“Riches of God’s Inheritance”
Ephesians 1:1-2, 15-19 (1:18) – November 6, 2016
It’s All Saints’ Sunday! The day set apart to commemorate all the saints. Not only the living saints of today, but all the saints, all those who have ever believed in God, for all time.
Who is a saint, anyhow? We have the Apostle Paul. He is called a saint by many streams of Christian faith and tradition, and has been known as one for hundreds and hundreds of years. A powerhouse of a believer, that’s to be sure! What about St. Luke, who our church is named after? The only Gentile to author books in our Bible, and a learned man. A doctor. He certainly is lifted up as a prime example of faith in our Lord.
But that was centuries ago. Who do we lift up as saints today? Mother Theresa was just declared a saint by Pope Francis several months ago. Her example as the founder of the order the Missionaries of Charity, and her piety and good works are definitely something for all of us to emulate. What about on the Protestant side of the aisle? Some would say people like Martin Luther King Jr. ought to be lifted up, who did so much to promote the worth and position of people of color, of women and of downtrodden individuals all over the world. What about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who steadfastly stood against the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, and trained pastors secretly in a forbidden seminary. He wrote extensively about not only the Christian faith, but the fearsome menace of the Fascists in Germany against not only Christians, but against all people of conscience, all over the world.
Yes, we commemorate all of these, and many more. The Apostle Paul surely would nod his head in agreement. But, what does our scripture lesson for today have to do with all of these big names, all of these rock stars of the Christian faith? Good question! For the answer, let’s turn to the passage from Ephesians, the beginning of Paul’s letter.
Starting at verse one, chapter one: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Do you hear? Saints! Paul calls everyone who belongs to the church in Ephesus a saint. A believer, one who is faithful to Jesus.
One of the commentators I consulted says “In Paul’s understanding the title “saint” belongs to those who have been united with Christ. He routinely calls the members of his churches “saints” (Ephesians 1:1 and 1:15) because of who they are in Christ and not because of what they have accomplished.”  (italics mine)
We take these writings in the New Testament to heart. We believe the biblical writers not only to have addressed these letters to the stated churches and people, but we consider these writings to be addressed to us, too. So—Paul is calling us saints. In Greek, it is hagioi, or holy ones, set-apart-ones. That is us, too!
Our scripture lesson today lifts up Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers, or saints. These are Paul’s friends. He had been pastor in Ephesus in the past for many months, and he had developed some deep, intimate relationships with some of the people there. Now far away, he writes this letter to his friends, his former congregation.
When you have deep, intimate relationships with people, and then move far away, how do you keep in touch? Today, of course, with the telephone, computer and social media, there are many ways to stay connected. But, in Paul’s day? Not so much. Besides returning to see the friend for a visit, the options were personal letters, and visits from emissaries, who might deliver a personal message to a friend or relative.
Paul really wanted to communicate some specific things. He does this in a prayer; the prayer in the passage we read today. Paul prays for the Ephesians…but, how does he pray? For what? He mentions faith! Love! Hope! Riches!
Let’s break that down. He leads off with the two most significant, and in a compliment to his friends, too! Verse 15: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints;” that is, for all of their fellow believers in Christ. And, I think Paul is talking about the Ephesians’ love for all saints, everywhere!. That’s huge! Could someone say that about us? About this group of believers, right here at St. Luke’s Church?
I want us to pay particular attention. That compliment of Paul’s is a great example for us. To love not only believers nearby, who look like us and worship like we do on Sunday morning, but also have love for believers far away, who look and act and speak in very different ways, and may not worship in ways that are familiar, or even comfortable to our way of thinking. Certainly, something to think about.
Let’s get to the heart of this prayer (and the heart of this sermon); look at Paul’s mention of hope and riches. This is his earnest request of God: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation…so that, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”
Here is Paul’s earnest prayer for his friends in Ephesus, and by extension, earnest prayer for all of us, too! That we may be fully aware of 1) the hope of our Calling by God, and 2) the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.
Let me double check. Then, if we understand Paul correctly, we can tell that we are saints—holy people—set apart—solely because of who we are in Christ, not because of anything we have done, or how good we have been, or any other striving or good works on our part. And that is consistent with exactly what we have heard last week, in our Reformation Day sermon. We are set free—we are made holy people, hagioi, saints of God—by Jesus Christ. Not because of anything we have done, or by our puny striving, or our paltry good works. (What a marvelous tie-in to last week’s sermon!)
You may be wondering why I asked everyone to bring in photos of their loved one who have died. I wanted a visible reminder of these beloved saints, these loved ones who have gone before us, into God’s blessed presence. Paul prays that the Ephesian saints may know the riches of our glorious inheritance—which is salvation! Redemption! Adoption as God’s beloved children. Our loved ones who are now in God’s presence know those glorious riches firsthand.
In a few minutes, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is not only us gathered here who celebrate, but it is that great cloud of witnesses we spoke of, at the beginning of the service. We have our own cloud of witnesses, too, who are gathered here around the altar. Who we remember and miss and think of with fondness, and who are with us each time we gather together as a congregation in worship.
Each time we gather together at this table, we join the communion of saints—and our own cloud of witnesses to God’s glory and unbounded love. Just as they are feasting in heaven right now, around God’s own banquet table, so we feast here today. A foretaste of that banquet in heaven, and the blessed hope of the reunion to come.
Let us not forget: as the Apostle Paul reminds us, we can also celebrate the riches of our inheritance! That is, our forgiveness by Jesus Christ, our salvation and redemption in His name, and our adoption as children of God. Saints of God! That title of “saints” isn’t just for the superstars of faith, but it’s for you and me, too. To all who believe. Praise God! Amen!
 http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1634 Ephesians 1:11-23, Mark Tranvik, All Saints C, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.