Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
7Pentecost, Proper 10, Year B
“Count your blessings”
“Count your many blessings;
name them one by one.”
Do you all know this old gospel hymn? …..
No? Then you will after today! [This hymn was our choir anthem today.]
If I were to ask you to name your blessings, what would be on YOUR list?
Family. I’ll bet many of you would say “family.” Or “friends.” Some of you would say “health,” or maybe “my job,” or even “money.” And yes, these ARE blessings.
Did you notice a certain “material-ness” to this list, though? Or maybe GOD was on YOUR list. Maybe your list of blessings include “life,” and “salvation” and “purpose.” I hope so!
A lot of people get confused about how God and blessings go together, though. There’s a certain philosophy, s philosophy invented in our capitalist-America, that equates material blessings with God’s favor:
“Health and Wealth.”
“Name it and claim it.”
“Word of faith.”
THESE are the synonyms for what’s called “prosperity gospel,” the notion that:
- Positive speaking, and
- (my favorite) donations to your church,
that all these will cause God to shower you with blessings too many to count, will cause God to make your rich. “If you give $1,000 to God,” this prosperity gospel doctrine goes, “and you have enough faith, God will give you $10,000 back.” Sort of a faith-based Ponzi scheme.
I don’t know where that doctrine is found in the Bible. I’ve been LOOKING, because stewardship season is coming. But I just can’t find prosperity gospel there.
Oh, I’ve studied the verses the megachurch televangelists use. John 10:10 is their favorite. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have [life] to the full.”
Well, this is the kind of verse that reveals what’s in your heart, reveals what kind of blessings you crave.
- If you value health, then you will think that “life to the full” is health.
- If you value wealth, then you will think that “life to the full” is mega-wealth.
- If you value God, though, “life to the full” is a life full of spiritual blessings.
“But,” you might say, “I don’t know what spiritual blessings ARE.” If that’s the case, our second lesson today will be very helpful. Here the author of this letter to the Ephesians (let’s call him Paul) lists the blessings, all spiritual, of being “in Christ.”
Did you hear those blessings named as our lesson was read today? (Did you count them?)
- We are a CHOSEN people: God’s own, with whom God has found favor. Paul said that God has loved us, collectively and individually, since before he created all that is. This means God’s love for us isn’t contingent upon anything we think or do, bad or good. WE are God’s chosen people.
- God has adopted us as his children. And not as an afterthought, either. Not because we’ve sinned and our adoption is a make-do corrective. Here in Ephesians we learn that God planned to adopt us before he made us, because God’s will for us is to be holy and blameless. And God’s original plan was the “adoption plan.”
- Our inheritance is redemption and forgiveness. As beloved children of God, we have been provided with a way to be forgiven of our sins and redeemed as God’s own. In other words, we too can go home to God when our life here is over, just like Christ Jesus did. The mechanism of receiving our inheritance is God redeeming us and forgiving us for how we have strayed from God’s will for us.
- Our prosperity in this life comes from knowing who we are. We are people:
* loved by God
* created by God to be the temple of God
* gifted by God to accomplish some God-purpose here in this life, and then
* destined to go home to God.
To help us discern our purpose, our lesson says that we have been given great gifts. Specifically, we have been given:
- Revelation; and
- The Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit leads us into all Truth (John 16:13), and by giving us spiritual gifts God has blessed us with the tools necessary to recognize and to act on God’s Truth. We are to use our God-given wisdom to seek insight about all that God has revealed to us.
Verse 13 tells us, though, that wisdom and insight and revelation by themselves are not sufficient. What is required to be “sealed with the … Holy Spirit” is that we must believe in Christ Jesus. Because God’s plan, made before he created the world, is that in the fullness of time to gather up all things IN HIM, TO HIM.
The last verse in our epistle lesson tells us that praise of God is the proper response to the blessings God has given us.
We might ask, by the way, what good are spiritual blessings if we don’t have food to eat or a roof over our head. In harsh circumstances such as these, or maybe even in the everyday scrabble of life, we might think of spiritual blessings as superfluous, nice-to-have additions to life, non-essential. The reality, Paul asserts, is that spiritual blessings are essential, freely given, and available for our prosperity. Everything else (even life itself) is secondary.
So I invite you again:
“Count your many blessings;
name them one by one.
Count your many blessings;
see what God has done.”