Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Proper 10, New Testament Lesson

Ephesians 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

Reflections on Ephesians 1:1-14

"To gather all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." The whole creation responds to God and is in relationship with God. Therefore all creatures should be treated as children of God.

If there ever was a theological basis and a moral imperative for environmental stewardship, this text emphatically states it. The theme of Ephesians is Christ enacting God’s purpose through the Church into the furthest reaches of the cosmos. Personal redemption and cosmic redemption are, as Allan D. Galloway wrote, “correlative aspects of one and the same thing” (The Cosmic Christ, p. 240; London: Nisbet, 1951).

The vision of this letter is “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:10). The “mystery” of God’s will, unlike the secrets of the “mystery religions” that pervaded and surrounded the Greek culture of that day, is openly “made known” to the Church.

It is a mystery that embraces “all things,” not just you and me, and not only the Church, but also all peoples on all continents in every nation and every religion. It is a mystery that embraces all centuries, and all unfolding times, a mystery or governing purpose that brings order and meaning “not only in this age but also in the age to come” (1:21).

Here is a vision that is not only ecumenical, but cosmic in scope, a vision that provides to Christians a kind of psychic container for this 21st century’s chaotic upheavals and uncertainties on every front: political, economic, cultural, psychological, theological. The Christ of this vision is not an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian, a Lutheran, an American, a Westerner, an Easterner, but “the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:22f.). The Church does not exist for her own sake, accordingly, but for the sake of all humanity and all creation.

Here is a vision that welcomes scientists and theologians into mutually supportive explorations of all this is. Here is a vision that does not attempt to contain God in a box of ideas and creedal formulae, nor enthrone God on an immovable fundamentalist base. Instead, this vision pictures the dynamic God of “great power” (1:19) who maintains one redemptive purpose from before the beginning of time into the vast reaches of infinity.

Our baptism, our receiving elements of the Lord’s Supper, our personal accountabilities before God, are not private events but movements in and for the cosmic totality. God’s purpose chose us “before the foundation of the world” (1:4), and persists into “the age to come” (1:21). That is the same purpose that adopts us (1:5), redeems us “through his blood” (1:7), sanctifies us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (1:4), and forgives us with “riches of his grace” that are continually “lavished” upon us (1:7-8).

Our personal lives and the Church’s existence are accountable to the God of all being, who is both “throned afar” and closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet. Praise of that God’s glory (1:12) means welcoming the power of the resurrection (1:20) into our daily lives of environmental care and ecological responsibility. The Church, after all, is “the body” of the One who “fills all in all” (1:22f.).

The Church’s mission is not only to human persons, but also to human institutions, including political and economic structures and policies. It makes no sense to believe in a Lord “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” and then live as if this Lord were concerned only about human sexuality and personal vices and virtues. The Church’s mission cannot serve the cosmic Lord otherwise than by embracing all humanity, all persons, all human communities, enterprises, structures, and undertakings.

The “mystery” of God’s cosmic work in Christ is made known to the Church in order that the Church may participate in God’s cosmic mission. The Church lives and works “… to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (3:9).

Texts either make sense to us within particular historical contexts, or they do not reach us. In the United States our dominant context is 9/11, an apocalyptic time that brings danger not only to this nation, but to all nations, and not only to humanity but to all life.

Within 7 days of 9/11 the President of Princeton Theological Seminary spoke in his convocation address about “Studying Theology in Apocalyptic Times,” and commented: “Surely Christian theology can never make do, or be legitimate, in this context without the themes of the radical sovereignty of God and the exercise of that sovereignty through the cross and resurrection of his royal agent, Jesus the Christ” (The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Feb. 2002 [XXIII #1], p. 7). A faculty member there concluded his “probing the ‘meaning’ of Sept. 11” by commenting: “All actions contain consequences that we can neither see nor control. Hence, the human community now waits breathlessly in hope that somehow, by the grace of God, a new cycle of violence and counter-violence can be avoided” (PSB, XXIII, #1, p. 53).

Nevertheless, despite that hope at the time of my writing (3-2-03) more than 200,000 American troops are positioned near Iraq poised for attack at any moment in a retaliatory strike. That is the case despite these facts: that evidence is lacking that Iraq caused 9/11, that Osama bin Laden has not been apprehended, that Al Qaeda remains at work across national borders, and that North Korea threatens nuclear terror. This is a huge gamble, and the triple Pulitzer-winner Thomas L. Friedman in his March 2, 2003 column thinks of it as “the mother of all presidential gambles” (www.nytimes.com, 3-2-02).

When we inside this apocalyptic context read Ephesians 1:1-14, our sight is lifted beyond those horrendous terrorist attacks against the twin towers and the Pentagon, and beyond persistent terrorist threats. We could be brought to see what frustrations and grievances gave birth to these attacks. We could begin to craft a foreign policy that not only tried to preserve national security in the short run, but also addressed for the long haul economic injustices caused by processes of globalization and multinational corporations. Not to think about, and contribute to, such a policy is not a Christian service.

At the time when Ephesians was written it was inconceivable that there ever would be Christians in places of international power who could make a difference in corporate Board rooms, and in major offices of the world’s last remaining military and economic superpower. That inconceivability does not relieve any such Christian, however, of the responsibility to live in those places as persons who are accountable to the cosmic vision of early Christian faith. It also does not absolve the corporate Church of fulfilling the promise that is given to it as messengers of that vision for all the earth.

The circumstance that the early Church could not exercise in its time the responsibilities that in our time are held in the hands of Christians, does not in any way lift from our shoulders the burden and the privilege of being stewards of the earth, whether in war or in peace. Today Christians personally and the one holy catholic apostolic Church corporately are positioned in new and effective ways to serve the cosmic Lord who was already within sight of that early Church.

Environmental mandates have already been massively set aside by those who put priority on waging war and retaliating against terror now and later, but such a “set aside” cannot square with Christian faith in and service to the Lord of the cosmos.

Copyright Statement

Tom Harries is Rector of St. Nicholas' Episcopal Church, Richfield, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2000. John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. Tom, John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to Tom Harries or John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the website.

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