Ephesians 1:15-23 begins by giving thanks…It gives thanks for all the people and the ministry that they offer to each other and their community. But it doesn’t just give thanks and leave it there. The passage gives thanks and goes on to say that the author is continuing to pray for the community….Continuing to pray that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit and open to being led and directed by God’s spirit.
If the people are open to that spirit they will have a clear sense of their mission, know God’s generosity, and have a sense of God’s power to work through them and others. God is an active God, constantly in motion, constantly surprising and constantly calling us back to our centre in Christ.
Opening ourselves through prayer and meditation is an absolutely critical part of being faithful. Sometimes, it is easy for us to get in the habit of worshiping on Sunday morning and thinking that that is all that is required of us. But praying regularly for one another, praying each of us will be open to the spirit, praying for strength and courage to follow where the spirit leads is essential.
When we open ourselves to the spirit we begin to see with the “eyes of our heart.” R. Mark Guilliano writes that when we see with the “eyes of the heart [we] see those who ache from hunger and poverty with compassion, where too often the eyes in our heads view others with fear and suspicion.” Regular prayer allows us to see the world differently, to see the world through a lens of compassion rather than fear. Fear of others is easier because it maintains that status quo. It’s often a reflex to someone or something we don’t know. But fear prevents action and holds us hostage.
The author of this passage is praying that the people will put their trust in God, not in their fear. When they place their trust in God, amazing things will happen. The author is pointing out that God’s spirit, working through the people has the ability to change the world. In the Laughing Bird Paraphrase of this passage it says: “there is not a single authority that can overrule him, now or ever. Every religious hierarchy and military regime; every legal jurisdiction and people-power movement; every economic imperative and moral principle; God has put them all under the feet of Christ.”
For those of us who identify as Christian this means that God and Christ are central to who we are and how we live. They are central to our identity. We are Christian before we are anything else: before we are Canadian, or a particular ethnic group, our political affiliation or our occupation, we are Christian. We will often talk about our ancestry. “Where did your family immigrate from?” We want to place people geographically. As Canadians, in a country made up mostly of immigrants from all over the world, we have a sense that this geography tells us something about a person, their culture and even gives us a few assumptions about someone. When we meet someone for the first time we might ask about their occupation and where they work. It is less common to ask people about their ancestry in faith.
I asked the gathered congregation on Sunday morning how many people had only called St. Andrew’s their church home? A handful responded that this was the only congregation they had known.
Many people had been connected with other United Churches at some point in their life and many had had a connection with other Christian denominations. A handful had times in their lives as identifying either with another religious tradition or with no particular religion.
But as soon as you leave this building and ask these same questions, the response will be very different. Many people would say that they haven’t had a particular connection with one congregation, one denomination or with even necessarily one particular faith. Questions about our faith ancestry are of the last questions we ask others. We don’t want to pry or be nosy and so we don’t talk about our own faith and we don’t ask others about theirs. And yet if we believe that God is central to our lives and shaping how we see others and the world, why wouldn’t we talk about our faith and listen to how God is at work in other people.
Last week I talked about living in a post-Christian culture. For many people, they will say that they are spiritual but not religious. They may draw their faith from many different traditions, they may be challenged by the ritual and expectations of Christianity and yet still identify with a mission of love and justice which is the good news that Jesus brought.
We cannot assume that people who don’t come to church are not faithful. For many, they have simply gotten rid of the ritual and practice of Christianity and gone back to message of love. This passage begins by describing the community’s love for the saints. We often think of saints as someone who has been martyred for the faith, stood strong in persecution, or done some other amazing act. But in this passage, being written to a group of Christians, perhaps the saints are all those doing God’s work whether or not they identify with the congregation.
There was tension in the early church about who was in and who was out. They spent time and energy trying to figure out where to set the boundary. Perhaps the challenge for us is not to focus our time and energy on figuring out who is in and out but to focus our energy on being open to the spirit and the ways in which God is working through the saints of our community. Perhaps our challenge is to see with the eyes of our heart the people around who are already filling our community and world with love and join with them. We can add our love to the mix because we are followers of Jesus before we are part of a particular congregation, before we are a particular denomination, before we are Canadian or anything else.
This is the faith of our ancestors: That God’s love could change the world. May we continue that legacy that they have given us. Amen.
. R. Mark Guilliano, “Ascension of Jesus” in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, A Lectionary Commentary, Year B, ed. Ronald J. Allen, Dale P Andrews and Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 246.