To my pleasant surprise I opened the newspaper a week or so ago and saw a picture of Billie Fogarty. The picture was tied to an article on a session she was leading related to genealogy and the War of 1812. I understand she had more than a hundred gather for her lecture on January 3rd. I have a great appreciation for the work she does. Some of may not realize that Billie is one of our state’s leading genealogist. She speaks across the country and works with clients to help them chase their family histories. I think that a part of the reason people are passionate about finding out more about their family tree is that we understand that somehow those who have walked before us have helped to shape who we are. We understand that our family is more than a random collection of letters, but is a part of our identity.
The church in Ephesus was located in the most important city in western Asia Minor, which would now be Turkey. The city has a great harbor and was a trade route gateway to the Aegean Sea. It was world renowned for its pagan temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana. It was a difficult place for the fledging Christian church. Paul has spent three years with them, claiming them as his base of operation for his teaching and preaching mission for the region. In the midst of their struggle he writes them and in these opening verses reminds them of their faith family line.
He starts with a blessing; 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Paul draws their eyes to the stars and reminds them that the God of all of creation is the author of the blessing they find through Christ. When we hear the word “blessing” it seems that many of us have been cultural conditioned to think about something that God “get” from God. So often it seems that blessings mentally become material blessings. Paul has something very different in mind. He wants them to understand that the spiritual blessings they receive from Christ are beyond price. I just keep hearing the tagline from the Visa commercial, “priceless!” He wants them to understand – and we should understand – that the blessings are relational.
Paul focuses first on their family identity. This was a very big deal. The name you carried determined your place in the world. It defined the kinds of work you might do, the kind of homes you might live in, the place you would have at the table, and the way others would treat you when they greeted you. Come to think of it, in many ways things have not changed that much. Paul says, For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—. The word’s Paul chooses are loaded with meaning. He wants them to be clear that their capacity to come before God begins and ends with God’s choice to make the way for them. He chooses to use a term that would have made them stop in their tracks. He claims the Greek word for adoption to sonship, which a legal term referring to the full legal standing given to an adopted male heir in Roman culture. The mere speaking of the word “adoption” immediately draws powerful emotions for those who have been adopted and for those who have chosen to adopt children into their family. They are very clear that what it means to be family is much more about relationship than it is blood type or DNA profile. Paul wants that same quality of emotion to seize those hearing this letter. They understood that when a male was adopted into a family in the Roman culture it meant that their complexion and their family history were disregarded. All the culture would see was their new given name. Paul wants them to understand that when they were adopted through faith as a child of God that nothing else mattered. Their identity was defined by their relationship with God. God not only knew their name, he had given them His name.
My family tree includes limbs with names of heroic soldiers, an award winning scientist, a rather odd inventor, and many successful business leaders. It also includes an assortment of horse thieves, a royal assassin, and several slave holders. Obviously I celebrate some and am ashamed to be connected to others. But, Paul would tell me while my family lineage is of value; my ultimate identity should be found in my role as an adopted son of God.
Paul pushed the hearer a step further. He wanted them to understand the price that was paid for them as a part of this divine adoption. He continues his thought, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. Paul again claims an image that the hearers would have immediately understood. He tells them that they have been redeemed through the blood of Christ-that they would know forgiveness out of God’s rich grace. The idea of redemption has almost been lost to us because it has been a “church” word for so long. It has become a part of the Christian vocabulary and has been used in so many sermons that we have almost become numb to the term. But for the hearers of Paul’s letter the term has immediate application. They understood that the Roman concept of “redemption” leveraged in the redemption of slaves. When a slave was redeemed they were purchased for a great price, much higher than the actual monetary value of the slave. You were not purchasing the services of a slave. Instead you were freeing a person from the bounds of slavery forever. You were changing their place in the world. They moved from being a possession to a person of individual value. The price of redemption was high, but the power of redemption was life changing. I think we unvalued ourselves. We are so consumed by our flaws and failures that we fail to realize that God was willing to pay an incredible price, the blood of the One he loves, given freely for our redemption.
Have you heard the incredible news? God has chosen to adopt you as a son or daughter; God has paid an incredible purchase your freedom. Paul tells us that God has also laid out an inheritance for you and me. We heard the first 8 verses read earlier and our service and shared through this message. Hear now, verses 13 and 14. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. The Holy Spirit, who is the presence of God with us now, acts as the seal of the deal, the divine down payment given for God’s glory. The inheritance is eternal in nature. “All through this passage, Paul has been assuming that God is the creator of the world and that God has no desire to abandon that creation. Instead, God’s purpose is to redeem the world and renew it, which is the whole reason Christ came into the world in the first place. Our inheritance, then, is a new and renewed world; a world that is being made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus and will be completed when he comes again.” The inheritance is a forever with God.
I love our deacon ordination services. Last Wednesday we listened to five testimonies of how God has moved in the life of our newest deacons. We were also witnessed as people lined up to share words of affirmation and blessing to the five. The time of blessing and affirmation always proves to be emotional for those who are ordained because it seems that we can imagine people lining up to tell us our faults, but can hardly believe that people would stand in line to bless us. Hear a word of blessing this morning. You are so important to God that he had adopted us and God us His. You are so important to God that he paid the high price required to redeem you – to purchase your freedom. You are so important to God that he has prepared an inheritance of eternity for you –and sealed with the down payment of the Holy Spirit. I would love to hear more about your family tree. I imagine that your tree, like mine, is filled with interesting characters. But hear that our ultimately identity is found in our divine adoption, our place as the chosen children of God. Thanks be to God for His great love for us and that through faith in Christ God calls us His own.