Eph 1:3-14 Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. (4) Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love (5) God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children—this was his pleasure and purpose. (6) Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son! (7) For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, (8) which he gave to us in such large measure! In all his wisdom and insight (9) God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. (10) This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head. (11) All things are done according to God's plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning. (12) Let us, then, who were the first to hope in Christ, praise God's glory! (13) And you also became God's people when you heard the true message, the Good News that brought you salvation. You believed in Christ, and God put his stamp of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised. (14) The Spirit is the guarantee that we shall receive what God has promised his people, and this assures us that God will give complete freedom to those who are his. Let us praise his glory!
May the Words of my mouth and thoughts of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Here’s the good news. The greatest church hasn’t yet come into existence.. yet.
And you have the possibility to be the greatest church
So a church is a gathering of people who have found in Jesus
a new way to do life
and who believe that in Him is found life.
The apostle Paul who wrote today’s reading
tells us that before the cosmos came into existence you and I had already been
chosen to be the part of the church.
Others as well of course
but let’s stay focused on you and me for today.
What Paul is saying is that behind your life and mine there is a divine purpose. We talk
about the need to have a purpose in life
whatever that means
Paul is saying – you and I have a divine purpose
and that God calls us to that purpose.
As scary as it seems you are not here or at any church, by accident.
For Paul, God is behind, your and my being here!
This is what I find, people coming to
say a church like this, or any group of Christians
and they don’t know why
or how they got there.
I’ve known people who have driven past a church for a few weeks
intent on coming in
but afraid to till finally they feel they must.
And if say to them, so how did it happen
why did you feel you wanted to come,
there is not any great complicated explanation
but rather I think in every case
the response is – I just had to.
I knew I had to come.
And that really blows me away
and often reduces me to tears
as I sense the hand of God on a person’s life
and I have the sense
that this is a wow thing.
In a major way.
A major occurrence in a person’s life.
Involving for some a change of life and attitude
a new sense of something special about them.
So major, and yet extremely
gentle and loving.
And so when this happens to someone
for me it’s never a case of, Hallelujah praise the Lord
as some of my colleagues might respond,
but rather I’m left flabbergasted.
And in awe, and a deep sense of humility
and wonder at how God works mysteriously in a person’s life.
And I realize that I am on holy ground.
You can see I have a hard job even explaining it.
But it happens.
I’ve seen it happen with children
I have seen it happen with teens
when they walk away from the crowd
almost, as someone has written,
because they hear the sound of a different drum.
There comes a realization that life is
as Jesus put it, more than food and drink.
And you walk away from the crowd
and the feeding frenzy of popular culture.
It happens when we have grown up in the church
and when we have had nothing to do with a church.
It happens to church members
Heather and I have a friend who was kept out of Bible in School
by parents who were declared atheists
and kept well away from churches.
And some how she started coming to the church
I say somehow!! The Divine smiles!
We were running a course on grief
and the last part was the faith aspect.
At the end she asked,
what is this faith thing!
What is this God thing?
So to cut a long and humbling journey short
she now ministers in a church community
The other irony is that her parents named her after a Hindu God, Krishna, which
incidentally means spiritual pleasure as the highest experience of life!
So there you go!
Again, God chuckles.
The apostle Paul sensed this,
that because all things emanate from God
we have within a God dna.
An early Christian writer put it this way:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
That means there is a longing in the heart of every person
And then there seems to come a time when we can no longer put it off.
We may fight it
afraid to surrender.
But it happens.
One day we all surrender.
And come, often with our threadbare
and wretched lives in hand
and pray, God help me.
Or as I prayed as a lost 24 or so year old,
“God if you’re real make yourself real to me before
I ruin my life!”
And God did.
I wasn’t expecting God would set me on 5 years of study for ministry
but I guess that’s what happens sometimes when you are serious enough to
surrender to the Divine!
And this sort of thing I guess was happening at Ephesus.
The message of God’s love in Jesus
was being heard by the people and they had a sense in what was said
about Jesus, that it wasn’t
Artemis that was Lord of all things
and it wasn’t the Caesar at the time, Domitian
who was Lord and God
and who enforced worship through fear
and a blown up ego
it was in fact
Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenters son, who lived and poured out God’s love on all
And with it a message of equality of gender
and the preciousness of children
and equality of races
and the breaking down of the walls of discrimination.
It was so attractive.
This was a new way of doing life.
And they formed these groups called churches,
like we are here today,
meaning a gathering of free people.
That’s how we got here.
And this is where the rubber meets the road!
If we are this gathering of free people
then when people get a sense of God’s call on their lives
and come to join us what should they find?
How about, welcome, humility, peace, joy
No sense of arrogance,
no sense of, us thinking we are better than others.
More a sense of we are in this journey to God together.
I guess in some ways
a church beginning again after a time of struggle so
the questions I struggle with is:
Can we be a great church?
And would you rather be part of a great church or a mediocre church?
and, then, what is a great church?
Let me say greatness has nothing to do with numbers.
I spoke of watching a programme – the Pizza Show
I think it was called.
They have competitions to find the best pizza makers
in places like New York and Chicago.
And they all seem to be
small pizzas places that customers line up for blocks sometimes to get a pizza from a
A winner was giving an acceptance speech
and he said: We’re not in competition
with the big Pizza chains.
They do what they do for the mass market.
What we do is deliver a product
that has our passion and love and history
built into it – we don’t just create pizzas, we create places where
the individual matters to
the guy making the pizzas.
Places of warmth and attention and welcome.
I guess more than anything else, it spoke to me
of the importance of the local Church.
Remember the sit com “Cheers?”
They had a theme song:
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
And if you remember the series
there is this crazy group of odd characters
who find welcome
and acceptance in each other.
So what’s a great church?
Last week we sang the Hymn Amazing Grace.
The author, John Newton began his adult career as a slave ship captain
where he lived what he came to see as a despicable, rotten life.
He became a Christian,
left the trade and eventually trained to be a minister the Church.
He was haunted the rest of his life
by the pain and in humanity, he had shown to slaves.
He experienced this amazing
unmerited grace of God
and from that place wrote: “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I’m found
was blind but now I see.”
And as I thought of that
I imagined that his congregation
his church would have been a safe place to belong to.
It would have been
a place of compassion
and an unmistakable sense of the presence of God
and above all –pervasive Grace
all born out of John Newton’s humility.
His experience of God’s reaching down into his life
that he described as wretched,
and making him anew creature.
So when I think of a great church it’s not what we sing
or whether they are old hymns or new songs
it’s not the things we get hung up on
rather a maybe a great church is a group of people who have experienced the Grace of God;
who know that despite where they have been or what they have done
they are loved
and have been shown unearned grace and compassion.
Hopefully with ministers who
live out of grace
not their own self-righteousness.
Why would that a great church?
Because only such a people who have received unearned
who know they were lost
and Jesus found them
can be a safe place for wounded people to come and be part of.
And not be judged
or condemned, or shunned, or ignored.
But rather be embraced as if by the arms of Jesus
and be healed.
For me, if I come to you wounded, that would be a great church.
May we be such a place to the glory of God and the help of those who hurt.
Now unto God the Father, God the Son and God, the holy Spirit, be all the honour and
glory, world without end. Amen
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