July 11: Blessed By God to Be a Blessing (1/7)

July 11: Blessed By God to Be a Blessing (1/7)

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Audio of sermon and pastoral prayer only

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-14

Pastor Drew shared the following introduction to this sermon series during the time of welcoming and announcements.

Summer is full of celebrations. Independence Day. Various jazz festivals, including Detroit, Chicago, and Montreal. The Cherry Festival in Traverse City. The Ann Arbor Art Fair. And, of course, our own Blue Water Festival. Summer is when a lot of people celebrate wedding anniversaries and travel cross-country for family reunions. By and large, summer’s a great time to celebrate the wide array of life’s blessings. What better time, then, for us to celebrate the abundant blessings of God?

Starting today and going through August 22, we’re going to work our way through the book of Ephesians, which will be the source of our summer celebration. Ephesians has been dubbed “the Queen of the Epistles” in large part because it contains everything needed to explain the Christian faith. The book itself divides neatly into two halves, both of which will be covered in this sermon series. The first half, chapters 1-3, provide a theological foundation for the faith using some of the most beautiful language of the letter. The second half, chapters 4-6, focuses on the ethical dimensions of the faith. If chapters 1-3 give us the theological underpinnings of what it means to be a Christian, chapters 4-6 answer the questions of how to live a Christian life. It reminds us that faith isn’t just about believing, but about living.

This particular sermon series is entitled “Gearing Up for Life.” Based on two-part format of the letter itself, I’ve divided the series into two parts. First, we’ll look at the foundations of our belief system in weeks 1-3 and address some of the important “why” parts of the letter. Why do we embrace this life of faith in Jesus Christ? Why have we been given our various blessings, opportunities, and grace? It’ll be a look at the core themes of the Christian faith.

Then in weeks 4-7 we’ll look at the “how” part of the letter. Because of the grace we examined in the first half, this “how-to” section is a call to living a theologically ethical life. The theological “why” and “what” we believe informs the “how” we live out our beliefs in the everyday world.

Now, another aspect of summer is that it’s when a lot of us travel. So, even though each message will somewhat build off what came before, each one will nevertheless stand on its own. If you’re gone for a week or two this summer, no problem. Come when you can and receive whatever God has planned for you that week. Of course, those who are here all seven weeks will automatically receive extra credit! (ha!)

In my introduction, I said that this summer we’re celebrating the God who’s blessed us in every way. Isn’t that what each of us called to bear witness to in our daily walk of faith?

If you were asked to name some of the ways God’s touched your life with his goodness, what would you lift up and highlight?

  • Maybe you’d share a little about your spiritual beginnings, how it came about that you said yes to Jesus.
  • Maybe you’d talk about a time when God brought you through a time of doubt or anxiety, or a period of time when you felt lost or unsure about what to do next.
  • Maybe you’d speak to a time when God helped you forgive someone who hurt you.
  • Maybe you’d share about getting a new job, or having a baby, or being given the grace to let a loved go to their eternal rest when it was the last thing you wanted to do.
  • Who knows, maybe you’d tell them about how the previous night you were able to finally get on Zoom without having to troubleshoot any audio or video problems!

Our blessings are myriad, aren’t they? If you really think about it, the question isn’t How has God blessed us, it’s How has God not blessed us! Because the truth is God’s blessed us in more ways than we could possibly count or name.

If I may, I’d like to share a recent blessing of mine. This past week I was blessed to have four straight days with our daughter, Rachel. Just the two of us, one-on-one, at our cottage. The long drives there and back were a blessing and our time at the cottage itself was a blessing. We listened to music, sometimes hers and sometimes mine. We watched a movie. We talked about light-hearted things as well as serious issues. We swam in Lake Michigan. We got donuts from the bakery in Mackinaw City. We ate dinner at a local establishment just down the road. We laughed a lot. She got to finish a puzzle which she started last year, and she also finished a book she brought with her. All in all, that I had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with her was wonderful. Of course, I’m also blessed that Caroline was open to us going up there together. While Rachel and I were up north, she was at home looking after one of our cats which was under medical care and was facing possible surgery, which he ended up not having – another blessing!

As a church, we’ve been very blessed by God, haven’t we. Through the years we’ve been blessed with a wonderful staff, and now with Elisabeth, our new Director of Children’s, Youth, and Family Ministries. Her experience, vision, and call to ministry are sure to bless both us and the community. We’ve been blessed with faithful leaders and volunteers. With Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and tech’s who run our sound and video each week. Our beautiful facility is certainly a blessing to us.

All this talk about acknowledging God’s blessings is in response to the opening statement in today’s reading from Ephesians 1. Verse 3 says, “Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven” (v. 3). That verse has two parts. The first is an imperative in which we’re instructed to do something. The second is the reason for doing what we’ve been told to do. In our case, the imperative is “Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Bless God. Actively extol and exalt God. And why are we called to do that? Because he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. We bless God because he’s blessed us. We exalt and lift up the holy Name of God in response to the blessings he’s bestowed upon us.

Paul then names key blessing of God he deems worthy of our blessing him in response. I’ll paraphrase. Paul says that prior to initiating the creation of the cosmos (what we read about in Genesis 1), he’d already determined that he would welcome Gentiles—non-Jews—into the family of God through faith in his Son, Jesus. That through Christ, we would be holy and without fault in God’s eyes. All this was determined and put into motion before he spoke the word, “Let their be light.” What’s the blessing of God? Forgiveness of our sins. Freedom from the power of sin. Spiritual understanding and wisdom. In a word, grace. From before Time began, God has been forever pouring his love and grace into each and every one of us. Through Christ, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven.

So, we’ve been blessed! We’ve been chosen! We’re officially a part of God’s family! What a declaration to offer thirsty people like ourselves, people who live in a desert world of failure, exclusion, and neglect. Whether you’re a young person struggling with feelings of self-worth or an older person feeling neglected and abandoned by family, this is good news for us.

But the truth is, God’s blessings aren’t intended for us alone. The “chosen” of God is intended to be an ever-widening circle. Listen to verse 10. “Here’s what God has planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” What falls into the category of “all things”? Everything and everyone in creation. God’s ultimate plan is to unify all creation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Paul speaks to this widening circle in verses 12 and 13. There’s a very interesting connection between verses 12 and 13 that’s easy to miss. Up to this point, Paul addresses his readers as “we” and “us.” So far, whenever he says “we” and “us,” it’s meant to indicate the inclusion of his readers alongside himself. “We” = you and I together. For example, in verse 7 we read, “We have been ransomed through his blood.”  The “we” who’ve been ransomed by the blood of Christ is Paul and all the recipients of his letter.  But then, in verse 12 he references a “we” which doesn’t include his readers. How do we know this? Because of the way he begins verse 13, which marks a differentiation between two different groups of people. If I read these two verses, you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

Starting in verse 12 he writes, “We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ (v. 12). You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (v. 13). In verse 12, who constitutes the “we” who were the first to hope in Christ? The Jews. The first followers of Christ were Jews. Paul’s initial audience were Jews. It was years later that he turned his attention to bringing the Gospel to Gentiles. In essence, Paul says: We Jews were called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. Then, later on, you Gentiles also heard the word of truth; you also were sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Initially, the family of God was those who’s blood lines could be traced back to Abraham. But before Abraham was–before creation was called into being–God had already planned to expand the family to include any and everyone else who would respond to his blessing of love, grace, and forgiveness.

Today, you and I are recipients of this grace, and we’ve responded. But it’s not meant to stop with us. It’s meant to keep going. The family of God is intended to include any and everyone who’ll respond to his grace. The Good News is not meant to be contained with the wall of the community of faith. The hope and will of God is that the whole world will be gathered up into the blessing that is covenant with God into the beloved community. And our job is not to draw lines of exclusion, but to open wide the arms of grace-filled faith and to welcome, to bless, to adopt into our family all the sons and daughters of God.

Friends, we who have been adopted are now the adopters. We who have been blessed are now the ones who bless. We who have been included are now the includers. The circle enlarges. The ripples work out to bring transformation to a world sorely in need of the influence of the Kingdom of God.

So, at some point this morning I want you to look around. I want you to look around and see who’s not here. That is, who’s missing? Who in our community is missing from our congregation? Who from the neighborhood around our church building is missing from our congregation? Who do we need to do a better job of connecting with and getting to know and inviting to know Jesus?

As I read this passage in Ephesians, God has blessed each of us for at least two reasons. Because he wants us to personally experience the joy of knowing Jesus AND so that we will pour those very blessings into the lives of others. In essence, we are blessed by God to be a blessing to others. Blessed to be a blessing.


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