Sunday, October 31, 2010

What St. Paul Prays for the People of Ephesus - A Homily for All Saints, 2010

Homily for All Saints’ Day, Year C, 2010 (translated)
Sunday, October 31st, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Ephesians 1:11-23

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.
-Ephesians 1:17-18

One of the most important things that a priest is called to do is to pray for the people for whom he or she has the care of souls. The Anglican tradition is a tradition rich in prayer. In particular, Anglicans pray the form known as the Daily Office, easily recognized by those who grew up in the tradition of Mattins and Evensong as principal Sunday services. Morning and Evening prayer, offered daily, is a way of prayer shaped by the reading and recitation of Holy Scripture. When Anglicans (and Christians of other traditions who share this liturgical form) pray the Office, our prayer is rooted and grounded in the reality of Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God, revealed in the written Word of God. Thus, when we come to offer our intercessions and cares to God, we offer them enfolded in the words of Holy Scripture.

As we come to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read a text that is, in effect, a prayer. How helpful it is for us, both as clergy and laypeople, when our words grow stale or even when prayers refuse to form on our lips, to turn to Scripture, and to the Apostle in particular, to learn afresh how to pray. As St. Paul gives thanks for the Ephesians and tells them how he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, he adds these words:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.

Can there be any better prayer that a pastor could offer to God on behalf of his or her people? Can there be any better prayer that any of us, as faithful Christian people, could offer for our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us consider for a moment what these words might mean to us.

First, Paul prays that God might give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation. This life is a journey of discovery. We might recall the prayer for the newly baptized person in the baptismal liturgy in the Book of Alternative Services, “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works” (BAS 160). It may be said that the life of the baptized Christian is the journey of discovering the beauty and holiness of God. And how do we come to know such things? Through wisdom and revelation.

On the one hand, there is so much beauty in the world that points to the majesty and greatness of God. Indeed, when asked about how people know God exists, many will simply say look at the stars, or the beauty of the autumnal leaves, or the great complexity of the natural order. In fact, many a scientist has devoted their life to the study of God’s creation because this beauty has driven them with a desire to understand the works of God. The philosopher, the theologian, the scientist, all use the god-given gift of wisdom to seek an understanding of this divinely ordered cosmos. And Paul prays for the people of Ephesus, that they might be given the Spirit of wisdom. May it also be so for all of us.

There are other things, though, that cannot be known through wisdom, reason, or study. These are things that are known only through a special revelation of God. For Christian people, the Holy Scriptures are the place through which this revelation is found. What is this revelation? It is the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ. This is where we learn that death has no power over us, that indeed Christ has trampled down death by dying, and defeated the power of Sin that we might have life. This is where we learn that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself. For the Christians of Paul’s day this revelation came through the reading and hearing of the Hebrew Bible for signs and prophecies about Jesus, for Christians since the second century or so, it has additionally meant reading the stories of Jesus, the acts of the early church, the letters of Paul and other apostles, for their disclosure of Jesus the Christ. Paul prays for the Ephesians that God might be revealed to them. May it also be so for us.

Wisdom and Revelation, two ways to God not alternatives, but complementary, and these are things for which we ought to continue to pray for each other. But why does Paul ask for these things, and why ought we to continue to pray for them? To what end are they important? Paul continues his prayer, “that we may come to know him (Jesus) and that the eyes of our hearts might be enlightened.” Sometimes the Church slips into thinking that it is a service club. Please note, I have nothing against service clubs – indeed, I belonged to one for several years – but the primary work of the Church is not about making the world a better place, but forming Christian people. The Church is a place, or more precisely, a gathering, in which we are nurtured that we might grow into the people God intends us to be. The Church is the gathering in which we pray, learn and serve. It is the gathering in which we are shaped and conformed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into the likeness of Christ. It is where we come to know Christ and are transformed into the body of Christ. This is what Paul means by enlightenment – that they eyes of our hearts be opened that we might see who it is that we really are in Christ; that we might learn our true identity, and help others on that same journey. It is through the transformation of people, that the world is transformed.

And finally, what do we see with the eyes of hearts opened? We see hope; the hope to which we are called in Christ. This is a hope that the sadness of the world is not the thing that claims us. This is the hope that the broken promises of the world do not claim us. This is the hope that illness and indeed death are not our masters, but rather, we are claimed by a loving God whose love brings joy in the midst of sadness, healing in the midst of brokenness, and life in the midst of death. It is a hope that the world is indeed being transformed, as we hear in the Gospel today -- the poor, the mourners, the despised of the world are blessed in heart of God. With the eyes of hearts opened we see us as God sees us, as saints in light, on the road of becoming who we are in Christ Jesus.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

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