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FPC Sermon May 21, 2017                              Ephesians 1: 15-23

Ephesus, a coastal city near present-day Izmir, Turkey, founded around the 10th century BC.  It reached the height of its power under the Roman Empire but not without considerable trauma.  Ephesus came under the rule of Mithridates, the king of Pontus in 88 BC.   Ephesians welcomed him because they didn’t like the Romans.  However Mithridates immediately slaughtered over 80,000 Roman citizens.  Two years later, Rome reconquered Ephesus.  The Romans imposed heavy taxes, which burdened the city.

What allowed a resurgence of Ephesus was when it was made the capital of Roman western Asia in 29 BC. Therefore, by the time of the apostle Paul, Ephesus was second only to Rome as a city of importance in government and commerce.   The Book of Revelation mentions Ephesus as one of the seven churches of Asia.

Ephesus was very dear to Paul. He lived there for two years, building up the congregation and engaging in ministry outside the city. According to Acts 19, Paul worshipped at Ephesus’ Jewish synagogue.

After three months, however, says Acts 19: 8, Paul left there because some of the members were obstinate. Along with some disciples, he moved to the lecture hall of Tyrannus and preached from there for two years.

Ephesians talks about how Paul baptized disciples with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with which they were unfamiliar.  Later, as related in Acts 19: 23, Paul became involved when a silversmith called together his own colleagues to complain that Paul was endangering their trade in manmade gods.  An uproar was caused.

This reminds us of how easy it is for a handful of people to disrupt harmony. Only the city clerk intervened to protect Paul and his traveling companions in ministry, Gaius and Aristarchus.

We may not live in an urban metropolis like Ephesus. We’re here in East Jordan.

Yet, today’s scripture isn’t an urban-directed text. Rather, it expresses the concern that all pastors have for their congregations.  To thank God for them and to remember them in prayer.  In particular, the letter asks that God grant them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.

Just think of how that might have resonated among the struggling Christians of western Asia. As in our day, they were faced with the reality of many rival gods competing with Christ of the gospels.  Pagan idolatry presented just one of the challenges to the faith.  Loyalty to Rome was another.

On this Sunday, when we remember the ascension of Jesus, we read this passage from Ephesians because it highlights that wisdom comes from God alone. With so many competing ideologies and priorities in our world, it is easy for Christ’s wisdom to get lost.  Despite the fancy words in Ephesians, many of us experience Christ’s wisdom in ordinary moments.

All of us have access to God’s greatness and Christ’s wisdom. Christ isn’t just head of the church.  Christ is the Lord of all creation.

Think about that for a minute. In that highly urbanized setting of long ago, filled with magnificent, majestic temples that everyone could see, it’s the crucified Christ who, nevertheless, reigns supreme.  The man who hung on the cross ascends to heaven and sits on the right hand of God.

It’s very difficult for us to wrap our brains around that. It’s so counter-intuitive.  It’s not what’s expected of a Lord and Savior.  That’s why some faiths that revere Jesus as a prophet – Islam is one – generally can’t accept that Jesus was crucified.    It’s unthinkable for them that God’s own Son would suffer like that.

On this Ascension Sunday, Ephesians reminds us that God has put everything under Jesus’ feet and made him the head over everything for the church, which is his body.     We, you and I, are Christ’s body.  Everything we do should draw people to him, who saves us.

We in the church are seekers of Christ’s will for our lives.   We’re not perfect.   We’re here to witness to the perfect one, who is Christ.    We’re here to model his behavior.  We’re not a social club.  We complete Christ’s mission when others look at us and see Christ’s love and compassion in action.

I’d like to share with you some quotations. Maybe you’ll know the source.

“There are salvos thrust at the church from the left – the church is no longer relevant to our day and viable. Salvos from the right declare it should preach a simple gospel and leave social, political or scientific issues alone.  If the church is to survive, it needs to take some risks.  Turn once more to the Christ who said, “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake.”

“Where are the enemies of the church? Any church which champions high ethical standards and human rights anywhere in the world will get into trouble.  No one can change the march of time or the church’s organized concept of its mission in the world today.  It must try to change and redeem the whole business of race, poverty, sex, politics, and human living as well as saving souls.”

Maybe some of you view these words as controversial. Can anyone tell me who preached them, when, and where?

It wasn’t yesterday, nor last year, nor ten years ago.

These are words preached 35 years ago in this church, to this congregation on July 25, 1982 by the Reverend Dr. Frederick Olert on the occasion of this church’s 100th anniversary.  You can read them in the church history published in 2007.

They are prophetic words, dynamic words, words that remind us that the wisdom of the cross isn’t about the logical. The wisdom of the resurrection isn’t about the logical.  The wisdom of the ascension isn’t about the logical either.  It’s all about a God who transcends the logical and leads us to new hope and concerted action in a world so filled with despair.

Sometimes, we just look around us and say, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

This week, you received a letter about my upcoming retirement. I started serving in the church as a child and have been serving ever since.  In retirement, I hope to engage more actively in the social justice outreach of our Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly.

I urge you all to trust God and to do what you can to find ways to serve Him through our congregation. We’ll be looking for people to take on things that I’ve been doing, such as the church website.  May Christ’s wisdom guide you and inspire you in all that you do in His holy name.  Amen.