Grace and peace to you, Emmanuel Church. Grace and Peace is how Paul often would start his letters, it was his greetings and salutations. After that, Paul would often thank God for the people of the church. This is the first place of deviation we find in our letter.
The letter to the Ephesians is not as clear as we might hope it is, we are starting 4 weeks on this letter in the Bible and there are 6 chapters, so it’s an overview and not a detailed analysis. But I thought you should know a few things. Ephesus is on the western coast of what was then Galatia and what is now Turkey. It was a Roman metropolitan city, a port city, diverse in its population and people and ideas and religions. We have a story in Acts of Paul traveling to Ephesus and encouraging the church there.
What we have here in this letter though… might not be Paul. It sounds like Paul, there’s some sexism like we sometimes find in Paul’s letters, but then there is the beginning. In an unusual turn of events, Paul, instead of celebrating the people of the church, the whole first chapter is a hymn of praise to God. And this is the first reason why scholars suggest that Paul didn’t write this letter. Like people who use word studies to suggest that Shakespeare didn’t write all his plays, scholars use word studies to see if they are authentic Paul letters, this one didn’t pass the test. It is thought to have been written toward the last couple of decades of the first century by someone who knew Paul well. Maybe a student, a disciple, a fan. The author knew Paul’s works and words, theologies and ideas, and used some of them to write this piece. Which may not have been to the church in Ephesus but just a general letter that made its rounds to the churches of the day, because the part where it says it’s to the church in Ephesus isn’t found in the oldest versions of this text.
What does that mean? Well, this letter was important to churches, it was read and passed on and considered vital when they started settling on the canon, or the books of the New Testament would be. And it wasn’t unusual for someone to write under the name of another, to write in the line of Paul and claim Paul had written it. Does it make it Paul? No. Does it make it less important? No. It is scripture because it is sacred, and it is sacred because of the value that generations before us has placed on it and passed it down to us with teachings and lessons and hopes and grace.
One more thing, from verse 3 to verse 14, in the original Greek, the whole thing was one sentence. Translators divided it up into sentences because it was so unmanageable. It seems like the author had so much to say that they just kept talking without taking a breath and there was an urgency in what they were trying to say to those who would read or hear this letter because it was so important and it spoke of who God is and what God is doing and what that means for the rest of the church and there is not time for breaths or commas! I’m sure it made a lot of sense to the author at the time, but I know that when I failed to edit properly and I had a lot of run-on sentences my teachers weren’t always pleased with my work. There is a structure that they are looking for, and order, and a mass of words without any separation as if there isn’t a breath to be had anywhere within it, is not their idea of order.
But this isn’t the author’s story, this is God’s story. And God is doing something. This is the God of creation, bringing order out of chaos, ordering the night and the day, the changing of seasons, the rhythms of the earth. Yes, this is science, This is also the mystery of God Not a mystery that we have to solve but a mystery we are called to inhabit, to be brought into awe by, to be overcome by, to celebrate in. And the mystery of God creating, planning, nurturing. Like a great symphony of creation making music together and we are invited into
There is an orderliness to the working of God. There is a plan. Which is kind of hard words. I think we struggle with believing that God has all things planned out. Because we’ve struggled and we suffered and we’ve watched the struggling and suffering of others and questioned what kind of plan God must have for them and for us.
And this there are important words that come through this text again and again: chosen, redeemed, and sealed. This is a text that is often used when people are talking about who has been predestined to be saved and, in turn, who has not, as if God has some cosmic score card or has picked favorite children.
What if, from the beginning of all things, from before creation God had a plan for all things and that plan is love. It is the love that is revealed through Jesus who was Christ and lived among us and taught us to love. It is love revealed through the prophets of God calling the people back to love. It is love that is called to bring together enemies and creating space for all the diversity of humanity.
What if God predestined the world for love and this love is for all creation and for all of humanity. What if love is the plan?
Every day it seems like the news tells more stories of folks divided and of hatred that seems to be winning over kindness. We hear stories, we experience that so many are focusing first on what can divide us, on how what makes us different makes it impossible for us to connect, to understand, to be in a relationship. And I think we like to think of ourselves as unique but we know better, throughout history, even back to the early churches, to maybe even the church in Ephesus, were dealing with so many differences, with so much change, what distinctions that might cause them to split, to decide that some aren’t included, that God has decided that some aren’t included!
And yet! The design, the ordering, the plan, the climax of all times is to bring all things together in Christ. It is Jew and Gentile brought together in Christ, it is republican and democrat, it is conservative and liberal, it is evangelical and progressive Christians, and I know these days it sounds unlikely and, frankly, sometimes unsafe, the plan is the bringing together of all by the God who is love, who came to earth in Jesus who is the Christ to teach us what it is to love. That is the great mystery, the love of God revealed and renewing. Bringing new creation and resurrection and new life. Renewing the face of the earth and calling us to the great destiny for all of creation that is already here and still part of the ongoing work of creation, present and still being called into existence. Already and not yet.
The work then of the church is to step into the symphony, to sing and dance and praise and play with the music God has been making since before there was time. The work of the church then is about hospitality, but uniting with Christ who welcomes everyone in relationship and learning to do no less. Church is about the new creation and the community we are called into, stepping into God’s plan of love that calls us to hospitality to all: all nations, nationalities, races, ethnic, rich, poor, sexualities, all genders or no gender, all are part of God’s destiny, ordained before the creation, the plan that is love.
This love is for all of creation, all of humanity. It is through our reaching out and offering love that others will experience the grace of God, that they might be brought into the plan that is called love.
No one is excluded from the destiny of God, from the will of God, and we do not exclude anyone from the love and grace we have to give, because God has already named each of us good and beloved. God has a plan that is love, from the seeds of creation to the end of all things is love. Love that unites and encourages and strengthens, And we, we celebrate and praise God for that great mystery that is love and then we step into it, we join the music, we become part of the plan of love.