a sermon preached on 18 November 2018 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday it was important to recognize that we have, by God’s grace begun a journey together, more than a journey, a life together. Last week also began a three-part sermon series before we enter the season of Advent. Each sermon in this series is centered around the series’ theme: life together. And, to recap, there are three questions we will answer throughout this sermon series, one question for each sermon. Last Sunday we asked and sought to answer the question “How can we have life?” In our Scripture passage, 1 John 5:6-15, we saw that God is life, that we need the testimony of the blood, the water, and the Spirit, and that we indeed can waste this life. In the second and third sermon, I’d like to further explore our church’s motto “Christ in All. All in Christ.” In this second sermon I want us to answer the question “How is all of life in Christ?” And in the third sermon, we will answer the question “How is Christ in all of life?”
Please turn in your Bible with me to Ephesians 1:1-14. I would like to read again for us today’s passage.
If we search the Scriptures to determine a book which will most help us answer this question, it is fitting we turn to the book of Ephesians:
- The first three chapters of Ephesians are said to be about orthodoxy (right teaching). The final three chapters are said to be about orthopraxy (right practice or living). Therefore, it is a book about both ideas and conduct, the fullness of the Christian life.
- The book of Ephesians was written by Paul while imprisoned in Rome around 62AD, and that means it is considered prison literature. Prison literature is particularly poised to help us deal with big and difficult questions, such as “How is all of life in Christ?”
- One of the major themes throughout the six chapters of the book of Ephesians is Christ’s lordship over the everyday world. Some have termed this “cosmic Christology.” That is to say, the lordship of Christ extends not just to our salvation, but to even the most menial parts of our lives.
- The other reason why the book of Ephesians is helpful to answer our question “How is all of life in Christ?” is because it covers a multitude of topics, from salvation in Christ to the passions of our flesh to the sun going down on our anger to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and to the gifts given to us by Christ and what we are to do with those gifts. It admonishes young and old; it admonishes bondservants and masters; and it speaks of the whole armor of God.
- Finally, at the very beginning of the book of Ephesians we find our verses today. How do the first fourteen verses of Ephesians help us answer the question, “How is all of life in Christ?” The question is one of considering the nature of all things, the origin of all things, and the end and final function of all things. And this indeed means all things.
First, all of a Christian’s life is in Christ by God’s foreordained and predestined will (v.1-6).
- “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:1-16)
- And our Lord’s own words sum up Psalm 139: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)
We ought not to shy away from the definitive and unequivocal claims of these verses. While this is one of the most difficult doctrines of the Christian faith to understand, it is one of the most comforting. All that is in our lives, and especially our being kept in Christ, having an ever-growing interest in Christ Jesus, is not being held together and unified by our personalities, our charms, our work ethic, or by any other personal virtue we bring to the table. If we see ourselves aright, we would realize that our virtues, our charms, our personalities are far more devastating than we want to admit, and therefore a world held together by our strengths and our own abilities is a world which quickly falls apart. Even if our personal virtues are important for every part of our lives, and even if there are areas and relationships which our personal strengths assist in making good and beautiful, those personal strengths and virtues are given to us by God and held in us by God. All that is in our lives is not being held together and unified by an impersonal force called luck or chance. All that is in our lives is not being held together by anything other than a God who has predestined us for every moment which will come. And in this way, we cast ourselves fully upon Christ, even for those things we want him to do in us, so that our lives would be full and blessed. The more we know ourselves and the more we know God, we will count it a great blessing that it is God’s will and not our own which guides, guards, and grows us to where we ought to be.
Second, all of a Christian’s life is in Christ by Christ’s bloody and rich redemption (v.7-10). It is God’s will that we would be here, that we would be found in him, and that on our behalf Christ went to the cross, the grave, the sky. God’s will, being a perfect and just will, did not just gloss over our rebellion and recklessness. He indeed did what his law required: he made a sacrifice once for all so that his will would be bound by his sacrifice. In the redemptive sacrifice of Christ we have forgiveness; we have the riches of his grace; we have upon us lavished all wisdom and insight; we have insight into the mystery of his will; and this is for the fullness of time. It is not for a day, a lifetime, or for a few generations, it is for all things and for the fullness of time. Christ’s redemptive work was a moment which was both temporal and eternal. And in that redemptive work, as verse ten tells us, we know his plan: to separate a few things for just a few centuries, and then we’ll see what happens. No. “As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Look at each word carefully, even each preposition. Think for a moment those things in your life, our world, in history, and perhaps in the future which are left unfinished, still confused, still pulled asunder, still hazy, still unredeemed, still broken. And now read the verse again: “As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” All of a Christian’s life is in Christ and will be in Christ by Christ’s bloody and rich redemption. And as the Holy Spirit does his work here, on earth, we will indeed the fruit of that blessing sooner rather than later.
Third, all of a Christian’s life is in Christ by the seal of the Holy Spirit (v.11-14) As if the bloody and rich redemptive work of Christ is not testimony enough, as we learned last week, there are three that testify: the blood, the water, and the Spirit. Here again we see that the testimony of God is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, and this means that our baptism is received by faith as the surest, most objective, and sacramental mark of our identity, of how we identify everything in our lives. If in our baptism we are signed and sealed with the Holy Spirit, that means our hearts, souls, mind, and strength now belong to our Triune God. Consider for a moment something in your life which is not in proximity to your heart, soul, mind, or strength. There is not thing you can name which is not in relationship to your heart, soul, mind, or strength, which is not touched or influenced by one of those four faculties.
We find that Scripture tells us to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:5) We may extend this. Not only should every thought be made captive, but so should every cup of coffee. Every friendship. Every meal. Why is it Christians pray before meals, and perhaps we should sometimes pray after meals when our bellies are full. But why? Because we are saying that this meal, yes even this breakfast, is held in Christ and will bless me in Christ. And so we give thanks, that there is something divine, something indeed sacramental about all we do, because all we do has been claimed and is being redeemed by the Holy Spirit. Are you an artist? Then practice and think about your art as the expression of your baptism. Are you a mother? Then practice and see your mothering—the diapers, the meals, the sweeping, the reading, the singing, the disciplining, the laughter—as an extension of your baptism. Are you a teacher? A father? A student? A nurse? A technician? These are not just things you do to make money and get on with your life. They are what God has called you to, by his glorious will, and as long as you are in it, they ought to be glorious and gracious and gratitude-filled expressions of your baptism.
This is what we mean when we say “Christ in All. All in Christ.” This is the part “All in Christ.” As Christians, we agree with Paul in verse 7-9. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Let us then be done as Christian with trying to determine the will of God. Let us cast off the anxiety which comes from trying to see if the will of God is for me to do this job or that job. Paul tells us it is no mystery. We know the will of God: it is in the face of Christ. That is God’s will.
- 1Co 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
- Col 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
- Col 3:23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
Do you want to change jobs? Do it, and remain in Christ. Do you want to stay on that diet? Do you want to get on that new diet? Do you want to sleep in late this week or make that dish you haven’t made in a while? Do it or don’t do it, but whatever you do remain in Christ. That is the will of God, and that will is here in this table. This table not only reminds us each week of the will of God; this table fulfills the will of God and is a glorious expression of that will. God’s will is indeed about the particulars, about this table—this wine, this bread, this altar linen—but those particulars only matter if they are held together in Christ. Take Christ from this table and it is nothing. And that means take our Baptism from this table and it is nothing. This is why in the Anglican tradition we ask that only those who have been baptized partake of the Eucharist, of the bread and the wine. This table is a great symbol that all things, even our daily bread, is held together in Christ, by what these two candles symbolize on either side of the alter, the humanity and the divinity of Christ. Our fellowship is held together in Christ and so we fellowship at this table. Our singing is held together in Christ and so we sing as we come to this table. Our very bodies and all that pertains to them is held together in Christ and so we come with our bodies to this table.
Now hear and contemplate a poem by George Herbert.
“Gratefulness” by George Herbert
Thou that hast giv’n so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And says, If he in this be crossed,
All thou hast giv’n him heretofore
But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst
Perpetual knockings at thy doore,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,
This not withstanding, thou wentst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay, thou hast made a sigh and groan
Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, than groans can make;
But that these country-airs thy love
Wherefore I cry, and cry again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain
Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be