This Bible reading is from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 15-23, the Contemporary English Version. As you read it, observe the intimate relationship between Christ and every believer, and between all the believers as the Church.
15I have heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 16So I never stop being grateful for you, as I mention you in my prayers. 17I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. 18My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and that you will understand the hope that was given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all of God’s people.
19I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers. It is the same wonderful power he used 20when he raised Christ from death and let him sit at his right side in heaven. 21There Christ rules over all forces, authorities, powers, and rulers. He rules over all beings in this world and will rule in the future world as well. 22God has put all things under the power of Christ, and for the good of the church he has made him the head of everything. 23The church is Christ’s body and is filled with Christ who completely fills everything.
I hope you appreciate how fortunate we are … as a Christian congregation, I mean. Not every Christian community of faith is lucky enough to fill the sanctuary with families of all ages, configurations and sizes, gathering every Sunday to worship God together as one, with receptive hearts and open minds. It’s a joy to see all the kids and teens all around us; and what a pleasure to be in such a beautiful, spacious, safe, and accessible church home; how energizing to hear the sounds of life and faith and hope for the future before, during and after our worship hour; such a privilege to be part of a church that is filled and busy almost every day of the week throughout the whole year; what a benefit to be able to afford two full-time ministers, such a talented and cooperative music director, and a church administrator who knows just about everyone and everything there is to know around here; and what a gift to have hundreds of church volunteers who give countless hours to help make Orleans United Church the meaningful and productive Christian community it is. I hope you appreciate how fortunate we are.
15I have heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 16So I never stop being grateful for you, as I mention you in my prayers. That’s how Paul puts into words the joy he feels in his heart when he thinks about the Christian congregation in Ephesus, a church of which he was a part and helped build. And it’s a feeling that certainly resonates in my heart when I consider our church here – I hope all of us “never stop being grateful” for what we have here. Orleans United has so much to offer, and it’s so worthy of our investment personally, spiritually and financially, so worthy of our commitment, of our partnership with God and each other. Our faith in Jesus and the love it inspires makes a difference not only in the lives of those who worship here every Sunday; we also make a difference in the quality of life of this neighbourhood, and in the lives of God’s children in need throughout our wider community, and even the world. We have so much to offer, and must never stop being grateful when we pray.
And that’s when Paul breaks into prayer:
17I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. 18 … (May that light (of Christ) … flood your hearts, … (so) you will understand the hope that was given to you when God (invited) you (here), … (and) discover the glorious blessing that (is) yours together with all of God’s people.
I don’t know if you noticed the language I used when I began preaching today … “I hope you appreciate how fortunate you are,” is what I said. I used words like fortunate and lucky, words like pleasure, privilege, benefit … and I purposefully did not use the word blessing. I never said, how blessed we are. If you spend enough time with me, eventually you’ll hear me rant about the difference between being blessed and being lucky. (So if you’ve already heard this little sermonette, now would be the time to take a nap or let your mind wander. I’ll let you know when to listen again.) But for those who haven’t yet heard my opinions on this subject (yes they are mine and may not be yours), let me wrap it up in one simple phrase, “blessing is not what you’ve got … blessing is what you do with what you’ve got.” So you’ve got a good job with benefits or a solid pension for the rest of your life, or you’ve received an ample inheritance or even won a lottery … well then you’ve been very fortunate (more lucky than most in this world), yes you’ve likely worked hard and saved, which is noteworthy, and maybe even got a little lucky along the way … but God did not bless you with that job, or pension, or inheritance or lottery – that’s life’s good fortune … God’s blessing is what good you do with your good fortune. And the same can be said about health, as another example … if you’re fortunate enough to have good health, and are able to do all the right things to stay healthy, well how lucky you are … but good health itself is not God’s blessing … it may be the benefit of genetic inheritance and a family that encouraged healthy lifestyle … but God’s blessing is what you good you do with your good health. All I’m saying is that you’re not blessed because you’ve got a good job and that person doesn’t, or because you’re healthy and that person is sick. God’s blessing is never what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. And that’s true in every aspect of life.
Paul’s prayer is that Christ’s Spirit will enlighten our minds and enliven our hearts, so we can discover the glorious blessing that is ours with fellow believers. Not to take what we have here for granted, and just being thankful for how ‘blessed’ we feel. But rather, to take what we have here, what we received here, what was built here, what we work hard at here, what we contribute to here, what we love here … to take the goodness of our church and imagine what blessing God is doing for us and with us right now and in the years ahead. This is both the challenge and the hope of being blessed partners with Christ and each other in a vital Christian community like Orleans United: a challenge because it means God is not finished with us yet, so we must continuously open our minds and hearts to what we have not yet imagined … and a hope because, well, it means God is not finished with us yet, so the best is still to come. This is Paul’s glorious vision for the church – in Ephesus and in Orleans.
Paul’s vision is based on trusting in God’s gracious power, the same power that raised Jesus from death, a power so influential that Christ lives at the centre of a faith tradition that has carried on for 2000 years, a power so pervasive that, if we allow ourselves to receive and embrace it, will enable us to become Christ’s living, healing, forgiving, transforming presence right here at 1111 Orleans Boulevard. Are we able and willing to actually imagine that together? Then we’re more than fortunate … friends, we’re blessed.
May the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus give you Christ’s Spirit to make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. May that light of Christ flood your hearts so you will appreciate the hope that was given to you when God invited you here. And may you discover the glorious blessing that is yours together with all of God’s people.