Ephesians 1:11-23 (NRSV)
11 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, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 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; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 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, 18 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, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 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, 21 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. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
This week we begin a new sermon series which will help us focus on stewardship. Now while often times we think of stewardship as strictly giving money to the church (and I won’t deny that is an end result in this series), I want us to begin to think about why we invest into the church, and into the building of what is ultimately another year of ministry. This year I want us to think about the church like the of building a garden. Even though I have dabbled into the world of gardening this year, I will still hold fast to the fact that I am a black thumb (who currently is trying not to kill a mum). Actually Dave said, when I went to buy my latest living plant, “Are you taking that plant home to then put it on hospice.” Yes, he has no faith in my gardening stills. Nevertheless, I don’t want to worry you y’all, because over the course of the next four weeks, I want us to examine the things needed for optimal growth in a garden, and specifically, God’s garden of the church.
The first thing that we must start with in ensuring a beautiful and fruitful garden is the soil. Before planting anything we must begin with the soil. Now what I have learned from research (and good help from those of you who are master gardeners) is that soil-building is important to help improve the quality of the soil. This means adding layers of compost, topsoil and other organic materials to the soils to help produce soil that is healthy and fruitful.
Likewise, if we are looking at the church, we look to the ground base of what the church is made from to help us identify what the church is today and where the church is headed. All of the continued growth and fruitfulness of the church is dependent upon what type of soil we plant in. Thankfully, our faith soil is composed of a mixture of elements that produce healthy growth.
At the heart of our faith, that which fills and provides nurture the church’s soil, what our scripture today is telling us is that of the power of Christ in our lives. Scripture says, “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.” Christ’s sovereignty is not just for these days only but for all eternity. It was power bestowed upon him by God for God’s purpose. It is the reason to which Christ appeared on earth, Christ died and Christ rose again from the dead, so that the purposes of God could be fulfilled. And that power is what gives us strength to be Christians in this day and in the days to come. As Christians we are the power of Christ at work in the midst of the world. We are the hands and feet of Christ; we are the doers. Christ is entirely present, fully present in the church and in the world. Christ gave his entire self for the church. Christ gave his entire self for the world.
The church then, as Paul know is it, is made up of those who chose to hope in Christ; who chose to hear the word of truth, who chose to believe. In the early church, all Christians were called saints, literally meaning “holy ones,” because they were consecrated to God by the death and resurrection of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. These are the saints of God in both the past, in the present and in the future, those who choose to continue to seek ways to unify the body of Christ, to provide us hope. That is what the church is supposed to be, a place in which also are products of a tradition of unwavering discipleship. There are the faithful communities where we were helped to receive, open, and explore the gift of faith—to trust in God’s grace and boldly live into our discipleship. Those are our saints, whether they are present with us now, or they are ones who have left their earthly home, they are part of the make-up of our soil. Who provide the nourishment that leads to healthy growth.
At my Alma Mater, Pat Neff Hall, is in the center of campus, where the President’s office resides. On the outside of the building, in large letters is carved, “The preservers of history are as heroic as its makers.” Our faith has its roots in the past making it reliable and proven so there is not only preservation but also the means for innovation in the spreading and living out the faith which we have been given.
There are those faithful communities where we were helped to receive, open, and explore the gift of faith—to trust in God’s grace and boldly live into our discipleship. I can remember Miss Debbie, who taught my 3 and 4 year old class the songs of our faith I still sing today. The staffs at Camp Loma Linda, Buffalo Gap, and countless Vacation Bible Schools where I learned the books of the Bible, studied the life and ministry of Jesus. Pastors like David Hyers, who began to help me understand what it meant to ask questions but not always know the answers, and to go through dry periods in one’s faith, and God’s never-ending love and presence in that desert.
You sit here today with your own stories, with your own active, living faith that was nurtured, shaped, guided by not only your family but also the community of faith who learned from their ancestors, who learned from their ancestors…and so on. One generation helping the next claim their faith for themselves and put feet on it. Generation to generation understood well that faith is to be guarded so that it is not corrupted or diluted, but also must be nurtured, made alive and shared. We all owe a debt to those faithful folks. However, we cannot rest on the laurels of those who came before. That would deny the truth and the commitment of the faith they nurtured and the fruit of their visions.
It is not just what has happened in the past, that can keep the church soil fertile, but also those who do the work to tend to the soil now are just as vital. And that is what is critical, we have to continue to maintain and tend to the soil. If we just leave soil alone, do nothing to it, it can erode, and the microorganisms that keep soil fertile die. Just as a gardener must continually provide means upon which to prevent erosion, we also have a diving commission—perhaps even a duty—to continue to dream visions for God’s kingdom and to bring them to reality. The gift of faith we each are given is not stagnate. We are in this together and it’s not somebody else’s responsibility. Each and every one of us carries responsibility to dream, to vision, to boldly enact the faith we have received. And we come together in the gathered community to live and encourage and seek ways to live faithfully.
“As Christians, we are shaped by more than our own experiences; we are shaped by our hopes, by the future into which we are living and by the convictions in which we are living…Hope is best living within the hopeful community, in the company of saints both living and departed.”[i] That is why we have our visual reminder here for us today, pictures and names of saints in our lives, providing us the energy of hope to continue on building and growing the church triumphant.
“An old Hasidic tale tells of a disciple who asked his rabbi the meaning of community one evening, when they were all sitting around a fire. The rabbi sat in silence while the fire died down to a pile of glowing coals. Then he got up and took one coal out from the pile and set it apart on the stone hearth. It’s fire and warm soon died out. It is in the company of all the saints that we fin[ii]d our life and vitality as we seek to live as faithful bearing of the inheritance we have received.”
What we are reminded today is that fertile and fruitful gardening for God, is best done in community, we cannot do it alone ourselves. It is in community where we find comfort in our losses, courage for the daily struggles, and hope as we face the future together. We come together to dream our visions and then together plant and maintain growth for our dreams of today and for tomorrow, just like those before us planted their visions. The choir sang for us today, “Saints of God, wake the earth, stir the land with joyful noise. Rise and sing praise to God!…Saints of God, heed the call.” As Christians, as saints of God, we are called to take the ground upon which the church was built, and to nurture it, build upon it, and add what is needed to it, so that it will be fertile soil for what will be planted by the church of today and tomorrow. Saints of God, heed the call! Amen.
[i] Feasting on the Word, RCL C, p. 233.
[ii] Ibid, 233,235.