1/3/99, Epiphany Sunday, Year A

“The Mystery Made Known”
Ephesians 3: 1-12

piphany brings closure to the Christmas season. It is therefore appropriate on this Sunday to observe that in the Christ Event we have the fullness of the mystery of God made known, once and for all time. Jesus Christ has fleshed out clearly “...what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” (v.9, NRSV).

We hear this theme clearly in Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus. Paul related this mystery of the universe to his personal conversion experience and call to be an Apostle of Christ. The mystery was made known to him personally as the glorified Christ appeared to him as he was traveling on the road to Damascus. Coming out of that highly charged encounter, Paul understood that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and that redemption had been enacted through his birth, death and resurrection. More than that, Paul felt an inner sense of salvation, of being in a new relationship with the Father through the Son, and by the inner presence of the Holy Spirit.

The scope of scripture proclaims that we do not need to wait any longer to comprehend the mystery of God; we already have it in Jesus Christ. The revelation we have is sufficient for salvation and for participation in His grace. His work has been done, it is now our turn to respond to His overture.

However the mystery which was made known in Christ was on a much broader scope than the experience of Paul; the mystery was that this redemption had been made potentially every person’s opportunity: “by the Spirit... the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (v.6). In other words, all humanity was now to be offered a new relationship with God in Christ.

The song we learned in Vacation Bible School is indeed true, “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

The logic is that since we are all potentially brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to begin to act like it. Those of us who have lived through the eradication of segregation know what a struggle it has been. Blood has been shed and many years have passed and we sometimes still draw the line at the point of race. Christians, Jews, and Muslims still can not act civil toward each other, and in many places think of each other as less than human. Even within the Christian Churches there is deep seated prejudice, sometimes in superficial matters of practice and dogma.

My honey took me out to the movies on date night and we saw the acclaimed British motion picture, “Elizabeth.” It began with a graphic scene of the burning at the stake of two women and a man accused of heresy. Princess Elizabeth came perilously close to the burning herself. But, as the story unfolded, there was a compromise reached and a long reign of peace was born during which time the warring sides put down their arms. But after all these several hundred years hatred still festers in factions on all sides of warring denominations.

This leads us to a third phase of Paul’s explanation of the mystery: “...through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.” (v. 10).

This means that it is our task, as believers, to fulfill Jesus’ great commissioning to preach the gospel to everyone everywhere. God’s mystery is that He has chosen us for the job. Unless we do the work it will not be done. But quite often the church has been the problem and not the solution. As in the time of Queen Elisabeth, the divided, political, and heretical church was not able to tell anyone, or model anything of the good news of salvation. Still today, we sometimes trip over ourselves and miss doing the thing that we were primarily created to do. Sometimes it is amazing that anyone is attracted to us at all.

However, folks love the story of Jesus. It is just his reluctant messengers that turn them off. What a marvelous story it is. A child is born into poverty, he grows up to be a shining example of purity and goodness, folks by the thousands came to here his sermons, but in the end the rulers of government had him executed on a cruel cross. Folks can identify with suffering, for we all know his pain. We can understand that a price had to be paid and we can believe that the sinless lamb was sacrificed for the atonement of our human sin. And again we humans are thrilled by the story of resurrection, and life everlasting. No wonder that the world is attracted to Jesus! Too bad that many miss it because of the muffled message of his Church.

It’s not right that this glorious good news should be hidden again. God meant for the mystery to be revealed to all people everywhere. But some of us just don’t get it, do we? We stand and sing with gusto the old hymn, Standing on the Promises,” But we continue just sitting on the premises of the Church. All we seemingly want is a good feeling, or a hope that God is going to make an exception in our case. Many church going folks spend the first six days of the week sowing their wild oats, then go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure. Many “in name only” Christianettes only go to church when they have a problem. They think of the church as an ambulance for the sick, and do not see their own need for it. But in our higher moments we know that we do have a wonderful story to tell to the nations and that it is our calling to go tell it on every mountain.

What do we need to do to free ourselves of the barnacles that have inhibited our witness?

Donna went to Centennial Olympic Park and handed out printed invitations to young people to come to a party in our church gym. Then last week she proposed putting our Web Site on a broader domain so that thousands more could hit on our site. Phyllis spent three months rehearsing our children in a Christmas play, and who knows what an impact that had on them and us. Maralyn volunteered 15 hours in our Midtown Assistance Center and Linda drove four hours round trip to keep the clothes closet open. Jack took two new guys to a men’s rally. What new ideas do you have to make the mystery known?

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

1/3/99, Epiphany Sunday, Year A