I am a person who has had many names.
I don’t know what it is about me, but throughout my life people have given me nicknames.
In high school my friends called me Ular.
In the Air Force, people called me Sid. In fact, the nickname became so prevalent that my first sergeant called me Sid, my commander called me Sid, and one time when my parents called the dorms to talk with me when they asked for Greg the person answering the phone told them there was no one there by that name, until my friend Brian yelled from the end of the hall, “they mean Sid”.
At my previous church in Albuquerque a homeless friend of mine named Freddie called me MCPG. MC Pastor Greg.
So for whatever reason, throughout my life I have been known by many titles and names.
But for the first three months of my life, I did not have a name at all.
I was adopted as a baby and a few years ago I got my birth and adoption records and at my birth I was not given a first name. My first name was simply, Baby.
I was in a foster home during that time. I am not sure why my adoption took so long. It could have been for legal or medical reasons. And, I have no idea what my foster parents called me. Baby? He? It?
But after this uncertain beginning, I was adopted. I was brought in to my parent’s family and I was named.
Our names carry with us the history and identity of our families. They tell us a story of where we have come from and the kind of people we are. Our names give us identity.
I know there are many people who are a part of this church who have been adopted. Some of us have been legally adopted and raised by a family that was not blood relation. One of the things Carol Herbin and I shared in common was our adoption stories
But many of us also count the people in this room as part of our family. We use the language of being brothers and sisters in Christ and we care for each other like family. But there is something unique and more than that in our community, we truly are family to one another.
Another person who was adopted was Pastor Chris. Unlike me who was born with no name, Chris was born with a name other than Chris. Chris, will you share your story?
(Pastor Chris speaks here)
Chris and my stories might be somewhat unique in that what we were called or not called at the beginning of our lives is not how people know us now. But for both of us, this experience is part of who we are and the inspiration we have for ministry today.
For me, as a person who was once without a name or a home and who was brought in, nurtured, and loved, I want other people to have that same experience. The core motivation for my ministry is to widen the circle of God’s love to include all people. Just as I was once on the outside and welcomed in, I want people who have been excluded by the church to know that they are loved by God.
All of us have been adopted in to the family of God. In Christ, God “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.”
This is one of the opening statements of the book of Ephesians.
This morning we start a six week series looking at this letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus. Unlike many of Paul’s other letters, Ephesians seems to be a more general letter to the church. Instead of addressing a specific problem of a specific church, Paul outlines what it means to live out their faith. In the coming weeks we will be looking at what it means for us to live as people of both faith and works, to live among the mystery and majesty of God, to live as a unified people in a world of division, and to grow and mature in our faith.
But the letter to the Ephesians is not simply a letter about what it means for us to live individually as a followers of Jesus or what it looks like for us to be the church. All of Paul’s teachings are grounded in the idea of grace. The word grace is mentioned 12 times in a letter that is four pages long.
In the first sentences of Ephesians, Paul writes “grace to you…” In chapter 2 there is the familiar scripture that we are “saved by grace through faith…” and the last sentence of the letter concludes, “Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace is the cornerstone of our understanding of God in the United Methodist Church. We believe that God’s prevenient grace surrounds us from the moment we draw our first breath, God’s justifying grace brings us in to a right relationship, and that God’s sanctifying grace is ever at work in our lives making us more like Christ.
Our faith is not about us. It is not about us becoming smart enough to have a right understanding or strong enough to do the right things, it is all grace. It is all gift.
This understanding of grace is central to the book of Ephesians. Ephesians is not so much an instruction manual of how we live individually or even how we operate as a church, but how we live as a people of grace, how we live in response to God’s grace. I believe this short letter has a lot to say to us. We are here on a Sunday morning, we are a people of faith, so how do we live in response to all that God has given us?
Our call is not just to sit back and receive the gifts of grace and take them for granted. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called that “cheap grace”. Instead we are transformed by grace, so that we can transform the people and the world around us through grace.
This is what we will be exploring in the coming weeks as we look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
This letter begins with grace and with the statement that we are blessed. In verse 3, Paul uses the word blessed three times. He says, “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.”
This is only half a sentence, a sentence fragment, and Paul can’t use the word blessing enough.
We, at the Church for All people. are the blessed people of God.
To say that we are blessed is not to use the word in the same way that the rest of the world uses it. Often, when we hear the word blessed people use it to describe having an abundance of stuff. A new car, a new house, good health, security.
This is how many people would describe themselves as blessed.
But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus turns the word blessing upside down. Jesus says blessed are the meek, the humble, the poor in spirit, the ones who hunger for righteousness, even the one’s who are persecuted for his name’s sake.
Paul himself writes this letter to the Ephesians from prison. And from prison he calls himself blessed.
What does it mean to be blessed?
It’s not about having the latest iphone or getting the lowest number at the Free Store or eating the biggest meal.
To be blessed is to be chosen, to be recognized by God, to be adopted and included in to the family of God.
To be blessed is to truly believe at the core of your being that God loves you no matter what. That you are beautifully and wonderfully made. That you are a person of divine value and sacred worth.
To be bleesed is to know that God loves you so much, that God is not finished with you yet. That God’s grace is ever at work in our lives to make us more like Christ. To increase our ability to love one another, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy, as unconditionally as God has loved us.
To be blessed is to not only be welcomed in to the family of God, but to also be welcomed in to the work of God.
Paul writes in verse 10 that God has a plan… “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
God has a plan to redeem and restore all things. All things in heaven, all things on earth. All people and all of creation. And we get to be a part of that. We aren’t just sitting back waiting for God to do this some day at the end of time, we get to be a part of this every day!
Every time we share a gift of grace with someone, we gather all things in him.
Every time we offer a kind word instead of a harsh one, every time we choose a peaceful response instead of a violent one, every time we comfort someone having a hard day, every time we pray for someone, every time we teach a child to read, every time we feed a person who is hungry, we gather up all things in him and like we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, the kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven.
Paul writes, “this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
We are a blessed people, recognized and chosen by God to be members of God’s family.
We are blessed to be part of God’s work of redemption for all people and all creation.
We are blessed to the praise of his glory.
Throughout our lives we may be known by many titles and many names, but above all else when you look at yourself in the mirror may you see the one who God calls blessed.