Enduring in Hope – Sermon for All Saints on Ephesians 1:11-23

November 3, 2019

The year is winding down – before the Halloween candy was off the shelf, the Christmas décor was already out. The garden has been put to bed and the lawn mower has given up its place of honor in the garage to make room for the snow blower. Next Saturday is the Fall Bazaar, and today we will be packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. You have less than sixty days left to make good on those New Years resolutions from last January.

But the real sign that time is on the move happened at 2 o’clock this morning, when we switched back from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time. I don’t know about you, but I seem to be more aware of the swift passing of time in the Fall than any other season. It’s a bit of a paradox for me: I get all nostalgic, thinking back over fond memories, even as I begin to anticipate the coming of another year’s opportunity.

All Saints Day seems to fit right into this kind of thinking – we remember the saints who’ve gone before, even as we look forward to welcoming new saints into the kingdom of God. And that’s exactly what we will do next week when we celebrate a baptism.

There is something about baptizing a child that brings us hope, even in a world that seems to be growing more and more hope-less. We are called to be lights shining in the darkness, evidence of hope in the midst of the world’s hopelessness.

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:11-23)

This passage is thick with meaning. We could spend a whole month digging into all the truth that is packed into these few verses. If I had to whittle it down to three points, I’d say it like this:

  1. know who you are, because you are a saint.
  2. pray for each other and give thanks for each other, because you are saints together
  3. and keep Christ first, because this is how you give hope to a world that desperately needs it.

Know who you are. You’re a saint of God. What is a saint, exactly? The word used here literally means “holy one.” You have been made holy. You are set apart for God’s purpose. It isn’t anything you do, it’s what God does in you.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes:

To be a saint is to be sanctified;
set apart for a sacred purpose.
That would be you.
Every breath of your life is for a sacred purpose:
to shed light, to radiate God’s love.
You don’t have to be influential,
or pious, virtuous or pure.
You have to be yourself.
The You of you is what God has made holy.
You are God’s Beloved.
All you have to do is act like it.
Everything you do today is an opportunity
to embody God’s love,
not by your effort or skill,
but by the love you embody.
The light of God is in you.
Be transparent to it.[1]

Your identity is sainthood, and your inheritance is an enduring hope that fills the world with Christ’s glory. This hope is not blind optimism that everything will turn out okay in the end. This hope is grounded in the witness of saints who have gone before. In his book The True and Only Heaven, Christopher Lasch explains that “optimism is the fantasy that all will be better tomorrow, and it depends on us. Rather, hope is the ability to deal with tomorrow if things aren’t better, and recognize it depends not on us but on God.”[2] This is the key to endurance, a hope that will last.

How do you endure? Through prayer. I know that sounds simplistic, but it might be worth noting that every time Paul writes to a church, he includes a prayer. We might want to pay attention to that. We might want to imitate that commitment to praying.

Paul doesn’t just pray for the church, he prays about the church. He gives thanks for the faith he sees developing. He gives thanks for the witness the church is presenting to the world around it. He gives thanks for the way the church demonstrates Christ’s sacrificial love day by day.

Let me ask you, how often do you thank God for each other? How often do you name the members of this church in your prayers of thanksgiving? I have a hunch that the church in Ephesus followed Paul’s example, because the first thing Paul mentions in his prayer is their great love for each other. When you start expressing gratitude for others, it comes across as love.

Remember that the church at Ephesus was Timothy’s church. This is the same church that was giving Timothy a hard time, where false teaching was threatening the faith, where people were struggling to reconcile this new way of faith in Jesus Christ with the pagan world around them.

And Paul gives thanks for them, specifically for the way they love each other. Then he goes on to pray for them to have wisdom and to know Christ’s power. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus is also meant for you:

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (1:17-19)

And it’s that great power that gives Christ authority over all things. Christ is all in all. You are in Christ, so you are the fullness of his all-in-all-ness. Not only now, but ‘in the age to come.’ You inherit what already existed before you came into the picture – like inheriting your grandparents’ furniture, only better. This is an enduring inheritance.

On this All Saints’ Day, we rejoice that God has made us saints, set apart as holy and acceptable for God’s purpose. But we also grieve. There are empty seats around us, and we can remember the people who once joined us at this feast, who have gone on to a heavenly banquet ahead of us. We miss them.

A few years ago, author and artist Jan Richardson experienced the untimely death of her husband Gary. A year after a surgery that caused complications leading to his death, she wrote about the kind of hope that endures.

In the midst of my grief, what I know is that hope, inexplicably, has not left me. That it is stubborn. That it lives in me like a muscle that keeps reaching and stretching, or a lung that keeps working even when I do not will it, persisting in the constant intake and release of breath on which my life depends.[3]

When Paul prays for his friends in Ephesus, his purpose is clear. “So that,” he writes. So that you may know what is the hope to which Christ has called you

That hope is in the resurrection. Paul is writing about a hope bound together with the life of the risen Christ, and just as God put this resurrection power to work in Christ, Christ puts his power to work in us – not just someday at the end of our mortal existence, but right now, in this community of faith we call church. Richardson goes on to remind us that,

Hope is not always comforting or comfortable. Hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for illumination in this life, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what seems unbearable. It calls us to keep breathing when beloved lives have left us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away. Hope draws our eyes and hearts toward a more whole future but propels us also into the present, where Christ waits for us to work with him toward a more whole world now.[4]

The Table connects us to Christ, to one another, and to all the saints from every time and place who feast with us. You get a big chunk of bread today, partly because we are receiving Communion by intinction. You will be dipping your bread in the same cup as everyone else, and we want to make sure you have a big enough piece so that you won’t be nervous about getting your fingers in the juice!

But also, you get a bigger chunk of bread than usual today because I invite you to chew on it a little longer. As you chew, be reminded of how your piece of bread fits into the whole loaf that is Christ’s body. Reflect on the saints you have known who are with you as you receive this bread and cup.

This is a humbling experience, to become aware of the great host of saints who are feasting with you today. These are the saints who have endured in hope. It is the hope we share. Hope in the resurrection to come, certainly, but also hope in Christ’s Kingdom here among us now, as we live out our faith in Christ Jesus. It is a hope that draws on the whole history of God’s people. It is a hope that draws on the anticipation of Christ’s final victory over death and sin. It is a hope that is firmly grounded in the here and now, as we surrender ourselves to God’s deep love for us.

Come to this Table, saints of God. You have been set apart, holy to the Lord, not because of anything you have done to deserve it, but because in his great mercy and love, Christ invites you to join in the feast.

[1] Steve Garnaas-Holmes, https://www.unfoldinglight.net/reflections/tf9f7464rew5a9489n26x37n4x8nsg

[2] https://www.ministrymatters.com/preach/entry/9918/weekly-preaching-all-saints-day-2019

[3] Jan Richardson, http://paintedprayerbook.com/2014/11/19/so-that-you-may-know-the-hope/

[4] Ibid.

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