Narrative Lectionary for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year Three
July 16, 2017
Lessons: Ephesians 1:1-14, John 14:25-27
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people bless and praise God for the blessings they receive. As faithful stewards of God’s abundance, they pass these blessings along to others so that all may experience God’s good gifts.
Key Scripture: 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. Ephesians 1:3-4
This week begins a four week series on Ephesians. While there is some dispute about whether Paul is the author or whether the letter was specifically addressed to the church at Ephesus or was more general, a preaching/teaching series on this book is rich with possibility. There are significant parallels between the historical Ephesus of the first century C.E. and our world today. The city was a popular destination rich in trade, and Rome enforced the peace. On the surface Ephesus appeared to be a model city, a star in the empire’s crown; however, hidden in the shadows was economic inequity, suppression of ethnic unrest, the powers of magic and superstition, and all the lures of money, sex, power, and debauchery. The blessing and peace of Christ Paul preaches stands in stark contrast to Rome’s heavy-handed control and illusion of peace and prosperity.
I am always struck by verses three and four. Go ahead and read them—more than once—and let the words wash over you and through you. Let them surround you and enfold you. Dwell with them for a few minutes. Now read on through verse 14. And then read the short passage from John’s gospel (14:25-27).
These selections provide powerful reminders that we are really in control of precious little–and in fact that is a very good thing. This recognition is highly counter-cultural in a world where we still celebrate power, money, fame, reason, and all that appears rational. And yet … financial markets collapse under the decisions of a few, our world reels from natural disaster and the effects of climate change, and we still fail to provide enough for all people to live lives of basic dignity and hope. In short, despite all of our technological successes, our grand accomplishments and scientific advancements, we still fail and fall short. The similarities between the first and 21st century power brokers are many.
What can certainly be cause for existential despair and a rising sense of angst in response to postmodernism (see the work of Fredric Jameson, for example), need not crush the follower of Christ. Instead, we can die daily to sin and despair and rise to newness of life with a sense of counter-cultural hope if we will but allow ourselves to be stewards of the mysteries of faith and celebrants of the blessings God desires for all of creation. While this sense of blessing and possibility does not give us permission to sit idly by and watch the world “go to hell in a handbasket,” what it does do is infuse us with courage and hope to be about God’s work in our day and time.
When we proclaim the words “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” as part of the Eucharistic liturgy, we acknowledge not only divine control and provision, but also a joyful and defiant hope in our adoption through baptism into a different reality. We celebrate that God loved creation so much that Jesus came among us in flesh and bone and breath and that we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13b). We have all the reasons in the world to celebrate our lack of control and mastery when the God of the cosmos, the LOGOS, the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier of all creation, is spinning this great web of life and good. We are woven into this divine fabric, held fast in the Creator’s grip. No matter the storms, no matter the pain, no matter our seeming paltry fate, we are held fast in God’s love. So yes, let’s celebrate this day. Let’s acknowledge the blessings we have received in Christ. And let’s remind one another of this holy mystery and divine possibility we have been entrusted and commissioned to share with this beautiful yet broken world. Blessed be God who is with us and chooses to bless–even in spite of us!
Have you ever been named a beneficiary in someone’s will and received an unexpected inheritance? Has your congregation ever received such an inheritance? What did it feel like? Were you surprised? Where you joyous? Did the gift cause conflict?
Today’s lesson reminds us that we are all beneficiaries of God’s good “will” in Christ Jesus. We are adopted into God’s family and recipients of abundance. Even if your congregation or family is struggling financially, you are still rich beyond measure as heirs of God’s grace, mercy, and salvation.
Consider how you might emphasize these blessings in worship today. Perhaps include prayer petitions that give thanks for the unexpected legacy gifts of members who have died. When the offering is brought forward, consider also giving thanks for the foundation of hope and good stewardship that legacy gifts have made throughout the years (organ restorations, building projects, community outreach and mission funds, or whatever the gifts have been used for in your context).
Remind congregants that we are both heirs AND stewards of God’s abundance. We are blessed to BE a blessing. Include a charge in the sending to this effect.
Why not spend some time this week with youth talking about how Jesus blesses the disciples with the gift of his peace in the short passage from John’s gospel. Invite them to think about what it means to have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, and Jesus’ gift of peace. The world is not a peaceful place. Depending on what source you access, the number of conflicts in our world today ranges from 20 to more than 40. How can we as followers of Christ bless others with Jesus’ peace? You can find more information here. National Geographic’s education blog has a wealth of resources to help guide your conversation.
The Power of Blessing
Consider teaching the children how to bless one another. Use Ephesians 1:3-4 as a model for showing children how to bless one another in the name of Christ. Simplify it to something like this: “Blessed be God who blesses us. May you be blessed to be a blessing in Jesus’ name.” Encourage them to bless their parents each night, and to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads as a reminder of their baptism and belonging to God. If you are using “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing” (Omer Westendorf, Welsh folk tune) as a sending hymn, invite the children to stand at the doors with you and offer blessings as congregants depart.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Have you ever been named in someone’s will and received an unexpected gift after their death? Do you know how many legacy gifts have made a difference in our congregation’s ability to share God’s love and hope with others? Have you considered what your legacy will be and how you will share your resources—both now and after your death? This week’s lesson from Ephesians reminds us that we are heirs in Christ of an eternal legacy. We have been named and claimed in God’s good “will” and adopted into the family of God. What wonderful news! What gift! Let’s make sure that we are good stewards of all we are and have and have been given.
Stewardship at Home
Set aside a “gift” to “will” to a member of your family or your social group this week. Make sure you tell them that no strings are attached, that the gift (be it $5 or $10 or more as you are able) is freely given because you care for them and want good for them with only ONE stipulation: Your recipient must find someone with whom to share this good news and pass it on. Maybe you buy a bag of bagels and share with your friends. Maybe you take joy in turning around and giving the gift away to someone in need or to a ministry at church. Ponder how God gives freely to us all the time. When we pass along God’s love and abundance, we are doubly blessed and our joy is multiplied. Here’s an important truth: You cannot “out-give” God, but you sure can have fun trying!
Photos: © Paulus Nugroho R – Fotolia.com, © JcJg Photography – Fotolia.com, and Diocese of Southwest Florida, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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