Paul’s famous song (November 20, 2022)

A uniform lesson for November 20, 2022.

Uniform lesson for November 20, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Ephesians 2:1-10

My goodness! If you can’t sing this part of the Ephesian’s song, you may be in the wrong choir. Listen to some of the refrains that we know so well. Words like: “ God … made us alive together with Christ “ (vv. 4-5). Or this common refrain: “By grace you have been saved through faith” (v. 8). Or Paul’s exclamation: “for we are what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (v. 10). Mercy goodness: crank up the organ and get the congregation on its feet! This is some serious music about God’s exceptional choice.

You were dead

If I were choosing colors to create something that would share my love with all the world, I would start with colors that spoke of life, as bright and alluring as imaginable. So I imagine that God would begin God’s creation with materials that were full of life — something like a cardinal flashing red on a winter’s morning, an azalea bush exploding with magenta blossoms in April or a humpbacked whale breaching the ocean off Alaska.

But God prefers to create artwork out of dead things: dust, infertile couples, dead bodies, dead communities. Our lesson from Ephesians begins here, as does the entire gospel story. We cannot discuss God’s exceptional choice without a courageous reckoning of who we are. We are a people and a community who are dead in our sins, doing what gets us ahead and. As verse two says, we are “following the course of this world,” getting in line with the structures and systems that lift us up as they keep others down and “following the ruler of the power of the air” (v. 2). This is who we are — if left on our own. But God has another plan and purpose. It’s called an exceptional choice. It’s made manifest through exodus and resurrection. We begin this week’s song in a decidedly minor key.

By grace you have been saved

Now the key and the tone shifts. The God sentences start to pile up. God, God, God. Grace, grace, grace. This song now lifts and spills over with the extraordinary and unimaginable gifts of God. God is “rich in mercy” (v. 4). God acts “out of the great love with which [God] has loved us” (v. 4). God “raised us up with [Jesus] and seats us with [Jesus] in the heavenly places” (v. 6). Did you catch that? That part is past tense. We’ve already been raised up and been seated with Jesus “in the heavenly places” (v. 6). Exodus and resurrection are not future events, but present realities — signs and seals of God’s exceptional choice.

But don’t get a big head! As the writer expands the range of God’s miraculous actions, this chorus begins to repeat its accompanying theme. It’s “by grace” we’ve been saved (v. 8). It’s not our doing, it’s the gift of God. More specifically, it’s “not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (v. 9). This is God’s exceptional, extraordinary and surprising choice. God takes what was dead and makes us into the most alive force in the cosmos — the resurrected body of Jesus, raised up and seated in the very presence of God. Wow! Who scripted this chorus? Who had the audacity to write this song? What creatures in this universe would have the spirit to sing and live it? How about us?

Created in Christ Jesus for good works

I know I’m doing a lot of quoting this week, but if your material is a powerful poem, a sumptuous symphony or a painting that fills an entire gallery with its color and its scope, you must spend most of your time sounding out the poem, reveling in the music and soaking up the art. But before we leave the reading or the auditorium or the museum, listen to the closing bars of the music, which make its purpose clear.

God saved us not based on good works but for the purpose of good works (vv. 9-10). Maybe God chooses dead things to work with so that when the benefits of God’s artwork begin to seep out into God’s good creation, no one mistakes the source. God chose us and all creatures alive to live out a particular way of life (v. 10). We’ve seen it in Jesus and the world longs to see it in us.

For discussion:

What’s your favorite stanza in this song? Can you sing it?

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