Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 10)

Text: Ephesians 1:4-5 (NLT)
Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.

Stepping back

The Louvre Museum in Paris is a place jammed full of works of art.  Some of the paintings are surprisingly small.  For example, I was surprised to find that the Mona Lisa is just a little over 77cm high and 53cm wide.  Other paintings are enormous. 

A painting that stands out is entitled ‘The Coronation of Napoleon’ which is 6.2 metres (20 feet) high and almost 10 metres (33 feet) wide (that’s not including the magnificent frame).  As I walked past the painting I was close to it and focussed on what I could see.  In a distorted way, I could see the individual faces of the people in the painting, their expressions, what they were wearing, but overall, the painting didn’t seem to make that much sense because there was so much going on that I couldn’t see. 

The problem was this.  I was too close.  I could only gaze at one section of the painting at a time.  The top of the painting was so far up it was just a jumble and a blur and it was too wide to take it all in. 

When I stood back, a whole new world opened up.  From a distance I could take in the whole painting and the moment of time the artist had captured with this very complex work.  Stepping back enabled me to see how all the people, their expressions, the action of Napoleon and Josephine all made one complete picture.  At the same time I wondered how many times the artist had to get down from his ladder to step back and view the bigger picture of what he was doing.

When it comes to life and its good and bad times, because we are so up close to what is happening, we see only confusion, disconnected events, the overwhelming immensity of everything and our own smallness in comparison.  A bit like looking at the ‘Coronation of Napoleon’ close up. 

When good or bad things happen in our lives, we learn from experience that it’s a good idea to try to put things into perspective, so we stand back and take in as much of the view as we can.  We try to see not only the present moment, but also what has led up to this moment and then what might follow.  The further we stand back, the bigger the picture we take in, the more we can see, the better the perspective. 

Let’s take an example.  You know how it is when someone upsets you and you immediately want to respond – perhaps giving them your opinion in the sternest, strongest words you know with an elevated volume.  But you hold back. 
Instead, you let some time pass and then reassess what happened.  You stand back from the emotion and the events that caused the upset. 
In this way, you see what happened that led up to that moment and your part in it,
you examine what happened,
you think about the outcome you want and so you respond differently.

I know this isn’t an easy thing to do but stepping back and seeing the bigger picture does have its advantages.

When it comes to understanding God and his relationship with us, we have a problem – we can’t step back far enough.  When we are in the middle of a crisis, like Paul was when he had was afflicted with some kind of chronic illness or disability, we can’t see beyond what is right in front of us.  Paul prayed and prayed and prayed that God would take away his “thorn in the flesh” as he called it.  Paul could see what caused him to receive the “thorn on the flesh”, namely to keep him humble, but this was so painful, such a nuisance and a complete distraction.  Paul was too close and couldn’t see the bigger picture.

That happens to all of us at some time.  We have those moments when we wonder what God is doing. 
Why doesn’t he stop that war? 
Feed the hungry? 
Protect the innocent? 
Take away an illness? 
Sort out our political leaders? 
Supply rain for the farms? 
The trouble with our perspective of things is that we have our noses flat up against the canvas and can only see what is right in front of us.  We need to stand back and see God’s bigger picture. 

But is that possible?  Can we see things from God’s point of view?

It’s not easy, but not impossible, if we remember this.  God sees everything in terms of his relationship with us.  Paul put it this way, ‘Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him’ (Eph 1:4).  Let’s put that simply.  Long before God planned and made the world, he picked and planned you first.  He focussed his love on you and then at the right time put you here on this planet under his love and care and protection and in Christ has freed you from all blame and guilt caused by sin.  Before time began, God chose us as his children because of Christ.

Let’s try and get a handle on this with a couple of examples.

Think of two or three good things in God’s creation that you really enjoy. 
Now think about this: God planned you before he made those things.  And then he made those things you were just thinking about knowing how much you would appreciate and be thankful for them.

Think of two or three people whom you admire, respect, love, and are thankful for as God’s good gifts in your life.  God planned you with those people in mind.  After planning you, he gave you those people knowing that they would be an important part of your life.

Think of a difficult time in your life; a time when you just couldn’t see how you could in any way fit that struggle or that pain or that failure into any reasonable sense of a good plan of God – whether you were at fault or whether it was someone else.
God had chosen you for himself long before that moment came into existence – even before you were made.  And knowing how that moment would impact on your life, he determined to make sure that Christ's love would embrace you and get you through it. 

He made you to be in a relationship with him and he was prepared to do anything to preserve and restore that relationship if need be – even if it meant letting his Son, Jesus, suffer and die for you.  He makes us a new creation.  He says, ‘Long before you were even a “twinkle in my eye”, I made sure through Jesus that you would always be in my eye, in my love, living as my child.  Always.  I planned that first.  And then I made everything else.’ 

You were not a footnote to whatever year you were born.  Your birth into this world was a great day of celebration for God.  At that moment the one he had planned since before the creation of the world – you – came into the creation he had prepared for you.  When a new baby is born this isn’t an afterthought on God's part.  He might have waited thousands of years (and we think nine months is a long time to wait) but that new life is all part of God's eternal plan.  Paul goes to great lengths to tell us that “even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (NLT).

This whole concept is mind bending in the least.  It is an attempt at seeing God’s plans for us and all creation from a distance.  It helps us to know that despite all the disasters that might hit us and the world around us, these things are not outside his control.  In view of the big picture of things he can use all this to bring blessing and a stronger relationship with him.

You and I are always first in God's eyes.  Paul makes it quite plain to his Ephesian friends that even before the world was created God placed us in a relationship with him because of his love for us.  Because of ‘his glorious grace’ he was ready to do whatever was needed to rebuild his relationship with each one of us and adopt us into his own family through Jesus.  As far as God is concerned, you are number one.

A reminder of this fact is our baptism.  God marks us with Jesus’ cross in our baptism.  God gives us his name in our baptism and publicly declares, “Long before you entered this world, I planned you as mine, and then I made the world, and the family, and the community to place you in. 
But sin has mucked up my plans.  Your sin has messed things up.
I forgive you. 
I love you now in the same way I loved you before the world was created and always will love you. 
When you live in a way that reflects my love and my goodness, that is me, my Spirit, working in you.  The goodness you show is the goodness I placed in you when I made you.  It is my Spirit strengthening and guiding you to be the person whom I always planned you to be!”

Some people talk about ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ or ‘good luck’ or ‘bad luck’ as if things happen in our lives randomly without any order.  It’s as if things just happen.  It’s like reading ‘Your week by the stars’ in the paper and saying that things happen because your star sign says they will.  That is so far from what God says to us through the Scriptures.  Paul does talk about ‘destiny’.  Our destiny as God’s own dear children is to walk with Jesus, to enjoy his grace and forgiveness, and finally enter our eternal home in heaven.   

Three people were visiting and viewing the Grand Canyon – an artist, a pastor, and a cowboy. As they stood on the edge of that massive geological marvel, each one responded with a cry of exclamation.
The artist said, "Ah, what a beautiful scene to paint!"
The minister cried, "What a beautiful example of the handiwork of God!"
The cowboy mused, "What a terrible place to lose a cow!"

The cowboy could only see the problems the Grand Canyon placed in front of him.  Sometimes we are the same.  It’s easy to be a pessimist. 
Every now and then we have to step back and look at the bigger picture.  In the whirl of daily living and the many problems and issues that confront us and challenge our self-worth, we need to step back for a moment and be reminded that we were chosen by God to be his children before the creation of the world.  God’s grace has purchased our freedom to guarantee that our relationship with God will never be in danger.  God’s love for us his children is certain and sure.

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT).

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

15th July, 2018

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