Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
When I was young, the picture I had of Christianity was essentially a picture of the church, and that picture comprised a list of things that I must not do.
For the more enthusiastic, there was also a list of things that I had to do, and the whole impression was one of control and guilt.
Jesus had died, yes – but for ME? He had risen, yes, but for ME? There was no real sense of a personal relationship of love with a personal lord who looked for the best for me and only the best would do.
Small wonder that I concluded fairly early on that all this God malarkey was not really my scene.
I might pretend to conform but that was all.
When we come to today’s lessons however the picture is wholly different. Paul’s vision and prayer is that the church in Ephesus and everywhere else might be so established and grounded that it would be wholly taken up with the presence and the nature of God, which it had in the person of Jesus Christ.
It was to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that every member knew Jesus for him and herself, within the deepest parts of their hearts and souls.
Far from just being bossed around by clergy they were to see and to know themselves as inheritors of God’s eternal promise, and that they had received that promise by believing and trusting in the message of hope and forgiveness that had been given to them.
They would be kept within that promise by the work of the Holy Spirit who was a seal of God’s ownership in their lives. They would be claimed and marked as those who God accepted in Jesus as being especially and wholly His.
Their thinking and their belonging and their priorities in life would be changed from survival to living; and from existence to exultation.
Their vision would be renewed so that they may perceive and rejoice in the wonders of life that God was already wanting them to enjoy and to grow into.
Fear and anxiety were to be replaced by confidence and trust. Instead of being haunted by the fear of death, they would see it as a gateway into life beyond living, where harmonies only guessed would be heard and where sights beyond imagination would be seen in full depth and colour.
Worlds of fears and terrors of the unknown, the unknowable and the unpredictable would be resolved by depths of understanding and perceiving and penetrating.
Paul’s vision and prayer for the church was that it may grow into the likeness of Jesus while it continued on earth so that it might be fit and ready to receive the mysteries of life beyond the grave.
And that work would start right where they were, as they translated hope and forgiveness into day-to-day life.
They would no longer be like animals striving to survive and consuming each other in the process where the weakest fell prey to the strongest. They would no longer live as slaves to appetite and procreation, demanding little more than food and clothing, shelter and safety and the privilege of procreation.
Now they would enter a realm where life and love were about giving, and where belonging did not demand grasping to hold onto what they had already accumulated.
And this is the context in which we have to look at Jesus’ blessings and woes.
In His sight the blessed were those who had nothing, and were counted as nothing by those whose lives were only taken with getting and holding and consuming.
To be rejected for His sake was indeed an honour, and to be able to live in contentment while possessing little was a mark of His own presence.
The reverse was also true: to live for power and control and status was to live for an illusion. The beauty of youth would fade and the security of riches was not only vulnerable to theft and disaster but they counted as nothing beyond the grave.
To be taken with the flatteries of sinners and those who were determined to deny the reality and glory of God was to live in a world of enduring shade and shallowness.
It would have little meaning or morality, little belonging or significance, and it would fade away as the flower dies and as the autumn glories turn to winter drabness.
These are the things that give us vision and purpose, for they endure far beyond the grave and into that realm where those who have passed before us already wait for us.
This is why what we do here is only in the anteroom of life, where we are shown what we are and what we might become. It is where faith is made to work and is the test of where belong.
What we have yet to become is indeed a mystery – but it is a mystery that we are allowed to enter, albeit briefly and partially.
It is a mystery that is revealed by the life of Jesus who has already been through death and yet has come back in His resurrected life. It is a life that we are invited to share here and now, right where we are and in the midst of our daily needs and concerns.
It is however a mystery that we also enter by giving rather than getting, and by believing and trusting rather than proving or measuring or controlling.
Above all it is a mystery where the centre is Jesus, the eternally begotten Son of God, and yet where the entry and access are also in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.