the Second Sunday of Christmas

Ephesians 1. 3-14
The beginning, middle, and end of believing is god’s grace!

The bible’s a messy place in which to be tromping around! Written at different times, by different people, in different places. The scriptures don’t always share a common set of beliefs. At times, it can be challenging. At other times, nearly impossible. And the temptation is to clean it up. Make it easy. Just pretend the messiness doesn’t exist.

Most churches – especially here in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” – don’t worry about it. Literal. Inerrant. Infallible. They just take everything at face value. A verse here. A verse there. They just reweave the bible into a new book. A new one, another one that makes sense. And voilà, the mess disappears. I listened to a sermon on tv, the other Sunday, and I listened as the preacher went through the bible like he was walking through a field of flowers, picking whatever verse tickled his fancy and gathered them into a beautiful bouquet. “Word of God, word of life!” It’s neat! It’s clean! But isn’t really no longer the bible.

Like I said, reading scripture can be messy. Take, for instance, the apocrypha. It’s the bits and pieces of the oldTestament in Greek that aren’t in the Hebrew oldTestament. OldTestament in Greek and Latin. Books like Tobit and Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, and a handful of others. For centuries, these books were used by the church. And in the Reformation, Luther just chucked them! He reasoned that Hebrew was the original language of the bible. That Greek and Latin came later. So that must mean, the Apocrypha was added to the original books, somewhere along the way. So, he just tidied things up, a bit. Made the bible a little less messy. Personally, he wanted to do the same thing with Hebrews and James and Jude and the Revelation. They contradicted his gospel. Nothing about grace. Nothing about faith. His colleagues, though, would go that far. All four remained a part of the newTestament! We don’t read them, much. But they’re still there!

It’s called a canon within a canon. A bible within a bible. We pick. And we choose. Which bits to savor. Which to avoid. Some books, some passages, some verses are repugnant, repulsive. While others – like the secondReading for this morning – become the bedrock of our faith. The caprock, the cornerstone, of believing, on which we stake our lives! Reading the bible can be messy. But at least, for us Lutherans, at least there’s Ephesians, chapter one, verses three through fourteen. This passage, for us, is foundational! It’s all about love! God’s love! God’s love for us all! The passage reeks of grace! It oozes, it overflows, with it!

“Glorious grace!” That’s how the writer describes it! “Riches of grace!” “Lavished upon us!” Abundant! Profuse! More grace than we’ll ever need! More grace than we’ll ever know! Grace pressed down! Grace shaken together! Grace running over! Grace dropped right into our laps! That’s what makes us different! That’s what makes us unique! Grace! It’s not something we’ve chosen! It’s not something we’ve earned or deserved! It’s a gift! Free! Unearned! Undeserved! It’s like a quote I stumbled over, last week… “Into this world, Christ comes uninvited!” It’s gift! Always gift! Gift forever!

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every blessing…
Chosen in Christ before time began…
Destined for adoption…

It’s all a gift! Glorious grace! Freely bestowed! Lavished upon us! If we didn’t have another passage of scripture, this one would be enough! This one would be more than enough! It doesn’t matter how many chapters you’ve read. How many verses you’ve committed to memory. None of that is evidence, is proof, of faith. Contrary to popular opinion, the more you read, the more you know, doesn’t make you more of a Christian. But god’s grace… god’s charity… god’s love… That’s something to believe in! Something to depend on! It isn’t some vague, shapeless principle we believe in. This is who, what, god is! Grace! Charity! Love! This is what we expect! This is what we count on! God loves us! God loves us all! As no mother, no father, has ever loved their children! It’s that plain! It’s that simple!

Believing – real, honest-to-god, down-to-earth, believing – isn’t about reading the bible, any morn that it’s about saying our prayers. It’s not about anything we should or ought or must! It’s all about god! Father! Spirit! Son! And like I said, it’s really simple! Like the song says, it’s the old, old – the new, new – story of Jesus and his love! Not the candlelight and soft music kind of love. Not the love that conjures up rainbows and butterflies. But the kind of love that carries crosses! That sacrifices! That suffers! All for the sake of the loved!

Truth is, you can have that kind of love even if you never read a single word of scripture! Like I said, it’s a gift! It’s all a gift! You get if from the words we sing, every Sunday. We get it from all the words we hear! We get it from every drop of water poured on our heads! From every pinch of bread! From each and every sip of wine! It’s not chapter-and-verse that creates faith. It’s the gospel! The good news! Not through paper and ink, but blood and sweat and tears! We cannot, but god can! We do not, but god does! Through the gospel! That’s the glorious grace! That’s the riches of grace! Lavished upon us! Upon everyone and everything! And everything else only muddies up the baptismal waters! Everything else only makes things messier than they are! For us, there is only Christ! For us, there is only the cross! For us, there is only love! All the rest – Hebrews, James, Jude, the Revelation… All the rest, we pay no heart… we pay no mind…

Truth is the bible can be a messy place. Sometimes, rather than making things better, it only makes them worse. But gospel! Good news! That, for us, is what we take literally! That, for us, is inerrant and infallible! “God, who is rich in mercy, loved us even when we were dead in sin, and made us alive together with Christ. By grace you have been saved. In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven…” By grace you have been saved! By grace you have been rescued! By grace you have been delivered! And Jesus, Jesus-and-the-cross, is what that grace, what the charity, what that love, looks like! What that grace, what the charity, what that love, sounds like! What that grace, what the charity, what that love, feels like and smells like and tastes like!

The beginning of faith is grace! The end of believing is grace! And grace is every heartbeat, every breath along the way! My friends, god loves us! God loves us all! And that’s all we need to know!