Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sermon - Ascension Day - Ephesians 1:16-23

Ascension Day
May 25th, 2006
Ephesians 1:16-23
“Riches and Power”

Paul’s greeting to the Church in Ephesus begins with all the usual apostolic pleasantries. He gives thanks for them. And he has been praying for them. So what does a pastor pray concerning his people? Paul prays that they would know God better… but also, that they would know his blessings – the hope of an inheritance, and great power for the believer.

And Paul just can’t help himself, as along the way he simply must re-tell the story of Christ – who died, who was raised to life, and has ascended into heaven. It is the risen and ascended Christ who now promises us this inheritance and who gives us that power for which Paul prayed. Let’s consider as our theme, then, “Riches and Power”

Rich and Powerful. Who do you think of when I say that? Maybe Donald Trump, Bill Gates, or some CEO from Wall Street? Rich and Powerful – it’s the American ideal, in a way, to be the “big dog” on the top of the corporate ladder. But so few of us ever get there. I don’t even personally know anyone who is really “rich and powerful”, and you probably don’t either. At least in earthly terms, the “Rich and Powerful” are few and far between.

But there is one who is rich and powerful – who knows us, and we know him. He is rich in that he truly owns everything. He has the title deed to the universe, for he made it, after all. He is rich. And he is powerful. He can do what he wants, when he wants, and no one can stop him – not traitorous friends, not well-meaning but bumbling followers, not Romans or Jews, not even death itself. He is more powerful than all of that. Not even the Devil himself can overcome this man – the one who came to crush the head of the serpent. Our friend is rich and powerful, and he is Jesus Christ, now exalted on high, and seated at the right hand of the Father. And we join the chorus of the faithful around that throne singing, “Power, Riches, wisdom and strength be to God and the Lamb forever – Amen.”

Riches. We would like to be rich. “Sudden wealth syndrome” is a condition that affects many who win the lottery or see a large, unexpected windfall come their way. Many people don’t know how to handle such wealth, and it can bring lots of problems with it – but still. – who among us would refuse that kind of money? Who wouldn’t want to be rich?

Earthly riches have that allure, don’t they. Sinful, selfish, money-hungry people that we are. But the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And it is an open invitation for our sinfulness to become manifest. Think of the greed of Biblical personalities Annanias and Saphaira, Lot, Judas, and the rich men in Jesus’ parables. For all the blessings that earthly wealth brings, there are just as many – if not more temptations, so that Jesus says, “it is more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle”.

But these aren’t the kind of riches Paul means, when he prays that our eyes would be open to the riches of our glorious inheritance. The riches that he prays for believers – and indeed, the riches we already have – are far more than what Trump or Gates could imagine. We have the glorious inheritance of the saints. A spiritual inheritance that far surpasses any mere earthly trinkets. We have the riches of Christ – an inheritance stored up in heaven, of which we receive in part even here on Earth. Forgiveness, new life, salvation – the riches of God given in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. All the promises of God in Jesus Christ.

Riches that came at a price. Riches that were purchased not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. A sacrifice of inestimable worth, Jesus our Priceless Treasure. Laying down his life as a ransom for many, and for us… we are redeemed. And not just purchased out of slavery to sin, but also adopted as children of God. And children have an inheritance. That’s one way to get rich – to get a big inheritance. And we have the biggest and the best – the riches of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Riches. And power. Who doesn’t like power? Authority. Respect. To be in charge. Most of us wouldn’t mind being the one to tell others what to do. Or at least, we don’t like when someone else tells us what to do. Life in this world is often about the struggle for power – with opposing factions set against one another. Nations at war. Political parties trying to one-up each other. Even in the family, we struggle for power. It is a particular form of self-seeking and self-aggrandizement that lusts after earthly power. It is really the age-old sin of wanting to be “like God”.

For truly, God alone has the power. “Thine is the kingdom, and the POWER…”. Paul says he has, “incomparably great power…” “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand…. Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and ever title that can be given…. And God has placed all things under his feet…”

This is not a false, petty, earthly power. This is not a power which fades away. It’s not a power that lasts only through the next election cycle. It’s not a power based on fear and intimidation. This is God’s power. A power that can forgive sins. A power that can raise the dead. Christ’s power isn’t the power to enslave but to set free. It is the power to destroy the destroyer, to create and re-create.

So God has the power, and now our ascended Christ has the power too. He always had it, but he set it aside for a time, in part, to take on our humble human flesh. To be like us in every way, yet without sin.

But then, and here is the key to the Ascension – Jesus glorified that human flesh, that human body of his. So that now, there is not only a true God but also true Man seated on heaven’s high throne.

Jesus’ great power is good news for us. His authority, his strength, his dominion, all are for us. Because we have been incorporated into him, we also will share in that glorious reign. Because he is the head, and we, his church are the body – we partake in that heavenly kingdom which he rules on our behalf.

His power over sin becomes our power. His power over death, and the devil – our power. So that where Christ reigns, we cannot be defeated. Where Christ is king, we cannot be overpowered. And Christ is king over all.

So Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened… that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe”. Jesus’ power over sin is what gives us power over sin. So that by his spirit, we struggle against the sinful flesh to lead a God-pleasing life. A life which seeks to serve others rather than exert power for our own gain. A life which shows thanks for our earthly riches, but even more for our heavenly riches. By his power – we face the temptations of everyday life, and no that we can overcome. None is too great.

We will fail and we will fall. But his power is always there to restore us and renew us for the fight. And we know that though the battles of this life go on, Christ has won the war for us. And our inheritance awaits. And so in Christ – we are rich. And in Christ – we are powerful. May the eyes of our hearts be opened to this great hope, In Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Paul prays that believers would see their true riches and power in Christ – who is rich and powerful, for us. Praise the risen and ascended Lord! Amen.

No comments: