St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2015

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 Every Christian, to be able to withstand the fiery darts of Satan, to be able to withstand the pressures of this sinful world, must be rooted and grounded in love.
 
There are two important facts that the New Testament emphasises concerning the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ. These are facts about which every Christian should be absolutely clear. 
 
The first truth is the love of God. It is important for us to grasp that the ground of our salvation is not our performance, neither is it our goodness; it is plain and simply the unconditional love of God. We are saved because God loves us. Jesus made that clear, as we know from a Biible verse we know so well - S John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." S Paul also made that clear in Romans 5 where he says in verse 5 onwards that the love of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. S Paul says, while we were helpless, while we were enemies, while we were ungodly and while we were still sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. By doing this, God demonstrated his love towards us. In the Epistle to Titus, in chapter 3, verse 5, S Paul tells us it isn't because of our righteousness but because of God’s mercy, because of God’s abundant love, that he saved us. So the love of God is the ground of our salvation and every believer needs to know this.
 
The fact that God loves us unconditionally is not enough to save us because our God is a holy God; he is a righteous God; he is a just God; he cannot save us or redeem us or take us to heaven simply by excusing our sins. That would make him an unjust God. God’s law makes it clear: the soul that sins must die. How did God save us? The second truth that every Christian must know is what we can call the "in Christ motif", the central theme of S Paul's theology. God took you; he took me; he took all humankind and put us into Christ at the incarnation and thus qualified Christ to be our representative and our substitute. When we and Christ became one in the incarnation; when God and humans were united in the one person, Jesus, that person Jesus became the second Adam. This did not save us but this qualified Christ to be our Saviour, our representative, our substitute. 
 
As a result, by the perfect life of Jesus which met the positive demands of the law and by his sacrificial death, which met the justice of the law, God gave humankind a new history, a new status in which we stand justified. This is the good news of the gospel. This is what Jesus asked his disciples – let’s put it more strongly than that – this is what Jesus commissioned his disciples to do; they were to proclaim this Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is the mystery of salvation; a mystery which includes all of humankind.  But all this was possible because of God's love. 
 
To appreciate today’s lection, we must keep in mind the context, more particularly the historical context, of this epistle. The epistle to the Ephesians is a prison epistle. S Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel to the Gentile world. He was in a Roman dungeon but he had received news that the churches in which he had invested time and energy had become very discouraged. They would have reasoned something along these lines: "If God, the supreme God that Paul proclaimed to us, is not able to protect Paul, who is now languishing in a Roman prison, what hope is there for us?" And their faith began to dissipate. It just wasted away.
 
S Paul heard about this and he wrote this letter of encouragement. He first told them that in Christ they have full and complete salvation and they should not be worried; they should not be discouraged. S Paul is saying, "No, please, don't you ever get discouraged because of me. I am in prison because God wants me there." You see, S Paul was not just a theologian; he had the heart of a pastor and because of the discouragement of his flock, he was saying, "I bow down my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
 
We should keep in mind that, in the days of S Paul, the typical attitude of prayer was standing up, facing heaven with your eyes open, with your hands raised. That was how you prayed to God. But whenever a person prayed with deep concern, then he would go on his knees. And this is what S Paul is doing here. He is on his knees because he is deeply concerned about his flock who are discouraged. In his prayers he was asking God that those believers at Ephesus should be strengthened and that Christ should dwell in their hearts.
 
What does he mean by this prayer that “Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith”? The solution is found in the word "dwell." The word "dwell" in English simply means "to reside" or "residing in." In English it normally has one meaning but in the Greek in which the New Testament was written, there are two words that can be translated into the English word "dwell." The one used in this lection is the one which means to take up permanent residence, that is not just to inhabit a space as we might inhabit a motel room, but to unpack, settle down, hang our pictures on the walls, and get comfortable. 
 
Surely, you might think, Christ is present in the lives of all believers, but he does not necessarily "dwell" with them in this sense. This passage suggests a deeper, more intimate, more stable and consistent, more thorough and far reaching relationship than many experience.
 
The God you and I worship in our faith is a God of love. He did not ask you to be good before he redeemed you. Scripture teaches us that while we were sinners, God sent his Son down here to this earth. The God of the Christian religion is a God who came down to this earth, became one of us and, by his perfect life and sacrificial death, redeemed you and me, redeemed all humankind. 
 
The gospel is unconditional good news. God is not asking you to be good before he accepts you. Salvation is a gift for sinners. As sinners God gives us his love, and then he begins to bring about a change in our lives.
 
May the God of love bless you in the week ahead.
 
 

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