Sunday, July 12, 2015

For the Cathedral Eucharist Proper 10B Ephesians 1:3-14

If you're a regular here, you'll know that the ministry of this Cathedral rests on 3 pillars, welcome, worship and reconciliation – with a 4th pillar the resources necessary to enable the rest...
You will know, too, that my role as Canon Pastor is to be the “Canon for Welcome”...not that this means that everyone else can sit back while I bound about like a demented golden retriever, trying to make sure that everyone who crosses the threshold knows just how pleased we are to see them. Welcome is part of what we do and who we are together – because it's part of what we experience from the God who draws us here. More of this later...

Of course if you are a visitor, even if we've not made it clear yet, you really are very welcome...indeed, if I had my way, we would have these words, which have pretty much gone viral since their first appearance at a church in the States, displayed prominently about the place. Just listen for a moment, if you would....
"We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor.... We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you sing like Andrea Bocelli or can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woken up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joe’s baptism...We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, choir dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you're having problems or you're down in the dumps or if you don't like "organized religion," We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts... and you”

That's what I'd like us to say....but I'd like us to DO it even more. Imagine how that church would be – with that wildly diverse mix of people coming together week by week, living and growing in faith, hope and love.
Actually, it might well be very hard times it might even feel a bit like hell, - but my suspicion is that in fact it would be very like heaven.
You see, the Church – as a model of God's kingdom – has never existed to be a gathering of like -minded people...and there's a reason for this...Indeed, this is exactly what our epistle celebrates. The writer, (whether Paul or an anonymous other) begins his letter to the Christians at Ephesus by thanking God for his grace and foresight in actually planning our messy human diversity. The whole of Ephesians is a letter about living together in the midst of human differences, the author a Jew writing to a largely Gentile audience with the message that in Christ God has “made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14 NRSV).
BROKEN DOWN you note. Not so much a process of shared conversations as a clear imperative to travel together, setting all differences aside for the sake of the gospel. But goodness, that's hard...very much like family life, I'd say – particularly when a family is enlarging to welcome new members.
And the family? – well, thanks to the Fall, none of us are there as of right. Each and every one of us has been adopted – with no insider privileges for those who happened to brought in first. It's such a powerful image...So often, those who are adopted would otherwise be without a home, exiled to the margins of society – but through one positive decision their lives are transformed, as they are given a new identity and status as members of a real family. In the ancient world, adoption had an important function – providing the wealthy with an heir if they were childless, giving the adopted child a name, a place at the table, and the long-term security of an inheritance which was a safe-guard for the future.
But God, never one for the small gesture, chooses to adopt not just an individual or a small group of siblings – but a people. What's more, they, we, are already enjoying our inheritance for God has gifted us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places – here and now, - though the roots of this adoption are planted at the very moment of creation, when “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy...”
Set apart for him
But though we are set apart – we are not exclusive.
The language of Ephesians recalls the stories of God choosing Israel, a people for his own possession, - but now we see that his choice is not limited, his family not confined to one race or nation, nor to one time...One commentator remarks that the message of this Scripture is “You too” the writer celebrates God's choice of both Jews “The first to set our hope on Christ” and Gentiles who “also heard the word of truth...and believed in him”. There is an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps if God has chosen these specific people, then others are in fact excluded. Disquieting words like “election” may lurk just below the surface,causing us to wonder just why we have been adopted, what the mystery behind God's grand plan really is.
But then we are reminded that our adoption is part of God's GRACE in action. Remember that old acronym God's Riches At Christ's Expense, and marvel at how that Grace overflows in every line...because this wild, extravagant grace excludes nobody. Listen
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”
ALL THINGS...The J B Philips translation puts it like this
God’s plan is “that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in him....”
In looking forward to the end times, God also looks back to the beginning, for he will not rest til the whole broken world is restored and God will look, and see it is very good . We, the Church, participate in God’s gracious purpose to reunite everything in Christ. In fact we illustrate it. The community of faith, a model of reconciliation, projected into God’s future, will be instrumental in revealing his purpose...”To gather up all things”
That's what we're for.
To live the oneness we already have in Christ. That's what it means to be a reconciled and reconciling people. We will not allow any differences to disrupt our fundamental unity...both within ourselves and with the whole of God's people. Our primary identity, our life in Christ, trumps anything else that might divide or create false hierarchies. God’s grace establishes a dynamic. This is a living, bodily, history-shaping movement of God toward the world through and in the church. In this community is found a new life in which the fullness God planned from the start is now experienced. A newness not in utter completeness, but as an “earnest,” a guarantee of the inheritance.
God plans nothing less than the gathering of everything into a living unity with him. And the church is entrusted with a role in this. We live actively as heirs, enjoying our inheritance, pledged towards our redemption, and marvelling that God not only expends himself on the world, but invests in it, in us, too.... In US! God has a stake in us – and invites US to live so that others may understand this.
Sometimes we fail wretchedly. We take up arms against one another on the flimsiest of grounds, as if our God is so fragile that He somehow needs protecting from aspects of his own creation. We nail our colours to a whole forest of masts that would blow down in a moment in the wind of divine mercy.
But nonetheless, the Church exists to model that living unity.
It doesn't always look or feel this way, does it, but our Scripture makes it clear that we START from our unity in Christ as well as constantly aspiring to its fullest expression. Radical inclusion may feel alarming – indeed it probably does – but I don't think we have any choice. If we are going to spend eternity rejoicing that God has restored all that is broken, each battered, care-worn, sin-warped soul, we need to start practising that joy here and now.
For me, there is little good news in a kingdom where the insiders will inherit an eternity of blessing, while those who are not selected suffer for all time. In this epistle I read the Christian hope that God’s plan to set things right will prevail—for everyone and everything. It is the hope that at the end of all things, all people and all creation will be restored so that we are all once again “very good.” - and the cosmos can resound with the praise of God's glory.

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