A Sermonic Midrash on Ephesians 2:1-10
Preached on Sunday, March 18 at Church of the Servant King in Portland, Oregon.
Hear, listen, understand, and know, brothers and sisters what state you used to be in. Do not forget the slavery you once labored under. Do not forget the bondage that once owned you, dominated you, and beat you down. Do not forget that you once loved your slavery to sin and death. Make no mistake about it, in your former life, the life that you lived to yourselves before Jesus intervened, in that life you were nothing less than dead. You were not simply sick, not simply weak, not simply incomplete—no, now for the first time we have come to know weakness, sickness, incompleteness and failure—rather you were dead. As dead as any lifeless corpse being returned to the earth. Yes, brothers and sisters, do not forget this fact. Dead is what you were. Nothing less than dead. Cold, lifeless, impotent, and completely and utterly helpless. You had no potential in you for life, for love, for hope, for change, peace, and a future. All of this was impossible. Your slavery was complete, utter, and unbreakable. Do not forget that you were dead in your sins, dead by your own transgressions, dead by the tyranny and power of the Devil, dead under the yoke of principalities and powers. In every way, shape and form you were dead to the fullest. And there was nothing to be done.
And you lived this way, this death, this complete and total slavery, this was what you lived in. You were tossed around by the patterns, currents, and trends of this world. There was not even a hint of freedom. Everything about your life, your living-in-death, was ruled. In those days, blind to it though you were, your whole existence was dominated by the Prince of this world. The great adversary, the one who stands behind and in all the powers that shape this world, the enemy of life, the great hater of creation, he was your ruler, down to the very core. And oh, brothers and sisters he is still at work. He still flexes his power over all those who are disobedient, who still cling to their living-in-death. He dominates, oppresses, and enslaves. And this was once your story. This was once the truest thing about you.
Indeed all of us used to live this way. Each and every one of us used to live in death, and, God forgive us, we loved it. It turned us on, it made us exited. It motivated us, it aroused us. It drove us to get rich, to get secure, to make names for ourselves, to pursue, possess and sleep with the people we thought most attractive. This living-in-death animated every inch of our being, determined every facet of our motivations. It suffused our senses, it taught us how to see everything perversely, to enjoy nothing rightly. It made us excited to twist things by our own power and to our own ends. This was our nature. We were the children of this reality, this living-in-death. Our essence was to enslave and be enslaved. Our full and fundamental orientation was towards wickedness and self-establishment. We were just like everyone else in this world. Like every battered woman and child, like every violent and vengeful man. Like every jealous brother, and every bitter sister. Like every resentful mother, and every negligent father. Like every fickle friend, and duplicitous companion. Like every murderous stranger, like every opportunistic thief. Like every helpless slave, like every tyrannical slavemaster. Like every terminally ill cancer patient, and every perfectly healthy millionaire. We were just like all of these. There was nothing different about us from the whole mass of enslaved and enslaving human beings. We were dead. We lived in death and that was the truest thing about us. And there was nothing that could change this.
But. Oh, brothers and sisters, but! Nevertheless, this, though it was the whole story from beginning to end, this was not all. In the midst of all this death, all this slavery, all this transgression, in the midst of the utter and undeniable reign of every power of death and sin and Satan, there came something new. Something impossible. Something that could never have been imagined to come.
But God! The one forgotten and abandoned by us. The one rejected, despised, and ignored above all. This One, this Love beyond all hatreds this mercy beyond all vengeance, this Life, this death-destroying Life: This came to us. In the very center of it all. Right in the midst of it. At the highest and lowest point of our living-in-death, this came to us. Overturning everything in its path this Love, the Love of God did something that had never been imagined, something utterly impossible according to every pattern and potentiality in this world: It made us alive.
Jesus, God in the flesh came to us and loved us with an indestructible love. He let it all fall on him. Everything that makes up this whole world of living-in-death. He threw himself in the path of all of it. He flung himself across the path of each and every single person in this world. He threw himself into our prison, into our fortress of death and slavery holding nothing back, giving himself utterly and fully to death. He embraced our living-in-death without reserve. He took it all in, and let it have its way with him. He took it all in, so that he might have us, so that, unimaginably we might be with him. And that is the insane newness that has come to is. That is the divine madness that has irrupted into our world. That when we were dead beyond all hope, an infinite Love did the impossible. It made us alive. But not just alive, borthers and sisters, no. It made us alive together with him. The Love that has impossibly come among us is not content to restore us to our own lives. No, this Love, the Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will do nothing less that make us alive together with Jesus, with God’s very self.
This is what we mean, brothers and sisters when we say that “by grace you have been saved.” When we say that, when we confess that, when we proclaim that, we remember and rejoice that this is what has been done. That we were dead—and nothing but dead—and now, impossibly, miraculously, madly, God has made us alive, not alone, or even together, but with Christ Jesus. God has done this.
And more than this, brothers and sisters, God has done something even more impossible, something even more mad. God was not content to simply raise us, for the first time to life, or even to make us to live in the presence of Jesus. No, God has done even more. God has seated us, brothers and sisters alongside Christ. His victory becomes our victory. His glory becomes our glory. His life becomes our life. His joy becomes our joy. His freedom becomes our freedom.
Why, brothers and sisters? Why has God lavished such unprecedented and underserved love, mercy, and glory onto us? What reason for this mad excessiveness could there be? What reason could God have to raise up emaciated child and vindictive murderer together and bring them into indescribable glory? Why did God do this? We know but one reason, because God wants to. The Love that God is desires to shower everyone he has made with immeasurable grace, with limitless kindness, with infinite forgiveness, with unending glory, with eternal joy. This is just what God wants to do, that is what the life of Jesus tells us, what it establishes, what it promises.
So do not be deceived, brothers and sisters. We are alive for one reason and one reason only. Because God has done this in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the faithful one. We are alive solely because God’s love has come upon us in the form of this One, this one who was faithful unto death. We had nothing to do with brining this about. Nothing of our own making, no potential within us, nothing we had contributed to this. It is nothing but God’s gift. No work we have done, no accomplishments we can claim contributed anything to this new life being given to us. We have nothing to boast about, nothing to claim, nothing to hold in our hands as if it were our own. No, we have nothing but empty hands in the face of what God has done in Jesus. God has made us alive and God alone has done that. We stand now with empty, open hands, hands which cannot grasp, cannot make, cannot seize, but can only ever remain open, stretched out to God in praise, lament, intercession, and joy, and to one another in welcome, embrace, forgiveness, and support.
And that is what God has now created us to be. He has made us what we are in Christ Jesus. Do not be deceived, brothers and sisters. Who you are now has nothing to do with any of that living-in-death that used to be true about you. It once was the only true thing about you, but now it is nothing but a lie. A false, powerless, defeated shadow. Do not imagine that it has anything more to do with who you are. Who you are now is who God has created you to be in Christ. In Christ God has created us to live towards God and towards each other with empty hands, with open arms. We are made, now, solely for praise and embrace. God has prepared this for us, brothers and sisters. He has set a way of life now before us, a life of empty, outstretched hands. A life where we can do nothing but move, reflexively from shouts of praise to God to unconditional embrace of all who cross our path.
God has prepared this path for us, brothers and sisters. For all ages God has destined us for this in Christ. To be set free from the living-in-death that was once our fate unto being alive with Christ, open to God, embracing all others in love. This is what God has made us to be. And that, now, is the only thing that is true about us. Brothers and sisters, do not fall back into the things that are no longer true, tempting though they may appear. We know that these things are death altogether. Brothers and sisters, remember, confess, proclaim, and enact the truth this day. The truth that God has made us alive with Christ, has enthroned us with Christ, has set us free from every slavery, from every domination, from every power of death and sin and hell. The truth that who we are is not who we were, but only who God in Christ has now and is continuing to make us to be. Open your hands and open your hearts to receive that truth, the one and only thing that is now true. That we are not who we were, that the world is not what it was, that nothing will ever be that way again, that the old age is passing away and the only thing that is something is a New Creation. Hear, brothers and sisters and believe that again. Turn again, with me, pray, praise, love, serve, repent, forgive, open, appeal, give, suffer, and rejoice together. For nothing will ever be that old way again. We are now what God has made us to be. That, and that alone is true.