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Sermon: Inheritance

October 31, 2010

For All Saints Day

Ephesians 1:11-23

A young woman we will call Jenny was having a very difficult time in college.  She had wanted to be a doctor especially so she could work with kids and families.  When she first announced her intention to become a doctor, a lot of people scoffed at the idea.  Doctors don’t come from small towns in coal country, they told her.  Doctors come from somewhere else, and the unlucky ones have to go work in small coal towns.  Even some of Jenny’s teachers urged her to reconsider and choose a more reasonable career path such as staying home and having babies for her coalminer husband.  Her family, though, was very supportive.  They told Jenny they would do whatever they could to help.  Her best friends were supportive.

Jenny was the youngest of five children and the first to go to college.  She discovered that a college campus is nothing like a rural Pennsylvania town.  At home, she had a place.  It wasn’t the most honored or respected place, but it was hers.  It seemed as if she knew everyone in town, and they knew her.  People looked out for each other.  Philadelphia, on the other hand, was a cut-throat town.  Jenny had trouble connecting with the other students.  She had made only a few friends.  She had no time for a social life anyway.  She had to work two part-time jobs to support her studies.  The schoolwork was hard.  She excelled in high school, but struggled for her C’s and the occasional B.  Jenny was tired, depressed, afraid and on the verge of giving up.

More than once she made up her mind to go home.  Then she remembered her grandma who—somehow—with her meager Social Security benefits, was able to scrape up enough to pay for most of Jenny’s books each semester.  She remembered her high school English teacher who would never accept mediocre work from Jenny, but pushed her always to do her best work.  She thought about her parents who had gone their whole lives with very little so Jenny and her siblings could have a little more.  Jenny remembered how her brother took a whole weekend away from his wife and new daughter to help Jenny move in.

With all of those people looking over her shoulder, Jenny knew she couldn’t give up no matter how difficult it was.  She couldn’t give up, and she didn’t.

*     *     *     *     *

Paul was a First Century missionary who endured—survived—a number of trips around the Mediterranean basin.  He was arrested and beaten, jailed and shipwrecked, abused in almost every way imaginable.  But he kept going.  He continued to share the good news about Jesus Christ even though doors were again and again violently slammed in his face.  He was a rough, tough man, not very patient, but there was a softer side.  We got a glimpse of that in our scripture reading this morning from Ephesians, which is one of Paul’s letters.

This letter, like every other letter of his, focuses on what God has done through Jesus.  God, he said, has a plan.  This is not what some people refer to as “a plan for your life.”  God’s plan is cosmic.  It’s the plan for all of Creation.  God chose to draw us all together into the Body of Christ, to make us one family with Jesus as the head of the family.  Because this plan is for all of us, because God deeply desires for all of us to participate in this plan, it is very easy to be a part of it.  All you and I need to do is to believe, to believe the good news that God has saved us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That is all we have to do.  God does the rest.

Then, we get a little bit of Paul’s softer side, the side of him that cares deeply about people.  He wrote, “Ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you.  I remember you in my prayers” (Today’s English Version).  Paul seems genuinely touched that these people, most of whom he does not know personally, are participating by their faith in what God is doing in the world.  They have believed, and not just believed, but they have shown love for others of God’s people.  By this, Paul is probably referring to a collection he had been taking up for the poor in Jerusalem, the home of the Christian church in the First Century.  The people of Ephesus had not only believed, but they were sharing of themselves with other, less fortunate Christians that they would never meet.  That touched Paul deeply, and he gave thanks to God for them and their participation in God’s mission, and he prayed for them daily.

Paul went on to remind them that by their faith, they were assured of receiving God’s promises to them, their inheritance—true freedom and God’s “wonderful blessings.”  Then our reading closes with a hymn of praise to Christ, raised from the dead by God and exalted to be the head not only of the Church but of all things.  In that way, God’s plan is completed and Creation fulfills its promise and exists in true, mature freedom.

It is heady stuff and full of theological, churchy language, but my attention focuses on that more personal section in the middle.  Paul has heard of the faith of these Christians, and he gives thanks.  Imagine how important that might be to a man like Paul.  He spent a lot of time alone with his thoughts on his missionary journeys, a lot of time in chains and in prison.  He must have wondered, must have doubted, if he had given himself to the right cause.  Was he really doing any good?  Had he really heard God’s call?  Was he on the right path?

There were little moments like this, when in the midst of his doubt, he remembered that he was not alone.  Surely, he felt, God was guiding him, but these moments reminded him that there were others, too.  There were the Christians in Ephesus who believed the good news, who acted out their faith by caring for others.  If Paul ever thought about giving up, he must have been encouraged by the presence of the others, people who wanted as much as he did for the good news of Jesus to be shared and embraced.

Today we have 25 names on our list.  These are the ones that we give thanks for and for whom we pray.  They are the ones who have reminded us that we are not alone, who have supported us in times of trial, who have shared love and laughter with us, who have helped us carry our burdens, who have taught us what it means to live.  Many of them have passed on to us faith in Jesus Christ.

When you feel tired—and you will—when you feel discouraged—and you will—when you feel like giving up—and you will—remember these names and these faces.  Remember the people who have given you the gift of life and friendship.  Give thanks to God for them, because they are God’s gift to us.  I say “they are God’s gift” because they are with us still in so many ways.  We believe that God continues to love them and care for them, and they have left their legacy with us.  We have inherited their hope and good humor, their love and faith.  They are with us, and we are with them.

Look at those names.  A lot of you know many of them.  You can name their characteristics, their quirks, their personality traits, all the things that made them special.  You can remember the good times you spent together and the tears you shared.  Even just by looking at a name and seeing a face, you know what they would say to you if they were sitting here today.  They are God’s gift, and they continue to bless us with their presence in our lives.

“For this reason, ever since I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you.  I remember you in my prayers.”


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