SERMON for Epiphany I (Ephesians 1:3-14)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… (Ephesians 1.3)
The Lord be with you.
On our recent trip to Europe something I hadn’t anticipated happened. One day we took the train from Lake Geneva in Switzerland toward the Alps. At Interlaken we boarded a train to Lauterbrunnen at the foot of the mountains. From there we got on a cable car and then another little train and climbed to Mürren, the quaint village where we would stay. Mürren sits about 5,400 feet high, overlooking the beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley.
As we headed up to the village, suddenly the trees parted and an astonishing view of the mountains opened up in front of us. I felt tears well up in my eyes. Like I said, I hadn’t anticipated that. But the awesome majesty of those mountains literally took my breath. I could not speak. I was overwhelmed. Wiping the tears that were running down my cheeks, I had no words, just this sense of awe and wonder that took me completely by surprise and completely out of myself into a realm of transcendence and joy.
Awe is a precious commodity in our day. It’s a shame that one must climb to the top of the world to feel it. Yet there we were. We were privileged to be breathing that rare air, to be caught up in something so much bigger than ourselves that we were taken outside of ourselves for a time.
I think that is something of what Paul wants us to feel as we read the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians. The passage in chapter one that goes from verse 3 to verse 14 is, in the original language, one long sentence of awe and wonder at what God has done to save us and to remake creation. This one sentence is 201 words long! It is as though Paul started blessing God for all his blessings, and then found he just couldn’t stop. He got caught up in the vast panorama of God’s eternal plan of reconciliation for all creation and, unlike me in the Alps when I was rendered speechless, he found the praise and wonder and blessing pouring out of him uncontrollably.
Paul sums it up in his first words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
Then he goes on to talk about how God set his love on us before he even created this world. Then God made it so that we could be adopted into his family as his own beloved children through Jesus. God freely bestowed all of his grace upon us in his own beloved Son. He redeemed us. God lavished forgiveness upon us. God made us part of his wise plan to restore all creation — we are caught up in something now that encompasses the entire universe! God bestowed an inheritance upon us and poured the Holy Spirit into our lives as a seal and pledge of his never-ending love and kindness toward us.
All of this is by grace alone, Paul proclaims. It is the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul says over and over again that it is all to the praise of God’s glory. God deserves all the credit, all the honor, all the praise and blessing.
There is one phrase Paul repeats over and over again through this passage, one idea that is central to the gospel message he is proclaiming here. It is the little phrase “in Christ.”
He says God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. God adopted us as his children in Christ. In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness. God has a plan for all creation in Christ. One day he will gather up all things in heaven and earth and reconcile them in Christ. In Christ God has given us an inheritance. God sealed us with the Holy Spirit in Christ.
Just as we were in Switzerland when we saw the majestic Alps that left us tearful and speechless, it is in Christ that God has given us all these blessings. It is in Christ Jesus that we are able to see the astonishing vistas of God’s love for each one of us and for all the creation God made.
Martin Luther used another illustration of being in Christ that drives home the intensely personal and mystical relationship that this involves. Luther said that faith unites the soul to Christ as marriage unites a husband and wife. God has made us one flesh — we are united to Christ, one with him. Because that is true, just as in a marriage union, everything Christ possesses becomes ours, and everything that belongs to us becomes Christ’s.
And so. Luther says,
Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation; the soul is full of sin, death, and condemnation. Let faith step in, and then sin, death, and hell will belong to Christ, and grace, life, and salvation to the soul. For, if He is a Husband, He must needs take to Himself that which is His wife’s, and at the same time, impart to His wife that which is His. For, in giving her His own body and Himself, how can He but give her all that is His? And, in taking to Himself the body of His wife, how can He but take to Himself all that is hers?
Martin Luther calls this the “happy exchange” that happens when we are united with Christ. He takes all of our brokenness, sin, guilt, and shame. We get all of his life, all of his goodness, all of his grace, peace, and joy.
As we said last week, the first thing we as those beloved of Christ must do is learn to rest in this. This is now our identity — this is who we are. No matter how broken we may feel, no matter how hopeless or worthless we may feel, in Christ — in union with Christ — we have been made whole and all spiritual blessings in heaven and on earth are ours.
I don’t know about you, but that takes my breath away.
May the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.