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“Head” lines / All Saints Sunday

Ephesians 1:11-23

11In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory. 13In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.

How many of us pick up the newspaper or our digital devices each morning and scan the headlines before we start reading the morning news? Not every story is interesting to everyone. For example, a headline about a tax hike or a bomb scare is more likely to catch my attention than a headline about school marching bands or knitting clubs.

You have your own criteria for judging which stories are worth your time. But occasionally a headline will catch our attention because it seems to have more than one meaning. Sometimes the unintentional meaning is hilarious. For example:

“Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge” — that’s strong tape! Here’s another:

“Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half” — that seems like drastic punishment to me just for dropping out of high school. Here’s another:

“Miners Refuse to Work After Death” — you have to watch those mining companies. They’ll make you work on and on and on . . .

“Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead” — Well, if they weren’t before, they certainly are now.

And here’s my favorite. It was a headline that came out before the fall of Saddam Hussein almost twenty years ago. Here’s how it read: “Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.”

Now there’s a visual image that gets the imagination going. “Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.” In light of Saddam’s ultimate outcome, the former head of Iraq probably should have been looking a brain rather than arms. But this absurd headline is a perfect description of today’s Bible passage. A head seeking arms.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of books on the market today under the title “So-an-so for Dummies.” Windows for Dummies. Investing for Dummies. Philosophy for Dummies. Golf for Dummies. If you’ve ever read one of these books, you’ve learned that they’re not for dummies at all. They’re meant for smart people who lack knowledge in a specific area.

If I were to re-title the book of Ephesians, I would call it Church for Dummies. Because that’s what the letter to the Ephesians is all about: why God created the church and how to be a church that honors God.

The setting for today’s lesson is Ephesus. The city of Ephesus was famous for its many temples and its many gods. The most prominent monument in town was the temple in honor of the god Artemis. This temple employed temple prostitutes, that’s right, I said prostitutes, for its religious rites. The temple of Artemis was an impressive building. The Ephesians knew all about impressive religious buildings, as if buildings had the power to save. We sometimes make that mistake, don’t we? We judge a church by the height of its steeple or the beauty of its stained-glass windows? Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that the Christian church isn’t a building. It’s a Body. And the Head of this Body is Jesus Christ. A Head seeking Arms.

Paul writes in today’s lesson: For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Paul’s first prayer for the church is a prayer of thanks. In fact, Paul says, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. That’s a lot of thanks. What causes Paul’s sense of gratitude and joy to overflow? It was this new church’s faith in the Lord Jesus and their love “for all the saints,” their love for one another. How many of you have been drawn to God by the faithful example of a mature believer? How many of you have experienced God’s love through the love of a brother or sister in Christ? That’s what we are celebrating on this and on every All Saints’ Day: the influence of those who have been faithful to God and God’s purposes down through history.

The Ephesian church had within its membership; faithful, committed, loving followers of Christ. And Paul gives thanks for them.

People and organizations are like sponges. When a sponge is full of water, only a tiny amount of pressure is required to make that water spill out. Whatever is in the sponge comes out when the sponge is under pressure. In the same way, we can tell what a church is full of when that church comes under pressure. Do the people of the church become angry and vindictive? Do they start blaming others and pointing fingers? Do they abandon the faith? Or do they show an increase in love, faithfulness, truth-telling, good deeds, and integrity? The Ephesian church was under constant pressure to give in to the sinful culture that surrounded it. Yet they maintained a shining example of Christ-like behavior. No wonder Paul continually thanked God for them.

Paul’s second prayer for the church is a prayer for wisdom. He writes, I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom . . . so that you may know Him better.

Wisdom has two components: the ability to think beyond ourselves and the ability to think beyond the temporary. There are two great Bible passages that illustrate wisdom. Psalm 14:1 reads, The fool says in his heart, There is no God!

And in Luke 12, Jesus tells a story about a rich man who builds great storehouses to hold all his riches, then says to himself, I’ll take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry. But that night, God comes to him to claim his life, and God calls the man a fool for storing up things for himself and not investing in God’s eternal work.

In the book of Proverbs, there are three Hebrew words used to indicate a foolish person. The first word is kesil. A kesil is a foolish person who rarely looks to others for advice or wisdom. A know-it-all. Another type of fool noted in Proverbs is the ewil. This word literally means to “grow thick with fluids.” This is someone who refuses to listen to good counsel. And the third type of fool is a nabal, someone who lives a foolish and vain lifestyle.

A know-it-all, someone who refuses to look for good advice and someone who lives only for the moment, only for his own pleasure, these are all portraits of a fool. Paul wouldn’t have the Ephesians be foolish, but wise, giving proper attention to that which was most important, their faith in Jesus Christ.

A pastor made a pastoral visit to wealthy businessman who was dying. The man shared with the pastor one of his greatest regrets. Years earlier, he had been asked to teach a Sunday school class for young boys. At the time, the businessman saw this opportunity as an interruption to his schedule. He preferred to spend his spare time on his business. In the intervening years, he had gathered accumulated great wealth. But he lost the chance to invest in the lives of those children. It turned out that he made a poor choice. His business was now declining, and his wealth was nearly wiped out. His influence on those boys’ lives, however, would have lived on eternally. He had made a foolish choice, and there was no way to make up for it. Paul prays for wisdom for the church at Ephesus.

Paul’s third prayer for the church is a prayer for power. He writes, I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

The Greek word for Lord is kyrios. The early church was called the kyriakon, which literally means ‘belonging to the Lord.’ If we belong to the Lord, then all that the Lord has belongs to us. This includes God’s authority and power, which was transferred to the disciples on the day that Jesus ascended into heaven.

And what kind of power does the Holy Spirit give us? The power to translate compassion into action. The power to persevere in the face of stress and suffering and uncertainty. The power to love the “unlovable.” The power to live generously, without fear or anxiety. The power to overcome evil with good. The power to speak the truth in a culture of lies. The power to rejoice, even in the face of death. This is the power that only comes from God. This is why, Jesus called the life He offered an abundant life.

Today we celebrate being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, because let’s face it, there’s no use having a universe, a cosmology if you don’t have witnesses. We are the witnesses to the miracle. We are put here by creation, by God. We’re here to be the audience to the magnificent. It’s our job to celebrate. Today we celebrate all those who have shown us how to live abundant, God-honoring lives. We celebrate their love, their wisdom, their faithfulness, their power. We celebrate the saints, the arms of Jesus, who have wrapped us in their love. And as we celebrate them, we pray for the wisdom and power to follow their example, so that someday we may also be remembered as the arms who served our head, Jesus Christ.

And to celebrate even more, the following names are added to the great cloud of witnesses, and who have received their crown of life since our last celebration of All Saints…..