Sermon for Trinity VI – Proper 11B
Preached at All Saints’ Church – Thomasville, GA
July 19, 2009
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
In 4 short verses St. Paul packs an absolutely mystifying amount of theology for us to try and grasp and absorb. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit is a glorious thing to behold, and He gives us an example of that mystery in this section of the Epistle to the Ephesians this morning.
A particular aspect of theology that our passage this morning addresses is eschatology. Eschatology is a term that describes that area of theology dealing with the end of time, or the last things. For some, eschatology becomes the last chapter in most theology textbooks, relegated almost to appendix status. The opening paragraph of Joseph Ratzinger’s book by the same name clarifies this point for us, but asserts that eschatology is so much more than just a footnote.
For centuries eschatology was content to lead a quiet life as the final chapter of theology where it was dubbed “the doctrine of the last things.” But in our own time, with the historical process in crisis, eschatology has moved into the very center of the theological stage. Some twenty years ago, Hans Urs von Balthasar called it the “storm-zone” of contemporary theology. Today it appears to dominate the entire theological landscape. A recent synod of the German bishops published a confession of faith under the title “Our Hope” – thus placing faith itself in hope’s perspective.
These words of Benedict XVI were first penned in German in 1977. So what exactly does this have to do with our passage this morning, and more importantly, what does it have to do with us?
The passage that I read when I began was not actually part of the lectionary section, but I had it added in. The framers of the lectionary sometimes astonish me with what they leave out, and this is one of those very times. Do we not need to hear that we are in fact dead creatures, with no hope, no future except through the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ? I certainly need to hear that, and I need to hear it often.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, our hope, our faith and our future, finds its culmination and resting point not in a destination, but in a person. It is found in Jesus Christ.
Look at what would have been excluded if the first section of Ephesians 2 had been left out of this morning’s lesson. First, we hear an echo of our collect which speaks about the abundance of God’s mercy and His great love for what He has made. We were dead in our sinful state with no hope and no future, and God has raised us to a new life in Christ. Now, try and follow here because this is where the link to eschatology comes in.
There is a perspective to the statement that we have been raised to a new life in Christ that tells us that this has already happened and is to be experienced now. However, as believers in the resurrection of the dead, as espoused in the Creeds, we know that this has not fully been realized yet – there is certainly more to come. So here is the situation, how do we reconcile these two positions?
I believe we do so in the very same way that we live out the words of the Lord’s Prayer – Thy Kingdom Come. We don’t say these words with some futuristic nostalgia in mind, nor do we say them in terms of an unrealistic utopia that leaves us lacking or despondent.
In the first section of Ephesians 2, St. Paul diagnoses the human condition with absolute clarity. The great thing about Paul and Jesus is that they don’t leave us simply diagnosed, but they show us the cure. What would it be like to go to the doctor and have him tell you that you have a disease, but that his job is now over since he’s found the problem and simply says, “Let’s live with it?” That’s not any kind of diagnosis with any hope attached to it. You want the doctor to diagnose the problem, and follow-up those words with, “Here’s how we’re going to fix it.”
Many of you probably remember the movie that came out 20 years ago Dead Poet’s Society staring Robin Williams. That even makes me feel old saying it came out 20 years ago. Mr. Keating, the new English professor, arrives at Welton Academy for boys, and on one of his first days in class he takes him through the hallway of the school to look at the pictures of those who had gone before them and to listen to their stories. As he asks them to look deep into those pictures and listen to their stories he whispers in the background one of the watchword phrases of the entire movie carpe diem – seize the day.
In a secular context, seize the day is exactly what wear hear all around us. In a Christian context we are called to do the same thing, but we are called to do it with a difference.
The secularistic worldview embraces carpe diem because it says this is all there is so you better enjoy it while it lasts. The rich man in the Gospels was the poster child of this worldview even in Jesus’ day and age.
In 1980 English journalist and poet Steve Turner penned these words, and in my view sums up the secularist worldview quite well.
We believe in Marx Freud and Darwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there's something in
horoscopes, UFO's and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same--
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it's compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.
We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.
"Chance" a post-script
If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker."
This post-script is certainly no recipe for hope. The Christian Gospel on the other hand is the only thing that can counter this sentiment, and do so with clarity, conviction, and courage.
As Christ’s disciples we embrace carpe diem because it is a foretaste of what is to come. We heard that expressed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this morning when he told that church that they would experience immeasurable riches of God’s grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. What’s critical to understand about this statement is that it does speak of the life to come, but it also speaks of life here and now.
One of the big debates in eschatology is the difference between future eschatology and realized eschatology. As the names would indicate, future eschatology has not been realized yet, and is still to come at some point in time in the future. Realized eschatology is that which has happened in the past, is happening now in the present and will continue to happen in the future.
When we hear the phrase Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven used in Scripture or in passages like this mornings from Ephesians does it mean something yet to come, or something that has already been ushered in and dwells with us? Almost every time the answer is a resounding YES!
It’s both at the same time even though we are dealing with what many like to refer to as the already, but the not yet.
Finally, I wish to ground this in something that we experience and partake in as the Church - the Holy Communion. Eschatology comes back into the picture again, and Scripture declares that every time that we eat this bread and drink this cup now, we proclaim the Lord’s death in the past, until He comes again in the future in power and glory.
In that one event, all of time collapses into the here and now. In so doing, we are catching an ever so small glimpse into the Heavenly banquet where we will on day dine at the Lord’s Table.
“Through the Eucharist…the Church proclaims its faith in the Lordship of Jesus and in the coming of the Kingdom. Through the Eucharist the Church manifests and more fully recognizes and deepens its unity in Christ. Through the Eucharist the Church sets a pattern for its own ministry to those in need and exposes itself thereby to judgment.”
Our Lord bids us to come to His Table with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart, which is the only acceptable way for us to come before the Almighty. The grace we receive as we partake of Christ’s Body and Blood provides us the nourishment to go forth from here and faithfully bear witness to the One who feeds us in this Blessed Sacrament. We are daily sent out into the world to share this message of hope to a world that desperately needs to hear it. Come to our Lord’s Altar, and receive the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation – the greatest gift we could ever receive.
****Citations and footnotes available upon request****