Apostles Anglican Church
Fr. John A. Roop
THE LETTER OF ST. PAUL TO THE EPHESIANS
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.
Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Sunday School vs Christian Formation
My generation called what we are doing here today Sunday School; we called it that here at Apostles, as well, while Dcn. David Sincerbox and I taught these classes together for several years. And then the name was changed to “Christian Formation.” It sounds a little pretentious, don’t you think? The name has changed but the thing has stayed the same. Not really: the name change implies a shift in how we think about what we’re doing, in what the purpose in our study is. Let me describe this as Fr. Guido Sarducci might. For those of you who don’t remember, Fr. Guido was a recurring character on SNL, a very off-beat priest persona created by comedian Don Novello. In one skit, Fr. Guido proposed a Five Minute University. It goes like this:
This isn’t really too far off. Much of my education — high school and college — was like that (not that it was the teachers’ fault): facts learned, facts repeated on a test, facts forgotten. I took two years of high school French — I was the president of the French Club — and I can’t even remember for sure how to ask you how you are or tell you I am fine.
But some classes were different; they formed me. They — and their teachers — had a lasting effect that helped determine the trajectory of my life. Sometimes it was the content that was most important, and sometimes it was the character and demeanor of the teacher. In the best of classes, it was both.
Formation is the true purpose of education: for us, it is specifically Christian formation that we are after. We don’t want a Guido Sarducci-like Five Minute Sunday School; no, as St. Benedict said in the Prologue to his Rule, we want a school for the Lord’s service, and that means formation — real and substantive change.
Here’s another way to think of this: the purpose of Christian formation is to enable us to anticipate the Kingdom of God. N. T. Wright describes this well in his book on Christian virtue, After You Believe. These two examples — with revision — come from him.
1. Suppose a local meteorologist — or an app on your phone — predicts rain in the next thirty minutes, even though the sky is relatively clear right now. If you trust the forecast, when you leave your house you might wear a raincoat or take an umbrella. It’s not raining yet, but you anticipate it will and you act in the present as if it is already raining.
2. Or, suppose you are planning a trip to Paris. You and your traveling companion begin to brush up on your high school French, and, in fact, you decide to speak only French to each other as you prepare for the trip. You are not yet in Paris, where French will be needed, but you anticipate being there and act as if you already are.
Anticipation is living in the present as if the future is here now — living in the present as you will live in the future.
Christian Formation is the discipline of anticipating the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven: of learning to think and pray and act in the present as if God’s future has already dawned. It is not just learning facts about the Kingdom; it is practice in living into the reality of the Kingdom here and now, even though the Kingdom is not yet fully present. Christian Formation is practice and training for living in anticipation. That’s what we want to do.
One central aspect of Christian Formation — there are many others — is immersion in God’s Word, what we are doing here as we come to “study” St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, to be formed by Scripture. It is that to which we now turn.
Travel agencies put together all sorts of tours of various places: England, Israel, the Caribbean, for example. Suppose a philosophically minded travel agency has put together a tour of human nature: a selection of locales that best illustrate who we are as a species. There are actually two tours; take your choice.
Slums of Mumbai and Kolkata
Auschwitz and Birkenau
Rwanda Genocide Museum
Major City: NYC, London, Paris
Chartres Cathedral and the Louvre
Pyramids of Giza
Symphony and Ballet
Gardens of Versailles and Central Park
Question: Which tour gives a more accurate representation of human nature? (Discuss)
I might argue — depending on the day and my mood — that Tour 2 is actually more representative of human nature since humanity starts and ends on a positive/glorious note: original innocence in the Garden before original sin, and renewed innocence in the new heavens and new earth after original sin. It is only the middle, where we now live, that has gone wrong.
Versailles, Central Park
Slums, Slave Market, Auschwitz
Chartres, London, Paris
Starting in the middle, with the Fall, is not untrue, and it makes some sense given that is where/when we live. But it is, perhaps, unbalanced.
Now, suppose a Sunday School teacher — a Christian Formation teacher — is putting together a tour of Christian doctrine. Again, there are two packages available.
Romans; 1, 2 Corinthians; Galatians
Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
Question: Which tour leads to a more accurate representation of Christian doctrine? (Discuss)
The Reformers took Tour 1 and developed a doctrine heavy on the Fall, original sin, and total depravity: not wrong, but sometimes lacking balance. What if they had taken Tour 2 instead, which focuses more on the glories of renewed human nature? I wonder how the historic presentation of Christian doctrine might have been different.
Both tours are needed; but, for those of us who have for years walked the “Roman Road,” Tour 2 — The Ephesians Way — is useful in providing doctrinal balance. While we still live in the ruins of the Fall — the slums of Mumbai or Kolkata — we still remember the Garden from which we came — Versailles — and we are walking toward and building for New Jerusalem. We need the vision of Ephesians to guide us and sustain us in this between time.
EPHESIANS 1:1-14 — IN CHRIST
Greeting (Eph 1:1-2)
Ephesians 1:1–2 (ESV): Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many Bibles — including the English Standard Version (ESV) that I am using for this class —have section headings. In the ESV, these two verses are identified as “Greeting.” And that is true to the format of a typical first century letter; that is how, on the surface, these two verses function. But, there is far more here than stylistic conformity; there is the story of a people, of one particular person, and of the mystery of God, in just a few words.
First, we start with the author, with Paul.
Question: What do we know about St. Paul? (Discuss)
Paul (formerly known as Saul) gives us a brief bio and curriculum vitae in Acts 22:1-16.
There is a key term Paul uses in verse 3 that provides us insight into his self-understanding and purpose: ζηλωτης, zealous. This is not just a description of “being all in” for a cause; it is a code word for a particular way of life, and one that Paul’s Jewish readers would have understood. It takes us back to the Hebrew Scriptures, to the aftermath of Balaam’s unsuccessful attempt to curse Israel on the borders of Moab (Num 25).
Numbers 25:1–13 (NRSVCE): 25 While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 Thus Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor, and the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel. 4 The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the Lord, in order that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you shall kill any of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”
6 Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman into his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the Israelites, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, 8 he went after the Israelite man into the tent, and pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. So the plague was stopped among the people of Israel. 9 Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.
10 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. 12 Therefore say, ‘I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. 13 It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the Israelites.’ ”
Did you catch the important word that links Paul and Phinehas? Phinehas was zealous for the Lord. By his zeal — a zeal exemplified in an act of religious execution — he turned back God’s wrath from the people — a wrath engendered not just by sexual immorality, but primarily by worship of false gods — and he was given a covenant of peace by and with God. This was Paul’s definition of zeal; this is how he viewed himself as zealous in relation to the Jesus cult. This new sect within Judaism was, to Saul, equivalent to Baal worship, and it threatened to kindle God’s anger against Israel. In persecuting Christians, Paul saw himself as a first century Phinehas averting national disaster by eliminating idolatrous sinners. That was Saul’s understanding of Israel’s story and of his place in it prior to his vision of Jesus. This is crucial for understanding Saul and later Paul. The vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus forced Saul to reinterpret the story of Israel and to place Jesus right in the center of it. It is an astounding reevaluation of all Saul has ever known, of his own life. It is hard to explain, unless the vision really happened. Afterwards, Paul was just as zealous as Saul had been — without the violence, of course — but zealous for the Gospel of Christ, and all by the will of God.
Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road gives a narrative definition of conversion. Conversion doesn’t always include a bright light, a voice from heaven, a vision of Jesus, and a blinding of physical sight. In all of that, Paul’s experience was unique. But, conversion does include a reorientation of life like Paul’s. We could describe conversion as a re-centering of one’s life around Jesus or a re-telling of one’s story with Jesus with at the center. Consider our own Anglican baptismal vows which are an expression of this total reorientation of life (cf BCP 2019, pp 164-165). That is the essence of the total reorientation that Paul experienced. That is a challenge to each of us. If you were to tell your life story — if I were to tell mine — could you tell it with Jesus on the margins, or would Jesus be in the center, the axis around which everything else revolves? Would others, observing our lives, see Jesus at the center?