March 22, 2009
Scripture: Ephesians 2:1-10
Sermon Title: “Created in Christ”
Rev. George N. Miller
Last week we shared a message about grace; how it allows us to accept our imperfections and the imperfections of others, therefor freeing us from the power of hate. It’s given me much to think about, because judging people is so easy to do.
Today we continue our conversation about grace, this time about how it’s a gift of God that frees us from the hold sin has in our life, empowering us to reclaim just who we were created to be.
Ephesians is a book in the New Testament. Its purpose is to show how God uses the church to reconcile all things in Christ. Although the author claims to be Paul, it was most likely written by one of his students, a common practice back then.
The person who wrote this letter has what’s known as a “realized eschatology.” Eschatology is fancy way of saying “the end of times.”
A “realized eschatology” means one believes the rewards of heaven are already here: God is in our midst, Christ is right beside us and the gifts of the Spirit are poured out all over us. All we have to do is slow down, look around and embrace all the ways God’s Kingdom is breaking through.
In other words, heaven is a place on earth.
Therefor, when the author talks about grace, he’s not talking about what will happen to us when we die, but what is happening to us right here, right now, at this very moment.
And what’s happening is great news, because regardless if we know it or not, God is freely raining down upon us gift after gift of his grace.
As one writer states, grace is “the dearest piece of good news the church has for the world” but it can also be the hardest concept to grasp. We love to accept grace for ourselves, but become stingy when it comes sharing grace with others.
So let’s take a look at what Ephesians means by saying we have been saved by grace.
According to the author, we are already dead. We have fallen victim to our sins and the hurts we’ve inflicted upon others. The ways of the world, the corruptions around us, the egocentric passions that consume us have all rendered us spiritually dead.
But God did not create us to be the walking dead. Nor did God destine us for bad. Instead, quite the opposite.
When God fashioned us, we were created in the image of Jesus, born to do and to be good. But somehow things went wrong.
What happened? Life. Life happened.
Let me give you an illustration. The other day I came to church and noticed that the irises Pam had planted a few years ago were growing. Their beautiful purple and yellow colors brightened up the surrounding area.
But they didn’t have an easy time getting to where they were. First, they had to be placed there. Next, they had to spend all those months enduring the frigid cold. Then, they had to force themselves up, out of the thawing earth. Next, they had to overcome the weight of dead leaves and all the debris that was around them.
I’m sure there were other obstacles they had to overcome, such a digging squirrels, stomping feet and choking weeds.
With all that could go wrong, it’s amazing they were able to grow at all. But they did, although not perfectly. Some may have bent leaves, a broken stem or fading color.
But they were planted to be irises and irises is what they became, fulfilling their role to bring color, fresh air, and pollen into the world.
That’s what irises were created to do. When Pam planted them, she did not expect them to grow into pumpkins or roses or weeds, but irises.
I believe the same can be said for us. As Ephes. 2:10 states “we are what (God) has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
Let’s take some time to break that down. “We are what God has made us.” This passage is about establishing trust and relationship in God.
Here is an image of God the Good Gardener. We are not accidents, we are not off-chances. But we have been made by God, and God is active in our coming to be.
The next part states that we were created in Christ for good works. Just like the irises were planted to serve a specific purpose, so have we.
Some of us have been blessed with artistic leanings: a voice for song, a way with words, a talent for visualization. Those gifts were deemed to not only bring beauty into the world, but joy into our life and an opportunity to praise our God.
Others have been blessed with the ability to nurture: to care for people, to care for animals, to care for the hungry. Those gifts were deemed to not only restore and encourage beauty but to show the ways in which God cares for and loves the world.
Others have been blessed with gifts of leadership, such as how to run a school, establish a non-profit organization, or manage a government. These gifts were deemed to not only maintain beauty in the world but to show the ways in which God is in control and watching over us.
The gifts we were given and the good works we were created to do are limitless. Our ability to cook, our ability to fix, our ability to listen, the list goes on and on. Prophets called us to care for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner; Jesus called us to visit the sick and incarcerated.
In other words, God created us to be a blessing to all of Creation.
But somehow, in some way, things went wrong. God created us one way, but the world tries to change us to be another. And sometimes its from our own doing, sometimes it’s the doing of others. More often then not it’s a combination of the two.
Like irises making their way to the soil’s surface, so may things influence what happens to us.
We are shaped by where and when we grew up. We’re shaped by our birth order, what happens in the home, the school we attend, the people who like and the people who hurt us.
We are shaped by our mental conditions, our physical situations and choices that we make and choices that are made for us by others.
Why one person makes it as a largely unscathed iris and another grows up with broken leaves and a bent stem is a mystery.
But I don’t believe we ever fully grow into who we were meant to be or who we wanted to be.
Life happens. It changes us, it shapes us. What were the wrong turns that took a person from an innocent baby into a mass murderer or pedophile? Who wrote in their yearbook that they wanted to become a junkie or prostitute or an inmate?
Those aren’t the only examples of being the walking dead. We all have fallen victim to the hold of sin. We become what we should not be.
We become gossips, we are unfaithful, we unfairly judge, we block others’ blessings, we consume others’ resources, we silence certain voices, and we discriminate against certain folk.
How is that reflecting Christ? Is that what we were created to be?
How is it that we are each given a set of gifts and talents designed to beautify the world and praise God and instead we destroy, deny and tear up?
It’s a wonder that God, as the Good Gardner, doesn’t just look at the miserable garden we’ve become and rip us all up and throw us away.
And yet, God doesn’t. Instead, God does something that is nothing short of amazing.
Through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, God gives us a gift so wonderful, so perfect.
God gives us grace.
Grace is God’s way of saying “I know you. I know all the mess that you have done. But I also know what I have created you to be.
And for your sake, for the sake of all creation, and for my sake as well, I am going to remove the hold your sins have over you.
Now, go and try again to be just who I created you to be and what I created you for.”
Through the gift of grace, God removes the dirt and dead leaves of our lives so we can better reach our full potential and grow into the beautiful irises we were always destined to be.
God does not do this because we deserve it, God does not do it because we have done the right amount of works.
God does this so that we can be freed to do what we were always born to do, but our dead selves had prevented us from doing.
God gives everyone the gift of grace so that heaven is not something we spend our whole life waiting for, but so that heaven becomes a place on earth right here and right now for all to enjoy.
And God’s no fool. God knows we’re imperfect. God knows we’ll still make mistakes. God knows that situations will arise that can lead us back into saying or doing the wrong thing.
So God continues to give and to give and to give the gift of grace each morning, each second, each moment of the day.
And the gift of grace allows us to reclaim who we were always destined to be, to do what we were always destined to do, and to reflect the love of Christ to other folk so they can boldly claim the gift of grace for themselves.
To conclude, we are all God’s beautiful irises and grace is God’s good fertilizer. It keeps us strong, it helps us to grow and it ensures that we reclaim the beautiful flower we were created and planted to be.
Thanks be to Jesus who died for us so we can live, for the Spirit that ushers a new season into our heart and for God who loves us not for who we are but for what we were born to be.