Lectionary Passage: Ephesians 2:1-10 (Lent 4B)
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
There’s actually two parts to this passage. There’s a “before” and there’s an “after”. BEFORE you were dead…and AFTER you weren’t. BEFORE you were of this world…and AFTER you weren’t. BEFORE you had it wrong…and AFTER you don’t. That’s probably enough. We can just stop there.
No, not going to stop…The writer of this letter (who is more than likely not the Apostle Paul but rather a later follower or disciple of Paul’s) seems to be really focused on continuing this separation between this world and God, between the “sinful” world and God’s promise of grace and life. Paul had introduced the notion of being justified by grace through faith, the notion that God was a redemptive God, that it was a process by which we traversed the experience of this world and along the way encountered God. But, here, that word “saved” appears, as if it’s past tense, as if it is some badge of honor that we earn and wear as we continue to seem to be forced to live in this sin-filled world in which we live. Somewhere along the way eschatology became realized, “already”, rather than something to which we look and live into.
Now keep in mind that this letter was probably written in the late first century. Jesus had come, died on the cross, and the Resurrection on which everything that is “Christian” is based had happened. And Jesus had promised to return. That had been imminent for Paul. And, yet, it hadn’t happened yet. The first century followers of Christ (it still wasn’t “Christianity”, per se, the way we think of it today) were wondering if perhaps they had misunderstood, perhaps they had gotten the whole thing wrong. So, the emphasis for the writer of Ephesians (as well as others), was a notion of salvation as something that had already happened, an emphasis on the crowned Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. And for those of us who are still mired in the throes of worldly evil and worldly despairs, there became a separation, a dualism that was put into place that pretty much exists even today. So many of us live in this world, burdened by sin, and hope against hope that God will swoop in and save us. And it becomes even easier for us to separate the world into the “saved” and the “unsaved”, those who “get it” and those who don’t.
Really? Is that it? What happened to “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, BUT in order that the world might be saved through him.“? God’s vision of the Kingdom of God is not to shun the world or even to rid us of all things worldly. God’s vision of the Kingdom of God is to recreate the world into what it is called to be–the whole world, not the ones who follow the rules or the ones who are “good”, but everyone. So, in this life of faith, we do not magically crossover to being “saved” from being “unsaved” and then sit back and wait for God to pluck us out of our miserable existence. Rather, we yield to new meanings and new circumstances as God recreates our lives into Life and brings about the fullness of the Kingdom of God throughout this wonderfully created world in which we live.
That’s what Lent is about–new meanings and new circumstances. Maybe it’s about dropping the “but” in life, ridding ourselves of the dualism that we have so carefully constructed to affirm our own understanding of who God is. God created the life that each of us has. Why would God call us to leave it behind? Rather God is recreating it as we speak, bringing it into being, into the image that God envisions for it. You know, if we look at things with the eyes of a world where God is not, a world that waits for God to return, there is always a “but”; BUT if we look at all of Creation with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of those who believe in a God who came into our midst to show us how much we are loved, everything has an AND. Another word for that is grace—undeserved, unmerited, uncontrollable. It is God’s gift to each of us. And all we are and all we do and all that happens to us comes by grace. We are saved not by what we do (or don’t do); we are saved by grace.
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. (Reinhold Niebuhr)
Grace and Peace,
One thought on “By Grace”
One summer in the mid-1960s, the platform speaker at a Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s Conference was an ex-coach who was now an ordained Methodist minister. He introduced himself by saying that he was a ” Christian in the making.” He claimed to be a searcher and seeker after God. He is for me, one of those torch bearers along the way pointing the right path.
Yours in Christ, Larry