Captured by Mystery 1-7-18

Epiphany, the celebration of the magi, the three kings, and for much of the world, the celebration of Christmas, next year will be on Sunday, January 6, 2019. So this year, instead of reading the story of the three kings, I decided for our second reading to read the assigned reading from the epistles, this little noticed but beautiful passage from Ephesians. After studying it a bit and being taken by its emphasis on mystery, that theme grew and became the theme not only for today, but for the month, and then, in my mind for the season coming up – maybe for the whole year. What are we about, after all, if not the mystery of the power & the love of the Living God? Listen for God’s word for you today:

Ephesians 3:1-12 For I, Paul—a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— am sure that you have heard of God’s grace, of which I was made a steward on your behalf; this mystery, as I have briefly described it, was given to me by revelation. When you read this, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was unknown to the people of former ages, but is now revealed by the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets. That mystery is that the Gentiles are heirs, as are we; members of the Body, as are we and partakes of the promise of Jesus the messiah through the Good News, as are we. I became a minister of the Good News by the gift of divine grace given me through the working of God’s power. To me, the least of all believers, was given the grace to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to enlighten all people on the mysterious design which for ages was hidden God, the Creator of all. Now, therefore, through the church, God’s manifold wisdom is made known to the rulers and powers of heaven, in accord with the age-old design, carried out in Christ Jesus our Savior, in whom we have boldness and confident access to God through our faith in Christ.  

January 7, 2018

Captured by Mystery

I loved mysteries when I was growing up. I loved reading Sherlock Holmes. I still love the new PBS modern adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I don’t read them very often these days, but in honor of this sermon series, I downloaded a Dublin murder mystery novel, Broken Harbor, by Tana French on my phone.

It has me totally engaged – to the point that, rather than writing this sermon, I just wanted to hear what happened next to Detective Scorcher Kennedy and his sidekick Richie as they worked to figure out who committed murder in a Dublin suburb.

The Bible contains very different kinds of mysteries. Rather than engaging us in page-turning stories of apprehension of criminals, the Bible invites us in through stories of comprehension of God’s creation, of our purpose in that creation, and of the power and presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. In our passage for today, Paul – or whoever was writing later in Paul’s name, presents “the mystery of Christ” to the people of Ephesus.  That mystery, he says, is that Gentiles have now become, through Christ’s crucifixion, part of the Body of Christ – united with the Jewish community in receiving the ever-widening power of God’s grace and inclusion.

We may understand today that God’s grace always included Gentiles, but in Paul’s time and place that was a new and mysterious revelation. Paul also was coming to understand that in God’s grace and God’s love, there was no Gentile nor Jew, neither slave nor free, neither male or female. Today, we are still struggling to understand the mystery of God’s grace that continues to widen in our minds, that expands to truly include all women and men, all religions, all races, gay and straight and transgendered, all together. We can hardly imagine God’s grace extending even farther and then it does!

In Paul’s plot the reader is not the one who declares to the perpetrator, “I got you!” In the mystery of faith, according to Paul, Christ is the one who apprehends us. Paul calls it being a “prisoner of Christ,” since he is ostensibly writing this letter from prison. Though he’s in prison, he says, that by being a prisoner of Christ, he feels totally free. another mystery.

We may have our own similar moments of epiphany when we realize, like the three magi, that we are not the hunters, that we are the hunted. We think that we are searching for God, but when we dig deeper into the mystery of our faith, we find out that God is the one who is searching. There are so many mysteries in our faith, in the Bible, in our lives. Here’s the mystery that Paul brings to us today, “Why would the Living God search for us?” Why would God bother coming after us? That’s why I’m calling this sermon series, “captured by mystery.”, because the awesome mystery is that when we figure out what God is doing, we find out that we have already been captured! see what I’m saying? (mind-blowing) Epiphany!

 

I look forward to exploring this mystery and other similar mysteries in 2018. In 1996, I never thought I would be your pastor in 2018. Paul calls himself the least of all believers and is amazed that he gets to be a messenger of God’s grace. I may think more highly of myself than Paul does – but that may qualify me even less to be such a privileged messenger of the Good News.

While my words and my sermons may be inadequate, the church and Paul always held together the paradox of mystery and the gift of sacrament. Holy Communion is a ritual in which we don’t show ourselves to be great accomplished people or particularly sensitive Christians. This meal is simply a means by which we come closer to the mystery of grace, closer to each other, closer to Christ.

In the sacraments, we for a moment stop acting as though we can solve mysteries and in a marvelous moment of epiphany, we allow the mysteries to solve us. In this bread and in this cup, we know the Living God in Christ to say, “I got you!”

This is God’s good news.