Sermon for Second Sunday after Christmas
January 5, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Sermon Theme: “Chosen, Adopted, and Gloriously Blessed”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas; Anderson’s Series A Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are a number of things that bother me about the wrong way to celebrate Christmas, and one of the worst ones has to do with gift-giving.
Many children think that getting the expensive gifts they want for Christmas is their God-given right, and they throw a temper tantrum if they don’t get them. Some adults aren’t much better. During family gift exchanging, the other person’s body language can tell you what he thinks of the gift. Negative reactions from recipients used to make me dread buying gifts at Christmas.
One member of our family likes only money at Christmas. I thought, OK, I give you $20, and you give me $20, so what’s the point of that? Well, I guess if I give you $30, and you give me $20, then you make a profit off the exchange.
Once, a young adult man received a Bible from his grandmother for Christmas. He tossed it aside, disappointed at not being given something better, he wouldn’t even look at it.
Years passed and one day he casually flipped through the Bible while preparing to clean out his apartment to move into a house he bought. To his utter amazement and horror, he discovered a check for $30,000 between the pages of his gift Bible. His grandmother had died several years ago and the bank account on which the check was written was long closed. Tears stung his eyes as he realized how unkind and foolish he had been. He had not appreciated his devoted grandmother.
As a result he had missed out on many opportunities and a warm and caring relationship with a woman who had loved him dearly. Often we are like that ungrateful man. God blesses us with all we could ever want or need, and yet we turn our noses up at what we are given, never appreciating the real value.
Paul says in our sermon text, “. . . the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing . . . He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ . . . to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us . . . we have redemption through His blood, . . . the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us . . . .” To receive these blessings, we merely have to be connected to Christ through faith. What an abundance of gifts He gives us and how limp is our response!
Actually, this section of Ephesians which is our sermon text is an ancient hymn of the church, which was sung as a part of the baptismal liturgy in the early church. The hymn recognizes that everyone has been predestined from the moment of creation to live in the fellowship of the Lord. This is the “predestination” that is discussed in the passage.
This predestination is not the double predestination concept preached by John Calvin and found in all Calvinistic theology, — the idea which turns many folks away from Christianity, that God has decided before you are born whether you are going to go to hell or to heaven (if that were true, what would be the point of anything?). Nor is it the Jehovah Witnesses’ belief that you must be one of the fortunate 144,000 designated by God to be saved. No, predestination is the destiny of all individuals to be brought into the fellowship of God through Christ. By your unbelief and refusal of God’s free grace, you condemn yourself, as God Himself wants all to be saved.
When I was a kid, and my classmates would choose up sides to play some baseball, I was always the last person picked. To be chosen last really means not to be chosen at all. It is rejection pure and simple. To be chosen last is a vote of no confidence in one’s abilities and helpfulness to the team effort. Why should the discarded ones even try? The same thing would be true of Calvinistic predestination, and therefore would be inconsistent with the nature of God.
When we were born or adopted, we became the children of our parents. Our only option to change that reality is to reject that parenthood when we grow up. The life preserver is in the water of Holy Baptism, with which we were made an adopted child of God. We can either grab it and hang on or give up and drown. Keep in mind that our text was a joyful hymn in the baptismal liturgy of the early church.
It comes down to this: Do we believe? If so, then we are marked with a seal, which is the promise of the Holy Spirit. We are all predestined to salvation. But since God also gave us the gift of free will, we can change that reality and reject God’s adoption of us.
We must praise God for all the wonderful things He has planned for us. He chose us to be His children and make us blameless because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. That was His purpose in sending Christ! Christ’s coming had predestined us to be His children! We are saved because of what Jesus has done!
Many older people like fire-and-brimstone preaching, similar to that which John the Baptist did as he yelled at the crowds to repent. And sometimes that kind of preaching works in bringing sinners to their knees to repent of their sins. However, small children often take fire-and-brimstone preaching the wrong way; they believe because the preacher is yelling at them, he is angry at them personally; and they can end up believing that God hates them. So we have to be very careful that that doesn’t happen.
‘If God hates me,’ they may think, ‘then I am predestined to be damned.’ We need to counter that with today’s sermon text.
You see, Paul’s text is a hymn of joy for those who understand redemption; it is a meaningless rap song for those who do not. It is a hymn of gratitude for those who come into the presence of the Lord with joy and thanksgiving; it is as meaningless as Miley Cyrus’ twerking performance at the MTV Video Music Awards for those who reject the gift before them.
Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is one of the most important books in the New Testament because it clarifies the theological term, “predestination,” a term that scares so many people. “Predestined” does not mean to be an individual specially selected while others are hopelessly discarded from the moment of conception. The parental ability of God has room for all in His home, and those who suffer from a disability will never have to struggle to find a bed of rest. Our “hope” comes because “in Christ we have received our inheritance.”
Those of us who have lived in the rural areas of Texas all or most of our lives, as well as those who have watched a lot of western movies, know about branding cattle. We know that in the movies, the rustlers try to change or alter the brands on the cattle they steal. But any rancher will tell you, “They can change the brand on the outside, but the scar tissue that develops on the inside of the hide can never be altered. You can always know who owns the cattle by the brand on the inside of the animal.”
In baptism, the pastor makes the sign of the cross on the forehead and on the heart of the person being baptized, as a symbol that he belongs to God; however, it is not what baptism does to us externally, but, internally, as it marks forever inside of us to whom we belong. In a sense, baptism is a type of epiphany, wherein God manifests Himself to us and in us.
Indeed, we need to be reminded, as Paul does, that we are chosen, adopted and gloriously blessed by our glorious and loving God! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.