Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity - Eph 3:13-21

          Trinity 16
                                                                                                Eph 3:13-21

            When you watch a coal train go by on the Union Pacific line just east of us here in Marion, you are seeing some impressive power. Trains on this line have two engines on the one end of the train, and single unit on the other end that is being operated remotely by the engineer.  Each of those engines is about 4,000 or 4,400 horsepower, so when you see a coal train go by, you are watching about 12,000 horsepower pass you. 
            Diesel engines replaced steam engines for many reasons – but at the root of all of them was the bottom line.  Diesel engines were simply cheaper to operate. They required less maintenance and servicing than steam engines.  They were also more flexible – and therefore less expensive.
            Each steam engine had a certain amount of maximum horsepower it could produce.  If you needed more power, then you needed more engines.  However, each of those engines required a two man crew in order to operate them.  Diesels also have a maximum horsepower that each engine can produce.  Here too, if you need more power, then you need more engines.  But the big difference with diesels is that all of the engines can be connected to each other in a way so that one engineer can run them all together as if they were a single engine. The cost savings of not needing multiple crews is tremendous.
            Because you can put together as many engines as you need, it’s not hard to see a truly awesome amount of power on one train.  So when my dad, Matthew and I were out in the Altoona, PA area in August we saw coal trains with three engines on the front and four engines on the end.  All told, there was 24,000 horsepower on those trains. When they are all at full throttle and working hard, you can almost feel the power throbbing off of them.
            In our epistle lesson this morning the apostle Paul tells the readers not to lose heart because of the way Paul is suffering as a prisoner for Christ on their behalf.  So that they may be able to do this, the apostle expresses a prayer that they may be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in their inner man.  Paul’s language about power causes us to reflect upon what he says in this letter about how the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us through the Holy Spirit.
            Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians from prison. We know all about prisons in southern Illinois – and of course what we have what has been a very well known federal one just south of us here in Marion.  However ancient imprisonment was different from the modern version.  In the Roman world imprisonment was not a punishment.  Instead, a person was imprisoned while they were waiting for a final judgment.  Once this was done they left the prison as the punishment was enacted: a person might be executed, or sent to workin the salt mines, or be sent into exile.
            Paul was in prison because of the Gospel. But he begins our text by writing, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” The imprisonment of the apostle was discouraging.  But Paul draws a conclusion from what he has just said and tells them they should not be discouraged.
            The reason is that it had been granted to Paul “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”  He had been called to reveal the mystery “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” God had done this in Christ, and in the verse just before our text Paul tells the Gentiles that it is because of Christ that they have confident access to God. He speaks of Christ as the One “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”
            Paul’s letter to the Ephesians confronts us with two different ways that we fail in the Christian life. The first is rather obvious.  We do lose heart.  We lose heart at the suffering that we see our fellow Christians experiencing around the world – especially in the Middle East.  We lose heart when we see ways that the basic ordering of creation that God has provided regarding marriage and sex, is coercively denied.
            But there is another way present as well. And that is apathy.  Paul has just finished describing how God has graciously revealed through the apostle the mystery “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  The Gentiles – and that’s you – were separated from God.  They were not part of God’s people Israel.  But in his grace, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through the water and the Word of baptism, God has now made you a part of his people.  You have inherited eternal life.  You are saved.
            Our reaction to this can be rather ho-hum.  We take it for granted that we are included in God’s people. Frankly, we often take it for granted that we have received God’s salvation.  And this shows up in the way we live.  Sometimes sin is not really something that we struggle against.  Instead we view the Gospel as a kind of insurance policy against the sin that we commit.
            This is certainly not how the Christian faith works in the life of a believer.  It doesn’t despair.  It isn’t apathetic.  And so in our text Paul expresses a prayer for the believers.  He says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner man.”
            Paul says that his prayer is that the believers will be strengthened in their inner man with power through the work of the Holy Spirit.  It’s not hard to discover the source of this power.  It is God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  In the first chapter of this letter Paul writes about the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”
            The apostle says that God’s power has been displayed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s prayer in our text is that this power will be at work in the believers through the Spirit.  He writes, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner man.”
            It is the Spirit who does this, and because of you have been baptized, you know that you have received the Spirit.  In fact, Paul says in this letter that you have been sealed with Spirit and that you have received the Spirit as a down payment.  He writes in the first chapter, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
            You have been sealed with the Spirit – the Spirit who causes you to be strengthened in the inner man with the same power by which Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.  The power of Christ’s resurrection is at work in you through the Spirit.
But this power is a funny thing. It does everything and it does nothing.  It does nothing and it does everything. It does everything in order to save you because it is through the work of the Spirit that you receive Jesus’salvation. It is through this powerful work of the Spirit that you are in Christ. But this power does not cause you to do anything in order to be saved.  In fact there is nothing that you can do.  Paul says in this letter, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
            This power does not cause you to do anything in order to be saved.  But because you are in Christ – because this power is present and at work in you – you now do everything in order to serve and help others.  For Paul goes on to say, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
             The continuing source of this power is the means by which the Spirit creates and sustains faith – the Means of Grace. When we are receiving these means, we are receiving the Spirit.  And when we are receiving the Spirit we are receiving the power by which we do not lose heart.  We are receiving the power by which know the Gospel to be the breathtaking gift of salvation.  We are receiving the power by which we serve our neighbor and contend against the ways that sin and the old man seek to lead us away from God’s will.
            In chapter three Paul shares with the Ephesians that though they are Gentiles – like you – God has made them “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  But after sharing this fact and praying that they may be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in their inner man, he goes on to write, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
             Yet Paul then turns right around and reminds the Ephesians that this does not describe them.  I should not describe them because of Christ’s power that is at work in them.  He says, “But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
            To put on the new man is to return to what the Spirit has done to and for you in baptism.  It is to return in faith to the power that Paul speaks of in our text – the power of Christ’s resurrection that is at work in us through the Spirit.  This is the power by which you can serve your neighbor. This is power by which you can contend against sin.  And don’t underestimate this power. Because as Paul says at the end of our text: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

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