(A sermon based on Ephesians 1:15-23 for Reign of Christ Sunday preached on November 23)
We live in a society that is plagued by shortsightedness. We see that reality in how we live our personal lives and in how our leaders design and implement public policies. We tend to adopt the short-term fix rather than work toward the long-term solution. We think more about what’s good for us than we do about what’s good for the generations that will follow us.
There’s a Bible story that illustrates what I’m talking about. Hezekiah was king of Judah in the eighth century BCE. He received some Babylonian envoys during the time that Babylon was rising in power; he tried to impress those envoys by showing them all of his treasure. When Isaiah the prophet found out about it, he told King Hezekiah that there would come a day when all of Judah’s treasure would be taken to Babylon and some of Hezekiah’s own sons would be taken into captivity. I find the king’s response to the prophet amazing: “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good … Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19). “Who cares what happens to my children?” Hezekiah said, “so long as I’ll be all right.”
That’s unbelievable—yet we often are afflicted by the same mindset.
The short-term view is not one that best befits those of us who call Jesus Christ Lord and who take seriously his status as King of all that is, of all that ever has been, and of all that ever will be. We can and should take the longest-term view—the eternal view. That eternal view, though, gives us the greatest incentive to do all we can to live fully, to help freely, and to serve sacrificially in the here and now.
We can have an eternal perspective because Jesus Christ is King. This last Sunday of the Christian year is a good time to look back over the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus—over all that we have been saying and celebrating about Jesus since last Advent— so as to remind ourselves of what his life is all about and what our lives are all about.
Let’s look at Jesus. Jesus was born as God incarnate, as God in the flesh, thereby showing us how far God will go to be with us. Jesus lived his life as the Son of God; he embodied grace, truth, trust, and love, thereby showing us how God would have us to live as God’s children. Jesus died on the cross, thereby showing us how great, how determined, and how costly is the love God has for us. Jesus was raised from the grave by God, thereby gaining a victory over death in which we by grace through faith participate. Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, the position of highest authority from which he reigns over all of the powers that exist.
God is bringing together in Christ all that is.
Now let’s look at us. Because of all that God has done and is doing in Christ, we know God—not just know about God but know God—and can come to know God better and better. Because of all that God has done and is doing in Christ, we are being delivered and will be delivered from all of the powers that threaten our life and our well-being, be they powers that show themselves in disease or in war or in racism or in sexism or in classism or in poverty or in any other reality. Because of all that God has done and is doing in Christ, we will be and we have been joined with Christ in the power of his resurrection. In Christ the powers that hurt and limit us are being overcome and will one day be completely overcome. As Paul says elsewhere, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
So what are we to be doing with our lives right now? Surely we are not to be sitting around bemoaning how bad things are; surely we are not to be giving up because we think things are just going to keep getting worse and worse; surely we are not to live in ways that make us part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
No, because we believe in what God in Christ is doing and will do, we want to be part of the process; we want to be involved in what God is doing as we move along toward that time when all of the powers that afflict us will be completely subjected to Christ. This marvelous good news about what God is doing and will in Christ affects the ways that we live right here and now.
Let’s look at just one example. Paul, in very lofty and inspiring language, celebrates the fact that God’s plan is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that God is already doing that by gathering Jews and Gentiles together in the Church (see chapters 3 & 4). In other words, God will one day bring all of God’s people together and in the meantime, all who will come together in the Church are welcome by God to come together in the Church.
One day we will all be one in Christ. These days such oneness is a challenge for us. But we have the privilege and the responsibility of craving, seeking, and working toward such oneness. Clearly we should want and work toward oneness with all who call on the name of Christ; we should all try to grow in our relationship with Christ so that we can also grow in our relationship with one another. But we should also seek all the oneness with others that we can and to work toward understanding and helping to improve the world in all the ways we can precisely because we believe in God’s great future.
It is the power of God—the same power that is seen in the resurrection of Jesus and in the ongoing submission of all powers to him—that is working in us to make it so.
Thanks be to God …