A Thanksgiving Prayer

Ephesians 1:15-23

Individual Triumph and Cheap Grace?

Sometimes we read scripture selfishly. Like here: at first blush, this section of scripture—this prayer of Paul—seems to celebrate our individual enlightenment. It seems to extol those who have received the sort of secret knowledge that gets them “in” with God. Or maybe to put a more contemporary spin on it, it’s all about you: your coming to faith, your learning and growing through the Spirit, your hope, the inheritance of your salvation, and the power of God now available to you.

I trust that you are able to see a problem with this interpretation. The kind of radically individualistic religion that is focused only on oneself is incompatible with the message and example of Christ—at least that is what Christians have affirmed for centuries. Early and often, this kind of individual-enlightenment emphasis has been denounced by the Church as heresy.

It is (perhaps) ironic that we so easily read these words in this way, because this passage actually speaks to a very different kind of faith. Instead of “a faith grounded in individual triumph and cheap grace,” Paul speaks of how the lordship of Jesus Christ ushers in “an age of communal witness,” rather than one of “solitary reward” (Cole, Feasting, 328).

When we examine Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving a bit closer, we realize that this prayer is not aimed at us individually, but corporately. The wisdom that brings hope, inheritance, and power is not desired for individuals, but for a church. A church—that means a group of Jesus-followers committed to living in the kingdom of God in the here and now.

It is onto the community of believers that Paul prays for God’s Spirit of wisdom to come.

It is the community of believers that Paul desires to grow in their understanding of the hope God has for them.

It is the community of believers where the “riches of his glorious inheritance” will be seen and known.

It is in the community of believers that the resurrection power of God will be observed, realized, and manifested.

You see, this prayer of Paul “is not a victory dance for those who have arrived but a…call to live a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called, to exhibit the body of Christ as God’s called-out people for the world,” (as pastor John Cole has written) (Cole, Feasting, 328).

Christ is the head; the Church is his body. The two are inseparable. You cannot have Christ without the Church anymore than you can remove the head from the body.

And “because God’s saving work is not finished, neither is the task to which believers…have been called, as Christ’s body.”

It is this commitment to community growth and development that drives Paul to prayer.

Thanksgiving in Community

And this is a thanksgiving prayer that Paul offers up. Appropriate, for the season for giving thanks in which we find ourselves.

But I want to suggest something this morning—something that may sound a bit radical: You can’t have thanksgiving without community. You cannot give thanks without sharing your appreciation with others.

I mean: How does this sound?

God, I thank you so much for providing for my need that I’m going to tell you and no one else what you have done, but I really appreciate it, which is why I’m telling you, even though you already know all things…

That’s not how this works. God does not work resurrection power in your life so you can feel better about yourself. Nor does God do so because God needs you to pat God on the back. God works resurrection power in your life because (1) God loves you, and (2) God wants to work that power in the lives of others. And that requires them knowing what God can do, so they will be open to God working in their lives as well.

E pluribus unum

For most of the history of the United States, we did not have an official motto. There was, however, one dominant un-official motto. Something so pervasive to our cultural and historic identity that it appeared on our coinage even before our Constitution was written. Something so widely appreciated that it appeared on the Seal of the United States even before our Revolutionary War was complete.

This motto is: E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”

As a nation, we’ve latched onto this motto because it describes the historical realities of the origins of our country. We were many colonies, made up of different religions, nationalities of origin, economic means, and even native language. But out of everything that made us different, we found ourselves called to a kind of unity.

Our rallying cry was “Freedom!” But it was liberty we sought as we recognized that we have a collective responsibility to protect precisely those things that make us different. We realized we cannot be truly free if others are not.

As Christians, we could adopt the same motto. We are as different as human beings can be. Our origins are different. Our experiences are different. Our abilities are different. Our commitments are different.

It has always been this way. And the lowest points in Christian history have all come when we failed to respect, honor, and guard one another’s difference.

We each come to faith and life with very different sets of eyes. The easy answers for one do not satisfy another. The deep theological wrestlings of her may seem unnecessary for him. But we are a body. We are one, with Christ as our head. And part of our responsibility in coming together is to share and guard each others’ difference.

One

There’s a hymn that I really like that celebrates this oneness we have when we are unified as the Body, with Christ as our head. We’d have sung it today, but I don’t think it is all that familiar to most of you. It’s lyrics go like this (#286):

Our God has made us one—
In Him our hearts unite.
When we, His children, share His love,
Our joy is His delight.

Our God has made us one—
His glory is displayed.
For as we build each other up
Our love becomes His praise.

Our God has made us one—
In sorrow and in joy;
We share the cross of Christ, our Lord,
In Him we now rejoice.

Our God has made us one—
One Church to bear His name;
One body and one Bride of Christ,
And with Him we shall reign

Thanksgiving

This season—and especially right now, this year—I do offer thanks to God for this community of faith.

Like Paul, I pray that God will give this church a spirit of wisdom and revelation, as we grow in knowing God.

I pray that as the eyes of our heart are enlightened, we will know “what is the hope to which he has called [us], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

I give God thanks for the resurrection power God is working in our midst—power that even now may be overwhelming our ability to resist it—as God breathes new life into God’s church, heals our wounds, forgives our failings, and teaches us to love again.

“Christ was Lord in the beginning, he will be Lord in the end. Even now, he is Lord” (Cole, Feasting, 330).

Prayer

O Christ,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Amen.

Advertisements