The book of Ephesians has always been one of my favorites. When I was a kid, I loved the passage at the end about the armor of God. I didn’t really know who the Apostle Paul was, but I imagined he was the guy in this armor, fighting against the evils of the world. He was the coolest superhero in the Bible!
It wasn’t until college, or maybe seminary, that I came to understand more about what Ephesians is really about. In fact, according to most scholars, they don’t even think that Paul wrote the book. Not only that, but the book wasn’t really written to the Ephesians either! Let me explain.
First, the author. Imagine with me that I wrote a book. In my book, I would likely have a dedication page, or an acknowledgements page, or both, where I could thank those who had a tremendous impact on my writing. Perhaps I would choose to write an acknowledgement of one of my mentors, Joe Kutter. I would write how thankful I was to him for his leadership, and how much I owed to his theology and practice of ministry. Then, I would put the title and my name on the front of the book. But in the ancient world, they didn’t mess around with acknowledgement or dedication pages. If there was a mentor who had a tremendous impact on your work, you would claim that the work itself was written by that mentor. In other words, on the front page of my book, it would say, “written by Joe Kutter.” My name wouldn’t even show up. That’s because I feel that my mentor was so important to my writing that I don’t deserve the credit – he does. That’s what is most likely happening in the book of Ephesians. Even though it says it is written by Paul, the writing style, vocabulary, and the context aren’t like anything else Paul has written. So, this is likely the case of an author who counted Paul as a mentor, was so thankful to him for his teaching and theology, that he wrote this letter as a dedication to Paul and his teaching and theology. Some scholars still call the author “Paul.” I like “Paul Jr.” Needless to say, this was written by someone who was intimately connected to Paul’s theology and brought it to the next generation.
But who did he write it to? I said in the parable I told last week that the letter was most likely written to circulate to all the churches, not just to Ephesus. Again, unlike Paul’s other letters, there is not mention of specific situations or people from Ephesus. So, what some scholars believe is that the book was written literally with a blank where the name goes: “To the church at ___________” and then it was addressed to each church, or read out loud as the letter was read to the congregation. The manuscript that we happened to find was the one used in Ephesus, thus we call it Ephesians.
Why does all this matter? It helps to determine what Ephesians is trying to say. Instead of Paul writing to a specific congregation about specific concerns, Ephesians is written to the “Big C Church.” The words that the author writes are more general, more universal, and pointed toward a more general human condition.
Look there in chapter two. The author goes on and on about the general spiritual malaise. He talks about “trespasses and sins,” about the “ruler of the power of the world,” about the “passions of the flesh.” The author of Ephesians is giving a diagnosis of the spiritual reality of the world – not just one congregation, but of the human condition.
When I read this passage again, I thought of the work of Brene Brown. I have referenced her work before, and have really learned a lot from her research, and I think that she offers a spiritual diagnosis similar to what the author of Ephesians is doing. I want you to listen to a clip from her first TED talk. She is presenting a summary of her research on vulnerability and emotional pain. I am just going to show a couple minutes, but I think that she does a better job in her own words than I would summarizing. Brene Brown:
(Dear internet reader…I used a section from around 15.10 to 18.48 in the sermon, but the whole thing is pretty awesome! A little language, but a great message.)
Her point seems to be this. There is a lot of stuff out there that means to distract or numb or assert itself in our lives. And it creates this general malaise, what I would call a spiritual sickness. Brene Brown does not present herself as a Christian researcher, but I think that she has aptly named a spiritual reality that a lot of Americans, and maybe a lot of us, struggle with on a daily basis. What are we to do with this? How are we to respond to this yearning to numb, to run away from vulnerability?
That’s where today’s passages comes in. The author of Ephesians has a different story. So, if this is a story of the basic diagnosis of the human condition, the author gives us a spiritual diagnosis. He or she is trying to combat the brokenness of the human condition. And how does he do it? The power of the love of Christ. Look at the language that Ephesians uses. Look how much of it is internal and emotional. The answer to the basic human condition of sin is Christ’s love. Here is the author’s prayer for the hearers:
- Strengthened in your inner being
- Power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ
- Rooted and grounded in love
Ephesians is like a crash course in spiritual health. Don’t do the things on the left. That is the way of the passions of the flesh. Instead, do the things on the right. This is the way to spiritual health. This is what it looks like to reject the brokenness of our world in our hearts and minds, and to replace them and their authority with the love of Christ.
So what do these things look like? How can we do these things in our own lives?
Peter Scazzero is an author and a pastor, and writes from his own experiences of pain in the church. For him, the way to experience the love of Christ was to get really real about his own life, his own pain, and his own healing. Scazzero suggests three gifts of the power of the love of Christ in our own lives. Each one corresponds with the treatment plan that we find in Ephesians.
First, we have the gift of slowing down. Oooh…we don’t like that one, do we? How many of us see slowing down as a gift….or do we more often see it as a curse? As soon as things start to slow down, we look for one of these things to fill the void. As soon as we sit down in the doctor’s office, or in line in the supermarket, or when we get to a red light, what do we do with that extra time and space? Pull out the phone! Fill it up. Watch a video or check in on social media. We don’t see slowing down as a gift, but an inconvenience.
But Scazzero tells us that slowing down is absolutely a gift. This is how we are strengthened in our inner being. This is how we come to know ourselves spiritually. To spend time with God in prayer. To meditate on God’s goodness. To pause and say thank you. To take a tech-free walk and listen for God. These are gifts of the spiritual life. Of healthy spirituality. If we are to know ourselves, we must slow down.
Secondly, we have the gift of breaking free from our illusions. The power of the world loves the illusions. What did BB say? The most addicted, obese, etc. etc. etc. The world around us loves it when we fall for the numbing, or for the perfectionism, or for the certainty that we think we possess. We try and live up to these unrealistic expectations. I have to be the smartest, or the fastest, or the most musical, or the funniest. Scazzero says that we fall for the false gods of fame, of status, of wealth. And so we spend our lives running after those things. But what does Ephesians say? I pray you have the “Power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ.” The Greek here is fascinating. The word that the NRSV says is “comprehend” is katalambano, a two part word. “Lambano” means something closer to “grasped.” A physical or conceptual grasping of a concept. But the prefix “kata” suggests that it is a surprise. An “aha” moment.
The image that comes to mind is the action movie. You know, the action hero is standing on solid ground when some big explosion happens. The cliff collapses, or the building blows up. And what they thought was solid ground is disappears underneath their feet. So they are falling and falling and everything thinks they aren’t going to make it. And then what happens? They reach up and grab some rope that was there the whole time. Or a helicopter that swoops in at just the right time and they grab the landing gear. In a surprise moment, they grasp what they need to survive. That’s the image that katalambano suggests to me. When the illusions of life fall apart, the author says, may you be surprised by the grasp of love. May the love of Christ be your lifeline at exactly the right moment.
Finally, we have the gift of anchoring in God’s love. Ephesians calls it being “rooted and grounded in love.” For Scazzero, this means rejecting the messages of the powers and principalities: I am not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, worthy enough. And instead, rooting ourselves, anchoring ourselves to the alternative message that we are worthy. That we are beloved. Not perfect. Not exactly what the powers and principalities want us to be. But worthwhile. Lovable. We anchor ourselves in the gift of God’s love.
I want you this morning to take a moment to anchor yourself, to root yourself in that love. I want you to close your eyes and imagine a tree with deep roots. There is one on the front of your bulletin if you need an image. And I want to finish with a list of words from Scazzero’s book, about what it means to root ourselves in that love.
- “I hold myself in high regard despite my imperfections and limits.”
- “I am worthy to assert my God-given power in the world.”
- “I am entitled to exist.”
- “It is good that I exist.”
- “I have my own identity from God that is distinct and unique.”
- “I am worthy of being valued and paid attention to.”
- “I am entitled to joy and pleasure.”
- “I am entitled to make mistakes and not be perfect.”
Brene Brown ends her TED Talk with these words: “I am enough.”
Scazzero says the same thing. The author of Ephesians says the same thing. The love of Christ teaches us that we are enough.
They all plead with us to understand that deep down, we are enough. We are beloved children of God. We don’t have to hang onto the illusions around us, to run and run and run until we are exhausted, but root ourselves in the deep and profound love of God. And in that moment of quiet, in that moment of grace, know deep down, I am enough.