8th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 10) LSB #’s 587, 735, 556:1-4
Text – Ephesians 1:9-10
Making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven & things on earth.
BRINGING ALL THINGS TOGETHER
Growing up, a common summertime event was the butchering of chickens at my Uncle’s farm. Us children had mixed feelings about it, because although we dreaded having to pluck the feathers of the 30 or so chickens, we did get a laugh of out watching the beheaded chickens running around, bumping into things, & then continuing to stumble in a different direction until they collapsed. Death is something you get hardened to on the farm.
The phrase “running around like a chicken with your head cut off,” has always brought to mind, a vivid picture because of those summertime butchering events. So when I attended my 1st Bible study at the Ft. Wayne seminary, the professor easily made his point, when he pictured the world we live in as a chicken running around with its head cut off.
The majority of people in our world don’t seem to know where they’re going either. They’re running around a lot, chasing after one thing & then another. They bump into things, they stumble & fall, but then continue on just as blindly in some other direction. Eventually, they grind to a halt as they, or their own little world, collapse.
Lives come apart at the seams because they lack guidance & direction. Many people are even searching for those, but don’t know where to find the meaning & the purpose in their routine activities. They recognize that they’re lacking something, are not satisfied because of it, but don’t realize that what they’re missing is their head.
In this era of the information revolution – cell phones, Twitter, electronic money, skinny jeans, organic diets & exercise, & the politics of the war against our president, in this age it’s easy to feel very insignificant & unimportant. Whether you are applying for a job, working at a small town business, even watching your grandchildren handle the latest electronic gadgets with ease; in all those situations you can be overwhelmed with feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, or just plain lack of capability.
When you’re off to college, to a world that’s much larger, faster paced & infinitely more complicated, at moments like those, you can wallow in despair & dread climbing out of bed in the morning. Success might appear beyond your abilities. In our sinful human weakness, we can feel utterly inferior to the tasks at hand.
Our guilt makes us feel all-alone. It separates us from those we love, & even from those who love us. Sin rots you & me from the inside out, & in our sins, we recognize that we truly are inferior. In his letter to Ephesus, St. Paul begins his 2nd chapter by painting the dark background of sinful nature, & by verbally picturing the isolating effect it has on mankind.
“You also were dead in your trespasses & sins. You led your life in those sins, following the ways of this present world & the ruler who governs the air, the spirit who is now working in the people who disobey. All of us once lived among them in our lusts, doing what our flesh & mind wanted to do. By nature we deserved God’s anger just like all the others.”
Paul holds up the mirror of the law in order for us to view a bleak self-portrait of death, lawlessness & slavery – both to the lusts of the flesh as well as to the will of Satan. In this bleak picture, death is brought to the forefront. Sin brings death & a dead body can do nothing. It is completely helpless. We are inferior & we are incapable of measuring up.
It’s like standing in the North face of Mt. St. Helens just before that volcano erupted. In the face of God, you & I are completely insignificant & powerless. We’re like a chicken with our head cut off. We’re dead, but we don’t know it yet. We’re still running & thrashing around, trying to make something of our lives in spite of being blind & helpless. As we’re honest about it, we realize that there is an immeasurable gap between God & us. To our sinful eyesight, that gap appears insurmountable.
Some of us, when recognizing that gap, completely surrender & give up all together in trying to appease God. Our inferiority can so overwhelm us that we become convinced it’s useless to remain connected to Him. The gap will never be bridged.
Yet others, in their headless state, are still foolish enough to try & measure up. If only we work hard enough at it, maybe somehow we’ll be able to climb that mountain. If only we’re better than those people, then maybe God will overlook our faults even as He judges theirs. This group tries to minimize their guilt, while highlighting their good deeds.
A 3rd group tries to bridge that gap through minimizing God. They reduce it by making Him into nothing more than a kindly old man. They shrink down His law to human scale where it becomes something we can achieve. Abortion, living together outside of marriage & selfishness are whitewashed into mere choices that we are free to make.
Surely a loving God would not want to restrict our freedom to choose? After all, no one else will be harmed by those choices. Yet, in all three groups, even if no other human beings were harmed, sin by definition is offensive & hurtful to God. His only Son was tortured & killed for our sins. However, NONE of our sins are ever harmless to other people.
All three groups try to minimize the chasm between themselves & their Creator. But the result is – they maintain the gap by disregarding, or running away from, God’s plan. Christ came in order to bridge that gap, & His work is finished.
Yet, as we give up on God, as we attempt to raise ourselves, or as we lower God, our plans interfere with & ruin the work of Christ. At the heart of the matter, people are not only rejecting God’s law, but also the blessings that He attaches to obedience. We look at the commandments as restrictions on our choices. Christ looks at those commandments as safety devices protecting us from ourselves & from the devil. Nevertheless, God knows that we are incapable of keeping those laws.
Our heavenly Father knows all too well, just how inferior we are. But in His love, already from eternity, He had a plan to bridge the gap between sinful mankind & Himself. God has made known to us the mystery of that plan in Jesus Christ. Christ is not only the revelation of the plan. He is the plan.
This revealed mystery is summarized as God’s restoration of creation back to its proper order by placing Christ at its head & subjecting all things to Him. Living without Christ, is like trying to live our lives without our head. When we attempt to go our own way, we disconnect ourselves from the source of our wisdom, our hope & our forgiveness.
At the fall of Adam & Eve, the entire universe was torn in two. God’s creation was divided by sin. He has chosen to bring all things in heaven & on earth together again, under one head, Christ Jesus. And the body for that Head is the Church. Not the church in the sense of any building or denomination, but the Church in the sense of all true believers in Jesus.
Through His birth, His baptism, His death & resurrection, Christ has restored the connection between man & God. And in spite of the disfigured status of this world, He’s still bridging that gap, & He’ll continue doing so until He returns to this earth to judge the world.
For those who believe, the gap will be forever gone. For those who’ve rejected God’s will, God’s love, & God’s grace, the chasm will become infinite as they are forever banished from any remnant even of His presence. They’ll no longer be allowed to spit in His face through rejection of His love. Christ bore, in His own body, all the effects of our sin – the division, the despair, the anarchy, & He restored unity, hope & order. There’s no longer a reason for us to feel to inferior because with Christ as our head we have been made superior. We’ve been given His perfection. In our status as God’s children, we do measure up.
We no longer need to be concerned with self-esteem, or our place & meaning in life, because Christ gives us all of that! We are His. We belong to the very Creator of the universe in which we live, & that universe was created as a gift to you. It’s the home God created for you to live in.
Looking at Mt. St. Helens & everything it destroyed, I sensed how small a piece of the universe man is. The gap between God & man is huge, & by our means – insurmountable. God may still seem beyond everything we experience, beyond our reach, in a different league.
But Christ’s glorious union with His Church stands as a pointed contrast to the dark & foreboding background of man’s hopeless separation from God. Having united Himself to His Church, Jesus has brought her back to life & made her holy according to His purpose.
It is precisely against the dark & ominous backdrop of our sin & our inferiority that the Gospel gloriously breaks forth, illuminating the portrait of Christ bringing all things back together under His head-ship. In a world that has lost its senses, the restored head-ship of Christ orders all things & brings the creation back to its proper relationship with its Father.
That is a mystery indeed, which the Gospel alone can reveal to mankind. The law, given for our protection, can only cause us to despair, or to vehemently reject its voice in our lives.
The law serves its purpose now by showing us our separation from God, in order that we might recognize our lost condition & gladly receive the Gospel.
Included in that Gospel is God’s plan to nourish & strengthen His children through His church, which is Christ’s own body. Apart from Him we are inferior. With Christ, & in Christ, we are already now seated in the heavens at the right hand of our Father, because through our baptism we’ve already been raised from the dead, with Christ.
Until that final day of our physical resurrection, Jesus governs the church in His grace & mercy, not with His law. And it’s through His body, which Christ Himself directs, that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ crucified & risen is proclaimed to the world. This world to which the Gospel is proclaimed is still enslaved to the unholy trinity: sin, death & the Devil.
It’s only through Christ’s body the Church, that men who’ve been blinded by Satan are transported via Baptism & the proclamation of the Gospel, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His glorious Light. It is Jesus who guides & directs the church to do & complete this great work in much the same way that a head directs & guides its own body.
May the Holy Spirit empower each & every one of you, to be ambassadors of the Gospel, as our Heavenly Father brings all things in heaven & on earth together under one head, in Christ. Amen.
Christ came preaching peace to you who were far away, & peace to those who were near. So then you are no longer strangers & aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, & members of God’s family, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles & prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. In Him the whole building is being fitted together & grown into a holy temple in the Lord. Amen. (Ephesians 2:17, 19-21)
Pastor Dean R. Poellet