Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Created…for Good Works

Sunday, October 30, 2005

 

 

Ephesians 2: 8-10

Matthew 25: 31-46



Rev. Dean Snyder

 

Fresh out of seminary 30-some years ago, pastoring and living in northeast Philadelphia, I went one day to pick up some things at the drug store in the Cottman Mall.  As I was on my way into the drug store, a man stepped in front of me, blocked my path, and, in what seemed to me an argumentative voice, asked me the question, “Are you saved?”

 

I had just completed three years of intensely studied systematic theology. My mind immediately began to race and I began to write a term paper in my head.  Am I saved?  Well, in principle, yes.  In principle, all creation, all humanity is saved; but, on the other hand, we are saved in an anticipatory way.  As long as there is still war and injustice and poverty, we are not fully saved.  So, yes, I am saved, but not quite yet.

 

All this raced through my head as he stood there waiting for me to give an answer.  He stood there impatiently and finally I said, “Yes, I am saved constantly.”  He looked at me and said, “I can tell by your answer you’re not.”  He stuck a tract in my hand and went on to confront someone else. But I give him credit for this.  I remember very little about what happened in my life thirty years ago, but I still remember his question.  Are you saved?  Am I saved?  Are we saved?

 

This brings us to the book of Ephesians.  I’ve been studying and preaching on the book of Ephesians this fall because I think it is one of the most Christ-filled books of the New Testament. I want to go deeper. I want us to go deeper in our understanding of Jesus Christ and the significance of Christ for our lives today.

 

I believe that the book of Ephesians includes some of the writings and teachings of the Apostle Paul, a summary of the Apostle Paul’s teaching. But I believe it was written by his followers, people who were part of his ministry. I believe it was written and composed after the Apostle Paul’s death and that it goes further and deeper than the Apostle Paul had gone.  It answers some of the questions it addresses in a way that is not inconsistent with the teachings of the Apostle Paul but which are applicable to a new situation and place. 

 

One of the questions that the book of Ephesians tries to answer is the question about what it means to be saved.  It goes beyond Paul’s teachings.  The Apostle Paul emphasized an understanding of salvation as being rescued, that we were saved because God would rescue us from this life, that God would rescue us from the conditions and circumstances of life, that God would even rescue us from our bodies.  “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  To be saved meant to know that we would be rescued. 

 

Well, Ephesians goes beyond this.  Ephesians believes that God is saving us in this life, in this condition, in this circumstance, in these bodies. Ephesians believes that we are not only saved one day when God rescues us, but that Jesus Christ’s salvation is at work in the cosmos, in the universe, in our very hearts here and now, in this condition, in this circumstance, in this body in which we dwell.

 

There is one sentence in the lesson from Ephesians this morning that I would like us to just sit with a few minutes.  Ephesians repeats a basic concept that the Apostle Paul taught that we are saved by grace through faith, that it is not a result of our own works. Then Ephesians, in the second chapter, in the tenth verse, goes on to say this, which I think is Ephesians’ understanding of what it means to be saved.  Ephesians 2:10 says this: “For we are what [God] has made us.  We are what God has made us.  Created in Christ Jesus for good works, we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

 

There are three parts to this description of salvation.  “We are what [God] has made us.”  This translation, however, does not do justice to the Greek text.  In the Greek text, the action is incomplete; it is done but not finished.  So, if it weren’t so cumbersome it would be better to translate it by saying: We are what God has made us and what God continues to make us, or we are becoming what God has already made us.  To be saved means to become what God has already made us.  We are still being created.  Creation and salvation are the same thing. The God-saving work in our life is for us to become what God has already made us.

 

Life is a school.  Life is a school in which we are learning what God has made us.  The good and the bad parts of life, the ups and the downs, the loving relationships and the difficult relationships, and the relationships that are both loving and difficult at the same time – all of these things are part of the school of life.  Our job is to learn in this school of life who and what we are made to be.

 

An old friend of mine, who is a full-time pastoral counselor, says that life is the best therapy.  Life is the best therapy.  Everything in life is part of God’s process of making us who God has already made us to be, and it happens to us as a gift.  Now, I personally don’t believe God throws things at us.  I don’t think that God says, “Dean is not paying enough attention to the realities of life or thinking profound enough thoughts; therefore, I’m going to throw trouble into his life.”  But I believe that life itself is created in such a way as to test us, to stimulate us, to encourage us, to challenge us so that in the process of living we discover who and what we really are.

 

I was watching one of the religious channels on television last night until Jane came into the room and made me change the channel.  It was one of the religious channels, and they were broadcasting live from a large gathering at the Patriot Center.  The program was about money.  It was purported to be a biblical understanding of how we manage our finances. 

 

There was one speaker who intrigued me because he was talking about his own financial disasters in life.  He had built up a rather large business in his twenties, mostly on the basis of credit.  Then, at some point in his life, the banks called in his notes and he didn’t have the money.  His empire began to crumble one after another and it was devastating to his life and devastating to his family.  After that, he said he began practicing a new way of managing his money, which he said consisted primarily of cutting in half his credit cards.

 

Now, in the course of his sharing, he used a phrase that is apparently a popular phrase in the sort of religious world that you will see on some of the religious channels on cable.  He was talking about the difficulties of his past and how painful it was.  In the middle of it, what he said was this phrase, which is apparently a slogan popular in these circles.  They’re much better at slogans than we are because as soon as we lay out a slogan, we start ripping it apart and say this doesn’t apply and adding footnotes and ending up again with a term paper.  But this was the slogan, and I really heard it.  He was talking about all this trouble he’d had in the past, and then he said this phrase, “It’s all good.  It’s all good.” 

 

What he was trying to say is that even the most awful, worst experiences of his life were good because he had learned something from them, and grown from them, and become the person he is today.  It’s all good.  Now, I would never say that to a person who was in the middle of a tragedy in their life.  But if we in our lives can come to the point when we can look back on everything, the good and the bad, the things we thought would break us, the stupid mistakes we made and to be able to say all of that is good because through those things I have learned who God made me to be.  I want to know who God made me to be, were it not for the difficult times as well as the joys.  It’s all good because through it I have been saved and being saved means learning who and what God made me to be.

 

Now the verse says two other things that I will mention just quickly.  It tells us who we are made to be.  It says that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works.  This is who God means us to be, has made us to be.  People created in Christ Jesus for good works.  I think there are six good works.  Six good works are love and mercy, justice and peace, truth and beauty.  This is what God has made us to be, people who practice love and mercy, justice and peace, truth and beauty.  If there are places in our life where we are choosing hate rather than love, we are not being who God made us to be.  If there are places in our life where we find ourselves being cruel, or places where we are participating in violence that hurts other people, or in things that are unjust that oppress other people, or things that are lies and not truth, or things that are ugly and not beautiful that do not make beauty, then we are not being who God made us to be.

 

I was talking to a friend whom I know from outside of church this past week. He said to me in the middle of our conversation, “I need to find a new job.”  I asked him why he needed to find a new job and he said, “Because my present job is more and more of an expectation that I will do things that will deny services to poor people.”  He said, “I am coming to realize that is not who I am.”

 

If we are participating in things that are hateful rather than loving, cruel rather than merciful, that are violent rather than peaceful, unjust rather than just, lies or ugliness, then we are not being who God created us to be.

 

The last thing the verse says is this, “That even before we were made, God prepared all of this to be our way of life.”  God has great confidence in us.  God believes that in all of life and all of living, we will discover ourselves, and we will come to know who we really are and live it, and live it, and live it.

 

 

 

 

 

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