1. Grace mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The message from God’s Word as we observe Epiphany is taken from Ephesians 3:1-13 and is entitled, “You Are Included in God’s Church,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. We all want to be in a group. God didn’t make Adam to remain alone. We even see fellowship within the Holy Trinity, as Moses reveals their conversation in Gen 1:26: “26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speak, a holy conversation revealing unity and purpose by the three persons of the Godhead. But this singular group, the Holy Trinity, doesn’t desire to remain alone. He creates the Church, the first two members consisting of Adam and then Eve. Mankind is included into the fellowship of the triune God by his choice, his undertaking, his Word. It is all his delightful way.
3. As the biblical story unfolds, the original ingathering by God’s voice rebel, letting their ears hear the voice of a separatist god-wannabe, the devil. They remove themselves from him and divide the fellowship they had with each other. No longer a community, either with God or the other, they followed only the selfish designs of the devil. Exclusion, fracture, division.
4. This is the way it is with the rebellious ones, attempting to make a community apart from God on their own terms. The sinful result is a community-less entity of singulars, with curved-in attractions and with others so selfishly curved in on themselves the same way. This churchless community is absolutely all about me, myself, and I.
5. You know what that’s like. You were there once, before Jesus snatched you by his gracious grasp and made you his own, a decisive one-sided divine work. Oh, you still tend to lean that way, away from the concern for God and each other. The Lord, though, is rather persistent in his care for you. He won’t let you fade away into self exclusion and division, to be a community of one. How isolating!
6. For God, had planned that he wouldn’t let mankind have its own way, heading for eternal destruction. He sent the one who is the unifier, and by his shed blood, the world’s been brought back to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit’s preaching. The Father showed his Fatherly heart as he took the “children of wrath” (2:3) and re-created them into the image of his Son, ones absolutely loved by him.
7. It would have been easy for the little ragtag group, the Church in Ephesus, mostly Gentiles, non-Jews, to believe they were outside the circle of inclusion, that they weren’t God’s Church, in his house. Why, nearly their whole city was involved in the worship of Artemis, the goddess of fertility. The prostitution house was within two hundred yards of their famous library—and their amphitheater, which seated 25,000! Now, that was a holy fellowship, they thought—intellect, sexual enticement, and group entertainment! But, in reality, it was only a community of perversion.
8. This, Paul says, is why he was sent, yes, even given a special revelation of the Ephesians’ inclusion. Ephesians 3:2–3 says, “2assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.” Yes, the Jews are God’s chosen people and remain his chosen if they believe in the Father’s provision for their sin. But so are the Gentiles, anyone who is in his Church, for they are made, “one new man in place of the two” (Eph. 2:15). Unholiness, whether it comes from the Jews or the Gentiles, didn’t advance one into God’s circle of inclusion, his Church.
9. You Gentiles, you members of this Church in Ephesus (and you sitting here today), do not overlook this fact. God sent a special call to this man called Paul. His call papers were not filled out by any call committee; no, they were filled out by God himself in person, immediately, not through persons, as he does today.
10. He did this so that you, too, would know for certain that the mystery now revealed fully in Christ is that all people, all are included, all are Church members by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Kingdom inclusion is by grace, not by any kind of merit. Even unholiness does not deter God, for all of this—your unholiness—is on Jesus.
11. You need not doubt; you need not despair. You Ephesus Lutheran Church members need not consider yourselves any less before the almighty God than even St. Paul, the chief of sinners. Since inclusion is on God’s terms, that is, his Son’s replacement punishment and sin-payment for you, there is no doubt. Even more so, because you are in him, baptized into Christ, the Father’s given you access to him through Jesus by the Spirit’s prompting. You think all these powerful buildings around you and all the pomp and power displayed by the Roman hierarchy here in town are greater than you? Just the reverse! God Has Declared You His, Included, the Church, glorious and holy, united, one Body, Jew and Greek, male and female, all one with him.
12. Through Jesus, and alongside Jesus, you petition the Father as Jesus does. You talk to God about your neighbor, and then you talk to your neighbor about your God, joining Jesus, your great High Priest, in holy work. This you need to hear today, O beloved of God, in America. It’s a new America. Gone is the appearance of a Christian America. The American church—it appears—is like those old feeble houses on the eastern plains of the Rockies, simply waiting for the amassing storm clouds to flood over the mountains and crash into them, leaving no wall standing.
13. The Church will get rocked, for the Church—as from the beginning in Genesis 3—is squarely in the crosshairs of the devil’s evil might. Fear not, O Church, for God still sends his Son to preach of the Son, as he did in the garden. He sent this preacher to preach of his Son to you today. He sends preachers around the world, to Ghana and Kenya and Singapore and the Dominican Republic. The Son sends preachers who preach about the Son, bringing the broken and despairing into his Church, no matter the race, color, or size of sin. And the Church stands.
14. Let all hell break loose. But don’t fear! You are so secure in the wounds of Jesus, drenched by his blood in baptismal splashing and drinking of the river of life at the rail, that you do not run. Rather, you, his Church, face westward, into the wind and storm . . . snuggled right behind Jesus, your Savior and your Lord. Amen. The peace of the Lord that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.