Homily for Proper 15, Year B, 2009
Sunday, July 12th, 2009
The Parish of St. Stephen (Rosseau, Orrville, Ullswater/Bent River)
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
“Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”
We live in a world of broken promises, do we not? It takes but a moment to begin to enumerate the kinds of promises that are broken in this fragile world. Consider a few of them. It would seem as if we have witnessed a miracle if a politician were to keep his or her election promises. Then there the absurd promises we make to ourselves, “by the time I’m forty I want to be a millionaire, fly to the moon, and have solved world hunger.” There the little promises that we make to others that we let slide, “I know I promised to go to her baby shower, but I’m not feeling well,” or, “I know I promised you kids ice cream today, but things just got too busy.” Of course there are the more serious promises that are broken, the employer or employee who fails to live up to an employment contract; the service provider who needs to be taken to court for failure to provide a contracted service, or conversely, the customer who defaults on payment. Our current financial crisis and the examples of ponzi schemes, bankrupted companies, and individuals left penniless as a result are only too evident in the news media every day. And on a very personal level to many, there are the broken promises in personal relationships, in marriage break-ups, in the relationships of parents and children when individuals find themselves written out of a will; between friends who betray each other. The point is this: we live in a world of broken promises.
This fact is not lost on the Apostle Paul, who found himself sitting in a cold, damp, humiliating prison. This fact is not lost on the one who, like his master, had many turn on him. This fact is not lost on a man who traveled from city to city and witnessed the disappointment of so many who lived in emotional, psychological and social brokenness. Paul knew much about a world of broken promises. And yet, is it not remarkable that he opens his letter to the Ephesians with a wonderful hymn of praise and blessing? This man who found himself imprisoned chose to bless God and invoked those to whom he wrote to join in the blessing.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he begins his letter, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” How can this be? The one who sits imprisoned, in a world of broken promises blesses God and counts himself as blessed? Paul can claim this blessing because of what he knows God has done for him. Through his relationship with the Risen Christ, Paul has touched the heavenly places.
Consider the points he makes. Thus, Paul seeks to remind the recipients of his letter, and by extension, each of us who hears his words to today, to all who live in world of broken promises and dreams about the unfailing promise of God in Christ.
First, he reminds us that it God’s will that we are all to be adopted as his children. What is more, this adoption is a glorious thing to God in which he receives great pleasure. What can be greater than the joy of the growth of the family? The kingdom was opened not simply to his natural children, as it were, the Hebrew people, but to all people, natural or adopted we are his pride and joy. To those of us who often struggle with our own self-worth, this is really quite a remarkable statement, is it not, that God receive great pleasure in our adoption? God is blessed by our inclusion in his family, and we are blessed to be his children.
Secondly, he has given us redemption from all our sin and wrongdoing. Now the concept of forgiveness has become quite sterile in this world of legal, guarded apologies and formal acceptances. I fear that even the Christian tradition has often relied too much on sterile juridical metaphors in its theology of forgiveness and redemption. Repentance and forgiveness seem to take on a rather prosaic character in our society. Indeed, it may look something like what happens when we see children fight and then make up under the duress of parental supervision. The parental admonition to “apologize to your sister,” is met with a begrudging, “I’m sorry,” and an equally more tortured acceptance, “I accept your apology.” But according to Paul, in the economy of God, God in Christ lavishes redemption and forgiveness on us according to the riches of his grace. The lavishing of forgiveness is a promise of exuberance worth considering.
Thirdly, God has opened our eyes to the mystery of his will, namely, that in the fullness of time he gathers up all things to himself. This means that God’s eternal purpose is that we might, as is written in the 2 Peter 1:4, “partake of the divine nature.” The entire course of our existence and the history of the cosmos is that we might be drawn into the divine life. This might seem overly esoteric to us who are caught in the muck and mire of everyday life, but consider those divine moments that we encounter, the ones in which we know God is truly alive and present. They are different for each one of us but I know that we all from time-to-time feel that communion with God. What Paul is telling us is that God has given us the eyes to see that these moments of God’s reaching out to us are glimpses into God’s hope and dreaming about who we are becoming. And this gives us the strength to believe and press forward and live into the divine life in spite of the broken promises of the world.
There is much more that can be said about this opening prayer of thanksgiving, but our time is short, and thus I wish to underscore one final promise. Paul says that we who have set our hope on him, who have heard the word of salvation, have been marked in our baptism with the seal of his Holy Spirit, who have believed, we have a hope that cannot be dashed, for we are living into the divine purpose of God. As Christian people of faith, we have said yes to a promise that cannot be broken. True, we may turn away, we may break our part of the covenant from time-to-time, but God will not turn his face from us. God, in Christ, reaches out to us again and again and calls us back into his divine love. This is his promise to us: that he will not forsake those who have set their hope on him. “This pledge,” writes St. Paul, “is our inheritance.”
So, in this world of broken promises and dreams, we set our eyes on the one whose dreaming is greater than time and space, and whose faithful promises stretch from the depth of eternal love, for his heart is ever set upon us and his word of promise is ever faithful.
Text copyright 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves