Sermon preached by Rev. KJ Norris on Sunday, February 21 as part of the Lenten Series on Ephesians.
Opening Prayer: Holy and loving God, as we worship you today, we long for your Spirit to both comfort and challenge us, to help us become more holy and more loving. In a world that does not understand repentance, we pray for new understanding, humility, patience, and discipline that will help us die to sin and live for Jesus. Amen. (Sourcebook, 560).
In his book 3:16: The Numbers of Hope, Max Lucado talks about his dog (Lucado, 2018, 49). Salty is the dog’s name—a beautiful salt & pepper colored mutt which Lucado says when shaved could pass for a bulimic Chihuahua. Salty never was a particularly friendly dog and as the years wore on he lost energy, teeth, hearing, and eye sight. You could place a dog treat in front of him and he would just stare at it through a cloudy haze.
Salty grew nervous and edgy and would growl a little when anyone came near. But Lucado would reach out and pet Salty just the same. And the touch of his old friend who had cared for him over the years would sooth Salty—love would pass between them.
I would submit to you today that I am a lot like Salty. Blind. Deaf. Unable to know if the one who is coming towards me means me ill or good, especially when that one is God.
In fact, the Bible suggests that we are all like Salty. The Scripture we read at the Ash Wednesday service this week says it even more strongly. “We are dead in our trespasses.” Not only are we blind and deaf, we are dead; we humans, by nature, we are unable to see. Unable to hear. Unable to sense the goodness of God in our lives. The power of sin and death is so pervasive that it rules within us.
Yet, despite all our flaws. Despite the fact that we have nothing to offer. God reaches out and touches us. God loves us still. In the words of Scripture from Ephesians 2, “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together in Christ.”
In the Lord Jesus Christ, we have been born new creations. And we are being continuously reborn—continuously remade to be the people who God has created us to be.
In today’s Scripture Paul turns and prays for the church. He is praying about specific things he has heard about churches in this region we call Ephesus—this part of modern day Turkey—churches to whom he is writing this letter. But if I might be so bold, I believe he is praying for us too. Just as these Scriptures have been kept and cherished by the Church for generations, these prayers continue to resonate within the hearts and minds of believers throughout the world.
And what does Paul pray for?
First Paul prays that our hearts may be enlightened. That we will be able to see. That we may have within us a spirit of wisdom and revelation.
An what are we to see? What are we to know?
He prays that we might know hope. The hope of our calling.
Paul wants us to have hope because as he says in Romans, “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
This hope is so great that Paul gets excited and writes a massive run-on sentence to describe God’s power at work in us. “Riches of his glorious inheritance.” “Immeasurable greatness.” “Power at work in Christ when he raised [Christ] from the dead.”
Did you catch that? The same power that raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is at work in you right now. And that power is at work not because we earned our power points. Not because we have done enough good that God has suddenly chosen us. Not because we prayed hard enough or gave enough money or memorized enough Scripture. There is nothing that we can do to earn God’s love. We don’t have to.
While we were still dead in our trespasses, God loved us. This is the very character of God. The very being of God is love. The very nature of God is to give. This is the one whom we worship.
This week we entered into the season of Lent. The word “lent” actually just means springtime. This is the season when we look with hope for the spring to come, and it always does. And it is also the season when we look with hope for God to transform our lives.
This starts by meditating on who God is. We start by recognizing God’s great love for us—God’s compassion, God’s call. And then we move to thankfulness—to gratitude for what God has done in our lives. We live in thankfulness that we are no longer bound by sin and death but that we have been set free to live as God intended. To live abundant lives.
As verses 22 and 23 tells us, Jesus Christ is our head and we, all of us together with believers all around the world and in ages past and ages to come, we are the body of Christ. We together are God’s hands and feet called to live as ones who love God and loveour neighbors. Called share the good news of Jesus Christ with the whole world.
The session reminded me of that yesterday. We were studying the Great Ends of the Church, in other words the marks that we can look at to see if we are on the right path as a church—the measuring stick we use as a church to know how we are doing, you might say. Sometimes I treat worship as the most important thing that we do—as the first call of our lives. And certainly worship is very important. But do you know what the first call of the church is?
It’s “the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind” (Book of Order, F-1.0304). Our first and foremost call is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone we meet—those who have been walking with God for many years and those who have never named the love of God in their own lives.
And today we have the beautiful gift of proclaiming God’s love in two ways.
The first is that we are going to ordain and install new elders here at Kerr. Two weeks ago, you all prayerfully voted for those who will help lead and guide the church in this year.
And today we ask them to stand before us and to kneel before God promising to do this work faithfully. As a part of this service of ordination, we all get an opportunity to once again state our own commitment to follow God in all that we say and do.
And then, after the recognition of new elders, we will have communion together. We will be reminded in a tangible way that we are indeed part of the body of Christ, rooted and established in love, to go out into the world.
Let us pause for a moment in the silence of our hearts to pray as we ready ourselves to recommit our lives to the Lord.