Geared Up For Life
You might think that a seven-week series in the middle of summer is a recipe for disaster. Even without the remnants of a pandemic and everyone still scrambling to come up with some sort of hybrid virtual and in-person worship experience, a series this long in a time when, at least in the US, many folks are thinking about vacation and church attendance is difficult to sustain. Yet here we are!
Well, we chose to proceed with this long series because the lectionary invited us to take a walk through the Epistle to the Ephesians, and it was too good an offer to resist. Ephesians has been called “the Queen of the Epistles” by no less an august personage as Dr. William Barclay. (Wm Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, Daily Study Bible Series, Westminster, 1976, p.61.) And he admits that he got it from others. Why so much enthusiasm for a letter? There are simply too many things to go into in this space, but perhaps the simplest response is that the letter contains everything you need to explain the faith in one compact package.
Ephesians divides neatly into two halves, both of which are covered in this series. The first half, chapters 1-3, provides a theological foundation for the faith in some of the most beautiful language in the Epistles. The second half, chapters 4-6, focuses on the ethical dimensions of the faith: How do we live it out? This second half reminds us that faith isn’t simply about believing, but about living.
There is some considerable debate about the letter. Many, if not most, scholars argue that it wasn’t written by Paul, for example. It also seems clear that it wasn’t really written to a specific church in Ephesus, despite the title, but was a circular letter designed to be passed from church to church and community to community. There are none of the personal touches in this letter, addressing local issues and individuals, which, for some, means that it comes across more as a sermon than correspondence.
All the more reason to allow Ephesians to be our guide through these summer weeks as we seek to live out our faith, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We can find real, on-the-ground help for that mission in these texts. As always, when we design a series, we ask that you shape it in your way for your context. There are a couple of ways that you could adapt this series. First, and simplest: each week can stand on its own. Yes, there is a connection of themes and suggestions, but accepting attendance patterns as they are, each week can be another tool in the box that helps build the life of faith we are seeking.
Another possibility is to create two shorter series within the longer one. You could emphasize the distinction in the two parts of Ephesians. Part one could highlight the last word of the theme: Gearing Up for LIFE. It would cover the first three chapters of Ephesians and the theological foundations of our faith. This would be the “why” part of the Epistle. Why do we embrace this life of faith? Why have we been given this blessing, this opportunity, this grace? It can introduce the core themes of our faith. This would be weeks one, two, and three of the series. The second miniseries within the series would consist of weeks four through seven and would focus on the first part of the theme, GEARING UP for Life. This is the “how” part of the letter. Because of the grace we examined in the first half of the letter, this “how-to” section is a call to living a theologically ethical life.
You may find other ways to use the materials we provide. Feel free to explore and create, to make something uniquely yours to fit your context. Or simply trust in the text itself to walk you through this important series to revitalize your understanding and acting, your theology, and your ethics as you seek to be the church alive in a complicated world. So, join with us as we work to be geared up for life this summer!
It’s midsummer, and it may be hard to maintain focus. So what can we do to bring folks back to what worship can be or needs to be for the body of Christ? Throw a party! Sure, last week was the holiday, but now we’re ready to get back on the discipleship path and grow in our faith, even as we seek to reach out to the wider community around us. So, a celebration mood seems appropriate to get folks in gear. And this series, which might sound like a hard disciplined drive to be more Christian, as the song says, is actually a perfect opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have in the faith.
The God who has blessed us in every way – that’s what we’re celebrating; that’s what we are testifying to. So, how do we celebrate such a gift? By telling our story and our stories. Who can help the whole congregation celebrate being blessed? Who can tell their stories in a way that lifts everyone up? Maybe it is the story of beginning when you first said yes to Jesus. Maybe it is a recent blessing, something that reminded you that you were precious in God’s sight. Share those stories, so that all have an opportunity to reflect on how blessed they are.
But these aren’t exclusive blessings. Rather, we are reminded that we are blessed to be a blessing. How is your congregation reaching out to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the community around you? Whose life has been affected by the church in tangible ways? Tell those stories during worship, so that everyone can celebrate and feel a part of the ripples of blessing.
Certainly, the letter to the Ephesians is about gearing up, about making sure that our faith is not just an internal thing, not just a head thing. It is about living out the faith. But living out our faith can begin with a simple celebration. It is good to be blessed. It is good to be adopted, to belong. It is good to remind ourselves that we are not alone, but a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.