding of Paul’s letter to the community of Christians at Ephesians, made up of mostly Greek-speaking gentiles.

Ephesians, as a letter, is a Pauline interpretation of the teachings of Jesus for a specific group in a specific place and time, roughly in the second half of the first century A.D.

Puppet interjects:

“Ooh, ooh, Acts and other scriptures tell us 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.”

Pastor Scott:

Yes, Fuzzy, that is exactly right; and how appropriate as a text for today, since a primary task of this community of faith is to work out a collective identity as Trout Lake Presbyterian Church, establishing a theological foundation informing this church’s witness. Today’s text touches on at least two major theological themes, which our Reformed heritage interprets in several different ways.

Puppet Interjects:

“Ooh, ooh, the Reformation, that was, like, 500 years ago, right?”

Pastor Scott:

Yes, Fuzzy, it was.

Since Calvin referred to the movement of the Reformation as “reformed, constantly reforming” we might want to ask ourselves, “Are we still reforming or are we frozen in a time, a place, and a model of ministry that is decades old?” A very challenging question to ask, but one of the aspects of the work of theology that must go on as this community of faith grapples with our relationship to God, one another, and the greater Christian witness.

Puppet interjects:

“Not to mention the global reality of people of all faiths seeking to live spiritually faithful and fulfilling lives.”

Pastor Scott:

That is true, Fuzzy. A central theme in today’s passage is the concept of grace and election – something only the Abrahamic faiths struggle with, I think. Intense discussions have developed throughout church history over the concept of God’s election. Commentator John W. Coakley compares today’s Ephesians passage with Romans 9.

Puppet Interjects:

“I bet I know which verse: it’s when Paul writes, “[God] has mercy on whomever he chooses and hardens the heart of whomever he chooses?”

Pastor Scott:

Yes, that’s right, verse 18. In Ephesians, this is echoed with the idea that election is a matter of God’s freely chosen purpose, not our own effort. Here is a sampling of how later Reformers reflected on these passages and interpreted issues of election, or, as some call it, predestination, in light of grace.

For Calvin, God’s own “good pleasure” alone is the “efficient cause” of our salvation, implying specifically that the Lord “expressly sets aside all merit,” “does not look at what we are, and is not reconciled to us by any personal worth.”[1] Both Luther and Calvin view the Ephesian’s text through the lens that holiness is a matter of human response to the unilateral action of God, while Chrysostom sees an implied synergy or cooperation between humans and God. Wesley, on the other hand, understands predestination only as God’s foreknowledge of the holiness of those who are chosen.
Current day commentator David Bartlett describes this Ephesians passage almost as if it is a prescription for salvation…beginning with election (when God chooses us), proceeding to redemption (when we choose Christ and Christ redeems us for God), and culminating in future hope of God’s completed work in redeeming all creation – or, as author Susan Cooper might conclude, “All shall find the Light at last, silver on the tree.”[2]

Puppet interjects:

“All right, hang on a second Pastor Scott, why all this theology during the second Sunday of Christmas? Shouldn’t we still be dwelling on and asking, as Commentator Stephen Bauman asks: “Who is the child of Bethlehem, and why should we care about his birth?”[3]

Pastor Scott:

“Yes, Fuzzy, but Bauman also goes on to write,

‘Worshipers during the season of Christmas include many who have only peripheral identification with Christianity and with Jesus in particular…most worshipers who gather at services [right after Christmas] are emotionally spent…the passing holiday leaves a variety of emotions in its wake that may obscure the profound meanings to be gleaned in the Christmas stories…[after all, snow needs to be shoveled, dead trees need to be [cut up for firewood or chipped up for garden beds], bills need to be paid, life resumes [and we must all get back to work].’”

Puppet interjects again:

“Oh, yes, so the ‘natural yet unspoken question lingers: What was all that deep Christmas meaning stuff about, anyway?’[4] Even if I had the beginning of an inkling about what Jesus as God incarnate means, questions still continue: “How could such a thing be possible? What does this mean for me? [Especially in light of real life!]”

Pastor Scott:

You know, Fuzzy, even pastors sometimes struggle with that. Here’s one way we can begin to understand it: “Jesus, Light of the World, unrecognized by most of his own, illumines all the dark places of life that we encounter. And we encounter much darkness in the world today: “wars, human devastation, greed, torture, oppression of all kinds, [including] depression, confusion, helplessness and hopelessness. But all this darkness is unable to overcome the eternal Word, the very life force that continually animates the entire created order [and lavishes grace upon] every individual within range of the proclamation.”[5]

What about you? Does that Light live within you? Think about it. What are your gifts? What piece of the Light do you incarnate? Barbara Brown Taylor writes,

“Almost everyone has a word that he or she has a gift for bringing to life. For one person the word is “compassion.” For another it is “justice.” For someone else the word is “generosity.” For another it is “patience” Until someone acts upon these words, they remain abstract concepts—very good ideas that few people have ever seen. The moment someone acts on them, [however,] the words become flesh. They live among us, so we can see their glory.”

Puppet continues:

“Barbara Brown Taylor also writes,

‘Congregations embody words as well. Plenty of congregations think they have to embody all the words in the gospel, but they do not. They have to put flesh on only one or two of them. Some congregations do a great job of making “hospitality” real. Others have a flair for “prayer.” Every now and then you find a congregation that brings the word “prophetic” to life, while there is another one around the block that puts skin on the word “service.” Congregations like these know that when [the gospel is preached], it is not always necessary to use words. By the grace of God, you may also volunteer your own flesh for bringing the [Gospel] to life.’”[6]

Pastor Scott: “Thank you Fuzzy.” As we enter into a new year of ministry here and abroad, our challenge is to bring words to life…moreover, the greatest challenge and gift we can give is to bring The Word to life among us – that we might be the Light for others.

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.

[1] Coakley, John W. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, quoting Jean Calvin, John Calvin, The Epistles… to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 127.

[2] Cooper, Susan. Silver On the Tree-fifth book in the Dark is Rising series (Aladdin Paperpacks, 1977, reprinted 1986 by Simon and Schuster Trade).

[3] Bauman, Stephen. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Brown-Taylor, Barbara. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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