Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Call of Grace (Ephesians 3:1-13)


Ladies, imagine that the CEO of Chanell International called you and asked you to be their global beauty representative.  They want you to go all around the world talking to people about beauty and demonstrating beauty principles.
Naturally, you might be surprised.  You would immediately start thinking of all of your faults and weaknesses.  I’m too thick or too thin.  I have too many wrinkles or too many zits.  This part is too big, and this part is too small.
But the Chanell CEO was ready for this.  “First of all,” she says,  “that’s the point.  You are a normal woman.  We are starting an Every Woman Campaign - sending out the message that every woman is beautiful.  No matter your skin type or body shape, every woman is beautiful just as she is.  We deeply believe this, and we want you to help us get the message out.   Secondly, we won’t leave you like we find you.  We’ll connect you with our top nutritionists, fitness coaches, skin experts, and stylists.  After a few months with us, your inner beauty will begin to shine outwardly where everyone can see it.”
How does that sound ladies?  A little intimidating, but pretty exciting right?!

OK, men, I know eye shadow and facials doesn’t really get you excited - at least I hope not.  But how about this?  Imagine that the General Manager of Manchester United called you and made a similar offer: “Hey man, this is your lucky day.  Man-U has chosen you to be our global fitness representative.  We know that people all over the developed world are really putting on weight, and we want to do something about it.  Sports and athleticism are not limited to a few guys with exceptional DNA.  We believe that every human being alive has a natural sports star inside, and we want to prove it through you.  We want you to be our the global face and body of our Every Man Campaign.  You’ll even get to play with Man-U in a few Premier League games.”

At first, you might be excited, but then you probably have flashes of future failure.  You can see Ronaldino kicking the ball in circles around you until you fall on your butt having a minor heart attack.  You can see your teammates pulling up your shirt and pinching your love handles for the camera.  You blink before the future camera flashes as a reporter catches you with one Krispee Kreme donut in each hand.  At this point, you’re ready to back out, “Thanks but no thanks.”
But again, the Manchester GM is ready for you.  “Just wait a minute.  Of course, you’re not perfect, but that’s the point.  Every man is perfect, and this an Every Man Campaign.  We didn’t choose you because you’re perfect.  We chose you because we can use you to show that you don’t have to be perfect.  You can help break down the barriers between the superstars and the ‘Average Joes.’  And don’t worry, once you commit, we’ll fly you over to England, and our trainers will get to work on you.  We’ll fix your diet, and we’ll get you into great shape.”  
What do you think guys?  Sound like a good deal?

This is essentially the call of grace.  You are not good enough.  You will never be beautiful enough or fast enough or good enough on your own.  It’s just not going to happen.  But the good news is that you don’t have to be.  The whole point is that you can be a delegate for a whole new way of thinking.  Beauty and strength are on the inside - not on the outside in things that can be measured by waist lines and goals scored.  And furthermore, the folks who called you will equip you for your calling.  They will fill you with all of their beautiful athletic goodness to help you reach your fullest potential as a human being - which is actually far beyond the meager limits you had imagined.  This is the call of grace.
This is Paul’s story - only he is called by a bigger Boss into a bigger, more important organization.  And, as we will see, this is also our story.  Let’s read Ephesians 3:1-13.

1 When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles . . . assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles. As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets.
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.
Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.
10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. 13 So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored.

The first thing we notice in this passage is that God calls us to give grace.  We are in this Christianity thing for the good of others - not just ourselves.  We are in Christ for the sake of others.  Paul pounds this theme home: 
  • “I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles” (3:1).
  • “God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you” (3:2).
  • “I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this good news” (3:7)
  • “He graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ” (3:8).
  • “I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan of God” (3:9).
Like the woman called to promote true beauty, and like the guy chosen to promote health and fitness, the calling is for the benefit of others.  Paul had a specific task and a specific calling.  His whole life was for the benefit of others.  
But this calling isn’t just for apostles.  This calling is for all of us.  We are all called to live as living ambassadors of God’s grace.  We are called to live for the benefit of others.  Our life calling, in one way or another, is to help people around us experience more of God’s grace.  We are distributors of grace - not just consumers.  If you are living as a consumer of grace, you have missed your calling -- and you are missing the best grace of all, which is the next point.

  God’s call gives grace.  Paul affirms this again and again.  He talks about “special responsibility,” “the riches inherited by God’s children,” “the promise of blessing,” and “the privilege of serving.”  Then, he wraps it up with this summation: “Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ” (3:8).  Paul is very clear about this.  Telling people about Jesus is an amazing privilege that he doesn’t deserve.  
Think about those Extreme Makeover - Home Edition shows.  Think of what it would feel like to be the one to walk a struggling single mom and her kids back into their home.  When they left it was old and dirty and falling apart, but after the Extreme Makeover, it’s now beautiful, functional, and more spacious.  Imagine the great joy of seeing the mom’s joy and tears as she walks from room to room.  Imagine the kids hugging you and screaming about how awesome their new room is.  By the way, this is about what it feels like to represent our church at the Village of Hope in Bangladesh.  
Paul says, “I don’t deserve this.  Sharing this good news is just too good for me.”  Paul knows that he is a sinner just like everyone else.  Maybe worse than others because he actually hunted and jailed and killed Christians - until God ambushed him with grace and called him to be an agent of grace.  So, yeah, Paul woke up every day knowing this apostle of grace stuff was too good for him, but still it was real.  He really was telling people everywhere about the great joys and grace available through Jesus, and that amazed him. 
God’s call invites us into a celebration that we didn’t start and that we can’t fund.  It is much too good for us and much too big for us.  We don’t deserve to be part of this, but that’s the grace of it.  God invites us in, even though we don’t deserve it, and we get to share it with other people who also don’t deserve it, and we can all be overwhelmed together.  

But there is another side of the grace here.  Paul says in verse 7, “By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving by spreading the good news.”  This good news is too good for us.  Not only are we not good enough to deserve being in on this mission, but we aren’t strong enough or good enough to complete the mission.  Living lives of grace is just too hard for us. 
But that’s OK because God’s grace and mighty power are working in us.  God’s grace is living and breathing in us, bubbling up out of our lives.  We don’t have to be afraid of this “special responsibility” to share grace.  When God calls us to this responsibility, he also breathes his Spirit of grace into us.  God’s grace in us naturally flows out to others.
If you aren’t feeling much of God’s grace and joy in your life, maybe that’s because you aren’t sharing his grace and joy with others.  Sharing grace causes grace to grow.  Giving grace way makes grace grow within our own hearts and lives.  It’s amazing but true.

Here’s the last and most surprising point.  God calls us into a community of grace.  When we think about God’s grace, we usually think about God forgiving our sins.  We usually think about this one-way individual transaction between us and God.  God forgives us; that’s grace - pure and simple.  But the Bible’s picture of grace and the gospel is much bigger and much messier and much more complex.  
Look closely at Paul’s language in verses 6-7: 
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.
God’s plan is that both Gentiles and Jews will be equal and united in Christ.  Paul uses three words to emphasize this community of grace.  Each word has the prefix syn - as in synonym or synonymous.  It means together or in Konglish: same-same.  Jews and Gentiles will be same-heirs, same-body, same-sharers.  Everyone who is in Christ is united in an intimate, equal community of grace.  Slaves, CEO’s, garbage men, fashionistas, teachers, students, prostitutes, soldiers - anyone who is united with Christ is united with all the others who join Christ’s community of grace.  
And then Paul says he has “been given the privilege of sharing this Good News.”  The community of grace is the Good News.  It’s not just that individuals can be saved from hell.  That’s good, but that’s not the whole Good News.  The Good News is that we can be saved and redeemed together.  We can be transformed into a radically new family and community of grace right here on earth.  
When we become Christians we enter this amazing multicultural community called the Church.  The Church of Jesus Christ transcends all social, economic, and class based boundaries.  Everyone is invited.  Everyone who trusts in Christ is included, and all become one.  We are equal heirs to the same promise.  We are equal members of the same body.  We are equal sharers in the same grace.  No one is better or higher than anyone else.  We are all same-same in Christ.
And this community itself IS the gospel.  This is God’s plan.  This is God’s purpose.  We are saved individually, but we are saved into a community of grace.  
Do not discount the community of grace.  Do not disparage the Church.  Last week, we sang the song, “Build your church into my heart.”  And there is a line in that song that is somewhat controversial: “Jesus, your church is the hope of the world.”  
A few times people have told me that we shouldn’t sing that line.  They said, “The church isn’t the hope of the world.  Jesus is.”
I said, “Well, let me ask you this.  How does anyone find out about Jesus?  Who are Jesus representatives here on earth?”  It’s the Church.  The Church is the living gospel of Jesus Christ.  
Yes, of course, we are messed up.  Yes, of course, we are still sinners.  Yes, of course, the church often gets life wrong and misrepresents Jesus.  
But that doesn’t change what God’s plan is.  God’s plan - according to Ephesians 3.  “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:10-11).  
God’s eternal purpose is that the Church will show God’s great wisdom and grace to the world.  And God is doing that through Jesus - whenever Jesus is Lord in us.  Whenever God’s grace bubbles up in us and spreads out through us, God is accomplishing his eternal plan.  There is no Plan B.  We are the plan.  God using us to show his grace is the plan.
And a multicultural church is the plan.  Look at that phrase “to display his wisdom in its rich variety.”  Paul doubles up on his adjectives here.  The word poikilos means many-colored, as in Joseph’s “coat of many colors,” but Paul says the church is to display God’s polypoikilos wisdom - God’s “exceedingly various” wisdom, God’s “super-duper many-colored” wisdom, God’s “kaleidoscopic” wisdom.  And that’s why we need a multicultural church - with people from every tribe and language and background and economy.  In the multicultural global church we see the wisdom and grace of God embodied in huge Samoans and undersized North Korean refugees, in PhD scientists and in barefoot orphans in Bangladesh.  The Church of Jesus Christ shines out the rainbow of God’s grace.

Since I will be leaving soon, let me speak some about how I understand this church’s particular calling in God’s larger mission.  We are KNU International English Church, and we are situated within the Korean Church of the Nazarene and the larger Korean Church.  Some of our greatest strengths as a local church match up directly with some of the weaknesses of the larger Korean church.  And I think part of our calling is to live into these strengths so that we can influence the larger Korean church around us.
First, our church is a church of grace.  We don’t guilt or push or pry or pull.  We accept whoever comes, no matter what their life status or background.  The whole ethos of our church is grace oriented - not guilt or power oriented.  We need to continue on in the path of grace.
Second, we are a multicultural community.  The global church of Jesus Christ and the international Church of the Nazarene are both extremely and beautifully diverse, but most people can’t see that.  Most people only experience the Church of Jesus Christ in the expression of one local church, which is usually monocultural.  That is what makes our church so special and so unique.  We bring the gift of microcosm.  We are a collection of the global diversity of Christ within one local church body.  Embrace that gift.  Pursue multicultural community in everything you do as a church.  This multicultural community is a beautiful and powerful expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lastly, our church is consciously and personally involved in God’s mission of grace.  We have always been a church that shares grace with others.  Our partnership with Bangladesh has been a tremendous gift to us.  God has changed us because we have engaged the mission of grace.  Embrace that change.  Ride that wave of grace.  Make it personal for you and for your family, and you will be amazed how God makes grace grow in you.
And also it’s time for us to re-engage local missions with more energy and vigor.  God has blessed KNU with more than 200 international students, and Cheonan has several thousand international students from all around the world.  As you look for a new lead pastor, and as you engage the process of being the church here in this place, begin the work of sharing grace with the multicultural community of Cheonan who has gathered here from around the world to learn from Korea’s strong universities.  They need our help.  They need our grace, and we need to give it.  If we do, we will find once again that giving grace only makes grace grow in our hearts even more.  
Ephesians 3 is all about God’s call of grace.  We don’t deserve it.  It’s too good for us.  This message of grace for all the world is too wonderful for us to even deserve to spread.  But nonetheless, here is the call - ringing loudly for all with ears to here.  Accept God’s grace for you.  Be an agent of grace.  Live into into the community of grace.  Own God’s call of grace for your life, and you will be transformed from grace into even more grace.

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