All Have Been Chosen
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Do you remember some of the games we used to play as children? Games such as:
· Red rover – “red rover, red rover, send ____ right over.” Then the one sent over tried to break through the line of children holding hands
· Tag – “It” tried to tag someone else who would then become “It.” There are lots of variations of tag.
· Duck, duck, goose – everyone is in a circle. The goose tags one person who chases the goose, trying to catch them before they sit in the open spot.
One game was different than these: ring around the rosy. In this game everyone is in a circle holding hands. No one is singled out to be “It” or a goose. You don’t have to be fast or strong or have some other talent to play and win. Everyone holds hands and falls down together, usually in laughter as they fall on top of each other. There is joy in the moment – the joy of belonging, of being part of the group.
We long for those moments of joy. Those moments of happiness when we can set aside distractions, concerns, and challenges for a time.
Joy as a lifestyle is even better. It doesn’t mean we are happy all the time – that is unrealistic. This joy is something more. A feeling of belonging, a sense of purpose, and the knowledge that hope exists and is within our grasp.
(I am grateful to scholar Karen Chakoian for her insights that I drew from in the preparation of this sermon).
Ephesians, in a sense, is a song of hope for church. The letter reminds us over and over of who we are and whose we are. The intent of the letter is to draw us back to the sheer joy of living as God’s people.
We are people who have been blessed by God. God has blessed us with grace and love, and simply because God wants to bless us. This was God’s plan for us and all people from the beginning, even before creation. God’s plan was to adopt as God’s own children and make us to be God’s people.
God wants us to know that we belong. That someone wants us and loves us. God wants us to feel that we belong to God’s family. Additionally, we have been chosen to be holy and blameless through God’s love and made whole through Christ
The focus in Ephesians is on God, on God’s actions. Even though we may consider the words we read as what we are to do, that isn’t the intent of the letter. God’s actions, not ours, are the key to understanding the letter.
Here, in the words of Ephesians, we read of God’s gift to us – almost like the biggest package we have ever seen wrapped in shiny paper with bow on top. When it is opened, we discover the largest and best gift ever received. All we do is open it, receive it, and live, as it says in v. 12, “for the praise of his glory.” Live a lifestyle of joy.
Of course, we know through experience that it is impossible to live a lifestyle of joy on our own, in our own strength. We struggle to believe that God loves us so much for no particular reason that we can see. Not because of what we have done, will do, or are able to do. Not because of our ethnic group, color of skin, gender, relationship status, political leaning, or status. Not because we are good enough or holy enough. God loves us so much just because God can and wants to.
You have probably known a story about a child who was adopted by a loving parent or parents. A child who might have struggled or had a difficult life or never felt they were loved if they had not been adopted into a family that cared about them. One who, as an adult, shared the experience of being loved and who expressed joy at being chosen to be a member of the family.
God has adopted us. God has chosen us to be a member of God’s family.
In our tradition, the Presbyterian Church, this choice is affirmed in baptism. In baptism we rejoice that God has claimed us as God’s own. We remember how Christ has washed away our sins. We proclaim baptism as a sign and seal of God’s promise – that we will always belong to God and always be loved by God. And that nothing we have done, do, or will do is required.
This is seen clearly when an infant is baptized. One of the things I always say during the baptism of a baby is that we can look upon this child and recognize that he or she hasn’t done anything to deserve to be a member of God’s family (except smile a lot!). I affirm that the same is true for all of us. We belong to God’s family because God has chosen us as God’s child. Just because God wants us to belong.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, The Preaching Life, tells a story from her own childhood describing feeling of being loved just because.
Her grandmother, a tough, stern woman, was “an awesome presence, especially to a child.” She was known most for “her shrewd business sense and her bad temper.”
Even her appearance was intimidating with both legs amputated from untreated diabetes, and with her dark aviator sunglasses to protect her eyes, she looked, Taylor says, “like a handicapped bomber pilot.”
But she lavished her love on her grandchildren. When they came to visit, there were special treats, piles of presents, and long, lazy afternoons together. Each child received a night of pampering.
When my night came, she treated me like long lost royalty, filling the tub with suds and then beckoning me in, where she washed each of my limbs in turn and polished my skin with her great soft sponge. After she had dried me off…she anointed me with Jergen’s lotion…Then she reached for her dusting powder – Evening in Paris – and tickled me all over with the pale blue puff. When she had done, I knew that I was precious. I was absolutely convinced I was loved.
God treats each one of us as royalty. Caring for us, washing us clean from sin, and anointing us with the Holy Spirit. Tickling us with love. Showing us that we are precious and beloved. That we belong to God.
A note here: the language of Ephesians is not individualistic. We are beloved individually yet drawn into something far greater than ourselves. We are blessed in Christ, chosen in Christ, and adopted through Christ. In Christ we have obtained our inheritance. Our hope is in Christ.
Ephesians tells us that God’s gifts are for everyone, for the community of faith with an understanding that these gifts are not our own, they are meant to be shared so that others may experience the joy of belonging to God’s family.
This notion challenges the world’s understanding of worth. Worth is not measured by wealth, toys, power, or status. True worth is more than being special in eyes of others.
Worth comes from God who sees us as worthy of God’s gifts just because we are. We belong and have been adopted by God as one of God’s own children. We have been gathered into God’s family. We are offered God’s gift of love and belonging to receive as our own.
You may remember the story of Aladdin the street urchin who becomes a prince. Aladdin roamed the marketplace, stealing a piece of fruit here or there and sometimes creating a bit of trouble. One day, he meets the princess who has come into the marketplace in disguise so she can escape the rules and expectations of the palace. Aladdin, who is good at reading people, recognizes she needs some adventure in her life. So, he takes her on a magic carpet ride. They fall in love. Aladdin pretends to be a prince from a foreign land so he would be accepted by the king. The ruse works for awhile until he is found out. Enter the genie who grants Aladdin’s wish to be accepted (although not immediately). The king embraces Aladdin and allows him to marry her daughter. He becomes a member of the king’s family, enjoying all the riches and benefits of being the king’s son.
We don’t need a genie to be accepted into God’s family. We don’t need to pretend we are someone we aren’t. We don’t have to accomplish a task or wait until God is ready. We are invited to share in the riches of God’s kingdom of love and grace – through Christ – so we can live as God’s own children.
I do want to touch on the tension in the passage. Some see this as argument for predestination – some have been chosen and some not. The idea that God decided beforehand who would be saved and become a member of God’s family, and who will be condemned.
Others see a description of universal salvation in this passage. In this view, verse 10 lays out God’s plan “for the fullness of time is to gather up all things in him.” All things include all of creation and it includes all persons. No one and nothing will remain outside God’s embrace.
Some people are aware of their identity as God’s children. But this doesn’t mean others are not also God’s children. Universal salvation tells us that all are, some just don’t know it yet. Shouldn’t we let them know?