The Ripple Effect
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
July 12, 2015
Ephesians 1: 3-14 (CEB)
Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. 4God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. 5God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan 6and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. 7We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, 8which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. 9God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. 10This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. 11We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. 12We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. 13You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. 14The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.
[“Like a Girl” Commercial, 0:00-0:56]
So much of how we live and work in this world depends on how we view ourselves. I share that Proctor & Gamble “Like a Girl” commercial (which aired during this year’s Super Bowl) because it is a perfect example of how our perception of our self changes the way we behave. And the fact of the matter is that the same is true in our lives as Christians.
This morning, we begin a four-week series on the letter to the Ephesians. Like many of the Epistles in the New Testament, the letter to the Ephesians was written to a new community of faith, a young church which was seeking to live into its identity and find its place in the world. As we join together now as minister and congregation and embark on a new journey, I want us to take some time in the coming weeks to study this letter and to hear the words of assurance and instruction for Christ’s church. Perhaps some of what was useful to the earliest church will also be useful for us. And maybe we can find in this letter some wisdom to help us live more fully into our Christian identity; to be confident in who we are and in our roll as Christ’s disciples.
When I was a youth growing up at First United Methodist in Oak Ridge, I regularly joined my peers on retreats, or mission trips, or choir tours. Before we would embark on these journeys, the Youth Director would often gather us together for a departing prayer, and after closing the prayer, before we would climb into the bus or van, he would say to us, “Remember who you are, whose you are, and why you are.” That was, of course, his nice and more dignified way of telling us to behave ourselves. And to be honest, it was many years of hearing him say that to us before I really realized what he was saying. But when I did finally understand his words, it became something I looked forward to with each departure; a reminder of my value and worth in Christ, and my purpose in serving him.
It is this same sort of declaration that we hear in these opening words from Ephesians this morning. And I don’t know your thoughts on the matter, but for me, it is so comforting and reassuring to hear this reminder of God’s claim on my life through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Listen again, “Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding.” Quite simply, everything that is bad in us is taken away, and in Christ Jesus we are made new! Just let that soak in for a minute; it’s nothing short of amazing!
Friends, we cannot be effective workers in God’s Kingdom if we do not first have confidence in our status as beloved children of God; as people made new in Christ’s love. So as the writer opens his letter to the young church in Ephesus, he begins with a reminder of God’s gracious claim on every person there, a claim which extends even to us, even now! I think it’s fair to say that from time to time, we all struggle with doubt and shame. We question our self-worth and our ability to fulfill God’s calling upon our lives. And even if that’s not something we deal with individually, perhaps we are concerned about our church—we despair and worry about the church’s future. And this happens because, like those young girls influenced by the world around them, the culture (or you might say, “The Devil”) tells us that we are too weak and insignificant to really make a difference in the world. Despite our knowledge of God’s work and blessings in our lives, it can be difficult to trust in God’s belief in us. So it is, all the more, we need to hear these words to Ephesians this morning, we need to be reminded, and to always remember, that we ARE the blessed, chosen, adopted, and forgiven sons and daughters of God.
But here’s the thing, it’s not only about us. These opening words to the church in Ephesus remind us of that truth as well. Think about it this way. When you were a young child and you stood at the edge of a pond, and there was a rock there, what would you do? You’d throw it in, right? And would that rock just slip under the surface of the water without a trace? Of course not. It would hit the water and create a ripple of waves that would extend out across the pond for many feet and several minutes. Being a disciple and working as the church means not only that we are secure in our identity as the beloved of God, but also that we are engaged in making a difference for Christ in the world. God’s claim in our lives has to mean something, it has to ripple out into the world, touching the lives of others with the same blessing, forgiveness, and grace! God’s blessings should never just hit us and then slip beneath the surface, it should change us, and it changing us, it should touch and change the lives of others with God’s love. We aren’t chosen for our own sake, but for the sake of what God wants to accomplish through us.
You see, as soon as the writer is done reminding us of our identity in Christ, he launches us into the world and even the universe, announcing that in Christ we see God’s “[plan] for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” Just as we can have doubts and insecurities about ourselves, so too can we easily be tempted to believe that the earth is “going to hell in a hand basket.” All you have to do anymore is turn on the news and you are bombarded with awful reports from our community and around the world. But my friends, if we take this text to heart, then we cannot give up hope in anyone or anything, in our neighborhood or in any nation. Just as God in Christ Jesus has called and claimed each one of us, just as we are made new by the love of God, so does our Lord have a plan to renew “all things,” every part of this world.
Think with me for a moment. When you look at this world, what do you see as hopeless? Is it impoverished children in our community and around the world? Is it wandering refugees with no resources and no homeland? Is it unsettled regions like the Middle East or Africa where there is so much fighting and genocide? Is it cancer, or racism, or natural disasters, or drug addictions? How depressing! There is so much that is wrong in our world, it seems like every day there’s some new problem or disaster. It’s so easy for us to get caught up in all the negativity, to simply accept that things will always be bad. But what if we looked at the world with a different mindset? What if we had that sort of child-like faith like that little girl at the end of the commercial exhibited, or which Christ himself describes? Suddenly, our outlook on life changes, does it not? Suddenly, all that seems so desperate and hopeless is instead drawn up in the plan of God revealed in Christ. Suddenly, we can have hope that God will redeem all that bad, working good even from the horrendous and making “all things” new. I mean, this is the gospel story, right? That Christ will redeem and save this world. That’s what makes it “good news,” right? There’s nothing exciting about the good staying good; instead, good news comes when the bad is taken away and replaced by good. This is what Christ has done for each of us, and it is what God in Christ Jesus will do for the whole world. This is the “ripple effect” of the gospel.
And God has even given us a “down payment” as proof that he is continually at work redeeming the world, bringing about good all around us. That’s what we are told in the final sentences of this opening from Ephesians. “You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ,” the writer says, “The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.” The Holy Spirit, in our lives and in the life of the church, is God’s very own presence, leading and guiding us to our greater inheritance. The Spirit living within us, then, is a way of life, a life so lived that it results in “the honor of God’s glory.” The writer of this letter imagines his readers as a people known first and foremost for their joy in what Christ is doing to redeem aching souls and a suffering world.
What about us? How are we known by those around us? Are we perceived as a joyful people in Christ? Is this church a powerful representation of “good news” in this community? Or are we too caught up in the bad news? Here is the challenge for each of us and for this church that we love so much. We all need to hear this loud and clear this morning. We must be a people who see the good that God is doing in this world every day, and we must lift it up and celebrate God’s good work at all times. Not only that, but by the power of the Spirit, we must also be a part of God’s redeeming activity. Instead of spreading everything that is negative about this world, we need to always be bearers of the Good News! Just imagine the impact we could have if each of us consistently focused on what God is doing in our midst and in the midst of a troubled world. Just imagine if instead of being brought down by everything that is bad, we believed in our own worth as children called and claimed by God and we worked every day for the good that God desires for all things! We can be a part of the problem, or we can be a part of the solution. And I don’t know about you, but in a world with so much that is negative and bad, I’d rather cling to the story that Christ alone brings—a story of goodness, of life, and of hope.
So don’t get caught in the trappings of this world; remember who you are, and whose you are, and why you are. And as the blessings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ touch our lives, may they ripple out and touch also this community and our whole world!