Saturday, January 7, 2012

Solving The Mystery Ephesians 3:1-12

Do you like a good mystery?
    Whether a Mystery novel or a Mystery Movie or TV show, mysteries follow a typical pattern:
There’s a Crime or a Mysterious Problem that needs someone to solve it.
There’s a Detective or detective(s) (they often work in teams)
There are Clues.

In a mystery, the Evolving story carries us along as each clue leads to greater mystery and more clues until the end (of the book or the show) where the Detectives, put the pieces they’ve discovered together, solving the puzzle and completing a wrap up.

In the “Columbo style” wrap up, (if you are old enough to remember that show) all the suspects are called into one room, usually the scene of the crime, as a trap is laid for guilty party and mystery is uncovered, thanks to cleverness and skillful detective work.

We heard the author of Ephesians say that that God’s plan, or ‘secret plan’ is a mystery. (I added the word mystery which is the NRSV translation of μυστηριον,
to the secret plan, the CEB translation.    Scholars are rather sure that the leaders of the early church who followed Paul’s writing & teaching, wrote Ephesians in Paul’s name to encourage the Christians in Asia Minor. We refer to the author as Paul for convenience. How does a mystery encourage us? Perhaps our curiosity is peaked, or maybe it’s something more ‘mysterious’.

Christ’s church was established by the year 80 CE or so when we think this letter was written. By then, the early Christians had already pieced together many clues and were at the later stages of this mystery. Certainly they understood more than the disciples who surrounded Jesus in the 30’s if only because they had the perspective of time. The mystery and the message had become clear.

The problem was, the message wasn’t easy for everyone to accept.

God specifically called on the apostle Paul to share the good news of God’s all-inclusive love with people who were OUTSIDE the Jewish nation. Paul could do this because he was an observant pharisaic Jew himself, with FINE credentials in the Jewish community. Once he was entrusted with this revelation, he was the perfect person to make the case to other Jews even as he worked among the nations/gentiles.

It wasn’t easy for Jews to accept that people from other nations were included in God’s love and plan, but eventually they did. So when we ask our usual question,
“what does this mean for us?”
The first answer is ‘We can give thanks, for Paul and his mission or most of us would still be excluded from Christianity.”

Paul’s revelation was the KEY to this insight that brought US into the fold. It is called a mystery, because it took Paul’s revelation for the early Christians  to look back and decipher the clues.
Of course, Jesus himself was an ‘epiphany’.
Paul HAD an epiphany and    
when Christians began to understand that God’s purpose is to include everyone, they had an epiphany of their own.
The light dawned on humanity that inclusion was part of God’s plan all along.

The word Epiphany, means to Make Manifest, or to Manifest. The epiphany that came with Christ made manifest the revelation of God’s love.
- a love that extends beyond even the Torah’s rules, without neglecting them.
The ‘epiphany’ that came to the apostle Paul,
- opened up God’s love and purpose to people beyond the Jews.

While we might find another mystery in why God would wait so many generations after Abraham to unveil the ultimate Divine purpose we should remember two things;
First - Brethren believe in God’s CONTINUING REVELATION.
Second, We must also remember that our God operates beyond Earth time and beyond this solar system’s space.
This ‘Mystery’ referred to in today’s scripture also means that the fullness of God’s will is not something humans will ever understand.)

Meanwhile, God doesn’t leave humanity totally clueless.
Continuing Revelation helped the Jewish Christians look deeply into Jesus’ mission to Jews and see a few clues of what would come next.

We’ve already heard the story of the a clue found in Matthew 2, the story of the wise men who traveled from east to find a very special king. . .
    Their’s was a journey of faith and an act of trust as they traveled for such a long period in the hope, only a hope, that the star would continue to lead them. In the end, they found a living clue to the Divine Plan.

    (Actually) when we think about the closed society of the Jewish world then, doesn’t it seem strange that Gentiles would bring gifts to a young Jewish boy? Normally Jews will have nothing to do with Gentiles (which merely means any non-jew. (The world Gentile is the word for “The nations”.)
That these men of foreign nations would bow in worship and bring gifts symbolic to all that Jesus would do in his life, can only indicate the unusual nature of this story and the reality that it is but the 1st of many clues to the mystery.

There are many places in scripture that apply to the continuing epiphanies that God sends. Isaiah ch 9:2 says,  “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

Let’s hear a few of the ‘enlightening’ scriptures, - staying within a single gospel story for consistency of message of course. I hope we can hear or ‘see’ the light in a new way today. Perhaps we will have an epiphany of our own.

1- Mt 8:10-11, healing centurion's servant..Faith from a man of a foreign nation. Jesus: “many will come from the east & west & eat with Abraham in the Kingdom of Heaven.” sound like a clue to the future?
2-Mt 12:21, quoting Isaiah in time if Cyrus, "and in his name the Gentiles will hope."
3- Mt 15:21-28
Jesus was out at the edges of Galilee near Tyre & Sidon. A foreigner comes up to him, a canaanite woman, and asks for healing for her daughter, but Jesus answers that he’s come only to Israel’s lost. She asks again for help and Jesus refers to her and her people as dogs. (seriously look it up later). She cleverly asks for the crumbs that a dog would get and Jesus is impressed by her faith and her persistence. He heals the daughter.

4-Mt 20 laborers paid same for differing amounts of work and jesus says, "am i not allowed to do what i choose with what belongs to me?" or are your envious b/c i am generous?  Jesus’ story gives us a clue to the way God thinks.
-NF - there are many more stories that speak of God’s caring more about how people treat other people than of their pedigree.

5-Great comm. Mt 28:19-20. Of ALL nations. .
Just as Matthew’s story began with gentile gifts to Jesus, Jesus’ story on earth concludes and begins with the gift of Jesus to ALL NATIONS even to the ends of the earth.

Even that does give us a final wrap-up, it took Paul and those who followed him, to bring the revelation of OUR inclusion to full acceptance.

So the mystery reached us and we sigh with thanksgiving.
But does the story END there? Will Christ’s story end with our generation?

A New year gives us the opportunity to renew our listening for God’s continuing revelation. We are now the ones included in God's mysterious plan for all humanity, then to whom are we called to extend the revelation in 2012? Where will we bring Christ’s light?

We are going into a church retreat that I want EVERYONE to participate in, whether or not you are traveling to Shepherd’s Spring.
I want us to think and pray about the ways are we called to DO the gospel this year. -- or to use epiphany language, to make God’s revelation manifest.

We have a story here at Acob that is full of clues to what God has been doing in Arlington. They give us a current day mystery to solve.

What stories hold clues from our past that will help us understand what God has been doing here?
How can we TOGETHER decipher a direction for 2012 and beyond?

So once again you have sermon homework:

1.    If you’ve been part of this congregation for awhile, write down a story from our history that shows the kind of work we have been called to do.
2.    If you haven’t been here that long, you have a different job. Write down what is happening in Arlington, Falls Church, and Fairfax that you think would stand out to Jesus as worthy of work in his name.

Revelation comes from God but is confirmed and validated by Christian community. “The Spirit of God is at work not only in particular individuals but in the church as a whole. Revelation is the combination of EVENT, prophetic interpretation, and community reception. This is the work ahead of us.
I believe in the story of a people planted on a hill in Arlington who prayed, listened, and had an Epiphany that challenged them to rise up and use their resources and gifts.
 I am part of this congregation and in 2012 they. . . . .the rest of this sentence is the mystery we have to solve THIS YEAR.


Terri said...

Cool! Very fun, I hope this produces some creative putcomes!

Amy+ said...

Love the mystery aspect - I almost went with the "King of Jews" connection here and then first by the gentile soldier at the cross.
I heard another sermon once in Lent that had a "Mystery" theme: "It all starts with a body" - and then went into a CSI type breakdown. Very memorable.

Rev Nancy Fitz said...

Thanks for your comments. It seemed to work after my morning edits.

Amy+ said...

Mine got good comments after - nothing too profound. We do not have the custom of people responding in the midst of the sermon, although that is something I would like to do. Do you actually solicit answers and conversation during the sermon?