Friday, January 18, 2013

We Are All Orphans (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

This week we will hear reports from our January trip to the Village of Hope in B., so I will keep my comments brief.  These beautiful children are a metaphor for us.  They are living parables explaining our passage today, and explaining our relationship with God.
These children, who are now so full of hope and joy, were once undernourished, homeless, and hopeless.  In many ways, they were dead - even though they had breath and blood.  They had no chance in life.  They had no dreams or hopes other than a full stomach.  Even if they were able to imagine some dreams of future careers, they had no ability to go anywhere or to do anything other than to scratch for daily survival.  Their only future was a life of hard work for little pay, giving all their efforts for survival until even that wasn’t enough.  In the great injustice of this broken world, the sins and failings of others had stripped them of the very resources necessary for living.  They had no life and nothing to live for.
In a very real sense, when Nazarenes in B. welcomed them into the Village of Hope, they were raised from the dead.  With nutritious meals, good education, and heaps of TLC (tender loving care), these kids have blossomed like desert flowers after the rain.  Their joyful faces and warm affection have captured the hearts of every person from our church who has visited.  

One of the great joys of visiting the Village of Hope is having one of the kids come along side you and hold your hand as you walk from one place to the next.  They may not know where you are going.  They may not know the words to tell you what they are feeling, but they just want to be close to you for a few minutes.  They know the power of touch to strengthen their heart and yours.
Now, these kids have a hope and a future.  God has proved Himself “Father to the fatherless” and “defender of widows” (Psalm 68:5), and the Body of Christ is living God’s mission of giving life and hope to those who have none.
One important part of this story is that these kids didn’t do anything to deserve help.  They weren’t the at the top of their class.  They weren’t the best orphans available.  They didn’t write the best essays or give the best interviews.  They didn’t show up and clean the church for a few weeks to get into somebody’s good favor.  The Church’s care for them is pure grace.  They didn’t do anything to deserve help.  They were just there - needy and helpless.
Another part of this metaphor is our hopes for these kids.  We are working with Nazarenes in B. to rescue them from death and to give them a new life, but we want them to do something meaningful with that life.  We want them to go to school, to learn, to become wise and loving adults, to grow into active members of their community.  We want them to pass on the blessing that has been given to them.  Yes, they have been saved by grace, but we also hope that they will live lives of grace.

So, I think you can see the parallels here.  We are all orphans, too.  “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We left God’s paths to follow our own” (Isaiah 53:6).  For one reason or another, we became separated from our Heavenly Father.   We were “dead because of our disobedience and sins ... following the desires of our sinful natures” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
But it’s not just that we are wandering around as lost and hopeless sinners, like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).  Many of us here in “the house of the Lord” are orphans on the inside.  We are like the elder son in the story of the Prodigal Son.  He was home with his father, but he did not accept the father’s love.  He was living in the father’s house as a stranger.  He was doing all the right things, but he was dead inside.  
We know what that’s like.  We do the right things.  We go to the right places.  We show up at school or work or church and do what we are supposed to do, but inside we are dead, lifeless, hopeless.  We may have a vision of a better, simpler life, but we feel completely powerless to live it.  We may have a vision of being a better person, more loving, more kind, more generous, more peace-filled, but again and again, we find ourselves unable to be that person we long to be.  All we can see in the future is the same-old-same-old, more meaningless work, more meaningless play to escape from meaningless work, more of the emptiness that is called life.
And so we give up.  We give in to the dead life.  We accept our place as orphans - either inside or outside the walls of God’s house.
But Jesus comes to us now and speaks a word of hope.  Jesus said to his disciples: “No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you” (John 14:18).  Earlier in Ephesians, Paul said my favorite words in the whole Bible: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ ... God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family ... and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:4-5).  
God knew what we would do.  God knew we would wander away.  God knew we would be broken and twisted by our world and become orphans.  God knew we would reject his love.  
And yet, God loved us anyway, from the beginning.  Before he made the world, God chose us to be his children.  Before God created rocks and DNA and stars, he had a plan to adopt us lost orphans back into his family as blessed children.  And this made God really happy, and it still makes God overwhelmingly happy.  Jesus said that all of heaven rejoices when even one child comes home to the Father (Luke 15).  
Do you see the pure grace in this?  We were dead.  We were dead in our sins.  We were rebells and orphans and rejects, and yet Christ died for us.  Christ died to give us life.  We could do nothing to save ourselves.  We could do nothing to turn our dead lives around, yet Christ gave his up his life to breathe new life into us.  When Christ was raised, we also were raised.  It’s pure grace, not because of the good things we have done.
And so, as Matt reminded us last week, we are connected to a power source that is beyond our imagination.  God helps us to become the people we long to be.  God helps us to dream bigger dreams and to move beyond the what we ever imagined possible.  God works a supernatural peace in our hearts, bit by bit by bit.  
But don’t miss the last part.   “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).  Long, long ago, God planned to save us by grace.  But long, long ago, God also planned to involve us in his gracious mission.  God planned for us to join the work of doing good and sharing grace.  We are saved by grace, not by works, to do good works.  We are saved by grace for good works.  
We have big hopes for those orphans in the Village of Hope.  We want them to grow big and strong and wise and loving and to make a positive difference in their world.  In the same way, God has big hopes for us.  God wants us to grow strong and wise and loving and to make a positive difference in our world.  We are saved by grace for good works.  
And the beautiful mystery is that those good works also become a means of grace for us.  As our team shares their stories about our time in B. today, listen to the theme of how God has helped them.  We are definitely helping our partners in B.  But God is also helping us through them.  We are being changed.  God is transforming us through our partnership in God’s mission.  This is the beautiful cycle of God’s grace that is changing our world.  

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