“Jesus in Charge”
May 4, 2008 - Ascension Sunday
Normally you might not pay much attention to what you hear from me. But now, if you think you might ever run for president, you had better listen carefully and cautiously. Like it has for Barack Obama, a sermon here at your church might come back to haunt your campaign, might actually make a difference in your life.
Some of the extreme things said by Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor, are plain wrong. Obama is correct to have distanced himself. And it was wrong of Wright to try and grab the spotlight and stir up racial and religious trouble that will damage the campaign of someone he supposedly cares about. However, it’s not at all wrong to think that what we say and do in church might make a difference in the world, even in politics, even in a presidential campaign.
As Paul breaks into prayer here at the end of Ephesians 1, what he desires most of all is that the people in his churches realize that Jesus makes a difference, a huge difference, not only in their individual lives, but in all of creation.
Verse 15 shows that the Ephesians, like most of us gathered here, already believe in Jesus and love each other. Paul gives thanks for that fact. In verse 16 he says he never stops giving thanks for it. He sees the two great commandments being fulfilled in that church, they love God and they love their neighbors. They trusted in Jesus as Lord and they showed care and concern to each other. So do you. You’re here this morning because you loved Jesus and you loved your church enough to get out of bed and give up whatever else you might be doing today. Thanks be to God. That’s the heart of it, the most basic, fundamental things in any of our lives, faith toward Jesus and love toward each other.
Basic faith in Jesus and love for each other are the beginning, but there is more. With verse 17, Paul not only give thanks for where the Ephesians are at, he prays they will move forward. He prays that they will not only know the triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but that they will “know him better.” That’s my aim as well this morning. I want you to know Jesus and love each other, but I pray that you will have a heart, a mind, a spirit of wisdom, as Paul calls it, to know Him better.
Paul prays those words we sing, that “the eyes of our hearts” might be opened, might be filled with light so that we see not only and faith and love, but that we see hope. In other words, he wants us to perceive that our belief in Jesus and His compassion really do make a difference. They are the tools, the power by which God is changing us and changing our world.
Verses 18 and 19 says our hope is “his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparably great power…” As Christians we are children of God, brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus. Through Him we have an inheritance. Our inheritance is glorious and real and makes a difference. The vision of that inheritance changes us. It transforms our lives.
In one of his mature stories, the long novel Bleak House, Charles Dickens paints the image of people whose lives are centered around an inheritance. But the wealth they are supposed to inherit has been tied up for years, even before they were born, in a court case which shows no sign of ever ending. Hearing after hearing in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce brings only infinitesimal results, a new brief filed, a minor point of law confirmed, but no real progress toward a final judgment, toward the actual distribution of the hoped for riches.
Lawyers and judges and clerks circle like vultures around this endless suit, while the parties in the case drive themselves crazy by hopes that never arrive. Miss Flite is an old woman already insane as the story begins, keeping birds in her apartment which she expects to release to freedom when “the day of judgment comes.” Richard Carstone is a fine young man who gets caught in the spell and never amounts to anything because he puts all his hope in riches which he never receives.
Yet alongside those whose lives are ruined by false hope, Dickens tells of people who put their hope in better things. John Jarndyce befriends and helps a whole household of people who would be homeless without him. He constantly puts their interests ahead of his own. Esther Summerson opens her heart to poor children she meets even in the street and guides and aids them to find new lives. John and Esther ignore the pointless promise of Jarndyce and Jarndyce and find the eyes of their hearts enlightened by something greater, faith and love. Even in the “bleak house” of dashed dreams, we read how their hopeful vision brings happiness to people like Esther’s friends Caddy and Charly.
Faith and love in Jesus Christ is a vision of greater and better hope than anything else we might pursue. It’s a vision which makes a difference. It’s a vision which has power, greater power than we imagine. Verse 19 is a celebration of the transforming power which Christ has “for us who believe.” Though our translations try to smooth it out into good English, it’s really four synonyms for “power” all strung together. Paul wrote that Christ’s “dynamism” is like “energy” is like “might” is like “strength.” And it all raised Jesus from the dead, says verse 20.
Today, Ascension Sunday, is the day we remember, as verse 20 teaches us, that the raising of Jesus from the dead didn’t stop on earth. It’s not just that Jesus rose and walked around again. Verses 20 and 21 says that God raised Him from the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, not only in this present age, but in the age to come.” God raised Him and kept on raising Jesus until He couldn’t be raised any higher.
Our vision, our vision of hope, is that our Lord Jesus Christ is there now, in the highest heaven, seated at the right hand of God and in charge. He’s “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.” Jesus is in charge, in charge of everything. We can believe and hope in Jesus because He has ascended to that place of power. At God’s right hand the power of Jesus is complete and above any other power.
It’s not always an easy vision to see. Like characters in Bleak House we find it easier to place our faith and hope in and demonstrate our love toward more visible goals. We strive for houses to live in and healthy family relationships and good retirement plans. There’s nothing wrong with those visions, those dreams, but they often turn bleak and bitter and even hopeless. We need a more sure hope, a greater vision, a brighter dream that lifts us out of the bleakness of our smaller plans to a great and lasting vision, a vision not just for this age but for the age to come. That’s the vision of Jesus at the right hand of God, the vision of Jesus in charge.
Verse 22 says that “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything…” That’s the vision. That’s God’s plan. That Jesus Christ the risen Son would be in charge of everything. Yet Paul adds one more little phrase to the vision. It’s incredible, almost impossible. God placed everything under Jesus feet and made Him head of it all “for the church.” For the church. It’s not a power trip for Jesus. It’s not His need for control. It’s not the vision of a jealous tyrant. Jesus is in charge for the sake of His church, for the sake of us, for the sake, as it says in verse 23 of His body.
Jesus in charge. Not a despot ruling the world with an iron hand, but the loving head of a body, of a family that finds itself constantly uplifted into the glory which He enjoys. Jesus reigns from heaven so that He can rain down heaven’s blessings on His church.
As we cover the Veritas seminar’s marks of a healthy, missional church, one of the points that falls under the mark of “Fruitful Organizational Structures” is that we “articulate a compelling, Christ-honoring vision for our church.” There is no more compelling aim for what we are about than the truth of Ascension Sunday which we affirm today in the Apostles’ Creed, “he ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty.”
Everything we do is predicated on that vision of Jesus Christ reigning over us and over our world from the right hand of God. Everything we do aims at bringing that vision more and more clearly into sight, not just into our sight, but into sight for the world.
Along with Bleak House, I’m also reading Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, a potboiler of a story about men and women whose lives center around the building of a cathedral in twelfth-century England. They love and fight and buy and sell and give birth and die, but in the center of it all rises a massive structure of carefully shaped stone, incredible arches, high towers, solid buttresses. As their stories unfold and interact, the vision of this awesome building constantly shapes their lives, like the stones which form it are being shaped.
A cathedral is a visible testimony to the power of Jesus Christ. Its very form lifts your eyes to heaven. It draws mind and heart upward, into the beauty and wonder of God. Our church building was built with the same purpose, to draw our vision up to see Christ before us in His Cross, designed into the very structure above us. That vision calls us to build something more.
We are here as Valley Covenant Church to do our part in building the Kingdom of God, to make as visible as possible the fact that Jesus Christ is reigning from the right hand of the Father Almighty. Like each mason who shaped a few dozen stones of a cathedral, or each carpenter who nailed only a few frames together for these walls, each of us has only a part, a piece of the whole. But with the vision of our ascended Lord in front of us, it all comes together. Jesus is in charge. All we do is make that visible.
It’s visible that Jesus is in charge when we house the homeless here. It’s visible that Jesus is in charge when people who didn’t know Him find faith. It’s visible that Jesus is in charge when we forgive each other and find ways to live and work in harmony. It’s visible that Jesus is in charge when the lonely find friends here and the hopeless find hope and the tired find rest and the grieving find comfort.
There’s a hard-fought election going on, not just in the country, but right here in Eugene. Who’s going to be in charge? Who will be mayor? That’s important, but it’s much more important that this community know that Jesus is in charge. They will know that only insofar as you and I and the other churches make it visible, as we create a “cathedral” of love and grace that can actually be seen and experienced by the cities we live in.
So I ask you to reflect on this vision, Jesus in charge, Christ our Lord reigning over us in love and grace. Think about it and then come to our visioning session after worship in two weeks to share what you see. How will we in Valley Covenant Church continue to build the kingdom of God? What will our part be? What stones will we shape for those who need something solid to lean on? What windows of light will we create to offer hope? What towers of strength will we raise for those who are weak? How will we make the vision visible? What do you see? How will you participate?
Our text ends saying that Jesus Christ is “head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Our vision is to be full of Jesus, to be filled up by His power and grace and love so completely that it’s impossible for anyone not to see it. As we once again meet at His table to be filled with Jesus, may He truly fill you, fill me, fill all things as Paul says, so that all Eugene, all Oregon, all the world will see His overflowing glory.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj