23 October 2014

Paul to the Ephesians: Remember Who you Really Are!

In tomorrow's first reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, one of the "prison letters," Paul refers first to himself as a prisoner for Christ. He does this so that, paradoxically we can understand that Paul and we ourselves -- who share the same call as Paul -- enjoy a much deeper, more profound freedom in Christ, namely the freedom Baptism in Christ empowers; it is the power to be the persons we are called to be, the freedom to be the persons God himself needs us to be so that he might be all in all.

In each of our lives there are significant constraints and limits of all sorts. Illness, age and physical limitations. material limits and constraints with regard to temperament and character, as well as the limitations and obligations imposed by the relationships which mark us as friends, parents, teachers, mentors, directors, superiors, pastors, and most importantly, as sisters and brothers in Christ.  These all remind us, on the one hand, that, like Paul, we do not have the liberty to simply do whatever we want. And yet, also like Paul, we share in a deeper freedom. a deeper hope, a call to a more profound identity in the power of the Gospel.

God has won the initial victory over death, but death is still real, still influential, still capable of making us insecure and anxious. We still carry it in our own bodies, we build it into our institutions and relationships, we choose it in its many forms and moods whenever we fail to remember and live up to the deep identity and call of God which is our truest nature. So Paul asks us to get in touch with that deeper freedom, that deeper identity and call to unity which is the basis of all our hope.

When we do that we act not out of insecurity or anxiety, much less out of fear, but instead with patience, gentleness, peace, and humility --- that loving honesty about ourselves and others which true freedom makes possible. And to get us in touch with that deeper freedom he reminds us of who we are, namely, we are those who share one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; we are a new creation, enlivened through faith by the grace of a prodigally merciful God who in Christ is victorious over the godlessness which divides us. It is this shared identity in Christ which transcends our differences and makes us brothers and sisters in Christ.

What Paul asks the Ephesian Church to do is to remember who they really are and to act as their Lord did and does yet act among us. Last week in Prayer Lessons Learned on a Bike Path  I spoke of maintaining a human perspective, taking the long view with Christ as our focus instead of the law he fulfills; it was, I suggested, the heart of a truly spiritual life. In tomorrow's first lection Paul gives essentially the same advice: remember who you really are and act accordingly; keep your eye on the fact that you are a new creation with one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; act not out of anxious concern for the imprisoning limits and constraints which mark your life, not out of a defensiveness driven by the reality of death, but in authentic freedom grounded in God's own eternal life and (his) victory over death. This is God's greatest gift to us. Paul asks that we honor it in all we do and are to one another.

Meanwhile, in tomorrow's Gospel lection Luke reminds us that the choice before us, the choice between life and death, between inauthentic and authentic existence, the choice for Christ is an urgent one. Luke's reading underscores the fact that opportunity can become judgment; a summons to embrace the Kingdom or reign of God can be rejected and lead to disaster. In both Paul and Luke the decision placed before us is to further embrace the persons we are in Christ. In that way God's will to be all in all will one day be realized in our world and we truly serve God and one another with our lives.