The One unchanging, unchangeable, from everlasting to everlasting; the One who said Let there be and there was; the One in whom all Creation holds together, who is present everywhere, even though he is separate from his creation; when speaking about the crown of his creation, the creatures whom he had formed differently, one from the ground and the second, corresponding creature from the first . . .
The One who did all this, the Word made flesh, when speaking about the life that his followers would have – he had these glowing, lovely words for his followers:
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.
A warning: If the message from the Christian church is welcomed by the world, perhaps we should reconsider what, exactly, we are saying.
And everywhere the Gospel has gone, everywhere and every time and every place God’s Word has reached – God’s message has been rejected, scorned, considered judgmental and offensive and backwards and upside-down.
Consider what else Paul writes: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him.
Could anything sound more foolish to a world that worships success and prosperity?
Or take, for instance, our other two Scripture readings:
- The reading from Lamentations comes as Jeremiah wanders the ruins of Jerusalem; and even though Jeremiah has described some unbelievable suffering, suffering that is too painful and too graphic to discuss on Sunday morning . . . even though , he takes a moment to sit in awe of God’s goodness. Could anything sound more preposterous?
- Jairus is the synagogue ruler - basically the congregational chairman. He wants to have Jesus come & heal his sick daughter, but Jesus is delayed by the crowd; he even takes the time to stop and heal someone else along the way. And the message comes: Your daughter is dead. Why bother Jesus any more?
And Jesus seems sorely out of touch with reality: Jairus, don’t be afraid. Jairus, she’s only asleep.
Is it any wonder that the crowd laughed at him?
If the message from the Christian church is welcomed by the world, perhaps we should reconsider what, exactly, we are saying. And across history, at every point in history, in every locale the gospel ever touched – across history, God’s words have elicited accusations such as judgmental, backwards, close-minded, hypocritical…no doubt, the list goes on.
Our reading from Ephesians echoes that same truth, but in a slightly different manner. People shook their heads at Jeremiah - wondering if he had a few screws loose; people laughed at Jesus, and perhaps the laughter wounded Jairus’s pride as well - he brought this teacher, this healer…and Jesus doesn’t even recognize that the girl is dead?!
But Jeremiah & Jairus pale in comparison to what Paul says here: You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God. Paul then describes how these people are ignorant of what God has said, unable to see or recognize or comprehend or obey – they are ignorant of what God has said, because their hearts have become hardened.
Futility of their thinking? We’ve put people on the moon! We have art, and music, and philosophy, and technology!
Separated from the life of God - in the dark about God?
- God made me this way, and God doesn’t make mistakes! Simply another way to say “Bible, you’re wrong. Paul, you’re wrong. And if there’s anything wrong with ME, then it’s not my fault.” Or:
- I like who I am, and I’m not going to change. Simply another way to say “God, your standards are too high. You should accept me as I am.”
I have no doubt that you’ve heard those words or similar from the people in your life. I have no doubt that you’ve heard those words or similar from your own mind & heart.
God’s words go in one ear, sink down to the heart, and are promptly spat out the other ear. Surely he cannot mean me; surely this is not my fault; surely there is something I can do about the situation.
The most offensive truth of all: To Find Truth, Love, or Meaning in Life, You Must be Found in Christ.
But the arrogance of the sinful flesh excuses, rejects, denies…earning condemnation. And every step of the way, every human heart pushes back against God and what God has said. Every step of the way, the human reaction is to excuse, deny, ignore, reject, explain away, applaud, accept – because God’s truth carries with it the sentence of eternity in hell.
Take one step back, and the natural mind still thinks: I know the truth. I know what love is, I know what meaning is. I can find pleasure in whatever form feels good to me right now; I know my emotions, and those feel true.
Yet Paul calls all of that foolishness, ignorance, emptiness, sin that entraps and piles up and weighs down and is completely offensive to God.
And that is what we were.
WERE - past tense, formerly, at a previous time but no longer. Paul says it that way in 1 Corinthians 6: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.
Here in Ephesians, Paul puts it a little bit differently. Into the second half of the letter, Paul almost writes with subtlety: So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
Did you catch it? It’s small, it’s slight, it’s an almost imperceptible change. You must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. Paul is writing to Gentiles! He’s writing to people who aren’t Jews, who never grew up going to synagogue or memorizing the Commandments. He’s writing to people who were born Gentiles and who would die Gentiles – and he says: But YOU, don’t live like those Gentiles do!
The most comforting truth of all: If you are in Christ, that means God has revealed to you his truth, his love, and his meaning for your life. You’ve been completely accepted by God, not because of anything you did or didn’t do – but because of what Jesus DID. All our sins, all our foolishness and rejection and ignorance were placed on him; and his perfection is ours! You are forgiven, you’ve been granted a place in God’s family – totally because of Christ’s work!
You could think of it this way.
Marion Mitchell Morrison was born in 1907. He went on to have quite a successful film career, and I’m certain that you’ve seen some of his work – whether you know it or not.
He was moving studio furniture and working as a prop boy on a movie set one day when a movie director, who just happened to be there, saw Marion and cast Marion in his first starring role - in a movie called The Big Trail.
But there was one problem: “Marion Mitchell Morrison.” That name just doesn’t have the ring that the silver screen called for. Marion? You mean, like the librarian in The Music Man? No one would go for that.
So a couple of executives got together to try & decide on a new name for their new star. “How about Anthony?”
“Anthony Wayne - no, that sounds too Italian. We need something that sounds more . . . American. How about John?”
“John Wayne? I think that’ll work.”
And for the rest of his life, Marion Mitchell Morrison was better known as John Wayne. He wasn’t even present when his name was changed. His name change was outside of his control - but the rest of his life, Marion was known by his new name.
That’s what God did for the Ephesians, and that’s what God did for you: He changed your name. You were Christian-ized, and you now wear the name of Christ. Think of that!
And since you bear that name - it’s no surprise that everything you are is offensive to this world, and no amount of explanation will change that; only the Spirit does. That’s how God created faith within your heart, and that’s how God will change other hearts as well.
And no matter what names you are called, you know the new name God has given to you. Even if the devil calls you the name “sinner,” you know that you bear the name “Christian” - which really means “Holy,” because you are clothed with Christ’s perfection!
So, please, friends: Remember that God has given you his own insight into truth, love, and meaning in life! You know God’s truth about the human heart and sin, and about the only solution; you comprehend the love that God has for you and me and all people; you know the meaning of life, which is to spend our 70 or 80 years trying to bring this message to as many people as we can, so that their eternity changes - from an eternity apart from God, to eternity with God!
How does that happen?
Remember your name, who you are, who God has made you to be. Then be who you are! AMEN.