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Letters from Away

Pentecost 2, Common Lectionary Year C

Ephesians 1, 3, 6 selected verses

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

scripture audio file
Sermon audio file

It’s likely not lost on most of you who are Cedar Parkers
why this letter resonates so powerfully with me, with us, today.
Yes, we’re about to head into Sabbath month,
but also into an unknown time,
when my own diagnosis sets into sharp relief
the fragility and uncertainty
that affects every one of us in some way
at some point in our lifetime.
We’re feeling a tad vulnerable and uncertain,
but also holding on to hope,
and we know we have a faith to lean on,
but right now we’d like a bit of a refresher course
on what that looks like.

Enter this letter.
It’s a letter supposedly from Paul, to the band of new Christians
in the city of Ephesus, on the eastern tip of what is now Turkey.
It was a heterogonous city, with residents
from all over the Aegean/Mediterranean,
as it was a key bustling port of the Roman Empire,
a military and economic connection point
between the Greek and Middle Eastern landmasses,
between languages and cultures and religions.
As such this little church of Ephesus was also a motley bunch (again!),
with a Jewish Christian contingent
rooted in the ancient traditions that raised Jesus,
and a larger Gentile group, for whom the message of Jesus
was fresh and new,
all muddling along figuring out
how to be People of God in this context.

It’s more likely to have been written
“in the style of Paul” a generation later,
and to have been written “from away”,
not only to the Church in Ephesus,
but quite possibly to all the churches in the Mediterranean;
a sort of ‘circular’ letter,
or a Facebook post set to ‘public’
or a letter attached to a church email list,
that, once it leaves the sender’s box,
takes on a life of its own, reaching as far
as Australia, UK, and South Africa within hours!

it’s a letter from away that can help us out today
and in the coming weeks.

It reminds us first
to greet one another in the unique way we have as God’s people.
We are not a surprise to each other,
nor are we strangers encountering one another by chance
but we are siblings in Christ, children of God.
The God who creates and is creating,
who sustains and mends,
heals and holds.
This sort of greeting takes away uncertainty;
we are family, we belong, we are bound to one another in Christ.

Second, this, and frankly every Pauline or copycat letter in the New Testament,
moves quickly from greeting to remind us
that our posture toward the world God has given us
is first and foremost one of gratitude and thanksgiving.
When the news cycle is grim,
when military strike orders are ‘locked and loaded’ threatening war,
when murder and ecological devastation no longer make the headlines they’re so commonplace,
it’s easy to forget whose world it is,
and that it is a good one, intended to be that way.

Third: The red cord; God in Christ.
(remember last week, that red core that helps to straighten the neck,
confident that we are bound to Christ, and Christ to us, always.)
“In Christ” for this writer is shorthand for everything
that Jesus was and did, and lived and died and rose again for,
which sets in train, then, (fourthly)
a whole way of being in the world for us:
our lives are to be shaped around Jesus’ Way.
In the 4th and 5th chapters of this letter,
there are some rather quaint,
and some downright obnoxious patriarchal suggestions
that need to be critiqued and contextualized,
and benchmarked against the core Christ-mandate
to love God and neighbour;
to tie on Jesus’ apron of foot-washing service;
to welcome the stranger, to protect the vulnerable,
to cry justice in the streets for hijab-wearing educators,
for indigenous women and girls,
and for any not born with the privilege of whiteness;
to set no barrier in the way of any child of God, ANY= ALL;
to live with respect in creation;
to live the Dream of God for all.
These are not options, they are intrinsic to our identity as
Christ’s church in the world.

And finally, in this and indeed in all New Testament biblical letters,
as children of God, siblings in Christ,
we are called to a life of prayer and of care for one another,
as the body of Christ, even when, for a time, we are apart.
The writer refers to himself in chapter 3 as a prisoner in chains,
he’s writing “from away,”
and yet his prayer for them is intimate, specific, and realistic;
he prays to God for them,
asking for wisdom,
for the sort of confident, neck-straightening hope that is grounded in God,
not in groundless speculations and shallow promises,
he prays for that strength of armour that will help them to endure trials;
he prays for a deepening of their life as a community
grounded in the abundance of God’s love.

And he asks them to pray for him.
I echo his request, and the content of it:
that you pray for me,
so that no matter what,
my life be a gospel proclamation of God’s love and faithfulness.

This “letter from away” ends as it begins,
with the blessing of unimaginable God-love,
whose power at work in us, will always do more than we can ask or imagine.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

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