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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Re-Purposing Religion (John 2)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 30, 2018 - John 2

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
He Saved Us to Show His Glory (Tommy Walker)
All Who are Thirsty (Brown, Robertson)
MEN'S CHOIR: Lord, I Stretch My Hands to You (Althouse)
Holy, Holy, Holy (NICAEA)


:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Who is Jesus and what is Jesus like? And what difference do those answers make in your life? Those are the questions we’ll keep asking this Fall in our “Come and See” series. I can think of no better way to understand faith and connect with faith than to check out Jesus. Last week we read the introduction to the Gospel of John, an eyewitness account of Jesus ministry and teaching. In that introduction John said that Jesus came to show us God, to explain Him. And time and time again Jesus invited people he encountered to “come and see” what he was about. That’s what I hope for us to do today and in the coming weeks. It may be so that you can introduce someone else to Jesus, as Philip did for his friend Nathanael in our text last week. Or it may be so that you can be re-introduced to Jesus in a fresh way and leave with your own faith and relationship with God renewed.

Today we look at two different events in the life of Jesus. Both are fairly well known, but I don’t know that I’ve ever studied them together, even though they both come in the same chapter of John. But I saw some new common threads between them this time around. I’d like to briefly walk you through some background and details of each story, then look at those common threads and why they matter for our own faith and life.

Preventing a Scene (vv. 1-12)

The Wedding – There’s so much that can capture our attention here. First, it’s a wedding! So many other stories are by the lakeshore or in the Judean wilderness or in Jerusalem near the Temple. But this is a glimpse into ordinary Jewish life. Jesus was there with his family as well as his disciples. He must have known one or both of the families. In that day a wedding was ceremony and reception rolled into one, and often lasted several days. It was a big deal! But much was the same as we might think. The family hosted and there was food and drink. And one of the most socially embarrassing things, then or now, would be to run out of food or drink for your guests. And that’s what happened… they ran out of wine.

Now as fascinating as it is to us, we simply don’t know as much as we’d like about why Jesus turned to Jesus to tell him they were out. Was he supposed to go buy some more? Did she know he would do a miracle? I don’t know. But she brought it to his attention and told the servants to do whatever he said to do. There is certainly a part of me that wants to read that as Mary having seen Jesus do miraculous things around the house, but we just don’t know. His response is also pretty cryptic: “What does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. He doesn’t send them out with money to the store. He doesn’t strike a rock and wine pour out of a crack in the hillside. He tells the servants to go fill up the ceremonial washing pitchers with water. Let THAT detail stick. And that was a lot of water – something like 150 gallons worth… those were some big water pots. And then he told them to draw some out to take to the headwaiter. And it had become wine… really good wine!

And John reflects on the event (later) and says of this: “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” So, it was a semi-private miracle. More than Mary saw it, but it was not on full display quite yet. But the disciples saw and, seeing the power of God, they believed. Though Jesus did something amazing and some saw and believed, he also prevented a scene of embarrassment and shame to the family hosting the wedding. I describe it that way because the very next thing that happens is just the opposite. Jesus MAKES a scene…

Making a Scene (vv.13-25)

The Temple – The next story starts in verse 13. We don’t know exactly how much time has passed, but verse 13 contains an important date marker for the Gospel of John. The Jewish Passover was near and Jesus went like so many did up to Jerusalem. Several different Passovers will be noted between this event and the end of John’s Gospel. And it is at Passover that Jesus is crucified. As I said before, I have preached on the Wedding at Cana before and I have preached on what comes next before, but never together in the same sermon. And it is a striking contrast. At the wedding Jesus prevented a scene of embarrassment and shame. In the Temple, Jesus made a scene and it was one that the religious leaders never forgot.

Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem and found people selling animals for sacrifice as well as money changers. Both the sale of animals and the ability to change currency was a convenience and booming business, for many traveled from far away and it was easier to buy an animal than to travel long distances with one. Likewise, it was helpful to be able to change foreign currency. Yet there was something about this that angered Jesus to the point of taking action. He actually turned over their tables and made a whip out of cords and chased the animals and people out of the Temple. Talk about a scene!

To those he chased out he said, “Take these things away; stop making my Father’s house a place of business.” (v.17)

Clearly those present saw more than an angry Rabbi. They asked for a sign to show Jesus’ authority to do this. Isn’t that an interesting thing to say? It let me know there was more going on here than you or I get on a quick read. Well, John also tells us that the disciples remembered one of the Psalms that said, “Zeal for God’s house will consume me.” King David was the one who wrote that and, as a reminder, the Messiah was believed to be one like King David returned to lead God’s people. It is likely that Jesus’ action was taken to be some kind of Messianic claim… the kind of thing that King David might have the guts to do.

And he answers their question about a sign. He says, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Those there thought that absurd… it had taken forty-six years to build. But John explains that he was speaking of the temple of His body and later the disciples would remember these words and understand. We read that many believed after observing the things Jesus was doing. (v.23) But he did not entrust himself to those who were quick to name him Messiah. He was just getting started!

Fill Up/Clean Out

Taken by themselves, both stories point to Jesus’ power and authority to do amazing things. And it’s important to know that miracles weren’t magic or magic tricks. Sometimes, like the water and wine, they defied explanation. Sometimes, like chasing folks out of the Temple, they were significant more than unexplainable. The purpose of Jesus’ miracles or signs were to point to the power and authority of God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus will demonstrate that power and authority, over sickness, spiritual powers, earthly powers, and more – even death. John told us the reason back in chapter one: Jesus shows us the power and glory of God.

But today I want to focus on something a little different as I make application and draw to a close. When I consider these two events together, I see something I did not notice before. In both cases, Jesus is taking religion and re-purposing it or re-directing it back to God. Let me explain…

At the wedding, Jesus uses the large waterpots used for religious ceremonial washing to save embarrassment, to bring life to the party, and to demonstrate the power of God. Elsewhere he explains that he didn’t come to do away with the old religious laws and practices, but to fulfill or complete them. The ceremonial washing was an important aspect of Jewish religious practice. It helped keep kosher and follow the cleanliness codes in the Hebrew scriptures. But they did not bring life. Their purpose was to point towards God’s holiness and invite human obedience. But now God was here in the flesh! The one who was the Light and Life of the world was present. So he took the religious vessels and filled them with life, with God’s power, with his own presence in blessing the party.

In the Temple, Jesus also engaged religious practice. Surely the sale of animals and changing of money began with good intent. But it had turned into a way to squeeze money out of travelers who were eager to fulfill the religious rules. The offerings that were supposed to direct people to God’s mercy and grace had become a means of taking advantage of people. The focus on being a house of prayer was overshadowed by the commerce done in religion’s name. And so Jesus overturned those practices and drove them out, again filling the space with his presence and pointing to the power and glory of God.

So what do we do with that? Is it simply making sure we are adequately supplied at weddings and don’t sell products in the gathering area on Sundays? (We pretty rigorously don’t, by the way!) No, I think it’s more than that. Religion and religious practices are the structures we put around worshiping God. And it becomes all too easy to do one of two things: either we 1) keep up the practices and find ourselves empty; or 2) we get off track with our practices and eventually find ourselves looking in the wrong direction.

Need examples?

What do “good Christians” do? How would you fill in the blank? They…. go to church… read their Bible… pray before meals… don’t cheat… don’t cuss… I could go on and on for a long time and I’m sure you could too. But is that the definition of Christian? Some of those things might be good things to do as we trust, love, and follow Jesus Christ, but they are practices. They are behaviors. And it is easy to keep checking them off week after week and year after year and wake up one day feeling empty and disconnected from God. God is not church attendance any more than marriage is dish-washing. Both are great things to do for someone you love, but in and of themselves they are or can become empty vessels. I believe Jesus doesn’t want to punish or scold you for any of those things. I believe he wants to fill you back up with LIFE, with joy, with purpose… with himself.

What about the other story? I think there are other things that Jesus needs to overturn in our lives. I have heard it said that every vice is a twist on a good and God-given yearning. Put other people down so you can look good? God made us for dignity, in His image, and we yearn for it. But apart from God we will do all manner of things to try to feel worthy, feel wanted. Beating yourself up with shame and guilt? God gave us a conscience, but also offers us grace and freedom. But we look in other directions. I believe there are some things Jesus would overturn and drive out of our lives so that we would again know the power and presence of God. Please note: he would not drive US out of God’s presence, but clear out the temple of OUR lives of the clutter, distraction, and harmful practices.

So that’s the application and takeaway I’d offer from these two stories. Identify what needs to be filled up in your life and what needs to be overturned and removed. To both, Jesus offers himself as help, healing, power, and peace. How do you do that? Start with prayer – we’ll start with prayer in a moment. Ask God to fill up what is empty. Ask God to show you what needs to be cleared out. Ask Jesus to come fill you up. And I believe he will; that’s why he came and dwelled among us. Come and see! Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Word (John 1)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 23, 2018 - John 1:1-5,14-18,45-51

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
Thy Word (arr. Schrader) - choir, call to worship
What a Beautiful Name (Fielding, Ligertwood)
Love is Moving (Assad) - special music; Kayleigh Banks, soloist
Be Not Afraid (Courtney) - offertory; choir w-Kayleigh Banks, soloist
O Word of God Incarnate (MUNICH)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we are starting a new series called “Come and See!” We will be working through the Gospel of John, about a chapter a week, between now and Thanksgiving. I won’t preach through whole chapters – if you are interested in that, check out Jim Hinton’s Sunday school class at 9:30 every Sunday morning. But I will pick one or two key verses or stories from each chapter to focus on. The purpose of the series is to invite a closer look at the person and teaching of Jesus and I believe it will be beneficial to long-time Christians as well as to those newer to faith or just checking it out. “Come and See” actually comes from today’s text in John chapter 1, where Philip, who has already met Jesus, invites Nathanael to come check him out. And that’s a model for what I hope this series can be. I hope it will offer you an opportunity to not only grow in faith, but also to invite friends who may be open to checking out who Jesus was and what he was all about. We’ll try to be extra user-friendly in the coming weeks and I hope you will think and pray about friends, neighbors, co-workers, or relatives you might invite to come worship with us.

Today we will look at the first chapter of John. It has a lot packed into one chapter, and serves as an introduction to the whole book of John. So I’ve picked three parts of it to focus on to try to give you an overview of the whole. In coming weeks we’ll focus in more on just one story or one main idea. But today there will be three: True God, True Human, and Worth Meeting.

True God (vv.1-5)

In verses 1-5, the Gospel of John opens up like the Bible itself opens up: “In the beginning…” It also begins with theology, mystery, and things beyond our full comprehension. But it sets the stage for what follows. We read about this “Word” that was not only present with God in the beginning of things, at Creation, but that somehow WAS God. As the intro unfolds we will realize that this “Word” is a name for Jesus, who is the subject of the book of John. But where we begin is that the Word is truly God and part of bringing life and the world we know into being. It is because of that creative role that John writes, “In Him was life.” (v.4) The Word – Jesus – is true God because He originates and manifests life itself.

We also read another name for the Word who is True God who is Jesus: He is “The Light.” I think John has to resort to all these names and metaphors because he is trying to use words and things we know something about in order to talk about something we don’t know about and can’t fully comprehend. In Confirmation I ask what light does. And we know the answer to that. It helps us see where we are going. We also use it as a metaphor for understanding, like a light bulb coming on in our mind. The subject of this book – the Word, true God, the Light – shines into our dark world. We may not fully comprehend the Light, but we can behold it and it can illumine our life, reveal dangers and pitfalls, and help us understand things.

True Human (vv.14-18)

If that were all we got, we might be encouraged that God was interested in illuminating our lives, but we would not have any reason to expect a personal or direct encounter with the Creator God. But starting in verse 14, John tells us this amazing news: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The one who was and is True God, Creative power, Life and Light of the world, became human and made a home among us. This is Jesus, of course, and John makes this clear as he goes. But do you see the significance of this news? The True God because True Human, which allows us to experience and know the infinite God with our finite minds. And the rest of verse 14 makes spells out the implications for us. Because True God became True Human living among us, “We saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Because Jesus has entered this world as fully human but also fully God, he can show us God’s glory and speak God’s truth in a way that we can begin to comprehend. God did speak his Law to and through Moses (v.17), but in Jesus we can receive God’s grace and truth in a way we can experience and understand. John puts it most simply in verse 18: “No one has seen God” but Jesus “He has explained Him.” And that’s the setup for this account of Jesus that follows in the book of John. It is the story of the invisible and infinite God drawn near to us in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. We can know and experience God because Jesus has made Him known. And that sets up the third portion of this chapter that I want to focus on.

Worth Meeting (vv.45-51)

The third part of John chapter one that I want to look at is entirely different. We shift from theology lecture to narrative. At this point in the chapter (v.45), several folks have already checked Jesus out and decided to follow him as a Rabbi or teacher. Those included Andrew, Peter, and Philip. They had inquired after Jesus and he had responded, “Come and you will see.” Where we picked up in our reading today in verse 45, Philip goes and gets someone he knows name Nathanael. He tells Nathanael that they have found the one spoken of in the Law and the Prophets – in other words, the Messiah. Nathanael is doubtful, because Philip also mentions that he comes from Nazareth, which doesn’t have the good reputation of something like Jerusalem. But Philip utters those same words that Jesus had spoken to him earlier and which are the name of our series this Fall: “Come and see!” (v.46) And, in fact, Nathanael does come to check Jesus out and Jesus doesn’t disappoint. He seems to know all about Nathanael, who is impressed. But Jesus says, “Just you wait… you will see greater things than these.”

I want to say two things about this encounter. The first is to step back and ask if you see the significance of the encounter given what has come before. This is not just a random person meeting a great teacher. This is the practical demonstration of what it means that the eternal Word who is God has come to live and walk among us as a human being. This is Jesus who shows us the grace and truth of God in a way we can understand and experience. And Nathanael experienced that.

Secondly, I want to focus on the invitation to “Come and see.” Jesus spoke it to some of those first followers, who in turn spoke it to others. Prior to Jesus, there was no “come and see God.” But Jesus came to show us the grace and truth of God in words and actions we could take in. Not only is that the invitation he gives to you and me – to come and see; it is also the invitation we are privileged to give on his behalf. We don’t have to have talk people into faith or argue about their beliefs; our role is to invite people to consider Jesus – to hear his words and examine his life, death, and resurrection. HE is the one who “explains” God and helps people experience God’s grace and truth. We just make the introduction. But that’s not a ‘just’; it’s HUGE. It’s an invitation through Jesus to know the God of Creation and of all things.

So I hope you will take me up on inviting folks to church over the next few weeks. Actually the inviting to church isn’t as important as helping introduce people to Jesus. He is worth meeting! So any way you can do that is great. Maybe that’s bringing someone to youth group or women’s Bible study or men’s Wings Night. Or maybe it’s inviting them to read some of John and tell you what they think. Or maybe it’s sharing a bit of your own story and asking someone else about theirs. Bottom line: Jesus came to show us God, and he is faithful to do that! We have the opportunity to be a part of that; so let’s do it! Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2018

==AN OPEN HOUSE (SUMMER 2018)==

An Open House (Summer 2018)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
June 3 - September 9, 2018

A look at how God invites all to know Him and enter His presence through Jesus Christ (and how we can be an "open house" church).

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Family Prayer (Ephesians 3.14-21)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 9, 2018 - Ephesians 3:14-21

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
CHOIR: A Joyful Song (Porterfield)
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (arr. Enfield)
Good, Good Father (Barrett, Brown)
Glory to God Forever (Fee, Beeching)
POSTLUDE: Glory to God (Rick Bean, Jazz Mass)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today’s text begins with the words, “For this reason.” Paul is picking back up where he left off in verse 1 of the chapter where he said the same thing but then interrupted himself with several verses of exuberant commentary. But he’s back on track now, telling them “For this reason I bow my knees.” Before we get into the prayer that Paul intends to pray, let’s remind ourselves what the reason is that is driving him to his knees.

In Ephesians 1-2, Paul has explored the expansive love and eternal purpose of God to welcome home people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to Himself. God is undoing the curse of the Fall of Adam and pursuing humanity to bring them home. And Paul is witness to the way in which the promises to Abraham for God to bless and use a special family and people are being expanded and multiplied out to all people. He is writing especially to Greek people and overflowing with excitement at the news that in Jesus God has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. God’s arms are open wide and they are wide indeed. So it is for THIS reason – the huge love of God – that Paul is brought to his knees before the Father.

Today we will look at the prayer he prays. It is for you and me – part of that expansive reach of God toward the whole world. Let’s look…

Family Prayer (vv.14-16)

He addresses the prayer to the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name (v. 15). Having explored God’s love for those near and far, Jew and Gentile, rule-bound and prodigal, we remember that God created all human life. We ALL derive our name and our being from God. God made us in His image, male and female; and God called it good. And God has pursued the human race through a people, a message, and a great, persistent, pursuing love. His prayer consists of a series of three things, each of which results from the one before.

Spiritual Power:
What Paul prays to God the Father is “that God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man (v. 16)” – Remember Paul’s own story? Paul thought himself as the last person qualified for this work of sharing the Good News of God. But God saw to it that he was equipped… nothing to do with his natural abilities. It’s an old saying, but a true one rooted in this passage: “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called.” You and I are called together as the Church; and God promises to give us what we need for the work we are to do. We are simply to show up, ask God what He wants us to do, and do it faithfully. And that starts with inner spiritual resolve, also a gift out of the “riches of God’s glory!”

Experiencing Jesus through Faith:
The result of that spiritual strengthening is “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (v. 17).” – An interesting statement, that. Scripture tells us that when we trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, he DOES dwell in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. But here it is linked to our actions through faith. I often hear people say, “I just don’t FEEL it; how do I know God is in my heart?” I think this passage is giving us a great key to this question: we feel it when we say ‘yes’ to God’s work.

Experiencing Jesus in Love:
Yet another consequence of THAT is “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend…the love of Christ (vv. 18-19).” Do you hear that? We will know and experience the love of Christ through grounding ourselves, rooting ourselves in His love. Recently at Harris and Allie Wilson’s wedding, they chose as a foundational verse for their marriage, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” That is rooting or grounding yourself in God’s love. And that’s what it means to BE the church; that’s what it means to BE a follower of Jesus. And when that happens, we will share in what followers of Christ (aka “the saints”) have known in every age and time: the fullness of the love of Christ – the breadth, length, height, depth… surpassing knowledge. You will be “filled up to all the fullness.” (v. 19)

Bowing Our Knees

So it was at just this point in my sermon studies that I had a realization. This is a prayer. It’s not a theological lesson. So while it is important to understand what Paul is praying for you and me, I think it’s even more important to enter into prayer with Paul and to pray prayers like this ourselves. So I want to do something a little different and pray for you and with you using this prayer as a template. I think that will allow us to truly enter into what is going on in this text. So, I’ll ask you to bow your heads as I pray a portion of this text directly. Then I’ll leave some time for you to pray silently yourself. Then I’ll move to the next section. Would you bow your heads with me?

God, you are our Father, having loved us while we were yet sinners and having called and welcomed us home through Jesus Christ. You have adopted us as children, and not only that, but heirs. According to the riches of your power and love and grace, strengthen us with spiritual power. Encourage us where we are powerless and weak. Confront us where we are foolishly strong, that we might know and depend on you for all things. Pour out your wisdom on this church that we might be empowered to be your people and your witnesses in the world. Bless us with your Spirit’s power that we might know the joy of being in the center of your will. Father, here our silent prayers naming you as Father and requesting your spiritual power in our lives…

Father, we want to know Jesus in our lives. We want to experience him in and at the heart of all we are. Help us fix our eyes, ears, and wills on him in faith, that we might follow where he leads, obey what he commands, and bless as he blessed. Father, hear our silent prayers to experience Jesus in our lives…

Finally, Father, we want to know the love of Jesus. We want to know its breadth and length and height and depth. Help us participate in your love-in-action so that we might experience that love in our own lives. Open our eyes when we leave here today. Open our ears to the words and needs of those around us. Open our hearts to respond to people who need a word or gesture of hope or love or mercy. Lord, hear our silent prayers now to participate in the love of Jesus Christ…

We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.


God-Sized Power (vv.20-21)

Paul concludes our text with a benediction which I’ll also use to close the service. In it he appeals to the one who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. That’s God! And can you imagine? God can do more than you can even imagine to ask God to do. One more time: God is able to do FAR MORE than you can even imagine to ask of Him. And interestingly enough, Paul doesn’t ask anything here. Instead he says, “To HIM be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.”

There is nothing wrong with asking God for help or for anything. And God loves you and delights to hear and answer prayers according to His will. But to think of God as merely the answerer of prayers is like thinking of marriage as a way to get someone else to do stuff for you. “Honey, will you take the trash out for me?” “Will you pick up some bananas at the store?” “Will you get up with the kids so I can rest a bit more?” In the right context there is nothing wrong with those ‘asks’ but that’s not the definition of marriage. Rather, sacrificial and mutual love for another person is humbling and beautiful. It is glorious.

So Paul works through a deep and heartfelt prayer rooted in the Good News and extraordinary power and love of God in Christ. But he ends up out of asking and humbled to the point of praise. That’s someone who has tasted the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love. If you’ve run into that, you know that there is no more to be said, but to God be the glory. To God be the glory in the church and in my life. Amen and Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Triple Fellowship (Ephesians 3.1-12)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 2, 2018 - Ephesians 3:1-12

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 



::: Music ::
Great Are You, Lord (Ingram, Jordon, Leonard)
Blest Be the Tie that Binds/Blest Be the Holy Spirit (arr. Austell)
(Offertory) In the Garden - Gwen Ingram, Bobby White, vocalists (arr. Ingram)
In Christ There is No East or West (ST. PETER)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

I’ve got to tell you…! Yesterday…! It’s the greatest thing this thing you won’t believe I’ve got to tell you just how amazing….!

Have you ever been so excited about something that you speak in incomplete or run-on sentences? That’s kind of what these verses in Ephesians 3 are like. It’s hard for translators to know what to do because they want to make sense of it for you in English, but it’s just long and breaks off and, well, Paul really really wants to share some news with you. So he starts, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—“ and he interrupts himself. It’s like as soon as he says “you Gentiles” he is reminded at the same time that God has revealed a new mystery and gift to the non-Jewish world and just how great that news is. So he’s all over the place talking about the mystery and gift and then trying to say what it is while also being excited about his part in it all.

I am also very excited about those things, but I’ll try to separate them out so they are a little easier to follow. And while all the parts are interesting, I want to zero in today on the specific message for the non-Jewish world… that is, the Gentiles, because we are they. We are the beneficiaries and the ambassadors of the message that God’s love is wide and for the whole world.

Stewardship of the Mystery (vv.2-3)

First, in verses 2-3, Paul initially focuses on the mystery of this news. It’s a mystery because it had been forgotten or de-emphasized by his own people and religion. God indeed revealed himself specially to Abraham and his descendants, but all along it was for the sake of the world. There’s a lesson in there for the church as well, lest we think that God exists just for us. It’s really the other way around; God has called us together to send us out into the world on His behalf, with His love and in His power.

So, Paul uses several words to talk about this mystery. It’s grace; it’s a gift, it is a revelation that we read is NOW revealed; later in verses 9-10 that it is to bring light into that world at this time and to make God’s wisdom known. It is a new message but it is not a new idea. In verse 11 we read that it is God’s eternal purpose, carried out in Christ Jesus.

Some things are mystery because they are beyond our understanding. Other things are mystery because we have never learned or have forgotten why they are the way they are. This is a little of both; through the person and work of Jesus and the messenger, Paul, God is reminding the world of His eternal plan to pursue, love, and rescue humanity. Humanity’s curse has been undone and God has undone it. Behold, the mystery; hear the Good News!

Triple Fellowship (v.6)

Mainly today I want to focus on verse 6, which is where Paul “gets specific” about the mystery and Good News from God to humanity. I am calling it a “triple fellowship” because he uses the word ‘fellow’ three times in this verse to talk about the things that we SHARE together in Christ. It’s a strong reminder of the connectivity and community of God’s people over an individual or private experience. In every way God calls us together. That’s what fellowship means! Let’s look at the three forms of fellowship.

Fellow Heirs – First we are “fellow heirs.” That means what it sounds like. We inherit something from God because we have been brought into His family. What do we inherit? It’s things more precious than gold or silver… things like salvation, eternal purpose and life, grace, and a place in the Kingdom and family of God. That’s a good word to do a word search and study on in the Bible. It shows up a lot! An inheritance is not deserved, but is a gift. So it is with God’s grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness. They are pure gift, given out of pure love. Good News part 1 – in Christ you have an inheritance. It’s an abundant inheritance, though; it’s not something to fight over with siblings, but there’s enough for all. I think about the prodigal son story, where the older brother couldn’t join in the celebration of the younger brother’s return. He, too, had the inheritance of his father, but he couldn’t get the ‘fellow’ part down; he couldn’t join in the joy of his father and family. You have a rich spiritual inheritance from God through Jesus Christ; but it’s not just you, it’s WE. We are FELLOW HEIRS.

Fellow Members of the Body – Paul writes at length in his other letters about being members of the Body of Christ together. Two of the important parts of that are that Christ is the head, guiding and leading us. And we are all important to the whole even though we are different. The eye should not say to the hand, “What need do I have of you?” Even the less visible parts of a body are sometimes performing critical functions. It’s a wonderful and vivid picture of how God has called and connected us together to serve and belong to Jesus Christ. If “fellow heirs” touches on being family together, fellow members focuses on being community together. We are FELLOW MEMBERS of the BODY of CHRIST.

Fellow Partakers of the Promise – To partake is to share or participate in something with others. This is a third form of fellowship that Paul names. We don’t just belong together or to one another; we are to engage and take part together in something… the “promise.” What promise is that? We could probably name several, but I believe the main promise in view here is the covenant promise to Abraham, now extended to all people through Jesus Christ as intended by God from the beginning. That promise was for relationship, blessing, and purpose. More broadly, the promise is God’s overarching gesture TOWARDS humanity after the rebellion and disobedience of Adam and Eve’s Fall. As I like to say, when we turned and turn away from God, He did not and does not turn away from us, but pursues us in love. That moving towards us was focused in God’s covenant promise to Abraham and embodied and extended to all people through Jesus Christ, literally “God with us.” The Good News is that through Jesus Christ we receive, share, and participate in God’s reach of love. Today we are at the Lord’s Table to share communion together. That is a perfect picture and explanation of ‘partaking.’ It’s more than what we think of as being a participants; it’s sharing, receiving, digesting, nourishing, enjoying God’s spiritual food for us together. That’s what partaking means. It’s active, engaged, taking into ourselves. We are family, we are community, and we are a part of what God is doing. We are FELLOW PARTAKERS of the PROMISE.

Testimony (vv.7-8)

In verses 7-8 Paul again changes focus as he is reminded of his role in sharing this Good News. If you know Paul’s story at all, it IS a wonder that God used him in such a way. Paul had been tracking down and killing Christians; now he has become the chief messenger of God’s great love for the world.

I think it is that way with anyone who has experienced God’s love. It’s news worth sharing, like any other great news.

In verse 8 Paul says, “To me this grace was given to share with you.” The TRIPLE FELLOWSHIP are gifts for giving, for us to share with those around us. If it’s really Good News – and I believe it is – then it should be the easiest thing in the world. I think we often get tripped up because we don’t have a plan or a presentation prepared. But it’s not those things; it’s YOUR story and no one can tell it better than you. Think of the three fellowships. How do you experience being part of God’s family? How do you experience being part of God’s community? How do you experience taking part in what God is doing? I think if you can put words to those things they will be easy to share.

And I think all three of those fellowships – connections – are things that many or most people long for whether they can put words to it or not. You are not trying to convert someone; you are simply welcoming them into your life. That’s what it means to be an “open house church” and “open house people.” Be intentional about it. Look for one or two people this week to invite into your life through sharing about your experience in God’s family, community, and work. It doesn’t have to end with, “Now come to my church.” It’s just sharing a story that is good. And more than ever we need good news stories. You and I can help be a part of that! Amen.