July 25, 2021
Ephesians 1: 1-14
Has someone ever said something to you that had you thinking about it … digesting it … for weeks afterwards?
I call it mental composting.
I’ve been composting a comment made by one of my former seminary professors during the second “OK … What’s Next?” session that was held earlier this month.
The session focused on how communion will be offered after congregations return to in-person services and some … such as LCOS … will continue to share their services online.
In our case, congregational leaders decided to invest in livestreaming equipment so that people who are homebound or who are leery about being in groups until the pandemic is truly over … or even those who are virtual members of the congregation from other parts of the globe … can take part in the Sunday services as they happen.
It’s a ministry of connection.
The people taking part in the session heard that there are three approaches to offering communion in the world of the new normal.
One of those approaches is what is being called “the hybrid model.”
Under this model, communion is offered to those in attendance and to those who are participating online. This is pretty much what we’re doing this morning via Zoom.
Like our Zoom service, the livestream will be recorded and shared to our social media pages later in the day.
But some pastors … myself included … are uncomfortable with the idea that someone can take part in communion hours or days after the service.
Communion-on-demand doesn’t seem like it would foster a true sense of community.
Early in the pandemic, Bishop Mike cautioned pastors about offering pre-recorded virtual communion.
So, a number of pastors spend some time editing out the communion portion of the service before the recording is shared online.
It made for an interesting discussion at the ‘What’s Next’ session.
My former instructor offered a different perspective … sort of like tossing a liturgical hand grenade into the digital room.
He said something along the lines of … communion has continued since Jesus shared a meal that evening in Jerusalem.
It isn’t restricted to a single day of the week … it has never stopped … we are always invited into community and into the grace that is the act of communion.
You could see the look on some of the pastors’ faces … their minds were in the process of being blown.
The implication of this statement is that WHEN people take communion … whether during a live event or later as they take part in the recorded service … isn’t an important consideration.
We are … to paraphrase Luther … all members of the priesthood of believers … and communion gathers us together regardless of time or distance.
Gathering together is one of the key ideas of today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Paul is writing to a congregation that is mostly Gentile and that is continually attracting more people. It is a congregation of diverse social and ethnic backgrounds.
The apostle is writing both to urge the people not to allow racial or other biases to get in the way of congregational unity in following God.
The letter also serves as a theological reminder for the diverse congregation … that God’s actions through Jesus provide salvation.
Through this, Paul explains throughout the letter, people are transformed and by their actions … so is the world.
Scholar Thomas Neufeld has made a lengthy examination of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Neufeld noted that the content of Paul’s letter was radical for its time … and … perhaps … it remains radical for our time, as well.
“Its radicalism is intended to be a wake-up call to churches and denominations that are showing signs of wear … churches and denominations that are far-removed from a love-filled … from a passionate … discipleship.”
Paul informs the Ephesians that salvation … that grace … has already been secured through Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Peace and serving God are to be a product of a loving heart … not a by-product of working to earn salvation.
For the Ephesians, this was a radical concept … that despite their diverse backgrounds … they all belonged and their good works were to be a part of their lives … not part of an effort to gain salvation.
Paul tells the Ephesians that God had adopted them … in Paul’s world … adoption meant that displaced people … people whose future was uncertain … suddenly found themselves welcomed into a family … a place where they belonged and their future was secure. They were made full participants in the community.
This is grace.
Paul tells the Ephesians that … through God’s actions … through Jesus’ death and resurrection … we have salvation.
We should also remember that we have been adopted as God’s children … gathered in, as Paul puts it.
With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Scholar Mary Hinkle Shore once wrote that
“God intends to gather all things into Christ, so that the love, healing, wisdom and welcome that we associate with Jesus will be the way the whole creation works.”
This … Paul says … is God’s intention … God’s plan … since the time of creation. To Paul, creation and redemption … creation and salvation … are all part of the same plan.
It’s easy to see this gathering up as something that occurs at some critical moment … or somewhere off in the future. For some, it is something that would only occur at the end of time.
But to Paul in his letter … this gathering is a constant, on-going process … it is the fullness of time.
We have been drawn closer to God and to the other children … as a family of faith.
Just as communion … when we gather at the table … whether we are physically or virtually present … has continued out from that second-floor room in Jerusalem … so too has God’s embracing love continued out from the cross to this day.
Both are continual … ever-expanding … processes.
The one thing the pandemic has shown us is that there are people who are desperately looking for a place to belong … a place that speaks to their spiritual needs … a place that fosters and nurtures … a place that welcomes … radically welcomes them … that meets them where they are in their lives … and lives into its inherent diversity.
… a place where God gathers them in.