For personal, devotional use in this season of suspended services.
May 24, 2020 180th Anniversary Sunday
Ephesians 1:15-23 New International Version (NIV)
Thanksgiving and Prayer
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
May 24, 2020 Ephesians 1:15-23
180th Anniversary Sunday
“THANKSGIVING AND ASKING”
This is the strangest church anniversary I’ve ever experienced. My guess is the same is true for you too as together we continue to persevere in this COVID-19 time. We persevere in being the congregation “scattered” when we yearn to be the congregation “gathered” in praise, worship and fellowship together.
Even though we may miss the joy and “buzz” of being together on this occasion, the words from Ephesians we’ve just read offer us both comfort and invitation as we lift up the life of our congregation before God and yield ourselves to God’s sovereign care and blessing in the unfolding of future days.
The verses we’ve read are a tiny excerpt from a wonderful letter of faith and encouragement from the Apostle Paul to the young church at Ephesus, which may have been a number of young church communities in the Ephesus region. It is thought that Paul writes this letter during his imprisonment in Rome, shortly before his death by execution. Paul cannot be present in person with the believers in Ephesus at this point in his life, yet he seems urged to reach out to them and remind them of the wonderful new life that has been given to them through faith in Jesus Christ. Here is the Apostle Paul making “best use” of less than ideal days in his own living. Here he is, sharing his wisdom, insight and faith in the up-building of God’s people by encouraging them in following the way of Jesus, the Living Lord.
One of the notable things about the Apostle Paul is his generosity in offering prayers of thanksgiving for groups of believers. This letter is no exception. Paul is filled with thanksgiving for he has heard about the believers’ faith in Jesus Christ and their reaching out to each other in Christian love. Paul, at one time, had spent time in the city of Ephesus. Perhaps whatever news he has heard has rekindled his affection for the believers there and has encouraged him by the possible growth of the Christian church in that region. In his own deeply-limited life situation, Paul has found the pulse of thanksgiving for those both known and unknown to him. He offers gratitude to God for their Christian presence and witness…and he is willing to tell them he remembers them with thanksgiving too!
Paul’s thanksgiving for the believers is rooted in more than just the news he has received about them. Earlier in this letter Paul offers praise to God for the new life that has come into the world through Jesus Christ and for the activity of God in Jesus that opens up the way of forgiveness and redemption for God’s people. Paul is keen to remind the believers in Ephesus that God has accomplished something unique, mysterious and marvellous in Jesus Christ that allows men and women, young and old to belong to God in a special way. This belonging to God, through Jesus Christ, opens up new ways of being in relationship together and serving God’s purposes in the world. It is a whole, new life that not only has an earthly dimension but a heavenly dimension too. As people come to recognize the power present in Jesus Christ, and the blessings of faith and new life that are realized in him, they come to recognize themselves as mattering to God, as being chosen by Divine Love for a spiritual destiny. Paul’s thanksgiving flows out to the believers in Ephesus from the depths of faith in his own life and the recognition that they have all been claimed by God through Jesus Christ to belong to God, not only in this earthly life, but in the heavenly realm too, in the perfect presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Paul is also deliberate in his prayer for the believers in Ephesus. He is willing to ask God for something on their behalf. He is bold in asking that they might receive ‘wisdom and revelation’ in order to know Jesus Christ better. He also asks that the eyes of their heart might be opened so that the believers might grasp the fullness of the Christian hope that lies within them. In other words, Paul is asking that the believers in Ephesus might grow in their faith, and in their discipleship, and in their confidence of God’s claiming of their lives. The news Paul has heard about them is good, but Paul wants it even to be better!
In order for it to be “better”, Paul points to the great power that is manifested in Jesus Christ. God has done a most marvellous thing, raising Jesus Christ from the clutches of death, and placing Jesus Christ as Lord over all creation including human living. This does not come lightly; this does not come without divine cost, yet God accomplishes this for the sake of well-being in human life and living. This great power of God continues to be realized in the lives of God’s chosen children, sons and daughters of every tribe and nation. The Holy Spirit makes this power known in the lives of believers. Faithfulness to Jesus Christ evokes a spirit of courage and boldness for the sake of God’s presence and good in the world.
In giving thanks and asking for a deepened vitality of knowing Jesus Christ for the believers at Ephesus, Paul reminds them that this is where true fullness of life is to be found. Ultimately, Jesus Christ has full authority in heaven and on earth. The church has been appointed to be Christ’s body in the world; it has been called to bear the good news of divine redemption and love, forgiveness and grace even in the less-than-perfect here and now.
The 180 years of St. Andrew’s presence in the community of Sydney Mines has been marked by great change. No longer are we a pioneering coal-mining town. Our families have grown smaller and fewer. Women have become leaders, not only in the church but also in the greater community. There is less shared history and greater mobility. When our current building was built in 1906-1907 no one knew the word “computer” yet today the church office has one, linked to the internet. Even as little as three months ago none of us knew the term “physical distancing” and what it would require of us.
In the midst of such upheaval and change, it is good for us to re-ground ourselves in biblical words that communicate the truth of God’s gracious love and intention for us. These words from Ephesians are a means to help us do this. They remind us of the significance of thanksgiving and the nature of our asking before God.
It is important for us to recognize that Paul’s spirit of thanksgiving transcends his physical situation and life circumstances. It is rooted in his realization of who he is as a redeemed child of God, and who he is in relationship to others through Jesus, the Living Christ. His is a new life, which has come as a gift of grace to him, that is sustained in him through the presence of the Holy Spirit. While personal circumstances do vary, he knows that this gift of grace, and power, is readily available to others. He is set free to offer thanksgiving, genuinely and generously, because he is acknowledging God’s divine power at work in the lives of others in the up-building of Christ’s body, the church, in the world.
Hand in hand with gratitude is Paul’s verve for believers to grow in Jesus Christ…to know him better. Today, one of the ways we do this is by spending time and thoughtfulness in reading the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that are the church’s earliest record of what Jesus said and did in his earthly ministry. We grow in Jesus Christ when we discover ourselves in these stories, when Jesus’ words of healing and forgiveness become words of new life and meaning in our own lives. We grow in Jesus Christ when we risk being a follower, trusting that Jesus’ love and presence can bring our lives new purpose and direction. We grow in Jesus Christ as we surrender our need for control of our lives, recognizing Jesus is in charge by trusting our lives to rest securely in the eternal love of God for us.
On this occasion when we are unable to celebrate our congregation’s legacy and faith as we might have expected, may we remember what’s important: to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for one another and to pray without ceasing that we might all come to know Jesus Christ better and the hope of his love and grace that is at work within us.
To God be all glory, honour and praise forever. Amen.
Rev. Marion Barclay MacKay, Minister