This morning is our celebration of All Saints - the day each year that we commemorate and remember those who have gone before us in their journey, our grandparents, friends, special mentors and the great "saints" of God who have taken the road less traveled before us and who have successfully completed their journey and heard the Lord's "well done."
It is also our Covenant Sunday, a day for us to renew our own commitment to Christ and his Church, specifically in our own commitment on the ground, here at REZ. In gratefulness for all that God has done for us and in anticipation of all that God can do through us, we commit another year to His word, His work and His way for our life, for our church - both in the larger Anglican happenings and in the context of our own families, our neighborhoods, our city and nation.
BACK FROM GAFCON
As you all know I have been traveling extensively this past month, to a clergy/spouse retreat and then overseas, to the GAFCON II meeting in Nairobi week before this last one. By way of a brief report back, I want to say that this was an historic gathering of Evangelical, Bible-believing Anglicans from over 50 nations. Over 1300 delegates came, including 330+ bishops, which represented about 80% of the attending and active Anglicans in the world. The gathering was called in the face of continuing drift by the Communion leadership toward non-biblical compromise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was a gathering of unity, not division. It was probably the clearest taste of the real Body of Christ that I have had ... ever.
The gathering was a new way forward for us as a global family - a family that listens to one another and honors one another in our diversity, while holding to the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we have received from our great apostolic heritage in Scripture and in the Anglican traditions of worship and prayerbook disciplines. It was a wonderful time of renewing friendships with many and making new friends from around the world. We are most definitely in the right place at the right time, church.
Two comments I overheard at and after GAFCON were most telling for me: One brother from Nigeria, after experiencing the worship at one of the plenary sessions of GAFCON said, "I have touched the hem of the Body of Christ, perhaps for the first time."
Another long time friend, on our flight back on Monday night and Tuesday, commented to me, "It's time to risk it all for the Gospel!"
Friends, the legacy that we have of taking the hard steps that we have taken for the sake of the Gospel, is one that arises from an understanding of the pioneers in the faith that have gone before us - of those who have chosen and suffered for Christ and, today, of those who continue to suffer and die for that Name! Today we remember, appropriately, the Persecuted Church around the world. In
the GAFCON meeting were bishops who had been kidnapped and held hostage, whose homes and churches are under constant threat in N. Nigeria, and Sudan, not to mention the very recent attacks in Kenya on churches. We live in a day where the cost of following Jesus is as high as it has ever been. Jesus said it would be this way, and for us in the US, we are in almost the only place in the world where its not hard to follow Jesus - and times are changing.
I can't tell you what the Church around the world is going to look like in the years, the decades to come, but if Jesus tarries, things are going to look very differently - even for us in the west. The great movements of the Gospel today are underground, unseen, in places where one gets killed for naming the Name of Jesus. I have reflected often on the legacy that God has given us, the grace of knowing and being a part of churches in Africa where the cost of discipleship may be your very life. We are not yet coming to the shedding of blood in America, but the indicators and movement of our culture are not promising. Friends, we need to ready ourselves and to ready our minds and spirits for something different than we've known thus far.
HOPE FROM EPHESIANS
Our reading this morning from Ephesians is placing us in the great river of faith that flows from the very presence of Jesus with his disciples in Galilee, down through the ages and the saints and into this very room and into each of our own lives. Look with me at our reading from the NT this morning in your bulletin. I just want to highlight a few things:
In the first two sentences Paul gathers all the believers together, We and You, are all together:
We, the "first to hope in Christ", and you, who have "heard the word of truth and believed" - we are all gathered together IN HIM, IN CHRIST. Why? "To the praise of His glory!"
We are gathered in to this great family of God; through His kindness and provision we have a destiny in Jesus Christ! We are all "marked as Christ's own forever" - words you will hear again at the baptisms this morning - and words that you will affirm this morning as you reaffirm your own baptismal vows and dip your fingers in the water as you come to communion. You have been given the guarantee of the Holy Spirit in your life, to bring you to the fullness of your destiny IN JESUS.
And then Paul prays!! Oh My!
Three prayers Paul prayed the the church - and by extension - for us! He prayed for Holy Spirit, open hearted, clear eyed revelation knowledge in three areas:
A. The Hope to which you are called. This refers to the words immediately previous, that this passage began with:
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
Our hope is IN CHRIST. All of the riches of His Father, the inheritance, the destiny, the purpose of God, for us, is IN HIM. HE is our
HOPE. He is the "hope that is within us" to which we testify. He is the object of our living, the subject of our thinking, the purpose
and direction of all we are and say and do. Paul prays for us to know that HOPE - Christ in You, the HOPE OF GLORY.
B. The Riches of the Inheritance - ours and Gods!
Have you ever considered that you are God's inheritance? Oh My! God has risked it all, for us. Put it all out there, sent His only
Son to die on a cross, to rise again from the dead, to reign on high in heaven - over what? US! Puny little us? Some inheritance!
But God sees in us a riches that we do not see. And God is able to do more than we can ask or even imagine to bring glory to
Himself through the CHURCH. HIS INHERITANCE is in us, and ours is IN HIM! We are invited into the relational heritage of the
very Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit - a shared inheritance of love, commitment and communion together - forever and ever.
Imagine! We can't, can we? Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.
C. And finally, the immeasurable greatness of His power towards us who believe!
Paul goes on one of his rants here - he gets so caught up in the description of the power of God that it just grows and grows and
grows until the rocket is out of sight in the upper atmosphere! Listen:
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.
This is resurrection power! The song that Paul sings here is similar in many respects to the Kenosis passage in Philippians 2:
Not only did God risk it all, Jesus risked it all too! Jesus left heaven and emptied himself, making himself a servant, a slave and
becoming obedient even to death on the cross. With what guarantee? None!! Absolutely none! No guarantee of followers,
no guarantee of a church, no guarantee of success. He died for us, while we were still sinners, Paul tells us in Romans. But God!
The is no power in the universe like GOD'S POWER! It is incomprehensible to us, immeasurable - though we certainly try to
quantify it, it is beyond our wildest imaginings. Since I tackled this book about two or three years ago I have been trying to
wrap my mind around this last phrase: 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.
Is it possible friends, that we glimpse the full glory of our destiny in these last few words. I struggle with us being God's inheritance, don't you? The inheritance that God himself is longing for is his creation, fully restored and renewed, and we are the first fruits of those who believe. We are destined to be the fullness of Him, Jesus, as His Body in the world - the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
There is an identity and a destiny that we have not tapped. IN CHRIST, Paul prays for us to have a full revelation, with the eyes of our hearts open to The HOPE we have IN CHRIST, the INHERITANCE we have in God and that we are TO God and finally to the awesome, infinite power of God for all of us who believe.
And how do we respond to these things? By offering ourselves, our souls and bodies. Our living and our dying breaths. Our moments and our days, our months and our years. By offering to God our reasonable service of worship as living sacrifices to HIM.
How do we respond when we hurt or others hurt? by offering ourselves, our souls and bodies. Offering our own pain and the pain of others, those we love and those we don't even know - those who are suffering around the world for the Name of Jesus. Offering the sacrifice of praise and of prayer - pressing into a deeper and deeper relationship with Jesus.
This morning we have two baptisms. We are going to see lives "Marked as Christ's own forever" and we are going to be able to mark our own lives again with the Baptismal Covenant, with the waters of baptism as we come to communion and by placing ourselves on this extension of the Altar as a sacrifice to God, holy and dearly loved! Communion is our Anglican Altar Call. We have it every week! But today we pass by this Baptismal table, and place on it the symbols of our life, our wallets, our purses, daytimes, cell phones, watches.
Whatever captures some of who you are, place on the table as you come. Dip your finger in the waters of baptism and renew your own vows and covenant with your God, and come to the table.
This is a historic gathering of God's people. And you are all welcome.
May we pray:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.