Time to Make Some Calls – EPHESIANS 1:3-14
¬¬– God’s perfect timing set up all events so that when Jesus was born, the time was right for God to reach out to all peoples. We can be confident that we will not miss anything.
This is the first Sunday of 2015. A brand new year. A time for resolutions and a time for new beginnings. But why do we start the New Year now at the beginning of January? A long time ago, some important people decided that January 1 was the right time to change the calendar from one year to the next. And the calendar that we use isn’t the only calendar that exists.
Pope Gregory XIII created the modern calendar in 1582. Before that, the major calendar was established by Julius Caesar in 43 BC. In the time of the Julian calendar, the beginning of the year varied depending on where you lived. The dates ranged from Easter, 1st of March, 1st of September, and December 25th.
Sounds confusing, right? Well the world used to be a lot less standardized. As you might imagine, there were differing thoughts on when was the perfect time to change the year.
This week on Tuesday is Epiphany – where we celebrate a different perfect time. That perfect time when God revealed Jesus to the gentiles by contacting the three wise men. But why did God choose that first Christmas, over 2000 years ago to put forth a new beginning? God decided it was a perfect time in History. Time was full as it says in the bible, and all the talk of extending salvation outward from Israel to all the nations was about to be kicked into high gear.
The scripture from Ephesians this morning is an opening blessing that is typical of Paul’s letters. In his blessing, Paul speaks that in Christ, the mystery of God’s redemption plan for the world was made known according to God’s good pleasure. When Christ was born, that day was the day that God in all God’s infinite wisdom, revealed the plan for salvation and reconciliation to us through Christ.
On that first Christmas, The stage was set… and so it was time to make some calls to get things rolling. But how would God get the message out in such an unstandardized world? People could not even agree on a universal calendar. Since humans had not yet invented the telephone, how would God communicate over long distances such as between earth and heaven? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not email. God used signs in the stars to reach out. God made a heavenly long distance call through the stars to reveal Jesus to the world at large, the Israelite Messiah was revealed to all people for what he is: God’s salvation for all.
Our passage from Ephesians today is a bit complicated and poetic, but it is beautiful at the same time, It is a wonderful blessing speaking of God’s pre-planning and inclusion of the Ephesian church in the many blessings of God’s inheritance.
In a sense, Paul is celebrating that God has included Christians – even the Gentiles at Ephesus – in the redemption plan. Remember that until Paul’s lifetime, most Israelites probably thought that God’s salvation and reconciliation plan only included the people of Israel and perhaps a few other God fearing gentiles.
The Wise men being summoned to Christ represents the opening up of God’s salvation plan to all. I think that is a good reason for a blessing! And I am glad, because in a way, we are exactly like the Ephesians. Because of the work that God did through Jesus Christ so long ago, we are included in God’s reconciled world.
But what if we had been born before the wise men saw the star of Christ’s birth and visited him in the manger? Would we as gentiles be included in God’s salvation plan? Or would we be left out? This is a very important question. Often, I wonder what happens to those who seem to be outside the bound of God’s grace. I am speaking specifically about those people who were born outside Israel and before Christ came to earth. Are they included in God’s reconciliation plan or are they left out?
Have you ever wondered, “what about those that live on an isolated island, and have never heard of Jesus?” (This reality is a little outdated now because of smartphones and internet, but just imagine with me that there might be some people who don’t have access to the Good news of Jesus).
C.S. Lewis, the famous writer and theologian had a very interesting thought on how Salvation might be handled to account for all people – even those who may not have heard about Christ. In his book, “The Great Divorce,” Lewis describes God’s salvation and reconciliation in very concrete ways that offer us hope for those on the margins whom we are not sure will be with us in the new heaven and the new earth.
Before beginning his original fiction, Lewis says this, “I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course— or I intended it to have— a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us.” It’s important for me to state that as I talk about Lewis’s ideas, they are just that… ideas. Other than what God has revealed to us through Scripture and the Church, any ideas of what comes after death are just our own imaginations of something outside of our understanding.
Lewis’s Imagination created this Idea: That no one stays in Hell but by their own choice. In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes Hell as a dismal place of broken relationships represented by a gray mega-city where it is always twilight and everything is a shadow of reality. Kind of like a vast city of ghosts. Everything in Hell is not-quite real, and people don’t get along well. Heaven is a beautiful place, where everything is perfect with clear streams, forests, mountains, and the heavenly city. The entire land of heaven is illuminated by the super-bright light of Christ.
In Lewis’s imaginary tale, no one is trapped in either Heaven or Hell. There is a shuttle bus that regularly runs between the two areas of eternity. Those that end up in Hell are free to visit Heaven by taking the bus. However, when they arrive in Heaven, things are not pleasant for them. They are used to the dark and so, the light hurts their eyes. The grass is sharp under their feet, and the sounds are deafening.
Despite the initial shock, there are greeters sent to meet each one of the visitors from Hell. The heavenly greeters try to explain how great it will be if they only stay. The greeters explain that only by staying in heaven and coming to make peace with Christ will these souls eventually solidify and begin to enjoy the reality of Heaven. If they choose to be with Christ, they can stay, and be forgiven, and then Hell would only have been a kind of purgatory for them. Unfortunately, most visitors from Hell run back into the bus. They can’t stand heaven. They prefer the shadows they know to the glorious reality of Heaven.
Now, Lewis is not suggesting some kind of universal “everyone gets to heaven free” doctrine, because we know that according to John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And Lewis clearly explains that Christ is the only way one can enjoy heaven. The imaginary idea here is that some of those who do not choose Jesus in this life for whatever reason or never heard of Jesus, may be able to choose in the full revelation of the truth of Christ, what they would like to do for eternity.
The reason I am talking about this book, which I highly recommend, is because C.S. Lewis imagines a unique situation where those who do not for some reason accept Jesus in their lifetimes may be able, upon receiving further information in eternity, be able to make a choice to follow Jesus in the full knowledge of the truth, if they wish it. And if C.S. Lewis can imagine such a situation, where God’s grace can and does reach all people, where no one can say that they have not been given a fair deal because they were born before Christ, or born on an Island in Polynesia where no missionaries ever came. If Lewis can imagine this fiction, how much more can God creatively extend His grace as He sees fit?
After all, we read in Romans Chapter 9 Paul, quotes Exodus 33 to discuss the important mystery of why God chose to pick Israel, and then send Jesus, whom Israel largely rejected, so that all people would have the ability to be forgiven in Jesus. God tells Moses “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God can show compassion on whoever God will show compassion, and God can harden the hearts of whoever God so chooses. Who are we to judge God’s actions and workings? We can’t even begin to understand the entirety of God’s plans for us.
We read in 1 Timothy 2 that Paul instructs us to constantly pray for all people, because God wants “all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” Not that all people will, but God desires it to be that way. And God is all powerful, right? There is always hope, even for the most ornery atheists. There is always hope for those who we don’t think knew about Jesus. There is always assurance of salvation for those of us who might worry about our own salvation.
That is what I think it means when Paul says in today’s scripture reading from Ephesians, that God chose us before the creation of the world. We were not only included in Christ when we heard and believed the truth, when we believed, we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, which guarantees our redemption and inheritance in Christ.
We who are predestined don’t have to worry, God has got this salvation thing Handled. God always had it handled. But just because we live in an ongoing stream of time, doesn’t mean we miss out on these blessings because we came before or after the perfect times that God chose to progress God’s plan. God’s plan to redeem creation is always working.
We don’t have to worry about missing parts of God’s plan because of the time in which we live. We only need to look at each day, and ask ourselves. What is God doing around me today? Because God is in fact working all around us in ways that we don’t expect. And I believe that since God operates outside of time, each and every day is a new chance to be involved in the action.
The Wise men are the perfect example of this. God always intended Wise men to come and Christ to be born, opening up the plan of reconciliation between God and all people. But which Wise men? Did it have to be the particular ones we read about? How many wise men in the East decided to look to the starts for God at work?
As we live our daily life, struggling along our faith journey with God, we can read the blessing that Paul gives the Ephesians along with all the scripture accounts of Jesus’ birth, and the revelation of Jesus to the Wise men, And we can remember that, when the time was perfect, God made the calls to get the word out (even without long distance). We know that we will never miss out on what God intends for us, no matter how disconnected we feel from God’s plan. Every year is a new year and every day is a new day. A perfect time for us to get involved in what God is doing. But don’t worry, because when God calls us, I don’t think a busy signal will stop him.