An Antidote for Despair | Sermon Notes
From Ephesians 1:3-14 in The Message (MSG)
3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
Jesuit Priest James Martin posted this photo on Instagram this morning. It's a photo of the legendary Catholic worker, Dorthy Day. James Martin asked Tom Cornell yesterday what Dorthy would say about our current times. “She'd be upset,” he said. “But she'd say we have no right to despair. We have a duty to hope."
I have been living in a state of low-grade despair for the last...awhile. Maybe you have too. There's a lot going on and an unending amount of news to absorb in the media.
Yet, we have no right despair. This morning we're going to talk about grace being the antidote for despair.
More conservative churches don't really like to talk about grace because it can be seen a license for immoral behavior outside the strict bounds of whatever moral issues those churches hold as important. My friend Josh Reterrer often notes that in these churches you get sermons that are rotating versions of “10 ways to try harder this week.”
I’ve noticed progressive churches also don't really like to talk about grace because we think that it absolves people from having to live like Jesus by serving the poor and marginalized. Again, this is grace with conditions. Grace without conditions forces us to consider that the people that are responsible for the immoral treatment of others are also covered by grace. Progressive churches don't like this. So we talk about inclusion and radical love for the marginalized and turn our necks from the oppressors.
Nelson Mandela famously said, "I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed."
The author of Ephesians in this text writes of a very different reality than the one we see in our divisive and despair society. The author of Ephesians is teaching us what we already know is true, but don't often want to admit or see.
“All is grace.” Before our time, in the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ. Quote: “He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.”
The grace of God is beyond anything anyone of us here could ever comprehend, internalize, externalize, work toward, meditate enough for, serve enough for, build enough for, love enough for.
Grace is not dependent on what you think, where you're from, how much money you have in the bank, how much anxiety you have for justice, how many countries you've been to, what car you drive, or how awesome you think you are. You can't grace in an app or a book. There are so many meditation apps and self-help podcasts that give us one more thing to do, one more thing to cut out of our lives.
Is it minimalism or maximalism? Should I have more friends or deeper friendships? Should I engage people that I disagree with or cut toxic people out of my life?
You will not discover grace on the mountain or at the retreat. It is not sitting behind a Patreon paywall or subscription service. Grace is not 10 steps away or for three easy payments.
You can't self-help your way into grace.
It's already been enough for the universe and enough for you before you were even born.
There is no guru. There is no master. There are no priests that will ever bring you the answers you're looking for. Grace is celebrating and accepting what God has already done for you and everyone else.
It's radical. It's controversial. Grace is a wild wave that covers everyone its break.
The great Robert Capon wrote, "Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.”
Grace isn't found in a religion, megachurch, small church. Grace doesn't come through coercion. And it cannot be fought for or won.
Grace doesn't need your offerings or service. It doesn't need your thoughts and prayers.
I believe this is the truth of the universe and the meaning of the gospel: that there is nothing you can ever think, say, or do that excludes you from the all-consuming avalanche of God's love and acceptance of you.
Grace is the very way of the God, which is so freely given that it needs nothing from us.
Grace is the chaotic and passionate acceptance for everything and everyone since the beginning of time and will be beyond time. Before the singularity of the universe, pulsating through every subatomic particle spinning through the universe.
The dust that makes you...you and me...me is already brought together in the unity of Christ and called good, loved, and free. He set it all out before us in Christ.
This is the earth. It's been around for about 4.54 billion years
This is our solar system. Our solar system is so big that the Earth makes up about 0.0003% of the total mass of our solar system.
On the top right we see our galaxy, The Milky Way, where you orbit the galactic center at a distance of about 28,000 light-years. Our neighborhood is home to roughly 400 billion stars. We live in a bigger city, though, called our The Local Group, which includes our local galaxy cluster and at least 47 galaxies including our own. We live in an even bigger state though, called a Supercluster, which has about 100 galaxy clusters (clusters like our own Local Group), each with their own billions of stars and planets.
But the universe is bigger still. The observable universe spans some 28 billion light-years and is 93 billion light-years in diameter. It has about 10 billion superclusters that contain millions of their own galaxies. And the universe is still expanding so rapidly that radio messages sent from Earth may never reach some regions of space if the Universe were to exist forever because space may expand faster than light can traverse it.
The entire universe in one image.
Musician, Pablo Carlos Budassi, made this image by combining logarithmic maps of the universe from Princeton and images from NASA. He created the image below that shows the observable universe in one disc. Our sun and solar system are at the center followed by the ring of the Milky Way, the Perseus arm of the Milky Way, a ring of other nearby galaxies like Andromeda, the rest of the cosmic web, cosmic microwave background radiation leftover from the big bang, and a ring of plasma generated by the big bang.
Does God's grace cover the range of the known and unknown universe? What is the force of creation that considers all we see and don't see within the bounds of God's love and grace?
All is grace.
All is grace.
All is grace.
From the farthest supercluster to us in this room.
“Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.”
It’s in Christ that we discover the vastness of this grace that we are caught up in. It’s grace that brings everything and everyone together in unity, in Christ.
Said another way, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness." This statement is paradoxical in our culture and even our own feelings that tell us we should be more, do more, know more, make more, have more. We occasionally get glimpses of the goodness of grace, but we often don’t feel overwhelmingly loved for being simply ourselves on a Monday. When we’re at sitting in another business meeting or we’re going to the doctor again for an undiagnosed illness, our weaknesses feel like weaknesses. Living in a culture that consistently values success and strength functions as an impediment to experiencing the grace within the universe. Our environment can block us from understanding that the true acceptance that we are accepted is always present in our lives. We need to be reminded, and we need to be given perspective of what we know but don't experience regularly.
It is difficult to allow God's grace into our lives because it requires us to let go. The Trappist monk Thomas Keating considers grace as “God's self-communication, which includes both happiness and suffering." We writes, "Only grace has the ability to transcend and include all there is. It's easy to see why in AA the community grace is so important; we are powerless over ourselves. Since we don't have immediate awareness of the Higher Power and how it works, we need to be constantly reminded of our commitment to freedom and liberation. We can feel despair from the very depths of our being. Something in us causes our whole being to cry out, “Help!” That's when the steps begin to work. And that is when the spiritual journey begins to work. A lot of activities that people in that category regard as spiritual are not communicating to them experientially their profound dependence on the grace of God to go anywhere with their spiritual practices or observances. That's why religious practice can be so ineffective. The real spiritual journey depends on our acknowledging the unmanageability of our lives. Divine love picks us up when we sincerely believe nobody else will."
"It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, she had her eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose she is working out in everything and everyone."
Grace is the celebration of life in the midst of despair by realizing that everything is a miracle. We have no right to despair. We have a duty to hope, which comes from a deep experience of acceptance without condition and beyond our circumstance. The persistence of Christ bringing all persons in things into the unity of grace in the universe is inescapable and unending. May we let go and covered by the wave of grace that has included us in this miracle of the universe we find ourselves living in. May we celebrate the life we’ve been given and realize there is nothing we have to do for God’s grace.