Ephesians 1:15-23 (NRSV)
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Today is the last Sunday before Advent and the beginning of the New Church Year. One of my daily meditations called it “New Church Year’s Eve,” although the author did note that we seldom celebrate with parties and fireworks. It is also the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when you never know for whether or not folks are going to show up, especially if they travelled over the holiday. But most importantly, it is Christ the King Sunday. Paul said to the church is Ephesus, “[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” And Matthew said “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” (Matthew 25:31)
You know, it’s funny. Americans don’t really do kings. We fought two long, bloody wars in order to get and maintain our independence from kings. When folks began talking about declaring our independence from England, others said that was against Biblical teaching, because Paul said to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1-2) Indeed, this passage is one which royal houses used to justify their reign over kingdoms and empires. Because surely they would not be the rulers if God had not approved of their rule. Oftentimes those rulers were also the head of the Church in their kingdom, particularly after the Reformation. (Does everyone know that we are celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation this year?) Queen Elizabeth still is the head of the Church of England.
But we rejected kings 241 years ago, and have managed to live without them ever since. We elect our leaders, and when it seems like too many of those leaders are related to each other, we tend to rebel against those situations. As a society, we are kind of individualistic. Even as Christians, we might be more focused on Jesus as personal savior than Jesus king and ruler of the world. We might look at religion as more personal than corporate. That’s probably why it is so easy for us, Americans, to stay home and watch church on TV, worshipping in comfort and solitude, or go to huge congregations where we don’t have to be involved in the life of the church, where we don’t have to do anything much beyond show up and maybe sing a little, and listen, and put something in the basket.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus saying, “ I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” Now when Paul speaks of the love the church in Ephesus showed toward all the saints, he wasn’t talking about hugs and happy feelings. He was talking about the actual work the church folk there were doing - feeding the hungry, welcoming newcomers, reaching out into their community to do good for others, even taking up special collections to help the people of Jerusalem and other places where there was great need. And he gave thanks for them, because they were living the Good News. They were returning God’s love by their faith and their actions, by their attitude of gratitude. They were expressing their gratitude to God for Jesus in the best way they knew how, by obeying the commandments Jesus had spoken.
There is so much more to gratitude than merely saying we are grateful for something. When I first started writing gratitude lists I was told to only put down the things that would not happen automatically. So, I couldn’t write down sunrise, because sunrise happens every day whether I am paying attention or not. But I could be grateful for the beauty of the sunrise, because in the past I could not appreciate that beauty. And then I pray, giving thanks to God for the gift of appreciation. Paul was grateful for the church in Ephesus, for the love they expressed so beautifully through their works and faith, so he lifted them up in prayer, thanking God for them and asking God’s blessing upon them and their works. We, too, are grateful for what we have received, so this past Thursday we sat down to meals with friends and families and gave thanks to God for all those gifts. And on Facebook on Thursday, I saw folks posting, “If you have no where to go today, come eat with me and my family.” These folks were truly showing their gratitude by sharing what they had with whomever showed up.
Many times we express our gratitude for others by saying “Thank you.” Sometimes that is enough. However, there is more to giving thanks than simply saying “Thank You.” When I was growing up we wrote thank you notes when we received gifts. And because my mother didn’t think simply saying, “Thank you for the gift,” was sufficient, the worst part of the day after Christmas was always the sitting down to write thank you notes that said something meaningful. When our gratitude is great, we look for even more meaningful ways to say Thank You.
There may be people in our lives whose love for us is shown so openly and consistently that we may not be quite sure how to express our gratitude. So we might make a presentation to those special people. We might even do that in the middle of a sermon. I’d like to invite Hector and the Youth to come forward now.
(Here the Youth make a surprise presentation of gifts to Leah Torosian and Kathleen Schales, for their great dedication and love.)
In gratitude for their love, Paul’s prayers for the people of Ephesus are that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” This prayer is not just for the people of the church in Ephesus, but for all of us, all members of the Church universal, all members of the body of Christ, who accept Christ as King and Lord of all, as the one who, fully human and fully divine, sits beside God showering us with blessings.
In gratitude for God’s love, for God’s gift of Jesus Christ, may we go from this place today to show our love for God, for Jesus our King, and for all of humanity. May we go out to give thanks in the best way we know how, by sharing the love and blessings we have received with all people we meet along our way.