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Ephesians 1:15-23

While the disciples did not always do it well, it is much easier to imagine following Jesus when he on earth walking the dusty streets of Israel. One – you, I, Peter – would simply follow Jesus where he is going.

Off to Capernaum? Follow Jesus.

Off to Nazareth? Follow Jesus.

Off to the Sea of Galilee? Follow Jesus.

Off to Jerusalem? Follow Jesus.

Walking on water? Follow Jesus.

The pastoral problem that early followers of Christ inherited after the ascension of Christ back to the Father was this: what does following look like when there is no longer a person to follow around?

For just such a quandary of early Christians – and Christians today, as well – the author of Ephesians (likely using Paul’s name pseudonymously) offers us some incredible gifts: wisdom and revelation (1:17) so that we might know God, enlightened eyes of your heart (1:18) so that you may know the hope to which God called you better (1:18), the riches if his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power (1:19) that is like the working of his might strength.

These are the sorts of tools that one who cannot literally follow Jesus around the streets of Israel may find useful in order to be a follower of Jesus. This is great news, but the author does not stop there! Instead, the author roots this power that we are offered as the people of God in the very power that resurrected Jesus and ascended him to his throne!

Further, the text makes clear that it is God whose power raised Jesus from the dead and ascended him to new life (1:20). The language is very important: it is not the dead Jesus who wills himself to new life. It is the power of God that raised that which was dead to back to life as a testament to the faithfulness of Christ – a faithfulness that followed God’s will even to death. The reward of the resurrected is continued in ascension – returned to the a faithfulness throne that was absconded on our behalf! God restores the faithful!

As the text comes to its conclusion, the church is named as THE body of Christ. At this point we must recognize that if the body of Christ was resurrected and ascended because of its faithfulness, and now Jesus watches over and empowers the church, which is now the body of Christ for the world, we are given access to the power of God that resurrects and ascends. As such, it is not solely Jesus’ ascension that we celebrate today, but it is also the hope of the church’s resurrection and ascension.

We talk a lot about the resurrection in the Christian Church these days – there is an entire liturgical season around Easter and an opportunity to look to the resurrection of dead at every death of a faithful sister or brother – but we focus much less stringently on the ascension. But, it seems in this text that it is the ascension that allows Christ to receive his appointment as head over the church, reminding us that the power of God that raised him to new life and appointed him heir to the throne is the same power that is afforded us to follow him today, in the world we live in. Even in a world rife with challenges including who belongs in which bathroom, which politician to vote for, is socialism or capitalism more ethical, etc.

This likely means that the church needs to look beyond the petty discussions and arguments that it gets so bogged down in. If this power of God that can bring life to dead bodies and raise bodies to glorious, heavenly thrones, perhaps we need to learn to trust this God for the wisdom, revelation, enlightenedness, and hope that the text begins by promising. In the Wesleyan tradition, we are equipped with the ability to appeal to tradition, reason, and experience as hermeneutical tools along with our reading of scripture. In a difficult world to navigate, especially as we cannot simple follow Jesus around asking him what he would do in any given situation, we can again imagine that the power of God that resurrected and ascended Jesus from death to life is still available to the church and working in this world we find ourselves in. As such, it would behoove the church to turn in prayer to this ascended Lord asking for the power that resurrects the body of Christ to empower us to be witnesses to the work of God in the world.

That doesn’t answer what to do with transgendered bathrooms, or political uncertainty, or any other problems. But, it does give us hope that the one on the throne is at work with a power beyond our imagination to bring life to what seems like a hopeless world.

Do we have ears to listen? Eyes to see? The power of God is at work in our world today. Are we relying on our own understandings and imaginations for what God can do? Or are we appealing to ascended one to illuminate our way as we try to follow as faithful witnesses?

Potential Images and Metaphors for Preaching

Metaphors always break down. That said, there could be something helpful in one of these stories to help illuminate a sermon about receiving power/wisdom/help from beyond ourselves, from one who has gone before us in power/wisdom/help:

  • The Lion King – Mufasa suggests to Simba that when he feels alone, look to the stars where he will see the great kings of the past. This advice helps Simba when he has to make a moral decision on behalf of his people to save them.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Rey begins to learn who she is when she holds Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. It is only then that she learns that she is a part of something bigger, and that she has access to a power beyond her imagination. She ends the movie returning the lightsaber to Luke.

  • Kansas City had a rejuvenation of civic pride when the Royals won their first World Series in 30 years. The city even received and economic boon from the victory.

  • Hardball with Keanu Reeves – baseball in the inner city brings a sense of hope and meaning to otherwise overlooked children.

There are likely better images that you can tell yourself, from your own experience as well.