Second Sunday after Christmas
The Rev. Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 3, 2020
In today’s epistle lesson, we hear the beginning of the letter St. Paul wrote from prison to the church at Ephesus. This lesson is packed full of praise and hope using language one commentator described as “the excess of the language of worship.” The reading we heard in English included multiple sentences ending with periods, but the first twelve verses of the original Greek consist of one long sentence of praise.
The first few verses are all about blessing and grace. It opens, “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.” And we hear that Christ has lavished on us the riches of his grace. According to our Catechism, “grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” Grace is unearned and undeserved.
One of the foundational spiritual problems in the Christian life is the lack of fortitude needed to believe that God actually loves you as much as the he says he does. This results in being unable to receive God’s unearned and undeserved grace. The truth of the matter is that God loves you. God loves you. He loves you with all of your warts and blemishes, with all of your insecurities and tendencies to sin. He loves…you.
Paul offers us today a counter to the world’s understanding of “worth.” Christian self-worth doesn’t come from within, nor is it affected by your behavior, nor is it related to whatever sins you are prone to do over and over again throughout your life. Christian self-worth is found in believing that you are unconditionally loved by God. In other words, in baptism, our old self dies, and the new self is an entirely new identity: the newly baptized person is God’s beloved.
Paul then moves from a focus on us to a focus on the world. He says that Jesus Christ is God’s “plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God didn’t send Jesus at Christmas to reconcile humanity alone to himself, he sent Jesus to reconcile all of creation to himself. Furthermore, he didn’t send Jesus to save our merely our souls, he sent Jesus to save all of us – body, soul, and spirit. When we were baptized, we agreed to join with God in reconciling the whole world to God through Christ. God doesn’t need us, he’s reconciling the world to himself with or without us. We made the choice to join him in this work at our baptism – but we sometimes forget our baptismal promises. We sometimes pay too much attention to what that dead, old carcass – our old self – has to say from the grave – that we are not worthy of God’s love, that we are tarnished or stained because of our past, that we are better off living for ourselves than for others.
Friends, God loves you just as you are. And he’s ready to give you the grace you need to do this redemptive work in the world that God has called you to do.
In the last section of this passage, we see a glimpse at what life looks like for those who know and believe they’re loved and blessed. These people have received an inheritance so that they might live for the praise of his glory. For Paul, the “glory of God” is “the weight and gravitas of the presence of God. Those who embrace the fact they’re beloved of God recognize God’s presence within and around them. It’s as if they exist partially in this world with all its pain and suffering and misguided values of power and wealth, and partially in that other world where kindness, mercy, and blessing, and grace are in abundance – a world where “there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all [the] saints.” Not only can they operate in both worlds, they do everything they can to make this world like the other world. Those who believe they are loved by God put others before themselves, work to make right those things that are wrong, and to share God’s love and mercy with those around them.
Friends, God loves you. God loves you just as you are. Your worth isn’t found in what you do, it’s found in who you are. No matter what lies the Devil may say about you – no matter what lies you are tempted to believe about yourself – you are God’s beloved.
In a moment, we will all put on our baptismal identity once again by acknowledging before God and this community that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We will confess our sins and receive God’s unfailing and unconditional forgiveness in the absolution. And then, we move to that time in the service where we will experience what our burial liturgy calls a foretaste of God’s heavenly banquet – The Holy Communion. In the consecrated bread and the wine, God offers us the most tangible glimpse of the other world that we have. When we approach the Sacrament firm in our belief that God loves us for who we are, we are open and receptive to receive the riches of his grace. This food for the journey will then give us the strength and courage we need to recognize God’s presence around us, and then to join with God in expanding his kingdom here on earth, one day at a time. Amen.
 Throughout history, the assumed author was Saint Paul himself, but most scholars today, for various reasons, believe that Ephesians was written by a Jewish-Christian admirer of Paul who sought to apply Paul’s thought to the situation of the church of his own day. See Coogan, Michael David., Marc Zvi. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Phebe Perkins, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Oxford University Press, 2010, 2052.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 3 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 230.
 The three-fold outline comes from Bartlett 230-235.
 Verse 3.
 BCP 858.
 Bartlett 234.
 Verses 9-10.
 Bartlett 235.
 BCP 483.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!