The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
E. Bevan Stanley
July 11, 2021
Proper 10, Year B, Track 1
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
From Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: 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. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
First, a quick comment on the readings from the Hebrew scriptures and from the Gospel. They depict two very different kinds of kingship, two different characters. David is willing to be undignified in his joy and praise. When he brings up the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital in Jerusalem, he dances and sings and cavorts in the sight of all the people. He celebrates the joy of the occasion even though in the eyes of the daughter of Saul he is demeaning himself. Herod on the other hand is not willing to lose face in the presence of his guests. Having made a rash vow under the influence of alcohol and lust, he orders the death of John the Baptist, despite the fact that he is impressed by John and likes to listen to him. In Herod’s case pride and the need to save face results in the death of a righteous man. Dignity can be deadly.
Turning to the reading from Ephesians, we are first taken by the density of the language. It is like drinking from a firehose. It is the opening of the letter. These are the first words after the formal greeting. He blesses God for all that God has done for us. What is striking in this passage is that he speaks of our being destined before the world was created to be God’s adopted children. He also says that we have been destined to receive an inheritance as heirs of God. At first, this may seem raise a question about our free will. Is Paul saying that we are predestined to be saved, to be children of God. If so, why should we work so hard at being holy and acceptable to God? And does it mean that others are not predestined? Are there some who are destined to be damned? That does not seem right or something that a loving God would do.
What if we took being destined to mean this is what God’s intent for us is even before God created the world? God’s intent was that all the human being that were to be created would be viewed by God as children and given and inheritance along with the second person of the Trinity. We are still free to live according to God’s intention or to choose our own way instead. Twice Paul says that our being adopted by God as children is according to God’s good pleasure. Having us for children delights God regardless of how we feel about it. In much the same way, Alinda and I are delight to have Stan as our grandson. He has our love; what he will do with that reality is up to him.
What is the point Paul is trying to make with all this talk about us being destined from before the foundation of the world to be God’s adopted children in accordance with God’s good pleasure? He says that the purpose of all this is so that we “might live for the praise of God’s glory.” In essence, Paul is saying, “God made you to be God’s children. Now go and live as if you were God’s children.”
But there is more. In the middle of the passage, Paul says that God has made known the mystery of his will. God has revealed his plan and desire for the whole universe. Paul says that according to God’s good pleasure God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. To gather up all things in Christ. The word in Greek is ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι (anakephalaiosasthai). That is quite a mouthful, but that’s the way Greek verbs work. Literally, it means to head up again, that is to bring all things together under a single head. This is a vision of God’s eternal purpose. The heavenly realm and the earthly realm that now seem separated are to be made one. Things in heaven and things on earth are to be unified and brought together in Jesus Christ. This means that if we are God’s children, then what God wants us to do is to work for this union of the material and the spiritual. We are to break down the barriers between earth and heaven. We are to be conduits of heavenly blessings to the world that so badly needs them. we are to be messengers of God to those who need to be told to fear not. We are to bring the people of this world into the presence of God in prayer. We are ambassadors for God. Each of us is the kid who asks if they can bring the friend home for supper. This is what God made us for. to be the agents of reconciliation and union. Not just to help humans to get along with each other, although that is very, very important. We are also to be joining in the Christ’s work of joining earth to heaven. We are agents of God to all creation. Our bodies are sacraments of God. We stand between the worlds to make them one.
This why David danced before the ark. The ark was an object that connected earth and heaven. It was a physical object that made God present to God’s people. It was a sacrament of the love of God.
Each of us is made by God for this work of heading up all things in Christ. We are meant to be God’s children. How are we going to live this out? We sing, we pray, we work for justice and peace. We meet others with compassion and hospitality. We do what we can to help others. We love and respect all persons. We hold all we encounter in prayer. If we give ourselves to this divine work, we need never be bored.