(Ephesians 3: 1-12)
Way back when I was with the Houston Police Department, I had the crazy idea that I should run for Union president. You see, when I graduated from the academy and got sworn in as an officer in 1977 there was only one police organization representing the interests of the officers, the Houston Police Officers Association or HPOA. Unfortunately, they were top heavy with brass leadership and didn’t truly represent the interests of the rank-and-file street officers and detectives. Out of that dissatisfaction the Houston Police Patrolman’s Union or HPPU was born, and I was quick to join up and soon assumed a position on the Board of Directors. A rift quickly grew between the two organizations and the competition was on for members and which organization would represent the sworn officers in matters dealing with the City of Houston. The city leadership saw this as an opportunity to play both ends against the middle and recognized that unity among the officers was not in their best interests when it came to bargaining for better working conditions, benefits, and pay. The strategy worked and there was an ever-increasing struggle for power. It appeared to me that we’d never get anywhere with the city unless we were united together in one cause, so I ran for Union president on the platform of working in unity with the HPOA in our negotiations with the City of Houston. The leadership of the HPOA was all for it but the leadership of the HPPU would have nothing of it. As luck would have it, I was elected by a very wide margin as the street officers were tired of the in-fighting and wanted unity. And the city leadership seemed ready to engage in discussions with a cooler head. Unbeknownst to me, the faction I had defeated did not go quietly into that still night and worked hard to fan the flames of discord and disunity within the organization. It didn’t end well with me leaving office in frustration before my term was up. I regretted not sticking it out as so many had put their faith in me and I felt as if I let them down in not achieving that promised unity in the community of police officers.
It’s that unity of purpose and unity of fellowship in a common cause that the Apostle Paul is speaking of in our scripture reading for this morning. He starts out by stating: This is why I, Paul, am a prisoner of Christ for you Gentiles. You’ve heard, of course, about the responsibility to distribute God’s grace, which God gave to me for you, right? God showed me his secret plan in a revelation, as I mentioned briefly before, and that when they read his letter they will understand his insight into the secret plan about Christ. Paul is writing this letter from his imprisonment in Rome because of his spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles. The religious leaders in Jerusalem, thinking that this movement would have died with Christ’s crucifixion, now felt threatened by Christ’s teachings which are living on. They didn’t believe Christ was the Messiah and pressured the Romans to arrest Paul and bring him to trial for treason and for causing rebellion among the Jews. Sound familiar? They wanted the Messiah on their terms. Paul continues by saying: Earlier generations didn’t know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This plan is that the Gentiles would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel. It was always God’s plan to have Jews and Gentiles comprise one body, the church and the Jews knew it. They were aware of what was written in Isaiah where it said: It is not enough, since you are my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the survivors of Israel. Hence, I will also appoint you as light to the nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. What wasn’t revealed was that all Gentile and Jewish believers would become equal in the body of Christ. This was a shock to their system. They, the Jews, never imagined there would be an equal status in this unification. Afterall, they were God’s chosen people and should have favored status. Paul is explaining that previous generations did not know of God’s secret plan to redeem the Gentiles through Christ on an equal footing, which would have resulted in an enmity within the Jewish believers regarding the inclusion of Gentiles into the actual people of God.
Preaching this message of inclusion was the cause of his persecution. I mean, you can just imagine Jewish scholars questioning Paul on his message. First, Paul had fallen into disfavor with the Jewish hierarchy when he defected and converted over to being a follower of Christ, and now he has the temerity to say that the God of Israel revealed this secret to him and not one of them. What makes you so special? Paul declares: I became a servant of the gospel because of the grace that God showed me through the exercise of his power. God gave his grace to him, the least of all God’s people, to preach the good news about the immeasurable riches of Christ to the Gentiles. Paul no longer sees the Gentiles as outsiders. God has revealed the secret plan to the Apostles and the prophets, and he specifically says that God gave him a revelation of the plan to put into place. He now sees the Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ and he is willing to give his life and his liberty to make sure the whole family of God knows they are welcome in God’s household. He explains that God’s purpose is now to show the rulers and powers in the heavens the many different varieties of his wisdom through the church. A wisdom, I believe, is in the power of the unity of all those who believe in Jesus Christ regardless of who they are, where they came from, or what they used to believe. Paul concludes by pointing out that this revelation was consistent with the plan God had from the beginning of time that was now accomplished through the coming of Christ Jesus and that, in Christ, we have a bold and confident access to God through faith in him.
Paul’s transformed life, through the grace of God, demonstrates the power of God, a power to which Gentiles like you and me have access through Christ. Paul makes it clear that grace is an active concept. Not only does God’s grace bring forgiveness, but it also has other purposes. Paul received grace so he could go on and preach the gospel, to bring the Good News, specifically to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. And he received grace so he could also make known God’s long-hidden plan, which has now been revealed, demonstrating that in God’s unified people He is working to restore wholeness to a broken creation.
Now we may not be an apostle or an evangelist, but God, through his grace, can and will give us opportunities to tell others about Christ whether by word or deed. And, with those opportunities, he will provide the ability, courage, and power we need to see it through. As such, we must make ourselves available to God as his servants whenever an opportunity presents itself. As we focus on the other person and his or her needs, God will communicate our caring attitude. Our words will be natural, loving, and compelling.
Obeying Christ may not always be easy. He may call you to take up your cross and follow him, that is, to be willing to endure pain so that God’s message of salvation can reach the entire world, including your little corner of it. And we should feel honored that others have selflessly suffered and sacrificed for us so that we might one day reap the benefit. And, we have to ask ourselves how willing are we to put ourselves out there so future generations will reap the benefits of our sacrifices, sufferings, and service? We have to continually ask ourselves how does God want to use us? We must be open to all the possibilities, even the ones that look difficult and involve risk. In doing so, we draw on his power and in doing our part we faithfully perform the special role God has called us to play in his plan as we work to bring unity to his community.
Let us pray.
Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Yes, O gracious and loving Father, we come to you without one plea, and how grateful and humbled we are that the blood of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, was shed for not only us, but for anyone who will call upon your name for salvation. We praise you for your plan to bring us all together as one people, unified in Christ Jesus, to form a community of believers willing to sacrifice all we have, to take up our cross to follow your son, so that one day your creation will be restored to its intended purpose. O Lamb of God, we come, we come. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.