All Praise and Glory

Biblical Text: Ephesians 1:3-14 NLT
Full Sermon Draft

There is a saying that all theology ends in doxology. For those who don’t know, the doxology is simply a hymn of praise to the Triune God. What it means is that at the end of all our contemplation and argument and understanding of God is simply praise. He is God and we aren’t. There are biblical books that operate in that zone: Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, some of the minor prophets, but Paul does not work there. There is a joy in Paul even in the midst of his sufferings. And the opening to Ephesians captures that. And that Joy is centered in the eternal workings of Father, Son and Spirit. Eternal workings that have been given to us by the Father’s good pleasure. Eternal workings found in Christ. Eternal workings brought to their completion by the Spirit. Eternal workings for the purpose of praise and glory.

Prayer and the Full Armor – The Right Field of Battle

Biblical Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
Full Draft

At the close of Ephesians Paul gives his battle speech. It is easy to pick up on the martial images of the armor and contenting with the powers that be. But to just pick up on that misses the marching orders. What or where is the field of contention? It would be easy to just say this life, and that wouldn’t completely be wrong. Paul segues from put on the armor of God to prayer. “With all prayers and supplications, in the spirit, at all times, pray…” Eph 6:18.

All endeavors in the Christian life begin and find their strength in prayer. Because all endeavors must rest on the power of God alone. Its the disciples who ask, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Because that is the act that is most typical of the disciple.

The Elder’s Turn

Biblical Text: Ephesians 5:22-33
Full Sermon Text

I was on vacation this Sunday, so our Elders filled in. One elder in particular, Dr. Warriner, you will hear on the podcast delivering the sermon.

I didn’t want to appear like the biggest chicken selectively picking the week of one of the toughest texts to modern ears to be on vacation, so I ghost wrote it. I would make a lousy speech-writer. I’m too much of a narcissist to get into someone else’s voice. Anyway, the text is St. Paul on marriage. The attempt is to find the grace in tough words.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Walking in Hope

Text: Proverbs 9, Ephesians 5:6-21
Full Sermon Draft

We are in the middle of VBS this week, so I’m running behind. Short post for a sermon I really liked.

We continue reading Ephesians. This time Paul links the Hebrew Wisdom tradition into the gospel. We walk differently because we walk in hope. We walk in hope because our time horizon is not shortening. Christ had given us eternal life. Stealing from the popular books, do you have a poor dad/foolish mentality about this life, or a rich dad/wisdom mentality? It will change your walk….

Walking in Hope

Text: Ephesians 4:17-5:2
Draft of Sermon

From Pentecost (50 days after Easter) until the first Sunday of Advent (4 Sundays before Christmas) the church is in what used to be call ordinary time. Others labeled it the time of the church. I offhandedly call it the green season. That is because the color that is on the altar for the entire season is green. By Advent you are ready for the blues or purples and then the whites and reds of the festival season. The thought that ties them all together is that now is the time of grace. The tree is green now.

One of the features of the lectionary (the assigned readings (and introits, prayers and psalms)) during the green season is a straight reading of some of the epistle lessons. This year one of those letters we read is Ephesians. This sermon is the fifth in the series (started July 15th). If I was to put a subtitle on the Letter to the Ephesians is would be Walking in Hope. Much of the earlier letter and sermons hung on the Hope portion. The lesson this week turns to walk the walking look like.

And Paul treats the walking in two ways: 1) what a false walk looks like (Paul would say, “walking how the gentiles do”) and 2) what walking in the Spirit looks like. Paul is very clear and this should be a great help to Christians today when so many are saying walk in many different directions. Anytime you are talking about what a Christian walk looks like it runs the risk of being turned into a law. But it is exactly the sickness of the time that calls for the explicitness. In any explication of how we should live there is an element of the law. If we are honest examining ourselves, we know when we don’t measure up. Even Christians need that to drive us toward and remind us of our hope – the gospel of Jesus Christ. The walk breaks us. And when the walk breaks us, when we die to the that walk on our own, is when Jesus is able to replace the heavy yoke and give us his light one.


Bible Text: Ephesians 4:1-16 (background Gen 25:25-34, Luke 15:11-32, baptisms)
Full Draft

The US has a famous list of birthrights: all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This sermon is not about those, but we as a people might talk about rights, but we rarely talk about either where they came from or how. The most precious ones are grants. And even more precious are the ones backed by the divine account. Governments may say that we have certain rights, but if the government gives it can also take away. Hence even Jefferson – extreme deist at best – rooting life, liberty and pursuit in a creator.

But turn from the political realm for a second. Salvation has come to us as a birthright. Baptism now saves you (1 Pet 3:21). The Christian has been born of water and the spirit (John 3:5). There is one body and One Spirit, one lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (Eph 4:5-6). That is the good news. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Salvation, forgiveness of sins, is our birthright in Christ. And nothing external, not even the devil himself, can take it from us. The sermon recounts two biblical stories: Jacob and Esau and the Prodigal Son. Two stories of Fathers and Sons. Two stories of despising the birthright. That is the only way we lose our inheritance – to despise it.

The American Founders were wise people. They understood this also. They lived in a society that was schooled by the church’s teaching. Even the deists and Harvard Unitarians quoted and studied scripture. Asked of Franklin: What kind of government have we? A republic, if you can keep it. Also Jefferson’s quotes about the tree of liberty and blood. Our tendency is to despise things that we have been granted. They knew it in the political realm. How much greater in the spiritual?

So Paul starts with an exhortation – “I a prisoner of the Lord urge you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling (Eph 4:1).” Don’t despise your birthright.

Stories of Flesh and Blood

Text: Ephesians: 2:11-22
Full Draft of Sermon

Had one of the best comments possible I think – a 4 year old at McDonald’s after service commented on the sermon.

The stories in the world today – especially in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting – are stories of alienation and loss. They are stories of searching. Sometimes finding. Sometimes not and remaining lost. Those stories play with a deep truth. Sin alienates. It is the cause and the manifestation of our lostness. The artists and the church actually agree on the diagnosis, but they disagree on the prescription. The church actually has an answer. It is found in the incarnation…in the flesh and blood of Christ.

Every Spiritual Blessing in the heavenly realms

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Full Draft

The textual basis for this sermon is one long sentence. The English translations break it up because that is good English. But what it does is miss the catechism like effect as the clauses build up. The core sentence is short and clear – God be Praised. The rest of the text reads like Paul starts asking questions and answering them in phrases and clauses attached to that simple sentence.

Which God? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. A Very specific one. One that you know.

Why praise? Because he has already blessed or praised us with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.

What are these blessings? You were chosen to be Holy and Unblemished before the foundation. And not just that but you have been adopted into the family of God. You are part of the Royal ruling family.

How was this done (after all I don’t think I did anything)? You didn’t. It was through and in and because of Christ. First by his blood. Redeemed by the blood. Second you have been enlightened with the wisdom and insight of his grace to know the mystery.

What is the mystery? The cross primarily, but also the resurrection and the ascension (i.e. the Lordship). These things which have been hidden in plain sight.

How do I know this? You have been sealed with the Spirit which is the down payment. Outside of the revelation of Christ and the illumination of the Spirit the mystery would remain. But you have it right now.

Why has He done this? For the Praise of the glory of his grace. We are that praise. Our lives, our walks, our confessions and our worship. God be praised.

A Contract or a Covenant? (If Covenant, what type?)

Today is Parson and Parson’s Wife’s anniversary. With three kids our celebration is Chinese Takeout. But the occasion gives me the occasion to reflect on just what marriage is anyway.

First some background grist. The first marriage: Genesis 2:18-24. Jesus on Marriage and Divorce: Mark 10:1-12. Paul reflecting on the same passage: Ephesians 5:1-33 (small subset Ephesians 5:22-33). G.E.M. Anscombe on Chastity. If you have the time or interest all those are worth reading and pondering. The Anscombe article is at the same time short and profound. She is a philosopher, which usually means prose so thick and obtuse it can’t be read. That is not the case with Anscombe. The prose is dense, by which I mean each sentence and paragraph make a point and are like the proverbial iceberg where what is said is resting on a much larger body unseen, but the prose is also clear.

One quote from the Anscombe piece.

Humanly speaking, the good and the point of a sexual act is: marriage. Sexual acts that are not true marriage acts either are mere lasciviousness, or an Ersatz, an attempt to achieve that special unitedness which only a real commitment, marriage, can promise. For we don’t invent marriage, as we may invent the terms of an association or club, any more than we invent human language. It is part of the creation of humanity and if we’re lucky we find it available to us and can enter into it. If we are very unlucky we may live in a society that has wrecked or deformed this human thing.

That quote contains the basis of the title question and the theological confusion of the present day. American culture (and western culture in general) is currently rolling through the logical necessities of changes in its presuppositions. The most recent one is what has been called gay marriage.

Part of the American genius is in the creation and regulation of temporary partnerships – think corporations and contract law. But I call it part of the American genius because Americans have been thrown together and have been making contracts well before even the revolution. The Ur document of this sort is the Mayflower Compact. Written in Nov of 1620 before the Pilgrims disembarked at Plymouth. Quoting – “…these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws…” In that document you find both the idea of covenant and the idea of combining ourselves. America is not without the idea of covenant, but its genius is in the contract. It is at its best when both are present and remembered, but in our day we are more like a people with only a hammer. American’s hit everything like a nail with the hammer of the contract.

Back to Anscombe, “For we don’t invent marriage, as we may invent the terms of an association or club.” That statement rests primarily on the Genesis passage, but also on Paul’s expression in Ephesians as marriage being the symbol of Christ and the church. The verbs that apply to a covenant are to cut or to seal. To cut a covenant is a very literal translation of the Hebrew reflecting Genesis 15:7-21. God promised Abram offspring and land and sealed the promise, the covenant, by walking between animals cut in half. The meaning is that if I break this covenant, may what happened to these animals happen to me. When you cut a covenant you are saying what should never happen, the unity created to be cut in half. And we did not create the marriage covenant. God ordained it in the Garden before sin.

Somewhere around 1964 the understanding of marriage in America shifted from that covenantal understanding to a contractual one. Contracts are temporary partnerships. Contracts are entered into for the mutual increase of both parties. They do not create one party. When the contract becomes more onerous than beneficial to one party, it gets renegotiated or revoked. In 1970 Ronald Reagan signed a bill that created no-fault divorce in the state of California. Prior to that to receive a divorce you would have to show cause. The real purpose of showing cause was to show that the animals had already been sundered. It might have been getting hazy in memory, but a covenental understanding before no-fault was still operating. A divorce was granted only when the unity had been destroyed already. The one flesh had already been torn apart. With the advent of no-fault, marriage was now a contract. If I created it, I could also ended it as long as “affairs were settled”, i.e. the contract came to a negotiated close.

When marriage is just another contract it makes no sense to bar anyone from creating that contract. Gay marriage as a contract makes perfect sense. For that matter so do all kinds of other arrangements. Anyone who can find the marriage contract beneficial in whatever form would find no bar from it. But as Anscombe said in that first quote, “If we are very unlucky we may live in a society that has wrecked or deformed this human thing.” Marriage as a contract has in a very significant way ceased to be marriage.

The portion of Genesis that Jesus quotes is “the two shall become one flesh”. And he adds the statement, “what God has joined together, let not man separate.” God has put two together. And the purpose is the creation of one flesh. The marriage act itself is a creation of one flesh, but closer to the truth is that the children who come from that act are in fact one flesh.

Marriage is the covenant for the creation and rearing of children. That is its primary intention. There are other things that might come out of it, but they are secondary goods to the creation of one flesh. If you undermine the primary intention of marriage, you have undermined marriage itself. That has been the American project for about 50 years give or take to the point that it is questionable if it is possible to truly enter a marriage in the United States. Instead we contract to use each other for mutual benefit, until that contract becomes disadvantageous to one of the contracting entities.

Now all of this is written as a reflection on what marriage is in its perfection. The good or model marriage is Christ and the church. Do we all live up to that? No way. It is one thing to confess our failures (i.e. sin), it is another thing to deny that sin all together. If we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. We can manipulate our understanding of marriage all we want, but if the truth is not in us, it only leads to meaningless suffering, as opposed to the sufferings of Christ.

Your Mental Matrix

In Thursday Bible Study we started looking at the Book of Ephesians. One of the things that I told that group was that Ephesians is probably my interpretive lens on Scripture. And I fumbled around trying to explain that. What I mean by that is when any big question comes up, or any piece of scripture I can’t understand, or probably more likely the words that I reach for to help me explain life, the universe and everything the words and the book that I find myself in is Ephesians. The only other book in the running would be Hebrews. Those two things would probably explain a lot about me. I’m pretty sure most of the Protestant world operates from Romans. The Roman Catholic world in my experience seems to operate from the Gospel of John So, teaching Ephesians in a group will be exciting to me because it will be core stuff that I will have to unfold instead of just accepting and it will be open for challenge.

While the Bible is inspired and you can spend a life pondering, there are a bunch of other works that might be part of the mental matrix. Dr. McKnight listed his top 5 and asked about his readers. My top five books outside of scripture that have influenced me –

1. Odyssey/Iliad – Homer
2. Freedom of a Christian – Luther
3. Epitome of the Formula of Concord
4. Crime & Punishment – Dostoevsky (Or Fathers & Sons – Turgenev)
5. Romeo & Juliet – And yes, I’ll turn in my man card

Now there are a couple of big ones like: A Random Walk Down Wall Street or Pythagorean Geometry that are important but end up being utilitarian. Freedom of a Christian moves me, efficient markets I use, even if it deeply influences how I view the world it is about this world only. Faith, Hope and love remain, the greatest is love. Faith and hope are this world only, love transcends.

It also leaves off poetry. Sigh, no W. H. Auden. Truth and Beauty. The list seems to ask for truth over beauty.

What about you? What is in your top five?