ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MAY 13, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
YOU WILL INHERIT
Ephesians 1: 15 – 23; John 16: 16 – 24
Most of us have had the fantasy of coming into an inheritance from a long lost relative we didn’t know. This fantasy makes the practice of email scams lucrative. You open your email and up pops a message from a lawyer in Nigeria (why Nigeria, I don’t know, but I’ve had a few from there). They tell you that a person sharing your family name has died and left behind a vast amount of money. The lawyer is administering the inheritance and has been unable to identify any of the dead person’s relatives and so he has tracked the family tree to you. The fraudsters will emphasize the need for discretion – you are not to talk about your good fortune. To hurry you into making a hasty decision, they will also stress the need to act quickly. However, there is no inheritance and the person contacting you isn’t a lawyer or legal official. If you respond to the fraudsters, they’ll ask you to make a variety of payments – taxes, legal fees, banking fees etc. – so they can release your non-existent inheritance. Each time you make a payment, the fraudsters will come up with a reason why the inheritance can’t be paid out unless you make another payment. Finally, they’ll ask you to send them your bank account number, so they can make the deposit. The next time you check the account – voila! You haven’t a cent left. Of course, when you try to trace the so-called law firm, there is no trace. So, what if you were told, you have been chosen to receive an inheritance – one so great that you’ll never want for anything ever again? What would your reaction be? Would you be skeptical? Start spending now? Get a bank account in the Cayman islands? Wonder what I’m on about now?
Well, every Christian is in line to receive a great inheritance from our heavenly Father. We read in Romans 8: 14 – 17: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”. If we really understood the fullness of those words, we’d all fall on our knees and weep with joy.
In Ephesians, Paul speaks of this heritage, but before I get into that part of his message, I’d like you to hear again his opening remarks to the Church at Ephesus, “That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks.” (Ephesians 1: 15). I just want to echo those words to my Church. I give thanks for you for the same reasons – because of your steadfast faith in Christ and your love for one another. I’d even add that I give thanks for your love for those beyond our church family. It’s a blessing to lead and be part of this congregation.
In this passage Paul unravels what it means to be an adopted child of God. He begins with our calling. Being called by God isn’t something that just happens to ministers – it’s the invitation of God to every Christian. It’s God who calls us. By his gift of grace, through Christ, God chooses us, and God adopts us. Baptism is the outward sign of our calling. In most Churches we, follow the Biblical model where if the head of the house came to believe in Christ their entire household would be baptized, so we baptize adult believers and their children into the covenant community of the Church. Back in the day before glue when one sent a letter they’d fold it over and pour a bit of wax on top and press it with a personalized seal. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit puts her seal on us at baptism. This sets us apart for Christ and marks us as an adopted, beloved child of God. But this isn’t the end of our journey; it’s the beginning. Just as our birth is only the beginning of our earthly life, our rebirth is the beginning of our life in Christ. From that day forward the Spirit is alive in us teaching and revealing God to us so that we can mature into the likeness of Christ. The Spirit grants us wisdom and revelation so that we come to understand and live out our calling. Our calling is both a promise and a call to action. The NRSV reads, “so you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” while the message translates the save verse as, “so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do” (vs. 18).
What is it that Paul wants us to see? “The riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe” (vs 18 -19). Simply put: our inheritance. Paul wants us to read the will ahead of time; to know what is promised to us; to find hope and marvel at how wonderful this inheritance is. If we know what is in store for us, we will be grateful to and glorify the One who has included us in the will. The Holy Spirit “opens the eyes of our heart”. The Spirit enters our hearts, dispelling the darkness that blinds us to Christ and driving out the thoughts and feelings that pull us away from Christ. Only God can give us a new heart that is enlightened enough to recognize the profound gift of grace. The trouble is: we have a limited perspective. We’re like a rowboat on an ocean, paddling around, close to the dock. The tide will lift the rowboat, but the tide is much more powerful than that. The tide lifts the navies of the world, the cargo boats, the cruise ships with the same ease that it lifts our little rowboat. We can’t see much beyond our own little Bay, so we don’t know how powerful the tide is. It is this power – this endless energy and boundless strength – that is our heritage.
God’s power is so vast that within this passages Paul uses 4 different words for power. The first is dynamis, from which we get the word dynamite. It means “the ability to do”. Dynamite has great ability. It can blow holes in mountains. In our lives, mountains rise up to block our path. These are more than hurdles we can easily glide over, they are unexpected occurrences that are not on our agenda: breakdown in relationships, physical illness and limitations, job loss, mental stress and failure. God’s power is stronger than dynamite.
The second word is energia – energy. This is God’s power in action. On our own we can suffer inertia. It may mean we can’t get out of bed or we can’t change our ways, or we can’t do what needs to be done in life to find new life and wholeness or we can’t act to address problems that are fixable. Perhaps the opposite of energy is slavery. We become trapped not only in our inertia but also in a mindset of victimhood. God’s power is alive and moving. God’s power is victorious.
The next word is kratos – authority. God rules over all. Paul writes, “God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything.” (vs 20 – 21). God is greater than any earthly power or obstacle we face. God is greater than any Satanic power or evil principality in existence. People may seem to have a great deal of authority, but God has the ultimate dominion over everyone and everything. God’s will will be done. God’s authority reigns supreme.
The fourth word is ischys – inherent strength or might. God is omnipotent. For many people, it is a long journey to find our inner strength. We are filled with doubts, fears and wounds that keep us from taking our place in the world. Sometimes we befriend those wounds – we wouldn’t know who we were without them. Sometimes we struggle against them. Sometimes we find an inner power by oppressing and hurting others. Sometimes we turn to others to be our strength – we want someone to rescue and protect us; someone who will live our lives for us. God’s strength is a strength which is holy, clear and pure.
This is our inheritance – ability, action, authority, and strength – multiplied beyond anything we can envision. It is glorious, immeasurable, immense beyond our wildest imaginations. “All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven… At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (vs. 20 & 22- 23). This suggests that our awe-inspiring inheritance is, to some degree available to us now. This is why Jesus directed us, “Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!” (John 16: 23 – 24).
God gives all this to us freely. We are left to ask: Do we live as children of God who have all this available to us? A missionary named Herbert Jackson was assigned a car that wouldn’t start without a push. Every morning Jackson went to the school near his home and got the children to give him a push. As he made his rounds, he would either park on a hill or leave the engine running. He used this ingenious procedure for two years. When he left that appointment, he showed the new minister the car and gave him the low down on his method. The new man began looking under the hood and finally said, “Why, Dr. Jackson, I believe the trouble is this loose cable.” He gave the cable a twist, stepped into the car, pushed the switch, and the engine roared to life. J.B. Phillips paraphrases Ephesians 1:19-20, “How tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” You are a child of God – his life and power flows through you. As co-heirs with Christ we can live in fearless anticipation and confidence. There will come a day when we see Christ face to face and our joy will be complete. So full in fact that Jesus said, “On that day you will ask nothing of me.” (vs. 23) because on that day, we will have it all.