Post Modern Pastor, The Most Important Thing

July 16, 2012

The Most Important Thing

I think I’m finally getting the hang of facebook etiquette. I’ve discovered that facebook is not the medium through which all discussions are fruitful. I now understand that any funny picture with commentary like a wrinkly-faced dog saying “Why so sad?” was originally posted on Pinterest, so I should just go there first. I also now know never to accept a Farmville gift . . . ever. One element of facebook I still don’t quite understand is the “like” button. How am I supposed to use it? Does clicking on the “like” button mean I actually like what the person is saying or does it mean that I understand what they’re saying, or does it really mean that I don’t have time to write something back, but I want to acknowledge that I’ve heard and appreciate what they’ve said. For example if someone posts that his or her dog died, do I “like” that? I mean I guess I should write something back, but they already have 75 “I’m so sorry” posts. It’s just confusing.

Imagine that you are having one of those sleepless nights. It’s too late to call someone. You’ve already written in your journal. It’s not that you want to call out for help, but in way you think you need to. You open up your laptop or phone and you log into facebook, and almost without thinking you start typing away. Imagine writing this:

“I’m not sure what to do. I see everyone around me doing great and important things, but I feel like I’m a loser. I don’t have any talent. I’m not good at anything. I don’t know, I guess I feel alone. What does God have in store for me? What’s God’s plan for me? What’s the point anyway? I’m not holy enough to go to church. It’s not like going to church is going to change God’s schedule or anything. I mean, he’s God. I guess I’m just lonely. I don’t think God is listening. Is anyone?”

Maybe you’re not in this place right now. Maybe things are going well and you are happy and life is good. Praise God. Maybe you’ve been in that place, that 2:30 in the morning place where you are tired, but can’t sleep and you know that it is going to be dark for a while. Imagine one evening you’ve posted this message, and a few minutes later, just before you delete the post because you feel kind of dumb posting it in the first place, you receive a notification. Someone responded saying:

Blessed be the God and Father of OUR Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose US in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined US for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the GOOD pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on US in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the FORGIVENESS of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on US. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his GOOD pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up ALL things in him, things in heaven AND things on earth. In Christ WE have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes ALL things according to his counsel and will, so that WE, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might LIVE for the praise of his glory. In him YOU also, when YOU had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of OUR inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

One of the interesting things about letters in the New Testament is that we only have one side of the conversation. We don’t know specifically what this letter was addressing, but hearing the response it sounds like the church is deflated, tired, and asking if it’s all worth it. The response, at least the first fourteen or so verses, is like someone somewhere out there going beyond the “like” button.

Let me say this. This may be the lamest sermon you’ve ever heard, and I would be ok with that assessment. I have wrestled and prayed and thought about this text, and all I hear from God is “The most important thing is that God loves you and the world and God wants you to respond to the world in love.” But that is a really short sermon, and you would probably be ok with that.

 

But just for fun, let’s dive into what the church has offered us today. Our text this morning is divided into three sections. The first section is the author of the letter saying, “Look, you are important. There are blessings all around.” The author writes, “God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” Now, I wrestled with this verse this week. I really got hung up on the word “before.” “Before” has two meanings. It can be used to suggest cause and effect: “This happened before that happened.” It can also be used positionally: “I stood before Tiger Stadium in awe and reverence.” What does it mean for humanity in Christ to be on God’s mind before God created the foundation of the world? The other side of that is God is not bound by time in the way that creation is, so talking about something happening before something else before creation was is nonsensical. Do you see how this can make you nuts? The other half of the sentence makes more sense to me as a Methodist. “We are to be holy and blameless before him in love,” meaning that we are to love as God loves. It’s not that we are to be holy and blameless, that we don’t ever make mistakes. It’s that we are to be holy and blameless in the way that we love. So the first half of the sentence is very Calvinistic in its predestination language, but he second half of the sentence is very Wesleyan with its focus on grace. Maybe that’s why the Spirit kept telling me, “The most important thing is that God loves you and the world and God wants you to respond to the world in love.”

Next sentence . . . “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” The same thing is at work here. Presbyterians really love the first half: God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. Methodists really dig the second half: “To the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” In the same sentence we have predestination and grace, and these two theologies are difficult to hold together. Maybe this is why I heard the Spirit say to me, “The most important thing is that God loves you and the world and God wants you to respond to the world in love.”

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Now Catholics and Baptists really like this verse. We find redemption, which is an economic term. It’s like when you redeem a coupon. You present the coupon in exchange for 10% off or something. Through Christ our trespasses are exchanged for the riches of God’s grace. Here ends the first section of our scripture, telling us, “The most important thing is that God loves you.”

But the Spirit is saying more. “The most important thing is that God loves you and the world.” The text goes on to say, “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” This is when Universalists would give the thumbs up. The scripture is saying that God’s ultimate plan is for all things in heaven and on earth will be gathered into God’s life. So far we have words that Presbyterians like, Methodists like, Baptists like, Catholics like and Universalists like. There is something beautiful and mysterious going on here. This is expressed beautifully in the verse itself. “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” To know the mystery means that the mystery is no longer mysterious. It doesn’t seem to make sense. I said this on facebook earlier this week: “I realize the more I learn, the more aware I am of my own ignorance.” That is so true of our relationship with God. The deeper our relationship with God is, the more mysterious it becomes. The more we know about God, the more comfortable we are with God’s hiddenness and mystery. It’s beautifully contradictory. To put it in a fortune cookie, I would write, “Where knowledge grows, mystery abounds.” Maybe that’s why the Spirit is telling me, “The most important thing is that God loves you and the world and God wants you to respond to the world in love.”

You see the text doesn’t stop at God’s love for us and the world. There is a job to do. We are to live for the praise of his glory. “In Christ WE have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes ALL things according to his counsel and will, so that WE, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might LIVE for the praise of his glory. In him YOU also, when YOU had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of OUR inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.” In other words, we are to live a life which exemplifies praise toward God. We are to respond to the world in love, the same love which God showered upon us. You see, the last sentence sums up the whole text. This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people to the praise of his glory. Which is another way of saying, “The most important thing is that God loves you and the world and God wants you to respond to the world in love.”

All of this to say that if I saw this text on facebook. I guess I would simply have to click the “like” button. I’m not quite what I think about this text. Obviously, I’m not quite sure what to say about it. But I know that I like it because it revealed to me that “The most important thing is that God loves you and the world and God wants you to respond to the world in love.” Amen.