Text: Ephesians 1:1-14
I have an important question today.
Are you a springer, or an oozer?
I’m talking about how you get out of bed in the morning. Do you spring out of bed, excited to do what you have to do, or do you slowly ooze out of bed, wondering if it is even worth getting up?
i realize that we are all a mix of both and it depends on the day.
What I really want to talk about today is one word: hope. One of the main reasons that people have a hard time getting up in the morning is because deep down inside, there is a lack of hope that the future holds any real promise.
I wonder, when you think about the future of your life, of our world, are you a springer, or an oozer?
Allow me to get a little bit philosophical for a second. The way we feel when we wake up is directly related to how we view the future.
Think about it.
Our past shapes our present, but you can’t go back to the past. The future, on the other hand shapes our present based upon how we envision the future. If we think the future is bright, we are more likely to spring with hope. If we think think the future is doom and gloom, we might be more prone to ooze.
In our text today, the apostle Paul gives us a perspective on this issue.
He tells us that our present attitude should be based, not on the past, but on a future promise. God has made a promise and has sealed it with the Holy Spirit.
I want to look at that, but I’m going to put a pin in it for a moment.
Before we go there we need to step back for a minute and look at the bigger picture.
Today we begin the last mini-series in our summer series of mini-series.
Remember that during the school year we follow the Narrative lectionary that starts at the beginning of the Bible and works its way chronologically through the stories of the Bible.
During the summer we look at parts of the Bible that are not in the story line, but are equally important. So far this summer we have looked at the Lord’s Prayer—that was a fun series—and we just finished up five weeks on Wisdom literature from Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Today we begin a four-week series on a little letter from the New Testament called Ephesians.
Grab your Bible and open it up to the letter to the Ephesians. It is toward the back of the book.
The New Testament begins with the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—which tell the story of Jesus, and then we have the book of Acts—which tells the story of the first generation of Jesus-followers. Right after Acts, the rest of the Bible is a collection of personal letters written from one person to either a specific church or to a specific person. Most of the letters in the New Testament were written by a guy named Paul.
I like to call the study of these Epistles—as they are named—“Reading Paul’s Mail.”
Before we look at what Paul has to say about the issue of hope in the future, we need to ask a more fundamental question.
Why do we care what Paul said? Why do we spend time reading letters that were written 2,000 years ago?
First, let me tell you what these questions are not. Then we’ll talk about what they are, and why it is important for us to study them.
These letters are not a list of rules, or laws, that Christians must follow at all times and in all places by all people. Some people read them this way. So, when Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that women should be silent in the church, some people believe that to be obedient to God and the Bible means that no woman should ever talk in the church.
When you take this view of the letters it can lead into some interesting ethical cul-de-sacs.
Here’s how I view these letters.
Track with me for a second. 2,000 years ago there was this amazing and troubling historical event. Jesus of Nazareth showed up in Galilee and started performing miracles and claimed to be the Son of God. His teaching was radical and he challenged people to live according to the Kingdom of God. He was crucified and rose from the dead.
Boom. That is an historical event. Jesus happened.
The people that encountered that event had to deal with it. They talked about it. Prayed about it. Told stories about it. And they formed a community around it, called the church.
Here’s the thing. They all agreed on the reality of Jesus, but they didn’t always agree on what it meant and how to live out Jesus’ teaching in the world.
The biggest challenge that the first group of Jesus-followers faced was the fact that Jesus was a Jewish man who spoke about God in a very Jewish way.
The first disciples wrestled with this question.
Did Jesus want everyone to become Jewish, or could the message of Jesus be brought to a different culture—like the Greeks—in a way that fit their culture. If so, then what did it look like? How do you do that?
We are still wrestling with that question. We may not be wrestling with the same cultural issues that they were then, but we are still wrestling with the question of what the message of Jesus looks like in different cultures today.
So, why do we read Paul’s mail? Paul is so important for us, not because of the specific rules he laid out for the churches, because those were culturally specific. His letters are important to us for two reasons:
They give us insight into how he explained the nature of God as he understood it.
We can learn from how he bridged the cultural gap from Jew to Gentile so that we can wrestle with our own cultural issues today.
I know that may be way too abstract for most of us, but I think it is important to state these things once in a while.
Now, let’s zoom in a little tighter on the picture for this series. We are looking at the specific letter of Ephesians. Whenever you read a letter it is important to know who is writing the letter, to whom it is written, and what sparked the writing of the letter.
Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul. He was the guy who started off as a Pharisee. He was a shooting star among the Pharisees and was making a name for himself by being a hard core persecutor of people who followed Jesus. Then, one day, he encountered Jesus in a vision, as was radically converted to following Jesus. He gave up everything and became a missionary to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people who lived in the Roman Empire.
Toward the end of his life Paul was under house arrest in Rome. While he was there he wrote a letter to the churches that surrounded the city of Ephesus. A unique thing about this letter is that it wasn’t written to just one church, but was intended to be circulated to many churches in the area.
The point of the letter was to paint a picture for the churches of what the church could and should look like as it is united in Jesus.
That sounds fine when I say it right here, but reality is that Paul was talking about bringing unity between groups of people that had hated each other for centuries. How in the world could Jews live together, in the same community, as brothers and sisters, with Gentiles. Humanly speaking, it was impossible.
It all comes down to one word: Hope.
OK, now, let’s take a deep breath, I’ll take off my Bible teacher hat, and we can jump back into this question of hope and getting out of bed in the morning.
In these first 14 verses of the letter Paul sets the tone and lays the foundation for the whole thing. How can two warring factions come together in unity? The only way this is possible is because of the promise that God has made about the future.
I want us to key in on two places in this text.
Look at verse 10. Verses 1-9 have said that God has lavished grace on us through Jesus Christ, why? Verse 10 says,
“as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
You see, this is God’s promise. God is working, even now, to bring all things together. God’s will is not that some people make it into Heaven and everyone else is cast out and cursed. God’s will is that all things, not just humans, are brought together in unity and in peace.
That is what we call God’s promised and preferred future.
Then, down in verses 13 and 14 Paul says,
“In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
God has made a promise and God has sealed that promise with the Spirit. Not only did God promise, as if God’s word wasn’t good enough, but God sealed the promise.
Many times, as Christians, we find our identity in the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.
We look back and say, “Jesus died for my sins and I’m forgiven.” That’s true. That’s extremely important. But, then what?
I don’t think that is where we are supposed to focus our attention. That is backwards. It is the past that shapes us, without it we would be lost, but it is not the hope that gets us out of bed in the morning.
The hope that gets us up, or at least the hope that invites us to get up, is the fact that God is working, right now, to bring all things together.
God is moving toward a promised and preferred future in this world that God loves so much, and God invites us to join God in that endeavor.
A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of going on the mission trip with a group of 22 high school students. We had an amazing time. One of those students told me a story that I think speaks to this question. I want to leave you with it.
Before the trip he was struggling with issues that every high school student deals with; anxiety, where do I fit in questions, what am I supposed to do with my life. He felt pretty lost and kind of empty inside. Then, on the trip, he caught a glimpse of how God can work through the simplest acts of kindness in the life of a child, and how hope can transform someone. He came back from the trip and his priorities got changed. He realizes that God has invited him to make a difference with his life. Now all those motivations of being “successful” don’t seem quite as important.
My prayer for us as we move through Paul’s letter is that we would grow deeper in the hope that comes from the Holy Spirit and that God’s invitation to join in the process of bringing all things together would make it a little easier to spring out of bed in the morning.