Here we are about to wrap up Ephesians! Lots of you have commented that this time we’ve spent together on this epistle has been very meaningful. A couple have even told me this series was the deciding factor in their making it to Mass on a particular Sunday. It just goes to show that when we open up Scripture and pay specific attention to what the text says, people discover how powerful and useful it is. I’m telling you, the Bible is really worth your time. We’re near the end of the Epistle today, with this famous section about what makes for spiritual strength. I do want to unpack this passage a bit, but I also want to give a quick recap of where we have been together.
You’ll remember that Ephesians is like most of Paul’s letters in that it falls into two major sections. The first is a section setting out in some way what God has done in Jesus Christ. Paul wants to get us situated up front in the truth of what has happened to us, who is the God who has done this, why he did it, and so on. What is true? What is reality? Paul starts with telling us or reminding us of things like that, because he knows all too well that most of us base the way we approach our lives on some other reality than Jesus. And when some other reality is the lens you’re using as you read, you won’t really be able to receive what the text is getting at. You’ll see it colored through some other lens and miss the point. Now, of course Paul lived 2000 years ago. The other lenses taken for granted in his day were things like the crushing power of empire, the availability of a smorgasbord of spiritual options, entrenched economic injustice, deep ethnic divisions – you know, all the usual stuff we’re still dealing with. So he starts by saying: No, remember, that’s not ultimate reality. What God has done in Christ is ultimate reality. In Ephesians, that section is chapter 1-3, and we were there for three weeks.
And after Paul has made that point very clear, only then does he go on to say: Given that what God has done in Christ is ultimate reality, here’s how it looks when that reality works itself out in your life and your church and your neighborhood and your culture. Here’s what will be different if you – and we – live as if Christianity is real. And that’s the second half of the letter, chapter 4-6, and we’ve been here for three weeks too.
There are two more weeks, counting this one, in our journey together through Ephesians, and we’re continuing in the section that Deacon Chris two weeks ago called the Therefore: the second half of the letter. Everything in the first half, Ephesians 1-3, is trying to help us grasp the extent of God’s action Jesus and to begin to receive the benefits of his work. Everything in the second half, Ephesians 4-6, assumes that we have grasped what Jesus has done for us, have received it, and are now grounded in it as the root of our identity and the meaning of our lives, and then it says, “So, given that, now what?”
There’s always room to take in more of the first half, of how what Jesus has done grounds and defines you, of course – but Paul is assuming here in the second half that his readers are in Christ already and thus already have a new force motivating them and guiding them. So none of what Paul writes is general advice that you could just follow regardless of whether you are a disciple of Jesus or not. No, all the “therefore” sections of Paul’s letters are essentially a picture of what the life of Jesus looks like as it works its way out in those who are rooted in it, those in whom he dwells. Your roots are in Christ, his life is living in you, therefore….what does it look like?
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Aristotle said that art, being the imitation of nature, represents the form and order of the world in order to get at something perfect, timeless, and beautiful. Art takes all the varied and changing experiences from life and simulates them into a single whole -- whether a painting, a poem, or a play -- and in so doing, mysteriously transcends those particular experiences. What results is not a duplicate world, but an object that unveils some deeper reality of the world we already have. At its best, art touches the sublime. It’s about the closest we get to approximating God’s original act of creation from nothing. So imitation is one of the most basic human activities because it is one of the main ways that we grasp for what is beyond us.
It makes sense that humans would do this kind of thing. Being “rational animals,” we’re unlike the living creatures that surround us on earth in that we possess the faculty of reason and imagination but we’re unlike the angels in that we possess bodies. And that makes us peculiar creatures. We’re stuck mid-way between heaven and earth, so to speak. And so we have this insatiable drive to gather our experiences of earth so as to reach a touch of heaven. We imitate the forms and rhythms of the cosmos because we have this deep intuition that doing so will put us into contact with transcendence. This is why we worship according to a liturgy, moving our bodies and shaping our words according to ancient forms. And yet it turns out that our desire to touch heaven through imitation is simultaneously what makes us human and what has made us sinful. After all...
What is sin if not the presumption to be like God?
What is salvation if not the struggle to be like God?
But what determines the quality of our imitation? What is the criterion by which we become the imitators of God as his children or the imitators of God as his impostors?
“There is one body and one Spirit,…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”
Today we continue our sermon series on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Again, this morning’s passage is rich with poetic phrases, dense in meaning and ideas, and in general, a beautiful reading. We heard the beginning of chapter 4 which marks a transition from statements about Christ’s work to more practical, ethical implications. As we look at the portion for today I want to focus on a few words from it. You may want to take out the leaflet to find these as I talk about them.
The first word I want to highlight is actually removed from your copy and you might have missed it as it was read. That word is “therefore”. The first sentence of chapter 4 began, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord”. The word “therefore” is important as it points out something about the structure of the letter. The basic theme of Ephesians is how the Universal Church, described as the body of Jesus Christ on earth, is established to carry out and continue the work of God’s eternal purpose. The book can be divided into two parts, the first deals with what God has done, and the second is how his people, (understand, that means us) are to respond to these gifts from God. In some ways the book is like a mathematical theorem. The first half is the “if” clause and the second is the “then”. If, then. If we have received numerous blessings and gifts from God, through his son, Jesus; then we are to act in this manner. The “if clause” reminds us of the good news of the gospel and the conclusion, the “then clause”, is what we are to do and why we are to do it. As with mathematical theorems proving the theorem does not necessarily mean that the converse is true. The first clause implies the second but the reverse is not always true. In this case, the first clause forms the foundation of the second.