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Clear the Decks

Ephesians 2:1-10

New Revised Standard Version

2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

I have always loved to play board games and will play most of them except Clue. I am terrible at that game. You would think that being a logical person, I would be able to figure out which character did it with what weapon in which room. But no. I always lose. Anyway, I am very competitive when it comes to games. When I was younger, it was not unheard of for me, if I was losing, to swipe all the pieces of the game on the floor and toss the board across the room. Not only did that mean I wouldn’t lose, but we couldn’t play at all.

When the other players got upset with me, I would say, “Cut me some slack. You know how I am.” In the back of my mind, I would tell myself, “Cut myself some slack. Is that how you want to be?”

In the same way, I would go to God and say, “Cut me some slack. You know how I am. You created me after all. Isn’t who I am OK? Don’t you accept me as I am? Isn’t that what grace means – to accept us for who we are?”

Maybe in God’s view how I am isn’t what I could I be. Isn’t what God can create in me. It’s different than what I think, it’s what God thinks that is important. The measure of whether I am living my own way or God’s way is how life is lived and in the choices I make. For each of us, these choices determine what we do and how we walk through our lives.

We might consider ourselves as living in either the pre-grace or post receiving grace life. Almost like there is a dividing line between the two. Most of us like dividing lines. We like to know where we stand rather than live in a wishy-washy space where we might think, “I’m not sure God. I really believe I want to live in grace, so help me to do that…maybe.

The problem is that when we feel like we need to live in the post receiving grace life, we can always be striving to for that grace. The grace we know in our heads God has given us. The grace that changes our lives. When we live that way, we tend to evaluate whether we are failing or succeeding in living out God’s grace.

In the passage that I read you will find two words, one at the beginning in verse 1 and one at the end in verse 10 where it talks about how we live or our way of life. Both of those words come from a Greek word that means “to walk.”

I think walk is a good way to look at it rather than considering how we live in our lives. Walking implies some movement. That it is not that you are in this place and then in that place. You are traveling along the way which in a sense may fit better for us. Thinking of living in a walking mode takes away the either/or of life in a pre-grace or post receiving grace place.

Many people walk in what you might call the stream of popular American culture. We see the importance of being in the spotlight. People magazine, American Idol, and the focus on sports stars are examples of how our culture reinforces the idea that to be important you have to be in the spotlight. The values we ought to embrace are those of self-promotion and self-orientation.

Facebook is a good example. People post the good things going on in their lives – vacations, children and grandchildren, accomplishments, etc. Almost nobody writes posts about losing a job, unhappiness with how you look, feeling depressed or at wit’s end, or failures they are experiencing. Who wants to know all this stuff? People want to look good to the outside world.

The culture points us towards self-promotion. We may not even notice the messages that we receive – that it is all about me. We may not even realize that we are putting ourselves in the spotlight.

Yet how we live centers on my choices, my steps. I determine whether I walk in my ways or God’s ways. It is all about me. About what I think I can do. Even about choosing if I go my way or God’s way. Of course, we want to choose walking in God’s way but…

You might remember the game show, “Let’s Make a Deal.” A contestant is given a prize or cash and then given the option of keeping what they have or choosing to trade it for whatever is behind one of the curtains on the stage. A choice is presented – keep what you know or take a risk and choose the unknown behind a curtain. What is behind the curtain might be something really great, better than what the contestant currently has. Then again it might not be so great.

Maybe for us that choice that is in front of us, the one we know is good is God. But there might be a little part of us that wants to know what is behind the curtain. We know that God will still be here but what is hidden might be even better.

What we need to realize is that it is God who is doing the choosing. We don’t really choose to walk in God’s ways. We don’t choose to have God’s grace. We don’t choose to be saved. Although sometimes that is how our mind works. We think about choosing to follow Jesus Christ, to accept him into our lives as our own decision. We don’t need God’s assistance in making such a choice. It can become all about us, our choice alone.

We say the words that point to God’s grace and God’s gift to us. But in our heads, we think we are making the choices that are really God’s.

When we talk about being saved, we are not just saved from our own bad choices or the wrong paths that we follow. We are not just given a pass or a pardon for a period of time. God is saving us from our very entire of existence – the mode of self-promotion – not just our inability to make the right choices.

God is saying the important thing is completely about how you walk through your life not just the day-to-day choices we make. It is about the whole, the movement of life from one place to another.

We might think of it as a house that we live in, dwell within. Our house is set up according to our habits and our preferences in a way we take for granted. The set up reinforces our everyday habits. The toothpaste is in the same drawer. The pots and pans are in the same cupboard which we open automatically when we are cooking. If you are in my house the pantry is organized based on the category of product. The canned goods are on one shelf – beans and vegetables on one side, soups on the other. Cereal has its own shelf. When I go in, I expect what I am looking for to be in its assigned place. If somebody rearranges everything I am lost!

Because of the way we set up our house so to speak our habits are reinforced. We continue to live in the way we have always lived because that is how our internal house is set up. Our environment dictates our ways of living.

For those of us who have moved, we know hard it can be to settle into a new environment where the pots and pans are in a different place because there isn’t a cupboard where I was used to having one before. Or the set-up of the bathroom is different. There isn’t a drawer to throw the toothpaste in, so you have to find another place to put it.

The question becomes, at least when we talk about our house in a metaphorical way as our internal house, is, “Whose house is it?” We might think of our house as being operated by a third party which is what I think Paul addresses here in Ephesians when he talks about the power of the air. The third party isn’t Jesus.

The third party is the one that drives our actions and what we choose to have in our house and environment because we are used to these ways of living. The ways this third party dictates.

When we are made alive in Christ and are saved from where we have been, that pre-grace space, we are given a new way of being and new instructions for doing so. Not to live in a different way or feel better but still live in the house. We aren’t supposed to clean out closets or move the pots and pans to a different cupboard or clean out the garage of our current house.

Christ gives us something totally different from what we had. He does more than move things around in the same house or bring in new furniture. Christ brings us grace and grace transforms the old into the new.

Grace doesn’t just give us forgiveness and then leave us in the same old place. Grace makes us want to live better. To be in a new situation. Grace moves us to a new house.

The new house is organized according to God’s ways. God has put everything away where it needs to be so as to reinforce those habits of walking in God’s ways and God’s grace.

Our internal house won’t be what we are used to. In fact, it won’t be what we are used to because that is the whole point. God is saving us from how things used to be so we can live and walk in a new way.

You know what else – if we allow God to move us to that new house, the old one is destroyed. It is leveled and no longer exists. We can’t go back to look for the things we left in the old house, to see if they are still in the same place we left them. All we will find is an empty lot where the house once was.

The other thing about the new house God brings us to is that it is a welcoming house that is operated by Jesus, not by someone else or by us. Everyone is invited in and everyone has a place. Being saved by God’s grace is not only about you being saved or me being saved. It is about everyone being saved. God’s grace brings reconciliation; brings people together. Mending relationships and allowing people to accept one another as who they are, as God has making them to be.

In this new house, this welcoming house, the good works we are called to do are part of the whole environment. We have new habits that are being established by God. Out of these new habits come the new things we do, the works as Paul calls them.

We often think of those good works as being responses to what God has done for us and they are. The danger in looking at these works as responses to what God has done, is that we can fall into the old habit of seeing what we do as totally our choice. God has done this for us, so we are going to choose to do that for God. We aren’t the ones choosing. God is.

If we think of it as being in the new place God has created for us and welcomed us into, the new house you might say, we develop new habits so good works come naturally out of our new environment. These habits become who we are and how we walk in our lives. These habits define how we live in a world with other people where we offer the same forgiveness and acceptance that God gives us.

So maybe it’s time for you and for me to walk out the door of that old house and lock it behind us. The challenge is that when we move to God’s house here on earth, we don’t bring the stuff from our old house. We don’t pack up boxes of habits to load on a moving truck so they can be brought to our new place. the old habits stay in the old house. It’s an easy move if we are willing to do it. We don’t pack up anything. Walk out, close the door, and not look back.

It is like starting a new game. Not picking the board from where I threw it and then trying to figure out where the houses and hotels were on the Monopoly board, who had how much money and properties, and where each player was on the board. Instead, we start fresh – pick everything up, put it all back in the box, and then take all the pieces out, set up, and start a new game. Doing things, doing life in a new way.

We might think of it as clearing the decks. To let go of the old rules and use the new ones. To use new playing pieces and toss out the old ones. Like taking a deck of cards and playing a new game, one where the cards are shot out of your hand onto the floor. And it doesn’t matter is some got bent or that they are all over instead of in a neat pile.

It’s time to play a new game, to do things a new way, to walk a new life. That’s what being saved by grace is all about. Allowing God to change our hearts so we do what he has given us to do. Not out of our own choice but that God chooses.

Friends, we are all saved by that grace. The grace that God offers that is God’s choice for us. Amen.

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