A Sermon for 2 June 2019 – 7th Sunday/Ascension Sunday
Despite the fact it’s not Thursday, we’re hearing Scripture readings assigned by the lectionary each year for the Ascension of the Lord. As most people never have heard of it and aren’t about to shift their daily calendar to attend to it, as we do for Christmas and Easter; this liturgical day often gets pushed from Ascension Day – the fortieth day of Easter – to the Sunday following it: today, the seventh Sunday of the season of Easter. This year we heard not only the gospel reading assigned for Ascension Day, we also hear the epistle. Ephesians is a letter, likely written by a student of the Apostle Paul, to the church of Ephesus. It has been said to have been “one of the most influential statements of Christian discipleship in early Christianity . . . (with) its depiction of Christian life as a battle against hostile forces” (The Discipleship Study Bible, JKWP, 2008, Ephesians introduction by Stanley Saunders, p. 1990). New Testament scholar Stanley Saunders writes: “Ephesians depicts the Christian life as a battle against cosmic and worldly powers that enslave humankind and darken our awareness and understanding. . . . The first three chapters describe the new reality that has come into being in Christ” (Ibid.). The fullness of Christ, who fills all in all. Listen to this reading of Ephesians 1:15-23 to hear God’s word for our Christian lives today.
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And God has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
When I was a child, I loved the Wonder Twins! You may not be familiar with Zan and Jayna who originally were a part of the Super Friends Justice League (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonder_Twins). No matter the caper, the twins would come together, fist bump, and declare: “Wonder Twin powers activate!” Zan would proclaim: “Shape of” whatever state of water would be needed to combat the evil being done by whoever was threatening the wellbeing of the world. Jayna would shout: “Form of” whatever animal she needed to be in order to work with Zan in saving the day. So, like: as a giant water-wave, Zan could take out the nemesis with a powerful tide while Jayna transformed into something like a friendly whale to carry those in peril safely back to shore. What’s more, as twins they had this psychic connection so that they literally could tell when the other superhero needed back-up. As long as they could come together, to fist bump and declare “Wonder Twin powers activate,” their special powers would be triggered. They would be transformed into exactly what was needed. They galvanized their superhero abilities for everything to be a-okay.
It is that activation. That process – when those two twin energies join together as one. That ability to call upon something extra-ordinary that strikes me in the Wonder Twins. Typically, they looked like every other brother and sister going about their day. But something in them knew they possessed very special powers – ones needed so very much by those in trouble. Oh, every now and again a crafty villain came along to try to bend their minds to his own control. That was when the world most was in jeopardy – the powers of the Wonder Twins vulnerable to be twisted for destructive ends. But for the most part, Zan and Jayna knew that something was in them that could be an incredible force for good. Again and again, they would jump to it, ready to activate those amazing powers not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of any who were in need.
Amazing special powers within is what the writer of Ephesians was trying to tell the church. As far as we know, the writer of this letter never had seen the Christians of Ephesus in person – just heard of their amazing works (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C., Vol. 2, Christopher Rowland, p. 511). Likely the writer heard of feats we’ve come to know as typical Christian kind of stuff – though the acts often were revolutionary in their own time and place. Christians would ensure those without had food. They would care for those who were sick. Christians would welcome widows into the community and give them new purpose through service in Christ’s name. Early Christians sent special offerings to those experiencing famine, like in Jerusalem during the reign of Claudius about fifteen years after Christ’s death and resurrection. They gathered together for prayer – which likely included the kinds of story swopping we hear at Fellowship Time each week. They helped those needing help and found a way to meet as equal all sorts of people: Jews and Greeks. Slaves and free. Men and women alike. Something was activated in them so that they understood the world differently. They saw something in people that many others could not – or just were not aware yet to see. It’s the prayer the writer of Ephesians has for the Christians hearing the message. The spiritual enlightenment the writer wants for them – the opened eyes – that leaves us knowing who we are, what we are made of, and to what we have been called.
Premier Twenty-First Century teacher Father Richard Rohr recently released his mind-opening opus called The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything we See, Hope for, and Believe. In it, he weaves the theology we’ve come to know in the Western Church back together with the best wisdom we turned from in the Eastern Church when we mutually excommunicated each other’s finest teachers in our 1054 C.E. split. He lifts up Scripture after Scripture to show what’s always been there, but we haven’t always seen. For starters, Rohr reminds us that Christ is not Jesus’ last name! Christ is the word for the anointed one, he explains. The “name for the transcendent within . . . the immense spaciousness of all true Love . . . another name for everything – in its fullness” (SPCK, 2019, p. 5). Rohr is trying to remind us that Scripture proclaims from the beginning that the whole world is “Christ-soaked” (Ibid., p.15) – God infused, if you will. Containing a very special power within! Spirit and matter woven together – shown beautifully to us in the incarnation of the one we claim was vulnerably born in Bethlehem. This is the scriptural witness: that the fullness dwells in all – the divine in and above all that leaves us that beautiful mix of flesh and Spirit. The biblical witness proclaims this truth. A reminder we desperately need to know, Rohr claims, because something in the human mind has a tendency to clench the negative. Before we know it, we see the world through the eyes of Genesis 3 – the story of our fallenness. Instead of reading the world through the eyes of Genesis 1 and 2 – the Judeo-Christian creation stories that declare everything good, good, good, good, good, very good!
Living from the frame of our original blessedness, we walk around the world able to see the special power – the transcendent within all – the divine in matter. The fullness of Spirit and flesh beautifully aligned as one. It might sound a little wonky, if we’ve never considered the wisdom coming from what’s often referred to as the Big Tradition – or perennial, wisdom tradition of the Body of Christ – a tradition of Christianity coming not just from reason-seeking theologians, but from embodied contemplatives and mystics whose work is having significant world-wide impact today. When we understand Christ as the fullness – seen clearly in Jesus of Nazareth – it’s almost like we get the blueprint for how to live fully human. How to live whole. Rohr explains: “Jesus is the archetypal human just like us who showed us what the Full Human might look like if we could fully live into it” (Ibid., p. 23). Jesus is the one who shows us how to be those in whom the Spirit of God is activated. Which hopefully we experience at least a few minutes every day!
It’s how the writer of Ephesians can declare to the church that we are Christ’s body, “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23). With enlightened eyes, we can see. Spirit activated in matter; the fullness of Christ in, yet above, all. We might need reminding now and again – which is when it’s best we return to our baptisms. You remember baptism, I hope. The trickle of water on the head. The tracing of the cross on the brow, done – in purist liturgical form – with oil as an anointing. Not as coincidence, nor as a way to show the world we’re now somehow over and above everything else. Rather, baptism reminds us – and all with the eyes to see – that we know the Spirit of God to be in us (Another Name for Everything: Episode 1: Christ-Soaked World, 24 Feb. 2019 Podcast about The Universal Christ, Father Rohr). We understand and accept our original blessedness. So that our baptism into Christ – our engrafting into his body – is kinda like our initial fist bump with God when the Spirit of God gets activated in us. Baptized, the Spirit’s power works through us. So we can go forth to combat the forces within and without that threaten the well-being of the world.
It’s a risky venture to infuse us humans with the Spirit. To rely on us now to live awakened – the special power activated in us to be the body of Christ for the world today. To remind everyone we meet that the Spirit of God lives in them too – longing for enlightened eyes to see. Thankfully God gives us each other for the fullness of Christ to dwell. For the need is so great. So many precious people of this planet are in peril because, for whatever reason, they do not know – they cannot yet see their own original blessedness. The good in self and in neighbor. It’s time we remember to live into our hope. To embrace our glorious inheritance. It’s time the immeasurable power of the Spirit gets activated in us all!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)