It All Begins with Praise
Grace United Methodist Church
January 3, 2010
Ephesians 1: 3-14
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In 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, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In 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; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
Advent is over, Christmas has come and gone, and this morning we gather here shaking off the “sleepies” from a late night of celebration as we rang in the New Year on Friday. With all the festivities over and the activities done, we are prone to look around listlessly wondering, “What now?” Beginning today and in the coming weeks, we are going to explore just that question, but from the spiritual angle. With a fresh reminder of Christ’s presence among us, what are we God-followers to do in these post-Christmas days and throughout our lives? What does God ask of us? How has God equipped us as servants in the Kingdom that was inaugurated at Christ’s birth? In a great sense, our everyday lives should be like those of the Magi who journeyed to the very home of the baby Jesus to kneel in praise and offer their gifts to the King. We too should kneel in praise to God, and we have gifts to offer as well. As we think about New Years’ resolutions, perhaps we could also take some time to think about God’s blessings in our lives and the question of God’s will for our lives. Perhaps we could also take time to consider how we might more fully offer our gifts to God and serve God in the coming year.
As some of you may know, when EMTs and other “first-responders” are trained, they are taught to gather vital readings such as blood pressure, pulse, respirations, skin color, and condition as soon as they possibly can upon responding to an emergency. These first readings are the most vital indicators concerning the patient’s health and are so important because without them, the EMT cannot tell if the patient is getting better or worse as time progresses and decisions are made about the next steps. In our reading this morning from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we have been given some baseline vitals concerning our relationship with the Lord. For us to know what God asks of us and how we have been equipped to live lives worthy of God and God’s requirements of us, we must have these vital signs concerning our relationship with God in Christ Jesus.
Here in the beginning of the New Year, I want to put before us a couple of questions. These are the type of questions that I think will help us check our spiritual vital signs. These questions, I believe, will also be helpful in thinking about coming to a greater understanding of our relationship with God and our role in God’s kingdom. Who does God want us to be, and what is God calling us to do? In the opening of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul touches on answers to both of these questions. So from the passage we heard this morning, what might we discern about who God wants us to be? First, Paul tells us that we “are chosen to be holy and blameless before [God] in love.” For some, Paul’s words mean that God only expects such traits in certain people, but I believe it is broader than that. God desires that all people would be “holy and blameless.” You see, we are all created by God in God’s image. God desires nothing more than that each of us would strive to live lives that are reflective of God in Christ Jesus himself; to bring out the image of God in us. If we really strive after this, we will find that we stand separate from the things of this world. The world tells us that we should conform to its standards, but God has set before us a different set of standards; to be “holy and blameless.” When we seek to meet these standards we will find not only that we stand apart from so much in this world, but I believe that we will also see with our very own eyes God’s Kingdom gaining a greater foothold on this earth.
Now, don’t misunderstand me here. God does not desire that in striving towards holiness and blamelessness, we would somehow disconnect ourselves from this world and all of God’s created order. Rather, God wants us to be “holy and blameless” within the world. It should be possible to identify the Christian in the school, in the grocery, on the assembly lines, in the office, at the hospital; everywhere! To be holy and blameless as Paul suggests is to take every part of our life; work, pleasure, sport, home life, personal relationships, and shape them all such that they can be offered to God. Have you ever thought of your life in this way? Have you ever gone through a whole day making an intentional effort in every activity to offer that to God? Certainly, this is not easy to do. And yet, this is what God has asked of us. The world asks a lot of us, but one of the great things about God is that God’s expectations of us never change. God desires nothing more than that we would love God with all our hearts and lives and love our neighbors as ourselves; that we would in this way be holy and blameless, just as Jesus taught us. Indeed, it is a high task, but this is who God wants us to be!
So where do we begin? What is God calling us to do? Well, Paul gives us some clues in answer to those questions as well! Following his greeting to the church at Ephesus, Paul’s opening words are words of praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It all begins with praise! Just like the Magi who carried gifts in praise of the newborn Messiah, we too are first and foremost to offer our praise to God. And why is it important to praise God? Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us!) that we are greatly blessed by God! As Paul says, we have been “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” These blessings are grace freely bestowed; we have redemption and forgiveness of sins; we are heirs of the Kingdom. These gifts are offered to us, even in our weak and undeserving state. Certainly, we should do no less than lift our praise to God regularly for these many blessings, and our regular worship of God is a great starting place, but it is only a starting point. You see, God’s blessings are not only for our own upbuilding, but for serving others in God’s Kingdom. In other words, God has opened up all the resources of his Kingdom to equip us so that we might serve in his name. You see God not only offers unconditional grace and love, God also gives us all that we need to serve in his name, and a great sign of our praise is putting God’s special gifts for us to work in serving God’s Kingdom.
Many of us have been on mission trips, or have worked on projects around the house. It’s no secret that whenever you are working on a project, you want somebody helping who has all the tools. We all know it can be pretty frustrating to try and turn a bolt with a pair of pliers. We all know the relief of being handed a ratchet in such a situation; the proper tool for the proper job. This is what God does for us. God blesses us with exactly what we need to be at work, the work of building up God’s Kingdom. Because, like Abraham, we are “blessed to be a blessing.” God has called us, and God has formed us so that God might give to us those things which he alone can give. Our praise should be more than a gift carried to God or a few words lifted in his name; it should be OUR God-given gifts, put to work in the Kingdom.
I recently saw the movie, The Blindside. Perhaps some of you have seen it. Recounting a true story, this movie tells the story of the Tuohy family, and in particular Mrs. Tuohy who takes into her home a young man who does not have a stable home environment in which to grow up. He does not know who his father is, and his mother is a drug addict. As the story unfolds, we watch this young man grow to become a part of the family. They share Thanksgiving dinner together and they give him his own bedroom. The family teaches him to drive and buys him a car. Eventually, they become his legal guardians. Challenged and encouraged by his new family, this young man improves by leaps and bounds academically. He becomes a football star, graduates from college, and goes on to become an NFL star, where he plays now. This young man was given the opportunity to excel because of the kind heart of a woman; a woman who was striving to be the person God wanted her to be; a woman who was pursuing God’s calling in her life, and a woman who was putting her God-given blessings to use to serve others in God’s name and for God’s kingdom.
We are not all called to serve God’s Kingdom in such a way. Indeed, many of us do not even have the resources to serve in this way; to open our homes and expand our family as the Tuohy’s did in The Blindside. But like Mrs. Tuohy, we are all called to serve. And like Mrs. Tuohy, God has given us special gifts by which we might answer that call to serve. Our task is to discern those gifts and to put them to good work in praise of our Creator. In the coming weeks, we will together engage in an extensive study of the Spiritual Gifts. We will make efforts to discern our God-given gifts, and we will think together about how each of us individually and together as a church can put those gifts to work in praise of God and in service of God’s kingdom such that we might grow to be “holy and blameless” as God would have us to be. God has blessed us and gifted us such that this might be the case; such that the entirety of our lives becomes a hymn of praise to God and a work of service to God’s Kingdom. And through our work God’s Kingdom will grow and grow; what greater blessing than to be a part of such a glorious work!