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November 3, 2019 Sermon

“That Guy is the Fullness of Christ?”

Old Testament Scripture: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever — for ever and ever."

New Testament Scripture: Ephesians 1:11-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Sermon: "That Guy is the Fullness of Christ?" Rev. David Hawkins

You know, hearing that scripture from the Letter to the Ephesians reminds me why it’s hard to read the Apostle Paul sometimes. Let me read it again to you.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Jeez, talk about your run-on sentences.

I can hardly blame him, though. When you have this much to say about Jesus, I guess it’s only natural to pull out all the stops and go for it, no matter how many words it takes.

And Paul has a lot to say about Jesus. And he has a lot to say about what he says about Jesus says to us.

Uh oh, I think I’m starting to talk like Paul.

Let’s start over.

Our Scripture today is from a letter written to the Church in Ephesus, which was located in modern day Turkey. The city of Ephesus had about 65,000 people in it, and was famous for the temple of Artemis, which was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

You Bible scholars may remember that the Apostle Paul got into a big fight with the artisans of Ephesus because they thought his preaching about one God depressed the market for handmade Artemis souvenirs for the tourists. It wasn’t the first or the last time that Christianity and Capitalism have found themselves on opposite sides of the aisle.
The letter to the Church in Ephesus begins with the words, “To the saints who are in Ephesus…” and then proceeds into today’s text, thanking God and the church for their faithful service, as well as encouraging them in their ministry with a reminder of God’s power, demonstrated for us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I wonder if it was hard for the church in Ephesus to hear themselves called ‘saints’. It’s hard for us to think of ourselves as saints, isn’t it? It would be weird if someone wrote us a letter calling us saints. If someone wrote a letter telling us that we were the very embodiment of the fullness of Christ.

There’s something so, I don’t know, holy about the thought of being a saint. Something about it seems like we should reserve it for really extra special people, like maybe Chris Lewellen, or Gaylan Goddard, or Mother Theresa. Do you know what I mean?
I had a friend named Bruce who called my wife Karen a “saint with an edge,” and I kind of like that. Because as you know, Karen is nice, and good, and friendly, but she’s also got a wicked sense of humor, and is not above the occasional um, colorful use of the English language. Sometimes it’s like living with a sailor. A sailor with a sort of lilting Minnesota accent.
But these are my favorite kinds of people, saints with an edge. I think you know what I’m talking about.
Maybe the reason it’s hard for us to think of ourselves as saints is because we’re so used to thinking of saints as people who are perfect, who have performed miracles, or changed the world, that sort of thing. That’s kind of the stereotypical idea we have of the word ‘saint’, but that’s not really what a saint is.
And it’s hard sometimes, to think of each other, in our own ordinary, sometimes all to human interactions, as being ‘saints’.
Because we don’t always act saintly, do we? We don’t always embody the fullness of Christ, as individuals, or as the church. We don’t always act in the best interests of our neighbor. We don’t always hope for the best for our enemies. We aren’t always gracious in the face of disappointment, or failure. We aren’t on the other side of the globe, healing the sick, feeding the poor, digging wells, inoculating against polio, taking care of orphans. At least, I’m not.

And so, when we look in the mirror, we don’t always see a saint looking back at us.

But you know what? we are.

You all out there, in the congregation, even me here at the Table, those working in the kitchen getting ready for the potluck, if you all can hear me, we are all saints.
And it’s not just us. Catholics don’t just venerate the saints, they are saints. The Coptic Christians in Egypt who call God Allah are saints. The Russian Orthodox Christians in Moscow are saints. Even the Baptists downtown are saints. Democrats are saints. Republicans are saints. Even Washington Nationals are saints.
We are all saints. It’s hard to believe it sometimes, it’s confounding sometimes, but it’s true.
The thing to remember is that being a saint doesn’t mean that we are perfect. Being a saint doesn’t mean we are possessed of a superhuman patience, or wisdom, or compassion. Being saint doesn’t mean that we have given up all our earthly belongings, and moved to Papua New Guinea in order to evangelize the villages of Boga-Boga. Although, it can mean that, if that’s what you’re called to do.
Being a saint is actually a pretty normal thing. It means that not only are we made in the image of God as human beings, we are made in the image of Christ in the way we live. It’s the word that the Apostle Paul and other early Christians used to talk about other Christians. In fact, the term ‘Christian’ wasn’t really used by early Christians to describe themselves. It was used by other people to describe Christians, and it was often a term of derision. It was used to mock and to insult people who followed Christ.
‘Saint’, on the other hand, was one of the words used by the early leaders of the Church to refer to those people who considered themselves to be called by God, to be set aside to do the work of God, to be a disciple of Christ.
And that could be anybody, really. At least it was for Jesus. Tax collectors, fishermen, Romans, Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, farmers, teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, bookkeepers, lawyers, judges, secretaries, musicians, mothers, fathers, truck drivers, carpenters, pretty much anybody who believes in Jesus and does his work is a saint.
But still, the idea of being a saint is hard to accept. I don’t know about you but it’s much, much easier for me to identify myself as a Christian, than as a saint. But there’s no difference between being a Christian, and being a saint. At least, there shouldn’t be.
‘Christian’ and ‘Saint’ both are terms of belonging, of identification, but they are more than that. They describe someone who is living their lives in ways that are worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Lives of compassion, of generosity, of hospitality, of sacrifice.
Being a saint is not an easy thing. It carries with it tremendous responsibilities and expectations. But it’s important to remember that it does not require perfection. And this is the Good News of our scripture today.
We are not perfect, but we are moving forward. We are always learning more about the grace of Jesus Christ. The power of God is being revealed to us every day. Being a saint isn’t perfection, but it is the process of being perfected.
And while the journey is sometimes hard, we can take courage in knowing that the powers of this world, the very small gods of money, success, popularity, fear, and hatred that seem to be so important don’t stand a chance against the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
You know, as I was reading these words from the Apostle to the Ephesians, I couldn’t help but think that they could just as well have been written to our church here in Plainview.
You all really are a wonderful congregation, and you all need to know how fondly you are regarded by other folks in the Presbytery. Talk to Sue Lewellen or Dee Rice if you would like to know more. Every time we go to Presbytery meetings, we are reminded of just how special this church really is. We have every reason to be grateful for the Christian unity and love that is found here, especially in a time when so many other churches are in turmoil.
I confess that I am sinfully proud of the reputation you all have earned through the work and ministry of this church for so many years. But I know that this reputation was formed long before I came. You truly are known, as our scripture says, for the love you show toward all the saints in all places. In every way, you demonstrate the meaning of Paul’s words to the Church in Ephesus to be the ‘fullness of Christ’ in this world.
There is something powerful about your witness here in this community, your quiet strength, your willingness to make difficult decisions, to persevere in tough times, to get involved in the hard fights, to make a difference in the church and in the world does not go unnoticed. I am so very grateful to be your pastor.
And as your pastor, I can only echo the words that Paul writes to his friends and co-workers in the church at Ephesus: Keep up the good work. Trust in God, and rely on his Holy Spirit to guide and uphold you. Look to Jesus Christ as the head of the Church, and be filled by his love and grace for the ministry. Be the saints that you are called to be.
Thanks be to God. Amen

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