Sermon St E 9.45 11July 2021 Trinity 6 P10 (Sea Sunday) Great Salvation Ps85v8-end Amos7v7-15 Ephesians1v3-14 Mark6v14-29
What an amazing short passage we have read this morning from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians.
Paul visited Ephesus, then a thriving port city on what is now the west coast of Turkey, on his third missionary journey, and where he then spent some three years preaching, sometime between AD 52 and 57 (Acts 19).
He wrote this powerful letter during his Roman imprisonment, perhaps in the year AD 62 (Eph3v1). Although there seems to have been no specific problems that needed to be addressed in the Ephesian church at that time, Paul clearly wished them to know how Christ had reconciled all creation, and all peoples, to the one true and Holy God, through Jesus redemptive death on the cross of Calvary.
According to the shorter Westminster Catechism, ‘the chief purpose of us men and women is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever’, and I think that is a pretty good way to summarise our few short verses this morning.
Those few verses are just overflowing with, not just great theology, but with the amazing grace offered to us through the eternal gospel of truth.
Paul introduces these few verses with a similar prayer to that used to begin first-century Jewish prayers, and similar to an introduction that is used today, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe.’
Paul then goes on to show how God our Father had planned our reconciliation, the reconciliation of us humans with our disobedient and rebellious hearts, from before even the very foundation of the world. God knew that we humans, although created in His image, would not naturally be obedient and observant of His intended and best ways for us. That was so graphically portrayed in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Even though God walked with them in the cool of the evening, they still disobeyed His command to them, not to eat of the fruit of the tree.
And many people today, perhaps most people, still do not walk with God, and follow His best ways for humanity, so is it any wonder that the world is in such a mess, full of divisions and violence?
The method of our reconciliation was to remain a clouded mystery, a mystery into which the prophets of old longed to look, until the mystery was finally revealed in the fullness of time, revealed by the incarnation of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the long promised Messiah.
Jesus was destined, and chose, to accomplish that reconciliation to our Holy God, as Paul reminds us, by shedding His most precious blood, to my mind the most costly substance in the entire universe. Thereafter our trespasses would be forgiven if we confess them in penitence and faith, putting our trust and faith in Jesus alone.
But far more than that, the age-old curse that has hung over all humanity since the fall, that of death, has now been replaced by our adoption as God’s Children, and the promise of eternal life. As His true sons and daughters, we can now become holy and blameless before our Holy God and Father. We are set free to praise God for His glorious grace towards us
I hope and trust that the promises that Paul describes in these wonderful verses, gives to each one of us something to sing and shout about, to sing and shout about with joy and thanksgiving.
And what can you now look forward to? Paul says that we share in every spiritual blessing that Jesus has on offer to us, spiritual blessings that flow from, and are kept for us in heaven itself. I wonder what you may understand, and make of, that phrase? It is well worth pondering.
The spiritual blessings that Paul alludes to here may reflect the love, joy and peace that now come to us who believe through God’s heavenly grace, and His Holy Spirit. Have we, do we, experience those in our lives?
But Paul is also referring to something much deeper and greater. He is most likely referring to the blessings that we are to share with Jesus throughout eternity as we live and reign with Him. We can but only begin to imagine what they may be.
Paul also shows us that it is God’s purpose to remove, to eradicate, the divisions that have long divided the human race, and how we need that.
God’s ultimate purpose is to unite all things, things both in heaven and things on this earth, in our Lord Jesus Christ.
But I fear that will have to wait for the fullness of time, that time when God will inaugurate a new created order as John tells us in his revelation.
But as we wait for this our glorious hope, and look around our present world, we see that not all things are well, they are far from it. But the hope given to Julian of Norwich in her vision does ring true, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”.
But at present not all is well, as there is so much suffering, exploitation and worse.
In many parts of our world, under a growing number of oppressive regimes, especially our Christian brothers and sisters, those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus, put their lives into the hands of our Lord, there is outright persecution. I want to tell you one story from Algeria.
Algeria is ranked 24th on Open Doors world watch list for the hardest place to be a Christian. Trans Word Radio, broadcasting the gospel message into that region, relates this story they received from a young woman named Illi.
Illi was born and raised in a non Christian household, but accepted Jesus as her Saviour without her family’s knowledge, and listened to TWR to grow in that faith. Her family members were religious fundamentalists, especially her father and two brothers.
Her mother however, was more tender hearted, and noticed the change that came over Illi when she became a believer. She asked Illi, “What has happened to you, my daughter? Your look has changed.”
Illi responded, “Are you sure you like the change that God has brought about in me?”
Her mother responded, “Yes; I too, would like to have the wonderful loving eyes that you now have.”
Illi boldly declared, “What you see in me is the wonderful Aissa, Jesus, to whom I have given my heart and my life.”
At these words, her mother fell to her knees, and her eyes filled with tears of joy. She said, “I’d also give my life to Jesus, but if your father and brothers found out about this, they would certainly kill us.”
While Illi and her mother were talking, they realised her father was standing behind the door and had been listening to their conversation. He came out of hiding and saw the two women trembling.
He smiled and said, “Do not be afraid. We are not those who kill, but those who have been led into error by our religion.”
He turned to his wife and said, “I know that our daughter has been listening to the radio in secret. But I noticed the peace of God in her, so I decided to let her be”.
Then Illi’s mother cried out, “Blessed be Christ, the Lord of lords, the God of all god’s, who breaks hearts of brass and fills with tenderness and love.”
Illi’s father heart was touched immediately. Her brothers were surprised to see that their father had changed his cape, which is a traditional way of indicating the adoption of a different faith in their culture.
They responded also, their faces lit up and they said, “Only Jesus can change our sadness into joy, so let us adore him with all our hearts”.
So we see that even in the midst of great persecution and resistance to the gospel truth, God is still calling out a people to follow, and to be faithful to Him. We must continue to pray for the many others who find themselves in similar situations, torn between faith and safety from persecution.
I trust that all of us here this morning have set our hope on the forgiveness and salvation promised to us in Christ, and can stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters where ever they may be located.
And for us who have done that, put our faith and hope in Jesus, Paul tells us something amazing also happens in the spiritual realm. Something unseen by us, although like Illi it should be seen in our eyes, God sends the seal of His Holy Spirit upon us.
That idea of a seal, would have been easily understood by those listening to Paul’s letter when it was read in Ephesus. They would have seen that as the port traded in timber, as the timber was purchased each piece of timber was marked by the seal of its new owner, showing to whom it now belonged. And that is why God marks each of us believers with the seal of His Holy Spirit. It shows in the unseen realm to whom we now belong, we have been purchased for God through the costly blood of our Lord Jesus.
I pray that these simple reflections on those wonderful words of Saint Paul, will inspire and encourage us all to walk more closely the pilgrim path God has set out for each one of us.
To help you also do that, I want to mention an app which you who use a tablet or smart phone may wish to download.
Although many are not able to join in our services of morning and evening prayer in church, a small app called lectio365 has an uplifting reflection set for the time of morning and evening prayer each day. If you try it I am sure you will find it to be a real blessing.
Let us pray: the shorter Collect for this 6th Sunday after Trinity
Creator God, you made us in your image;
may we discern you in all that we see,
and serve you in all that we do;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Saviour and coming King. Amen