We pray in the name of the Father Son and Holy Ghost
Something that I miss in this technological world of ours is really nice correspondence. I still receive mail; junk mail, bills, the pension office, but I don’t often receive a letter. I used to exchange letters with several people…family, pen pals, friends from far off. Such a joy, and so much personality with all the spelling errors, little doodles and varying degrees of penmanship! So exciting to receive.
I think because of how we break them up into lectionary readings it is easy to forget that the epistles or letters in the bible…are actually that. Letters. From one person to another, from a teacher to a community. We forget that in some cases…like the letters to Timothy we are actually reading personal correspondence…thousands of years later.
Imagine if the last letter you wrote had been preserved, painstakingly copied, read out loud to communities all over the world and become one of the most published texts in the world. I doubt Paul or any of the other writers would ever had imagined we would still be reading their letters…I wonder if they would be pleased…or embarrassed (after all the bad grammar has been preserved as well!)
Today, we continue our reading from the letter to the Ephesians… it is titled from the Apostle Paul, but may actually have been from one of his students. In any event it would have originally been read in it’s entirety, it wasn’t for centuries that a form of lectionary was introduced and the letters broken up into sections.
Now, if we had read all of Ephesians in one go we would have noticed a few things. First, the letter begins with greetings and prayer, then follows a body of theology. Next, today’s passage, a prayer of exhortation. After that, is a section of practical ways of living and the letter concludes with a prayer of peace and grace.
Although it is the format of a letter, I noticed that this format makes a great example for us and where we are in our life at St. Andrew’s. So, I thought this would be something we could explore today. Imagine, if you will, that that they time spent in these last years, the time of the moving forward committee, is the greeting and introduction part of the letter. A time of remembering that we are blessed, that we are children of God. A time of gathering hope.
Then came the work of theology, often confusing, possibly feeling long winded, but vital to know who you are and how you are a part of a greater community, recall last week’s reading about unity. You created a profile and hired a new priest.
Now we are ready for action. Ready to get things back on track and really start to thrive. We are eager for the part that deals with practical matters…household management. How will we grow the church? How will we bring back members we’ve lost? How will we do the work of reconciliation? When will the action start!! New priest, new times…let’s get going! And if we don’t quite feel that yet…chances are that when we get back in the building we will! Because it will feel different and we’re going to get excited to start again!
But, we’ve missed a section…today’s reading. The prayer. The writer interrupts himself between theology and practice, to pray. To pray that the Ephesians be granted inner strength and be rooted and grounded in love. To pray that they may be filled with the fullness of God. That they may be able to “accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” This is, I believe where we are. The pause between theory and practice. At the threshold…standing at the doorway of something more than we could ask or imagine, but not having stepped through yet. This place of in between is one of the hardest places to abide.
This is where we stop and pray, intentionally stop and pray. It is vitally important and extremely uncomfortable. Not unlike the Israelites coming out of Egypt enroute to the promise land. They have crossed the wilderness and the river Jorden is before them! Yet, they turn and remain in that wilderness in between for an entire generation.
It is not easy. To pause on the threshold feels frustrating and counterproductive, but throughout the scripture it is abundantly clear that taking time at the threshold, the wilderness, the in between, is always beneficial. It provides time to reflect and to pray, as the Apostles do. It provides opportunity to recognise the challenges and temptations, like Christ did. It provides an opportunity to unlearn old habits and establish new ways of being…like Moses and the Israelites. It allows time, like in our Gospel reading to be fed in new ways.
St. Andrew’s is on the threshold of something new…new leadership, new life post covid, new technologies, new relationships, new(ish) bishop, new priest… so it is time to pause, pray and reflect. As we are going to see in Ephesians going forward there are some practical and ethical teachings that bear further reflection, that would have been challenging and indeed challenged.
We will face the same going forward, there will be practices and understandings that challenge and need to be challenged. Not only in areas we might call ‘domestic arrangements’ like moving to one service rather than three. But large theological issues such as reconciliation and our statement on same gender unions.
Moving quickly over the threshold doesn’t allow God time to work in our lives. We need to take time to sit in the awkward in between, to pray in the wilderness for that inner strength, that grounding and rooting in love. So that, we can be open for God to work more than we can ask or imagine…to God’s own glory.
And that is key…More than we can imagine…which means that we can’t yet imagine it. We simply don’t know where God is calling us to be. The possibilities we considered previous to this are being opened up in unimagined ways…and we need to take the time for that work to be accomplished in us.
Time for me, for example, to let go of anything I may have assumed goes with a “BCP” parish. To let go of the assumptions of what may or may not have happened here in the past. To be open to letting go of what I think should happen and what I think is right, so that I can be open to possibilities I would never have considered.
The same goes with each of you. We all have assumptions…we all have preconceptions…we all have our ideas and opinions. But we stand at a threshold and before we carry all our baggage through that door. We pause and pray…for an unknown (but almost always uncomfortably long) time between theology and practice, to intentionally let God work in us. It isn’t indecision. It isn’t weakness. It isn’t a lack of leadership. It is intentionality. It is wilderness time. An uncomfortable, enlightening, difficult and lifechanging time of prayer.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that we may be strengthed in our inner beings…that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”