God’s Secret Plan

Ephesians 3:1-12  (January 6, 2019)   Perhaps you have found that making use of different translations of the Scriptures helps to expand your understanding. Sometimes when you hear the words in a fresh translation it makes you think about the passage in a different way. It can open your eyes and you find that God is speaking to you in a new way. That happened to me when I was exploring this portion of the letter to the Ephesians in a newer translation that I enjoy using for my personal study: the Common English Bible. The Greek word that has traditionally been translated as mystery in several different spots in this passage is translated as “secret plan”. In my mind, a mystery is not the same as a secret plan. When I think about a mystery, it seems more like something that has no real answer, no real solution, more like a puzzle wanting to be solved. When Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus the amazing news about this plan of God that was hidden for a long time, now revealed to Paul and shared with them it really means something different. It was God’s plan from the beginning, just not revealed to him until recent times. Now the plan is no longer hidden. It is revealed in such a way through Jesus Christ that the church is bigger than they thought. Here is the once-secret plan of God that he announces with great fanfare: Gentiles, that is non-Jews, that is people who have always been looked at as outsiders, have become fellow heirs! Gentiles are members of the same body! Gentiles are sharers in the promise in Christ through the gospel!
This is what epiphany is all about—a revealing of something that has been hidden so far, an opening of something that has been closed. This is good news not just for the close by neighbors, the people who spoke the same language and worshipped at the same synagogue. This is good news for the ones who live outside the bounds, who never had a connection with God, who were wandering in the darkness. The secret plan has been made public, made obvious, made accessible to the rest of the world.
Now, Paul’s words would have been met with great joy by some people and would likely have caused some level of anxiety for others. If you had grown up to believe that your group was the insider group, the privileged group, the spiritually connected group, the group with power, hearing this news of God’s once-secret plan that made room for others at the table would have popped your self-righteous balloon. If you had never been included, if you had always been on the outside looking in, wondering what it was like to have a relationship with God, you would have responded with celebration and gratitude. The Christians in Ephesus were Gentiles, the children of the first non-Jewish converts to the faith. Paul clearly sees himself as the one who was singled out by God to preach the good news about the immeasurable riches of Christ to the Gentiles. He is the revealer of God’s secret plan, the announcer of the good news.
This time of epiphany is a wonderful time to celebrate the sacraments of baptism and communion. I invite you this morning to listen very carefully to the words spoken at the time of each sacrament. Together they highlight our life together as a church. They are ways that we show God’s wisdom through our welcoming of a new believer into the fold, and through our sharing in the community meal. Both speak volumes about the ways we are connected to one another.
If you read our Advent devotional all the way through, I know you enjoyed the story by Craig Sparks about the three legged race. It left you with questions to ponder about who you tie your leg to in life—who is it that you desire to be connected to so that you can travel this journey we call life more easily? Who has the strength and power and time and courage that you want to learn from? And by the same token, who is it that you will allow to tie their leg to you? Who needs your strength and power and time and courage so that he or she can travel this journey we call life more easily? The image of tying your leg to someone so that together you can walk the path is a joyful reminder of what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ. At times we are the ones who allow others to tie their legs to us, giving them support. At times we need to tie our legs to someone else, seeking support and strength. That is what it looks like to be community together.
If there is anything we should be revealing to the world around us, it is the joyful experience of being community together. We celebrate the baptism of Jill Harrison. We celebrate the church of Jesus Christ as a place of welcome to any who have felt on the outside. We celebrate this family of believers who have loved Jill into being comfortable enough to take this step today. We celebrate this family of believers who have extended a welcome to Jeannine and to Joan and to anyone else who wonders if there is a place at the table for them. The secret plan of God is burst open! Gentiles are included. Outsiders do belong. The ones you thought maybe were questionable—too fundamental, too radical, too dressed up, too dressed down, too progressive, too conservative, too old, too young—are co-heirs with you, parts of the same body of Christ. Together we share the same promise of God in Christ Jesus. God’s plan has been revealed in Jesus Christ. Paul’s words to the Ephesians are an echo of the story of the outsiders from the East, the ones we call magi or kings or wise ones, coming to worship the new king.
It was God’s plan from the beginning of time. A plan for you and for me. There is a seat at the table for you, and Jesus is the maître d of the great feast of joy. If you are having a hard time getting there, tie your leg to someone who is stronger for right now. If you see another having a hard time, invite him or her to tie a leg to you! Together we are community. Together we are the church of Jesus Christ. In him we have bold and confident access to God. Alleluia! Amen.

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