Sometimes one comes across a verse of Scripture which demands a little bit more attention..… Somehow it stays with you and the more you look at it; it seems to stare back at you, as if to say, “Go on, get your mind around this then!”. I have that kind of sensation with the first verse of our Epistle this morning. St. Paul begins his letter to the Church in Ephesus with these words of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. (Ephesians 1.3)
The longer I`ve sat with those few words the more I`ve been overtaken by a picture of the complete emptying as it were, of God`s `storehouse of goodness`. Paul seems to be saying that in Jesus our God has held absolutely nothing back; he has expressed the totality of his love towards all that he has made. There`s nothing more to be revealed… and the whole tone, as he goes on to point out, is that we`re dealing with a God who has `lavished` his grace upon us.
So in the remainder of the passage he goes on to point out the material changes this has made for us who are now as he puts it `adopted` as his children. We are “Ransomed, healed, restored forgiven” as the hymn puts it; we`re heirs of what he calls `an inheritance` and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It really is a mind-boggling list and you can get quite carried away by it all; but then I reach the point where (and I don`t mean this disrespectfully), I begin to think, “Well, so what?” So Paul tells us something hugely significant and important about what the Lord has done in Christ.
But we all might reasonably ask, “What difference is this going to make this time tomorrow?”. You might even say, “That`s all well and good but I don’t feel any different”… But that`s where I think we give the game away: “I don’t feel any different”. What I want to suggest this morning is that as Paul tells us we are very much recipients of the lavish goodness of God but we have not been trained to recognise it. We are very much recipients of the lavish goodness of God but I think we test its authenticity in two mistaken ways.
Firstly, we look for what we regard as large, significant or `out of the ordinary` things as a sort of `proof` and secondly we look to things which provide us with a noticeable sensation or feeling. These two things seem to be the features of what many of us might regard as `religious` experience. These are the things which, as I say are often regarded as verifying the truth or otherwise of the statements we hear; and I`m suggesting that this is where we go wrong. In other words I`m suggesting that the Lord continues to give us `every spiritual blessing` that the heavens afford but that we all too easily look in the wrong places and all too frequently downgrade the significance of the means he actually chooses.
So putting it simply; I think it helps to become aware of how we live in an age where `sensation` or feeling is to the fore but our faith invites us to consider `sacraments`. Where we all too easily look for excitement; physical sensation or a good feeling the church gives us much simpler things such as water, bread, wine and scripture.
So for example, we may or may not have any recollection of our Baptism; less still any memory of whether it felt good or bad but we are nonetheless Baptised; ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. There is an objectivity about this; which goes beyond our sensory experience. You may or may not feel your heart warmed as you hear a few verses of Scripture but be in no doubt that here is God`s Word to you. To be pondered; engaged with, reflected on and lived. You may or may not have a feeling of the Lord`s presence as you receive these seemingly insignificant pieces of bread and a sip of wine but be in no doubt that Christ is giving himself to you completely. Just as the Lord fed his people in the wilderness this IS bread for the journey of faith… and you do not need any more than this.
We are it seems, very fond of singing, “The Lord`s my shepherd ……I shall not want…” or “I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever” and so on. But it`s another thing to live like that and to trust that he has and will provide for our every need. We`re very fond of singing, “My table Thou hast furnished, in presence of my foes; my head Thou dost with oil anoint, and my cup overflows”. Well HERE is the table. Here is the overflowing of the heavenly places…. for those with eyes to see.
I recall almost thirty years ago paying a visit to a small village in the Irish Republic. One Sunday evening I sat at the back of a tiny Catholic Church during Mass and when it was time for the priest to distribute the bread the people came forward. But they came forward not as we do; slowly, respectfully of one another and in good order. No, at the word of invitation they raced, all of them to the front of the Church; and they crowded around the priest with their hands outstretched in desire. Of course, Health and Safety guidance would probably suggest that we don`t try to emulate them this morning but can we not pray for the same desire to recognise and embrace the ways our God chooses to demonstrate his love; what are called the `means of grace`.
Look not to your feelings; those consolations which come and go. Look to the water, the bread, the wine and the scripture; (and perhaps, it must be said- at their best, the people around you- your companions in faith) for these are the means by which the Lord chooses to pour and lavish his goodness on you. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”.