So you were visiting. You were, to be honest, ambivalently present. You could, after all, have slept in. You could be finishing the yard work you started yesterday or be out on a long bike ride, a run, the golf course. In the midst of everyone’s busy schedule, this was the morning—the one morning you could actually have had some family time—a late breakfast at Miss Shirleys, Evergreen, or Golden West.
You were there, actually in response to an invitation, though you didn’t know anyone there. You didn’t share the presuppositions of the others gathered there—the beliefs. And while most everyone growing up in your culture had some sense—some awareness of those presuppositions and beliefs—some sense of what the people gathered there affirmed, you would have been the first to acknowledge your knowledge was rudimentary. You would have been the first to acknowledge you had no sense of nuance—no sense of the depths of the affirmations made there—the implications.
So you were ambivalently present, but you were there, and you got there early enough to sit down and peruse the program … no disrespect intended … the bulletin … the order of worship—the Invitation to Worship. You got there early enough to peruse your Invitation to Worship to get an idea of what was to come—what was involved—where and when and how you would be involved. When you would have to stand—when to sit. Didn’t seem to be any kneeling involved. Some singing.
You responded to the people who introduced themselves to you. They were all pleasantly friendly, but not overly so. And thankfully, no one tried to make you wear a sticker or a pin or a ribbon. That was a bad memory. Nothing like being identified as an outsider. Especially, and somewhat ironically, in a place that was supposedly dedicated to making outsiders feel at home.
There was a verbal welcome followed by announcements—a combination of information about the weekly schedule and upcoming events and then some details about certain people’s circumstances—some good circumstances, some not so good. It seemed initially an odd beginning to a time of worship, but if worship was indeed the life of a community of faith, not just the hour or so on Sunday, then the schedule, the announcements about upcoming activities were all integral. And if the community was indeed more than just the people gathered there that day, then the comments about people’s circumstances did comprise a reminder of that affirmation.
There was music—instrumental to begin with, then a song … a hymn to sing. A Call to Worship consisted of a back and forth reading—words of praise. Then, the person who had led that back and forth reading prayed—his prayer followed by a unison prayer everyone joined in on. It was printed in the Invitation to Worship though most everyone seemed to know it by heart. Then someone stood up to read a part of their holy text—something that sounded a whole lot like part of a letter they had received.
This is it, you thought to yourself. This is the key—to their worship—to who they are. And you paid extremely close attention. To better understand these people and this worship, this is what I need to understand, you thought to yourself. Oh, look, here’s the page number in their Bible—in the New Testament part of the Bible the young woman about to read noted. And yes, there’s a Bible here next to that red song book. You flipped through the Bible, glad you had a page number. Glad about that comment about the New Testament part, because the page numbers started all over again two thirds of the way through the Bible. Nice of them not to assume everyone knows how to navigate their holy texts. Ephesians 1:15-23. Page 192.
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints ….” That’s actually what you had heard too. Not so much about the faith in Jesus, actually—that was more assumed, but how much the people there loved each other—took care of each other—looked out for each other. That’s why you were there. You were visiting because of your impression of this church in your community—because people you respected had recommended you visit. “You shouldn’t have to face what you face alone,” you were told. “They’re a good community—been good to me—good for me. You should visit.”
“[A]nd for this reason [having heard of their faith and their love] I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” Interesting. Whoever this person is, he or she didn’t seem to know anyone here any more than you did. So who did write this letter? You looked on the previous page—the beginning of the letter. Paul. Ah. You had heard of him. And just because of what you had heard about him and about the sexism of some of these Baptist folks, you envisioned the writer as Pauline and smiled to yourself. Your little blow for equality!
So Pauline had heard of these folks—heard about their faith and their love and she knew what that meant—she knew that was something for which to give thanks. You had heard about their love too, but didn’t know what that meant—wondered what it meant—wanted to find out what it meant. They’re a good community. It’s why you were there—not in bed, in the yard, at a late breakfast.
Giving thanks, Pauline remembered them in her prayers. Now there’s a good image. Hard for you to get a hold of, but a good image to have of someone else. And evidently, simply hearing of the faith this community had—the love this community had was enough for inclusion in Pauline’s prayers. You considered that. Either such faith and love was rare, or Pauline had awfully long prayers.
“I pray ….” Having mentioned her prayers, Pauline provided more detail about those prayers. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him ….” So not just a prayer of thanksgiving, but also a request—a petition. Or a prayer that started with thanksgiving and moved to petition. Was that the normal movement of a prayer? You tried to remember the prayer from earlier in the service, but trying to keep up with this letter as it was being read, you couldn’t recall to mind the development of that prayer. You made a mental note to go back and check on that later.
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ—” the God of Jesus? Did Jesus have a God? You thought Jesus was God or something like that. Wasn’t that part of what was so convoluted about the belief of these people? Though Jesus did evidently pray. What was that prayer prayed in unison? A quick glance back in the Invitation to Worship—yep, the Lord’s prayer. So, if Jesus was God, did Jesus pray to himself? “I pray that the Father of glory—” Father of glory? Wasn’t God the Father of Jesus? Jesus commonly referred to as the Son of God? Which just added to the complications—if Jesus was the Son of God, how could Jesus be God? If you were going to invent a religion, you thought to yourself, you sure wouldn’t make it as complicated as this one.
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him ….” Coming to know God linked to both wisdom and revelation. You smiled. Most of your buddies would never put those two together. Wisdom questions revelation—or denies it—according to most of their thinking. Coming to know God. You liked that. Process. Aren’t we always coming to know—coming to know each other? Coming to know ourselves? Entirely too much presumption in claiming to know yourself—to know each other—much less to know God. Coming to know. Nice. And in one sense, coming to know someone was all about wisdom and revelation, right? What someone revealed about themselves and what you picked up on—what you put together about them.
“So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened [another nice image] you may know what is the hope to which he has called you ….” The illumination of this faith reveals believers knowing God has called them to hope. Well who doesn’t hope? For a better tomorrow? For different circumstances—personally or for a family—at work—nationally—internationally? Or are we talking a specific hope here? The specific hope to which God has called God’s people—as opposed to the regular hopes time and circumstance call forth in everyone.
“[S]o that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints ….” The riches of a glorious inheritance, huh? The hope to which they’re called is an inheritance? An inheritance is a hope, right? Something to anticipate—to await. It’s a future thing. Richly glorious or not, it’s not a present reality. It’s a promise. Hmm. So what they know is that they hope in a promise. Which makes all of this a trust issue. What they know is that they trust. That’s not knowing much, is it? Not according to the way we usually think about knowing—verifiable stuff.
“[S]o that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” There’s a mouthful. And more of that convoluted thinking to boot. Like saying you know when you really just hope and trust. Pauline’s praying they will know the immeasurable greatness of power for those who believe—according to that power. Isn’t that just a fuzzy way of saying this power is a matter of belief? Not verifiable. Not a matter of believing what you see, but seeing what you believe. And isn’t that part of why the church gets such a bad rap?
“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” The Jesus stuff. We started off with thanks—thanks, in part, for faith in Jesus, moved to petition and then right on to preaching. Resurrection stuff. Though God seems to be at work here through Jesus—in Jesus—for Jesus, not as Jesus. We started with thanks for faith in Jesus, but when we get to the preaching part of this, God’s the one who’s doing everything. As if this power you believe to see was at work in Jesus which is to say what? That Jesus believed? Didn’t Jesus know? Wasn’t Jesus God? You have a headache. You look around to see if everyone else seems to get it. Nope. Looks like several other headaches in the works too!
“And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body—” Now that would make for an interesting organizational structure, wouldn’t it? To put Jesus at the top of the flow chart—the head. So the authority is someone who’s never there—someone never on site. Not someone who will check up on you. Not someone you can talk to—who will answer questions—who will tell you what to do. Which means pretty much everyone is on equal footing—trying to figure out what to do in keeping with who they believe the head to be. Everyone performing various bodily functions—as the body of Jesus—such that the church is reliant—or Jesus is reliant—on the gifts and the interests and the commitments of all members investing in the idea that they’re part of a larger whole and have a key role to play—a vital function to perform.
The church is made up of the gifts and the resources of each person who commits to being a part of the body. And it’s Jesus’ body. Jesus’ body is made up of the gifts and resources of each person who commits to being a part of the body. So, is this hope—this specific hope—the inheritance of the church—is it claiming the body of Jesus? And, if that’s true, does that mean this glorified body seated at the right hand of God raised up over everything? Or the broken, scarred body of the one crucified? Is the church’s hope the reward at the end of the story? Or consistency in the middle of it? Or both? And, if both, is consistency as the body of Christ a prerequisite for glorification?
“God made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Whoa! The church—the church is the fullness of Jesus who fills all in all? What does that mean? Jesus fills the church which is then the fullness of Jesus? Your headache’s gotten worse. God raised Jesus and then the church is the fullness of Jesus? Does that mean the church manifests the resurrected Jesus? Or is supposed to? Or is God filling Jesus? God filling the church? Who knew this listening to Scripture—processing Scripture—thinking about Scripture was so much work? You look around again. Do the others here get all this? Maybe not. Is it worth it, you wonder. Is it worth having a holy text that is so complicated? That is so convoluted? That is so hard to understand?
What do you do with holy texts that leave you with more questions than you had before you heard them? With texts that far from answering questions, raise more questions—far from clarifying, confuse. Is part of believers’ response to their Scripture a willing suspension of disbelief? They won’t notice the contradictions? Won’t acknowledge the inconsistencies in logic? Won’t accept the difficulties? Or, is there some affirmation in believers who embrace contradiction—who embrace vastly different expressions of truth—who find consistency illogical—who think the reality of wonder and questions a more appropriate response to revelation than any illusion of comprehension or mastery.
If you’re going to talk about God, it has to be complicated, right?
And Pauline located all this within the process of coming to know. In a passage beginning with the idea of coming to know God that moved to Jesus and finally to the community of faith—as if, dare we hope, in coming to know the community of faith, the body of Jesus, manifesting a faith—living out love and living into hope—leaning onto promise—in coming to know such a community—a community that knows itself—is always coming to know itself as the story of Jesus—as the body of Jesus—to get to know such a community is to come to know Jesus. And in coming to know Jesus, we come to know God. Maybe you have to get through complicated to find something really simple. All within a consistency located in the body of Jesus which is the fullness of Jesus, and the fullness of God, and the fullness of us—in obedience to love—in commitment to faith and in the glorification of hope—all in all. The ascension of the body of Christ into its inheritance.
Could it be that simple? If they see us love each other, they see Jesus. If they see Jesus, they see God.