Sometimes in church we have lesson that I think needs to be read twice, and this Sunday's reading from the opening lines of Ephesians is one of those lessons.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved...We are blessed. God has blessed us. God is blessing us. We are chosen. God has chosen us. God is choosing us. We are destined for adoption. God has destined us to be his children. God is setting us apart, according to his good pleasure, as his beloved, blessed, chosen children. What amazing, hopeful, wonderful news! I need those words to sink in a little deeper. I need to sit with them a little longer. I need to hear them again.
In my culture and context, Christianity's engagement with the world is primarily pointing out how the world is unholy and worthy of blame and condemnation. Even though I'm an Episcopalian, I feel guilty going to the liquor store or parading around the grocery store with beer in my cart, worried that an ecumenical partner might stare at me with the glare of criticism. Our congregation has become a home for several divorced persons who were battered by their fundamentalist congregations. The religious atmosphere in this portion of the Bible Belt suggests--sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly--that addiction is the result of lacking faith, that illness can be traced back to moral failures, and that family struggles are tied to breakdown in discipleship. Into that context, I feel a deep need to hear these words proclaimed from loudspeakers and written on billboards and preached on street corners.
That isn't to say, however, that God's love isn't transformative. God has chosen us "in Christ before the foundation of the world," but we were chosen for a purpose--"to be holy and blameless before him in love." I can't speak for the fundamentalists, but I still need God to do some work on me before I qualify for that. I am not the holy creation God has made me to be. I am not the worthy servant he has called me to become. I am still a wretch--not because of my beer or my divorce or my addiction or my pride--but because I am all of that together--because I am human.
This Sunday, I'm preaching on repentance. I'm preaching on the messy, emotional rollercoaster of sin and redemption. There is good news to share: we are chosen by God to be holy and blameless. There is good news to share: we are chosen as sinners to become those holy, blameless disciples of Jesus Christ. There is good news to share: we are not there yet, but God is working on us right where we are.