November 04th, 2019
I have no idea if William How was thinking of today’s Ephesians reading when he wrote the hymn “For All The Saints,” but if he wasn’t, he should have been. Paul prays two things for the Ephesians this morning. He asks first, that they would know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of their inheritance; and second, that they would know the power of Christ for us who believe.
The hymn “For All The Saints” does such a great job of depicting the connection between those two things. There’s all this imagery first of struggling to walk the way of Christ now, in the face of a world which is blind to wonder, which stands in opposition to mercy. And then there are these moments where the future hope, the inheritance God offers in Christ, breaks in and becomes his power for us who believe.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, - there’s the present
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song - there’s the future
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. - The future hope comes back into the present to become the power Paul is praying for, applied to what we’re going through.
“For All The Saints” actually has several more verses that aren’t usually in modern hymnals, and here’s the one about martyrs:
For Martyrs who, with rapture kindled eye, - there’s the revelation of insight from God that Paul prays for
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky, - there’s the future, the hope of our inheritance in Christ
And (here comes the present), And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
And seeing, grasped it. The revelation of that fullness, that hope, that inheritance, that future, taken hold of and welcomed into the present as God’s power for us who believe.
Now there is a saint-sized vision. Or better, a God-sized vision. That’s what Paul is praying for. First, a clear revelation of the fullness of the hope to which God has called us. And second for a clear revelation of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe. Why do we need to pray for revelation from God about those two things? Because without his help we will not see and grasp them. We will settle for less, for what’s easier and smaller. That’s why we’ve been working on noticing God’s wonders this month. It’s one small step towards becoming people who have the capacity to grasp how big the hope God offers is. Becoming people who have the capacity to grasp how much power God has to deploy through us who believe. What hope and power have we already been given, and are we willing to believe we have it?
It reminds me a bit of that Howie Mandel game show that was wildly popular in maybe 2007 or 8, and that got brought back by CNBC recently, Deal or No Deal. The premise is you get to pick a briefcase from among 26 briefcases onstage, one of which has a million dollars in it. Now you may be holding that very briefcase. You might win it all. But, if you don’t want to take the risk, the banker up on the mezzanine will buy your case right now for $47,000. Deal or no deal? Oh, no deal? How about $100,000? Your case could only have $5 in it, you know; shouldn’t you settle?
If you haven’t seen it, you get the idea. Except the metaphor breaks down… because in the Christian life, once you choose Jesus, it’s a sure thing. The hope to which God has called us, the power for us who believe. The full reward is always in our case. And yet, here’s the crazy part, we keep on settling anyway! We keep on letting the banker buy us out. I say banker because that’s the character in the show, but by “bought out,” I don’t mean only concerning money. I mean every way we let our trust in what God has done and given be narrowed, every way we trivialize the hope to which God has called us, every way we consent to be satisfied with something less. Rely on Jesus, answer no deal to the banker’s offers, and you receive the hope to which God has called you, the glorious inheritance, in full, along with the power to put it to work in this world. But settle for what you’ve got now, and that’s what you’ll end up with. Deal or no deal?
Now the temptation to make the deal is perfectly understandable. What does Paul pray again? “That you may know what is the hope to which God has called you…and the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” You think it’s easy to know that? No, it’s hard. It’s unpleasant to watch the discrepancy between that big vision and this broken world. It hurts to see, so many wounded places that God’s hope addresses, but where hardly anyone seems to be at work to leverage God’s power. It hurts to see people who could be set free by radical trust in the love of Jesus settling for just swinging by a church service every month or so. It stings to have to make the small, inconvenient, boring, routine choices that go along with daily telling the banker No Deal and prioritizing the hope to which God has called us.
It’s awfully easy just to avert your eyes and decide something less is enough. All we need to do is distract ourselves from what God has revealed about the inheritance and the power he gives by constructing a wall of minor satisfactions. I mean, really, if you’ve got your cinnamon latte made, your headphones in, your family cookout scheduled, and all your notifications enabled, the distant triumph song is not going to be stealing on your ear any time soon. Nor are the cries of the poor and the oppressed.
Now it’s almost cliché to say that the saints made it a point not to get fooled by this stuff. At the end of their lives, Jesus did not look at St. Francis or St. Teresa and say “But you already received your consolation. You accepted plenty of satisfactions. What need have you of an inheritance and a hope?” No. They were always awaiting their real inheritance; in fact, they were determined to await it no matter what the banker offered them in between. When the banker made offer after offer of something less, St. Francis gave the same answer all day long, every day: No deal!
So saints endure dissatisfaction rather than settle for less than the hope to which God has called us. And that dissatisfaction makes them dive in, where they see a need they know the power of God for us who believe can address. Because how else is God going to address needs other than by using people who are willing to feel a little dissatisfaction with the way things are? You know, God’s big hope, and God’s big power, have to have a delivery system. And with few exceptions, people who have let God show them enough of what’s possible that they won’t settle for the cinnamon latte and the family cookout are it.
There’s the riches of God’s inheritance over here, and then there’s the effectual working of God’s power in creation over here, and what usually stands in between? Paul said it: Us who believe. Us who believe. We’re the delivery system. Maybe the saints have a fiber optic line and the rest of us are on wifi, but we’re all the delivery system. If we’re willing to see it. If we’re willing to forego the easier short-term satisfactions and say No Deal. If we’re willing to trust God’s revelation of the riches of his inheritance and the hope to which we are called, and what the power of Christ can actually do about that through us, and then hold it. Hold it, even if it hurts.
You know, one thing the original Deal or No Deal has in common with the 2019 version fascinates me: what the audience gets most fired up about. You can learn a lot about the human heart from stuff like this. There we are, the contestant is in the spotlight, the briefcase is his, but he’s wavering, because the banker has what sounds like a reasonable offer on the table to buy him out. What’s the audience doing? I don’t think I’ve ever once in that situation heard the audience prudently chant, “Sell! Sell! Sell!” No. They’re shouting the exact opposite: “No deal!” They’re dying to see somebody with the vision and the courage to stand firm no matter what the banker offers. No deal!
So that might as well be us, you know. We’re the contestant in the spotlight this morning, writing out our pledge cards, praying words from the Book of Common Prayer, hearing revelation from the Bible, all of it full of God’s big hope and God’s ultimate promise. But this whole time, the banker’s got an offer on the table. She’s got a proposition for us: Shrink the hope! Sell the case! Spare yourself the discomfort. Settle. Settle for what you already have and what you already know.
And of course, we’re wavering. Because that’s what we do. But listen to the audience.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father Son and Holy Ghost.
The saints, the great cloud of witnesses, they’re our audience. And I don’t have to tell you. You know their advice. “No deal.”
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