The Big Picture

Ephesians 1:1-14

Friends, grace and peace to you from our God, three-in-one, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

You don’t need to raise your hands, but I have an honest question for you – who feels they completely followed what we just read together?  Or did I lose you somewhere along the way?  As I read through this passage for the first time in a whole, I know I had to shake my head free of cobwebs more than once.  This is a dense passage, both in terms of writing style and in terms of theology.  There is some pretty grandiose language in here – words like lavished, chosen, mystery.  There’s talk of heavenly places and the fullness of time.  And when it comes to Christ, we get to play a little preposition game – things come from Christ, in Christ, with Christ, through Christ, even on Christ.  It’s easy to get tangled in the language.  But if we stop and take a step back, we start to see what this section of scripture offers us: a sort-of birds-eye view of God’s plans and intentions, for us and for the world.  So instead of trying to tease apart what each phrase in this passage is trying to say, let’s take that step back.  Let’s look at this aerially.

One simple way we can begin to wrap our heads around this passage is by making a word cloud.  Word clouds are made by tallying up the most frequently used words in a text and displaying them in a cluster.  The bigger the word is in the image, the more frequently it is used in that text.  This helps us filter out all of those extraneous prepositions and focus on the key themes.  I’ll turn your attention to the image printed at the back of your bulletin.  This is a word cloud made from our Ephesians reading today.  Take a second to look at it… what strikes you most about this image?  For me, it is the absolute prominence of the word Christ.  Christ is named 11 times in 14 verses.  No matter how much else is going on in this passage, Christ is unmistakably at the center.

So what is God doing in and through Christ?  What was God’s goal?  If this passage is supposed to be about God’s master plan, what is it?  Let’s look at the other most common words in our word cloud: there’s praise, good, grace, glory, destined, pleasure, redemption, inheritance.  When we put all of this together, a clear picture starts to form.  God chose to give us the gift of grace, the blessing of his favor.  Before God even started creating the universe, he destined humankind to be his and his alone.  That is the way God meant it to be.  Although this text uses words like chosen and destined, it isn’t meant in a “some-people-are-in, some are-out” sort of way.  These words are used because it was all God’s action all the way.  We as humans don’t do anything. We are simply chosen – for redemption, for adoption, for liberation.  These are the gifts God gives us freely.

But why?  If God had this big plan from the beginning, what’s in it for God?  Our text answers that question too.  And the answer is pretty simple – God did it for his own pleasure.  All of it has been because God willed it.  He wanted to bless us, to give us the gifts of love and grace, because it brings him joy.  And as recipients of these gifts, we turn around and offer the same back in kind.  We respond with worship, with praise, with giving God all of the glory.  In this endless cycle of gifts and gratitude, of wholeness and hope, we enter into the relationship God always had meant for us.  We are claimed as God’s children, as recipients of all of the grace and mercy God has to offer.

The absolute beauty of this passage is that it doesn’t just talk about this exchange, about the gifts that God chooses to lavish on us.  It shows us in the very language that it uses.  Dr. Craig Koester, Academic Dean at Luther Seminary, likens this passage to a majestic hymn. Just like a great hymn, the words and the rhythm of this passage lend themselves to the themes it conveys – overabundant grace, grand plans, lavish gifts.  The passage uses continuous repetition and illustrious language to beat us over the head with the greatness and the goodness of God.  And just like a hymn, though we may not grasp the weight of every single word, the feeling it invokes, of something big, of something fantastic, washes over us.

With all of this in mind, we’re going to do something a little different.  I’m going to read through the text again.  This time, I invite you to relax and close your eyes. Or if you’re a visual person, maybe meditate on the word cloud image in your bulletin.  Either way, take a deep breath and let the text wash over you.  See if you can sense the magnificence of what God has done.  Let’s begin:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ,

according to the good pleasure of his will,

to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

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.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.