The Gathering: Living Outloud
READ: Ephesians 1:3-14
When I was a child, I often — and without realizing it — got the words and concepts of Heaven and Kingdom a little mixed up. I thought of them as synonymous only — that is, I believed that when you died, if you believed in God, you would one day end up in heaven. or God’s kingdom… See, they both meant the same thing to me. But then I always got a little messed up when I heard things, like in the Lord’s Prayer and in several Gospel passages and in Pauls’ letter, of God’s kingdom here on earth. And it was only after really digging into the Scriptures that I understood that — yes — while God’s realm is heaven, and whatever that looks like is the place we go or specific relationship we have in God’s presence when our time here on Earth is complete… and that most certainly constitutes God’s kingdom… there is all this talk about living into God’s kingdom that is here for us on earth. Are they different, I wondered? Because it sure doesn’t sound that way the way Matthew, Mark, Luke and John write. And the way Paul writes, too. And in our passage — this letter by Paul, or Paul’s people to the church in Ephesus — points to something more than just kingdom as heaven after we die; but kingdom here and now. A kingdom that we don’t have to bring; but a kingdom that’s already here for us. A kingdom we don’t have to expand; but a kingdom that we only have to expand into. What’s in a name? What language is there for any of this? How can we possibly take such a concept as us being able to live into a perfect relationship with God and give it a name? What would we call that? The ancients gave it the only word they knew: Kingdom. Sure, it’s a very masculine concept: Kings are male. But in the ancient world, only males were dominant. Today, we see God as transcending gender, simply because God is not human, and gender is a human characteristic. And we see Paul follow the steps of the ancients in his language. God as king. Kingdom as that concept of the relationship, completeness and wholeness we can experience with God through one another. ### I’m getting heady here, I know. It’s a lot to absorb. But why are we talking about this? Well, this church in Ephesus that this letter of Paul’s is addressed to is a very different church of new believers. This church is a bit of a working-class church. Lots of servants and day laborers here. And in the culture of Jesus’s day, that meant that would always be their lot in life. They weren’t from a prominent family, they would remain cast-offs by the society’s standards. Nobodies… And Paul uses this to show them — and us — that in God’s kingdom, everyone is a child of God. and more than that, everyone receives an inheritance. Again, we think of what it means to be poor, at the bottom rung of society in first century Roman Empire, and it means we’d have no prominent family name. We’d have no lineage, no influence. But Paul says we do have lineage in God’s family. We have an inheritance as well. For someone who has nothing and will never have anything, there is first an adoption process… and then there is a gift. And if we’ve been adopted by the king, well, we’re automatically royalty. That’s why the king and kingdom metaphorical language is so big — There is nothing better!
God has a plan… OK, so we could say, well, sure, that’s a great lesson: We’ve been adopted by a good, loving and merciful true God, and we’ve been promised an inheritance… Great. We one day get to go to heaven! But wait, there’s more! — Remember, we just talked earlier about this kingdom isn’t just something at the end of our lives; it’s here and now for us. What does this mean? Well, I’m glad you asked… God has a plan. We hear that all the time: God has a plan for our lives… What does that really mean? What it doesn’t mean is that our whole lives are just laid out in front of us with God, some master puppeteer pulling all the strings and pre-destining every single thing we do… No. Not at all! God’s plan is to adopt us all into God’s family, as God’s children, and then to go out and change the world — to expand into the kingdom here, and to bring as many others as we can with us. Paul writes in verse 9 that “God revealed his hidden design to us….” and “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” Verse 10. You see, God’s salvation has to do with setting everything right, including things on earth and things in heaven. Here on earth, that means God is changing people’s lives — fixing them, repairing them, saving them — and bringing people together in healed communities. Healed communities is so important here. Because it takes a community of believers to act together to make God’s plan work. God’s plan has ALWAYS included us — from before we were even born — to live into God’s adoption… to live into God’s kingdom… to be useful in such a way that others come to Christ through us, and the kingdom is expanded into. That is the plan.
Inheritance So how do we do that? Is it enough to simply say, “Well, I’m a child of God, and therefore, I will change the world?” As much as I’d love to be that powerful, thing is — like the people in the church in Ephasus — I don’t have the clout, the currency, to change anything. I need some influence, some power… Where do I get that? You see, we’ve absolutely been adopted… But to live into what that adoption means, we have to go out and use that influence, that power. Where will a lowly slave like me get that? You see, this is the inheritance Paul speaks of: Verse 11: “We have also received an inheritance in Christ.” What is the inheritance? Salvation. Knowing that we are saved, held, given this love. We can say “Thank you, God,” and go and preach from there. We can say “I’ve been promised everlasting life through the blood of Christ Jesus,” and that would be so, so much. But wait, there’s more!— Look at Verse 14: “The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.” Did you hear that? “Our inheritance is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people…” Picture for a moment a destitute child in an orphanage. Completely unwanted. And someone comes along and says “I’ll adopt that child.” And they take the child home and feed her. They give her a roof over her head. But the child still has no currency, no power, no influence, no choice. She does what the guardian tells her. What Paul is saying is that when we’re adopted by God, that because of Christ’s sacrifice and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us here and now, we are given currency. We are given the inheritance now, today. We are given this inheritance now because it’s all God’s design. God wants us — needs us — to be healed and to create communities of healing. We can’t do it on our family name only — But it helps to be able to have something to help us do that. And that something is the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that is our very advocate, our currency, who gives us the ability to not just think about God’s glory, but to go out and live it! To go out and live outloud. We, here tonight, and given that wisdom to understand God’s will for our lives! And we, right here tonight, are given the power, the currency and influence to go out and live not only knowing that we’ve been brought into the highest family there is, but that everyone else around us has the same exact shot at being loved by a God who is so merciful, so loving, so giving, and so good that we are given all the gifts and all the treasures and the entire kingdom here right now. Not someday. But today. And to invite everyone else into this family of abundant love and grace. It’s our destiny to fulfill that plan. We just have to follow through, and God takes care of the rest.