St Matthew B - Ephesians 2:1-10

Ephesians 2:1–10 (NIV)

2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

            I was one of the crowd - one of some 900 students at Rangitikei College in Marton in the mid 1970’s when the school was gathered in assembly.  We all had BIC biros in those days.  (The one’s you click on and off like this.)

            Imagine, almost 900 students clicking their BIC’s at the same time while the deputy principal tried to restore order to the assembly.  As the teachers walked down the isles of the school hall those students who had been clicking would hide their pens until the teachers had past. 

            We all knew we were doing the wrong thing, yet we kept on clicking for a good 5 minutes.  The Deputy Principal was justified in his anger against us.  We had clicked in solidarity with each other.   We were punished for our rebellion.  The whole school had a lunch time detention in the Assembly hall.

            People like to be united together.  There’s the Waikato Rugby Union.  There was the United Building Society many years ago.  There are the Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa.  Organisations like “Solidarity” in Poland on the 1980’s.  People united together for a common cause to bring positive change.

But not all unions are good – being united is not always for a good cause, as was illustrated by my assembly experience with the BIC biros.

            We find strength in unity.  We find support and encouragement when we’re together with a common purpose and cause.  St Matthew gathered around himself many tax collectors and sinners who came and ate with Him… when Jesus came to dinner. These people associated together because they were not accepted by the mainstream society.

All humans are united in the cause of self. We all have a desire to meet our own personal needs: for food, clothes and shelter. We’re all united in that we were born with  – SIN.  We all sin and do it so naturally and easily. 

There is, as Dr John Strelan called it in his commentary on today’s Ephesians text a, “tragic solidarity of humanity in the old creation order under the rule of sin and death.” As a consequence of sin we all deserve to be punished – to share the same punishment. We humans are united in that as we live on this earth, because of sin we’re punished.  St Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 (NIV) For the wages of sin is death, …

            So we who sin, die. Our bodies deteriorate and we cease to live.  No matter what lotions and potions we use, we cannot avoid the inevitability of physical death. 

            We follow the lead of the deceiver, Satan, and deceive ourselves and each other.  We pass the buck blaming others, as I did with our clicking BIC’s with my silence while the teachers stormed down the isles of the hall trying to in-still some order into the chaos.           And so there are the inevitable consequences.  We reap the reward of our sinfulness.  For those who sin, judgement is inevitable – we’re judged, found guilty and sentenced – death – separated from God for eternity to wallow in eternity forever with Satan and his demons.

When the deputy principal of our school made his judgement on the 900 BIC biro clickers he sentenced us to deprivation of our freedom.

We lost, by our deliberate rebelliousness. We were detained and restrained from enjoying our one hour of freedom during the day with the cancellation of our lunch hour. 

Hearts that are devoted only to self, cancel the relationship God wants with humanity. Make God’s name a curse and we decry all He is and all He’s done for humanity and we who were created in His image are in contempt – to be scorned for eternity

The “I’m too busy to worship” attitude gives Satan a free pass into our lives. Like a child in at Rainbows End, once Satan’s in, he doesn’t want to leave.

  Our neglect of our parents robs us of the most basic human relationship.  Hearts that spawn gossip destroy reputations and credibility – even our own.

Murder which hurts and harms separates us from each other so we all live in fear of what will be done to us. Lust which breaks the trust in relationships leaves us lonely and dirty. If we take from what belongs to others, no one will trust us.

Lies which hide the truth, trap us with their scheming until we’re in the corner of hell. The eye of desire in our hearts for what is not ours will bring pain and suffering as we make excuses to do the in-excusable.

As I look back, with our clicking BIC’s, we robbed the teachers and deputy principal of their time, we ourselves lost our freedom and the trust that had been placed in us to behave as deserving of respect.

The solidarity of sin and sinful people has no future. There is nothing to boast about.  There is only shame and loneliness, dishonour and pain, and ultimately, death and separation from God and all that is good.

Jesus felt that on the cross as He suffered and died, alone for the sins of the world. Why did He cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”  Jesus cried out because of God’s great love for you, for me and for the whole world.  What was the song we sang after the children’s message?  

John Three: Sixteen.

For God so loved the world

That He gave His only Son,

That whoever believes in Him

Shall not die

But have eternal life.

Jesus offers us a new unity. He comes in solidarity with us.  United with Him we die in Baptism and are raised in eternal life.  He makes possible what was previously impossible for us – to live God pleasing lives. This is why St Matthew wrote His Gospel account so that we may know and believe in Jesus who enables us to live God pleasing lives.

The whole focus of God for us is on the person of Jesus. Because of God’s great love for us we become the new Adams and Eves of God’s recreation.  The life which the first Adam and Eve rejected is restored to us in the person of Jesus.

That’s why Matthew begins His Gospel with a genealogy identifying Jesus with humanity and going on to demonstrate through biographical narrative and teaching our need for Jesus and what He has done, especially through His sacrificial death and resurrection.

In His mercy, God has chosen for us a new life where we can produce the fruit of new life – as St Matthew says we are to observe, that is live out, all that Jesus commanded. Even though, as the branches of the vine may appear dead in sin, with Jesus, new shoots come forth and the fruit begins to form. 

What was once dead now lives. What was barren bears fruit.  We have all been chosen to live and bear fruit.  God shows His grace in us.  We are the recipients of His mercy to take that mercy to those who have not yet experienced it.

How can we do this? We can’t.  But God is proactive.  He gives us His Word and Holy Spirit so we can believe and bear fruit – Galatians 5:22-23 ESV … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; … With this fruit souls are saved as people see our good works and desire to give glory to God.

With the gift of faith we believe in Jesus. By growing in that faith given to us in our Baptism so we can bear fruit so we honour God in our speech.  We worship the one God together as we gather to hear His Word and offer united prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

We care for each other, especially our family – that includes our parents. How can we respect life if we don’t respect those who gave us life? We treat each other with respect because that’s how Jesus cared for us – giving up His own life so that we can enjoy life.  He doesn’t take our life from us but enables all to live rich and satisfying lives.

We seek to support each other in our marriage relationships, bound together for strength with Jesus, like the 3 stranded rope: with Jesus, our husband or wife and ourself.

We look after the property we are stewards of and share it around as there is need, so no one can be led into temptation to steal because they don’t have enough.

And, as Jesus speaks well of us to His Father in heaven we too speak well of each other, putting the best construction on every situation. So we encourage each other to look to Jesus and follow His example in our daily living and relationships.

Even for those who drove the nails into His wrists and feet Jesus asked God to forgive them. Jesus’ love knows no boundaries and He desires that our love is like His – given freely. And if you want to know what this looks like study the Gospel according to St Matthew especially chapters five to seven where Jesus teaches with authority – God’s authority.

We live the Christian life not for reward but in response to what God has done for us and the world. He made us to do good works.  As we expect the kettle to boil when we turn it on we too should boil for the Lord because He’s turned us on in our Baptism.  So let’s get steamed up in our enthusiastic service for Jesus. 

Let’s tell the story of Jesus, like St Matthew, so that we can, with God’s help, make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching them all that Jesus has commanded us.              

Amen.