Second Advent

West Side Moravian Church
December 6, 2009

Faithful People

My text this morning comes from the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

1 From Paul, who by God's will is an apostle of Christ Jesus —
To God's people in Ephesus, who are faithful in their life in union with Christ Jesus:
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Paul's letter is written to people in Ephesus, but it is really a letter to the whole Church, to all those who are faithful. (Some manuscripts don't even have the name of Ephesus.) So Paul is writing directly to us, provided that we are faithful and in union with Christ Jesus.

We who are the church, we who are united with Jesus through our baptism — we are already God's faithful people, even though our union is still incomplete.

God's Plan

In this letter, Paul writes both about the here and now of God's wonderful gifts, which God has already given to us, and about the future and final completion of everything which God has promised to us. Paul writes,

3 Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. 4 Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him.

Because of his love 5 God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his [children] – this was his pleasure and purpose. 6 Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear son! 7 For by the death of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, 8 which he gave to us in such large measure!

In all his wisdom and insight, 9 God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. 10 This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Jesus Christ as head.

God made this plan, and then God made the universe. The earth was made to fit the plan (and not the other way around). When the book of Genesis says that God's creation was "good", this is what it means: that the whole of the universe was created in harmony with the plan which God had already made.

Now – that is, since the coming of Jesus – the outlines of that plan are revealed to us. That is to say, the plan wasn't clear or even visible to us just by our observation of the world. But now that Jesus has pointed it out to us, God's plan is clearly evident.

Clearly evident, yes, but not entirely comprehended by us. God's plan encompasses the whole of the universe, far more than what our experiences or even our imaginations can envision. God's plan covers all that we can know, but also more than we can know. God's plan includes this congregation, which is the Church in this place. But of course God's plan includes more than us. God's plan includes the whole of the Moravian Church, of which Jesus Christ is the Chief Elder. But of course God's plan includes all followers of Christ, however they may be denominated.

Barnard 68/ESO
[+] Barnard 68/European Southern Observatory (1999)

But look again at Paul's words: to bring all creation together. God's plan is not limited to us, or to Christians everywhere; it is not limited even to all people who live and have lived and ever will live, though God loves us all. God's plan is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth. All of creation! The blue whale? The spotted owl? I think so. The deer which some of you may have been hunting recently? God is bringing everything together under Christ Jesus. The influenza virus? The tsetse fly? The zebra mussel? Those parts of creation which are opposed to each other in this world and in this time will be united in Christ when the fullness of time has come.

On the easel near the entrance I posted a picture of "Barnard 68". None of you has ever seen Barnard 68. Nobody has ever seen Barnard 68; the picture only shows a dark shadow where something must exist, since it covers the light of stars behind it. We don't know much about Barnard 68, even though we give it a name so we can talk about it. What I know about Barnard 68 is this: In God's plan, Barnard 68 will be joined together with us in the full unity of all things, with Jesus Christ as Head.

God's plan is that all of creation will come together in Jesus Christ.

God's People

Paul writes to us, to Christ's church. He says,

11 All things are done according to God's plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning. 12 Let us, then, who were the first to hope in Christ, praise God's glory!

13 And you also became God's people when you heard the true message, the Good News that brought us salvation. You believed in Christ, and God put his stamp of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised. 14 The Spirit is the guarantee that we shall receive what God has promised his people, and this assures us that God will give complete freedom to those who are his. Let us praise his glory!

15 For this reason, ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God's people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you. I remember you in my prayers. 17 and ask the god of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, to give you the Spirit, who will make you wise and reveal God to you, so that you will know him. 18 I ask that your minds may be opened to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people, 19 and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength 20 which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world.

You are already God's people. You have already heard God's message; you are already faithful in many ways. You are already acting on your love for all people. This is what Paul says to you, and he is right – even though he wrote to the church in Ephesus millenia ago, he is right about you. You are already God's people.

Paul is also right about you when he asks God to give you wisdom. He is right that you still need to learn who God is. Paul knows that we are limited by our nature and by our history.

We believe, but we don't know yet all of what we believe. We are not what we can become. Paul prays that your minds will be open, and that you will see how rich are the wonderful blessings which God is promising to us.

We often overlook even the richness of God's blessings which lie before our eyes in plain sight. In Suamico, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Dee Merritt asked how often we really see the birds, the cardinals (she was looking right at me when she asked this) and the chickadees who visit our bird feeders. How often do we trace the dark outlines of the conifers which in this season stand out so clearly against the blue sky? She passed out bread – wonderful smelling bread – and asked us to look at it. We, too, hand out bread today, the bread of communion. Will you hold it, smell it? Will you taste it and feel the texture of the bread as you eat it? Will you remember the soil, the air, the sunshine and rain? Will you think of all the people who planted and tended the grain, who harvested and processed it into flour? Those who transported and baked and those who now hand the bread to you?

These are bits of God's creation which we know well, and yet we tend to pass them by. We are even more prone to overlook those parts of creation which do not daily vie for our attention. How can we yearn for the fullness of God's promises to us? But God sees what we overlook.

Do you count your blessings? Many of you do. Do you count all your blessings? I'm sure that not one of us can claim so much. For God is promising us everything in union with Christ, and we don't even know what everything is. But when Christ comes again, we will be united with all creation through Christ Jesus.

The Church in its Fullness

In this church, on the second Sunday of Advent, we traditionally remember not only the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem but also the promise of him coming again in triumph. According to God's plan, Jesus came as one of us to bring us together with God. When Christ comes again, he comes to be the Head and Unity of all Creation. Paul says,

21 Christ rules above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next. 22 God put all things under Christ's feet and gave him to the church as supreme lord over all things. 23 The church is Christ's body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere.

God gives Christ to the Church. And what is the Church? Paul answers that the Church is the body of Christ, the body of the supreme lord over all things. All things! When Jesus comes again, it is to unite us to him, and in him to unite us with all things everywhere. This is the magnificent, expansive promise God makes to us.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again as Head of the Church, as Head of that Church which completes Christ himself; the Church which is the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere.

This is who we are. We are the church, the fullness of Jesus Christ who is the one who fills all of creation. We are limited by our nature and by our history, but in Christ we are coming together with everything that is. The church in its fullness is all of creation coming together in Christ.

When Jesus comes for us, we will sit with him on the porch of heaven. We will see all of creation spread around us: asters and asteroids, friends and family, moons and mushrooms, protons and parlimentarians, Valders clay and Barnard 68. And we know: all this has been part of our family.

Scripture from Ephesians 1, Good News Bible: The Bible in Today's English Version, © 1966, 1971, 1976, American Bible Society.

Image from the European Southern Observatory website, Downloaded November 30, 2009.

This page is valid Valid HTML HTML.