Ephesians 1:11-23 CEB
We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.
Since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, this is the reason that I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you.
I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers.
This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future. God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way.
October 20-30, 2016
“The Hope of the Saints”
All Saints’ Day/Stewardship Theme: “Hope Is Our Future”
November 1 is always All-Saints’ Day on the church calendar. So, in worship on the weekend closest to November 1, we remember and give thanks for the people who have had a lasting influence and impact on our lives; those we consider saints. Today we remember and celebrate the saints of this faith community and those saints in our own lives.
I will be reading from the letter to the Ephesians. This letter was written to the church at Ephesus, which is present-day Turkey.
With the saints in mind, listen now to a word of God…(Scripture)
My experience has been that grandparents are often eager to talk about their grandchildren. I have even seen grandparents with a t-shirt or sweatshirt that says, “Ask Me About My Grandchildren.”
And when asked, grandparents are often quick to pull out a wallet or small album or phone and say, “I have some pictures…”
Now, just to see how well this statement holds up…how many grandparents do we have in the congregation today? If you are a grandparent, are you carrying pictures of your grandchildren in some form?
When we look at those pictures and show them to others, what we are seeing are saints in process…they are the ones being equipped for sainthood…they are the ones looking to us to see how we live our lives and model our faith.
Many years ago as a high school senior, after I had seen a number of shirts saying, “Ask Me About My Grandchildren,” I decided to tweak that statement and I had a t-shirt printed that read, “Ask Me About My Grandparents!”
When people saw that t-shirt they couldn’t resist and they would ask me about my grandparents. And I would say, “I have pictures…” and we would laugh and look at a few pictures of my grandparents.
These were the grandparents I knew best in my life because they were still living in my growing up years. They were saints who remained faithful and hopeful in the midst of the ordinary events of life and in the midst of very difficult and challenging circumstances as well.
My grandparents knew the love of God above all else in their lives and my grandmother would often say that she “had a love affair going with God.” She was always clear that this long-term love affair with God was in addition to her love affair with my grandfather, but the difference was that her love relationship with God had begun at a very young age.
And because she termed her love of God and God’s love for her as a “love affair,” she delighted in asking her grandchildren, young and old, how our love lives were.
So, when we would see grandma she would ask each of us the question, “How’s your love life?” We knew what she wanted to know…she wanted to know how we were growing in our love of God.
In many ways, she was already sharing with us our inheritance in Christ that the Scripture says is sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit.
So, today is the day in the church year that we celebrate the saints of God. It is the day when it would be appropriate for every one of us to wear a t-shirt with the slogan, “Ask Me About…” and then whoever it may be, grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren; aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends; whoever it is in our lives that has worked and strived to be faithful…to show us who God is…to set examples for us of how to live as followers of Jesus Christ and stewards of God’s blessings.
Today is like a family reunion for the church. It’s a day for pulling out a variety of photos and remembering who our ancestors are. It is a day to think of who has come before us, who is among us, and who is coming behind us.
I love the way the Apostle Paul…Saint Paul, begins many of his letters by saying, “To all the saints.”
If we look back at the beginning of this first chapter of Ephesians, it begins by saying, “To the saints who are in Ephesus, the holy and faithful people in Christ Jesus.”
“To the saints” was a common way of addressing church members and Christians in the early centuries.
If Paul were writing today, he might conceivably address one of his letters: “To the saints of the Sun Prairie UMC…So, look around you…this is a community of saints…members, friends and visitors alike.
But before you deny that…it’s important to know that the saints in the Bible are not necessarily persons of what we might think of as ‘saintly character.’
You see, the people in the churches founded by Saint Paul had a long way to go in the understanding and practice of Christianity. They had only recently come to Christianity and it was hardly to be expected that they would immediately attain the ways of Christ.
Yet, they had joined the Church, which was no easy decision in those days because to identify as Christian was often at the risk of persecution.
So, Paul called them saints, meaning that they had committed themselves to Christ and the church in the hope of being transformed by the love of God through following in the ways of Christ.
In other words, All Saints’ Day recognizes those who did and who do strive to be faithful.
Our passage today from Ephesians describes saints as those who are “in Christ” and have set their “hope in Christ.” So, perhaps the first question we should ask ourselves is, “Is our hope set in Christ?” and “Is our future based on that hope in Christ?”
Our “Hope Is Our Future” building and annual stewardship campaign is anchored on that hope and promise.
So, what we celebrate today is how the saints of our lives and of this church have been a witness to what is the hope of God’s call upon our lives. Their prayers and their stewardship has paid off. And we are the beneficiaries!
The investment of the saints is still paying dividends in this church.
Our church exists because of who God is and carries on because of our response to the hope to which God has called us in Christ.
I am humbled when I think that I serve as pastor of a church that has existed for 171 years in Sun Prairie and that began as a ‘Methodist Class’ of 11 members. And I’m humbled when I read the history and hear the stories told of how our church got to the point we are at today by the faithfulness, the commitment and the sacrifice of those that have come before us.
One story that I really appreciate is about our first church building that was built in 1867 on the corner of Cliff and Columbus Streets. As soon as the frame of the church was enclosed and the floors laid, worship services began in the basement in July of 1867. The building was built at a cost of $10,000 and on dedication day there was a mortgage of $5,890.
But my favorite part of the story is that the faithful saints of this church prayerfully, faithfully and creatively stayed at it to pay off the last of the mortgage. It took 22 years and was paid off by the Ladies Aid Society using the proceeds from what was called a ‘board booth’ they ran at the Wisconsin State Fair that was held in Madison. A ‘board booth’ was a kind of food booth at the fair.
There were also lean financial times in the early 1900’s and our church made ends meet and continued to pay down other building debt with the Ladies Aid Society having chicken pie dinners and bazaars.
The example given to us by those who came before us in our faith community is that they were faithful…they were committed and they were creative in their stewardship…they were creative in finding ways to give in order to continue what they started and in order for us to benefit all these years later in how this church impacts and transforms lives.
What I ask us to think about as we continue to move prayerfully toward making our commitments to our Hope Is Our Future campaign, is that the giving of our resources makes little sense unless we are seeking God by putting our hope in Christ.
The giving of our resources makes little sense unless we are seeking a way to thank God for our blessings and to share those blessings with others.
The giving of who we are and what we have, is a response to our love affair with God. And if our hope is truly set on Christ, then we have found the hope of the saints.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.