Queer Ephesians 3.1-13: A Role Model for Ministers

The beginning of Chapter 3 of Ephesians calls us to consider our response to the Gospel. Is it one of humility, or one of pride? Who is called to serve this mystery? And how are we to take heart when faced with such a difficult task?


Ministry in Humility

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.

In the previous section, we have just heard of the wonderful citizenship with the saints that life in Christ brings, and the character Paul, masking the anonymous author, is a perfect example of how much that citizenship with the saints, that life in the Church, is worth. “This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” (v.1). The Apostle Paul, in his own letters, writes at length of the trials and sufferings, including imprisonment, which he has undergone in order to bring them the Gospel and to build up the churches to whom he addresses his letters. So, says Ephesians, remember what your membership in the Church is worth, and what it has cost both Christ and those who have gone before you.

The bearers of this message do not work for themselves, but receive a “commission of God’s grace” (v.2) which is not for them but “given to me for you” (v.2). And they do not tell their own story for their own glory, but receive “a mystery” which they only know “by revelation” (v.3). Ephesians then points the reader to reread chapters 1 and 2, to see the remarkable nature of the faith it proposes, “a reading of which will enable you to perceive” “in a few words” “my understanding of the mystery of Christ” (v.4). The first portion of Ephesians, everything we have explored so far, was a summary of what Christians believe, as the writer of Ephesians saw it, and as he could state in a short space.

I am struck by the humility here. The Apostle Paul is rarely so reserved, and prefers to represent himself as an authority, a necessary role for him to adopt if he was to achieve his aim of supporting several disparate and fledgling communities. And yet, although Ephesians lays the same claim to the authority of “revelation”, perhaps setting down another link to the Apostle Paul, it is remarkable that Ephesians holds itself out as offering only “my understanding” of what, for us, will always remain a “mystery”.

Most of us have experienced hurt or mistreatment at the hands of church leaders who claimed to have an authority which God had not in fact given them, who claimed to speak with a revelation which God had in fact not revealed to them. Ephesians sets out another model of Church leadership: one that is humble, and defers to the reality of the mystery of what God has truly done in Christ. And it works for us as well. Just as church leaders can put themselves in the place of the Apostle Paul, so we too can idols of our own ideas, thinking them to be from God, and can be insensitive and uncharitable to our fellow believers. Ephesians suggests that humility at all times is the key to thinking well about God.

 


Bearers of the Mystery

5In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. 8Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

The mystery of God’s work in Christ, as Ephesians laid out in 2:11-22, is that “the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v.6). All people, whoever they are, have access in Jesus to God’s good promises and can become members of Christ’s body, the Church.

But Ephesians reminds us that this has not always been the case. I am struck by the analogy between the fact that “in former generations this mystery” of the unity of Jews and Gentiles “was not made known to humankind” (v.5), and the experience of so many queer people coming to faith. The mystery that we too can be united to Christ and to the cis- and hetero- etc. from whom we have at times felt so isolated, can come as a shock to many of us, and I certainly am still working through it. The profound mystery of God that those who have been excluded can always be included in Jesus is difficult, for those who learn to include others as well as those who learn to be included. But we are reassured that this mystery “has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v.5). This shocking and far-reaching inclusion is at the core of the Gospel message.

And of this Gospel, teachers and leaders, as well as the least among us, are called to be “a servant” (v.7), and this not by our own powers but “according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power” (v.7). We so often feel that those called to minister the Gospel must be the most able, the loudest and the strongest in the Church, and for so many of us who are queer in the Church that doesn’t feel like us. So it is reassuring that the writer of Ephesians uses the character of Paul, who reminds us often that he was “the very least of all the saints” (v.8), and that the vocation to serve God and his Gospel is not a right owed on account of our abilities or social standing, but a “grace… given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ” (v.8). Christians, queer or not, do not serve God by their own power or for their own enrichment, but by God’s grace and for Christ’s riches.

And this last verse sums up for me the essence of Christian evangelisation, for at the heart of the Christian love for God is the desire to share that love with others. It is a desire “to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery” (v.9), neither seeking only to share with those who are like us, nor seeking only to convert those who are other than us, in order to make them more like us. We receive our faith as a gift, and we want to share that gift with all people, whoever they are.

This mystery of unity and reconciliation in Christ is for everyone, and Christians are called to reflect that in our relationships with those around us. For this mystery is an eternal mystery, “hidden for ages in God who created all things” (v.9). This is how profoundly God has always desired our union and unity, how profoundly God has desired to tear down the dividing walls between us, and how profoundly he wishes to use each and every one of us to that end.


Encouragement for the Difficult Task

10so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 13I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

The call to work for unity in Christ and the breaking down of barriers is a difficult one. The Church is called to enter some of the toughest spheres for peacemaking and reconciliation, “so that through the church the wisdom of God… might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (v.10). We as members of the Church are called not only to break down the dividing walls immediately around us, but to engage with the powerful, the rich and the influential. These are the people who most closely guard many of the walls that divide God’s children. And we are called to bring the Good News to them as well, in a “rich variety” (v.10) of different ways, as each of us is called.

The powerful and influential have a great hold on us. Every time we read the news there is something to shake our confidence in the Church’s power to change the world as we see it now. Every time we flick through facebook, we see another leading figure preaching hatred and division and heads nodding in agreement. And Ephesians knows the sort of pressure we are under to despair and give up hope.

Ephesians reassures us that the God’s plan to break down the barriers that separate us is not just our lonely challenge, our impossible task, to perform. This mission is nothing less than God’s “eternal purpose” that he has already “carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v.11). This mission is already in motion. Victories have already been won. And we do not act alone, for in Jesus “we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him” (v.12). This is why Ephesians can say, “I pray therefore that you may not lose heart” (v.13), lacking in confidence that God has our backs. For the “sufferings” (v.13) that we experience ourselves, that we see in those we love and those like us around the world, are not our shame, our defeat, or our destruction. The difficulty of the task of breaking down barriers and uniting people in the love of Christ is no reason to stop. Rather, “they are your glory” (v.13).

The task the Church faces in breaking down barriers is great. The task that queer people in Church face in doing the same is even greater. But we are called not to lose heart, for God is in our sufferings. He has laid the foundations of the final victory when all people shall be one in Christ. And he gives us grace to continue to be voices of wisdom and unity in a world and Church that desperately need to know those things.

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Please keep praying!

Hi everyone. Today is the feast of the Vocation of Francis, my patron saint. I felt called to start this Queer Ephesians project at the beginning of Lent and didn’t really think it would go very far. But by God’s grace, over half of it is written already!

Please keep praying for me as I continue to write. And do tweet prayer requests to me @thomasmsharp so I can pray for you!

God bless you all, fill you with his grace and call you ever deeper into his marvelous light.

Thomas

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Queer Ephesians 2.11-22: One in Christ

In this section, Ephesians explores how Christ gathers us in from our different identities, breaks down the barriers between us, and recreates us as unified in him. It is Christ, and not the institutions or leaders in our churches, who truly unifies us, invites us into his home, and makes us all together into his home.


Christ Gathers Us In

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

One of the great rhetorical devices of the Pauline literature is the setting up and resolution of crisis: first you tell people why they need something; then you tell them how Christ gives it to them. And this section is no different.

Just like in the last section, the fact that we, before knowing Christ, were outside something, were without something, is made clear. We, the “uncircumcision” (v.11) were outside the knowledge of God granted to the Jews and sealed with the sign of circumcision. Ephesians makes clear that this is merely “a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands” (v.11), but nonetheless it serves as a reminder that, before we knew Christ, we were without something wonderful which we now have. We were “without Christ” (v.12) and also without fellowship in “the commonwealth of Israel” (v.12), that is to say, knowing God in the special way granted to the Jewish people. We are reminded that this life was “having no hope and without God in the world” (v.12), that special hope that we have explored so much already, for it is built on “the covenants of promise” (v.12).

The crisis is set: “you… were once far off” (v.13). But then it is resolved: “But now in Jesus Christ you… have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v.13). For those of us who so often feel pushed away from the Church, the language here is particularly powerful. In Jesus, we are “brought near” (v.13), by a means as powerful as “the blood of Christ” (v.13).

And it is not just to God that we are brought near, as has been the emphasis in previous passages. Here the emphasis is on our being brought near to the Church, to our fellow believers. Before, between Jew and gentile, between man and woman, between queer and straight and cis, there was, in Ephesians’ words, “a dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (v.14). Particularly between Jew and gentile in the ancient world, but between all categories and classes of person, we manage to create insurmountable barriers, walls that lead to hostility and isolation.

But in contrast to “the hostility between us”, Christ “is our peace” (v.14). For “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and broken down the dividing wall” (v.14). In Christ, there is no such thing as the Church of the Jews and the Church of the gentiles. There is no Church of the Queer and Church of the Straight. Ephesians has what theologians would call a high ecclesiology. Church is something that is far more than the building you worship in, or the hierarchy that appoints your pastor. The Church is nothing less than the Body of Christ. And we are all in that Church together. Christ takes away the power of separate buildings, subverts the barrier of dividing walls, and unites us all in the One and Universal Church, which is his body, whoever we are, and however we identify. Christ has “brought near” all his children, into one body, and one Church.

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Unity and Recreation in Christ

15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

The big divide between the gentile and the Jew was the Law. Jews had to live in particular ways, and could not mix with those who did not, so the “dividing wall” (v.14) was in this respect particularly visible. So God’s solution is to abolish “the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create… one new humanity in place of the two” (v.15). God does away with the problem, doing away with the visible signs of disunity between his children. And he creates this “one new humanity” (v.15) “in himself” (v.15).

Now, remember that in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus, the Word, was “in the beginning with God” for he “was God”, and that “all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3). Through the Word, who becomes incarnate as Jesus Christ, God created all things in the first place. So it is through Jesus the Word that God recreates all things in the fullness of his divine unity and life. So, in Jesus, God is “making peace” (v.15), for God became incarnate so that he “might reconcile both groups to [himself] in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (v.16). It is through Christ’s life death and resurrection that we are restored to the unity that was intended for us from our creation.

And this is a message for everyone. Not just for those on the outside: “So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v.17). There is no sense that some don’t need recreating and restoring to unity, “for through [Jesus] both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v.18). In Christ there is no sense that those within the institutions, those with the authority and the books, are in any less need of God’s saving and unifying power than those of us who feel on the outside. Just because one person is accepted by the Church all their life, and another is rejected and shamed, does not mean that either is any different in the eyes of God. Both, in Christ, are recreated, and brought together in his body, the Church.


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Citizens with the Saints

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.

This section of Ephesians reaches its climax in a quite remarkable word picture. First, it paints the picture of “strangers and aliens” (v.19), those on the outside of society, tolerated but kept at arms-length.

And then it contrasts this with our state as “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (v.19). In the ancient world, the most radical form of inclusion was citizenship. In the Roman world, wars were fought over who should have this powerful identity which afforded not only suffrage in local and national elections, but also greater freedoms, the protection and assistance of the authorities, and the right to appeal to Rome in serious legal matters. Citizenship was coveted and jealously guarded. And this, Ephesians says, is freely given to us, in Christ.

And we are also “members of the household of God” (v.19). Not only are we brought into a protected and privileged relationship with God through our citizenship, but we are brought through the gates and into God’s very home. We are his family and friends. This is how much we “are no longer strangers and aliens” (v.19).

And this “household of God” (v.19) is nothing less than the Church, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (v.20). The Church rests upon those who shared and interpreted God’s speaking to us – it always has and it always will. But the one who holds it together, who makes sense of it and sustains it, is and always has been Christ. Not the person at the altar or in the pulpit on a Sunday, not our youth group leaders, our Bishops or Archbishops… but Christ Jesus. He is the one who truly includes us in the Church which is his own household.

An “in him the whole structure is joined together” (v.21) in that wonderful unity which Ephesians outlined in the rest of this section. It is this unity which allows us to grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” (v.21), a community of believers and children living for God’s praise. And yet, we are not individually temples. We are not a temple by ourselves, and nor can we be removed from this temple identity by being excluded by other believers. For this temple identity exists for us, not in ourselves, but “in the Lord” (v.21). And God draws us ever closer into unity with each other and with himself: for this is the Lord “in whom you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God” (v.22).

Abraham: What is God’s Covenant with us in Jesus? A Sermon for Lent II

This is the sermon given in St John’s Meadowfield, Durham, on Lent II, the 21st of February 2016.  It asks the question, ‘What is God’s Covenant with us in Jesus?’ God’s Covenant is God’s good promise to us of love and life in Jesus Christ.

Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 (included at the bottom)

 


 

The Old Testament Covenants

You won’t understand what it means to be a Jew, until you understand what the Bible means by ‘covenant’. Words of my Old Testament teacher. The idea of covenant is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible, and is the foundation of the Jewish faith.

Covenant in the ancient world was a special sort of contract. A deal made between two parties about something that was important. Peace treaties, war pacts, marriage and land rights… the things that mattered most to people, they sorted with a covenant.

A covenant was an unbreakable bond. It was more than a simple agreement. A covenant was the sort of deal you made for life. A spit and handshake deal. They were often sealed with the blood of sacrifice… and their terms even called the gods to punish anyone who tried to wriggle out of their obligations.

In other words, a covenant is something you take a bit more seriously than an agreement to go halves on a new fence. Think about marriage. Marriage is an agreement that runs deep. It binds two people together, changes them, forms them into something new. This is exactly what covenant is like in the Bible.

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In our Old Testament reading, we heard how God made a covenant with Abram. On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’

Now there’s something odd about this covenant. I wonder if you can spot it? ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’ +++ It’s all one-sided. Where are Abraham’s promises? This doesn’t seem like a pact, an agreement…. It’s a gift. It’s like a couple on their wedding day, standing at the front of church, and only one of them making any vows. God gives Abram the land and Abram has to do… nothing!

And there’s the nub. The covenants the God makes with the Jewish people in the Bible… are completely different to the sort of deals we make with each other.  A pint of beer please. That’ll be three quid. Cheers… NO. God’s covenants aren’t like that. God doesn’t do buying and selling. God doesn’t have a wallet… and he doesn’t keep a tab.

God’s doesn’t buy anything from Abram.. he doesn’t try to sell him anything. In his covenant… God gives Abram… a promise. A good promise… because God loves him.

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The first really famous covenant in the Bible is in Genesis, and it’s one we probably know better than we realise. God has flooded the earth, cleared it of everything living… but for one man and his family. Noah. And when the waters have subsided, Noah, his family and the animals step off the boat and God says: I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you… that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

Anyone remember that story? God promises that never again will he destroy the earth… and he seals this good promise with a covenant… and he gives a sign for that covenant. Can anyone remember what it is? ++ The rainbow. God said, When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature.

God’s good promise is that he will grant life to all creatures… and because it really matters, he seals that promise with a covenant.

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*****

And God’s promises keep coming. God promises life to Noah and all creatures. God promises Abram a land to live in, as we heard this morning. And in Exodus, when the people are fleeing from Egypt, he promises something really quite beautiful. You shall be my people, and I shall be your God. In the wilderness, God promises Moses and his people something amazing… God promises them… Himself.

Whether it is life… land… or God’s very self, that God wants to promise to his people… at every stage He thinks it important enough to do it with a covenant. All the most important moments in the life of the Jewish people… are bound up in God’s good promises… sealed with this almost unbreakable bond, this marriage of lovers… sealed with covenant.


God’s Covenant with us in Jesus

And what does this matter for me? I’m a Christian, not a Jew. All that Old Testament stuff is very well, but I’ve got Jesus, I go to Church, I’ve got the New Testament. I don’t need this covenant nonsense.

But do you remember the name by which the New Testament used to be known? It used to be called the New Covenant. And do you recognise the words of the Eucharistic prayer, which say “This is my blood of the New Covenant”?

The New Testament is a covenant as well. The sacrament of the mass is a covenant. They seem to be saying that there’s something about Jesus that has to do with covenant, that Jesus is another of God’s good promises. But what is going on?

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The answer, I think, is to be found in the letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews tells the story of What Christ Has Done For Us. It tells the story of how God made a relationship with the Jewish people, how he made Covenant with them… God promising them good things… time after time… and binding those promises with Covenant. And then Hebrews says: But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.

Basically Hebrews says, If you thought God’s promises in the Old Testament were good, the promise that Jesus brings will knock your socks off.

This New Covenant, made in a birth in Bethlehem, a Cross and an empty tomb… is the sign and the seal of God’s greatest promise ever. God’s promise to Noah… God’s promise to Abram… God’s promise to Moses… these were only small things compared with the promise God makes to you.

In his New Covenant, sealed with the life, and the death, and the resurrection of His Own Son, Jesus… God promises you… nothing less… than his unfailing love in this life… and in the next, eternal life. In the New Covenant, God promises you… love… and life.

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The other covenants were imperfect. Human beings mucked them up. Whenever God promised them good things, the people turned away. Noah got drunk and broke the promises HE made to God. The Jewish people turned away from God, and the land given to Abram was taken away. The people who fled from Egypt were promised God’s very presence among them… and they preferred to worship a golden calf.

But not this time. God says that this time… whether this succeeds or fails is not up to us. This time, God has made an ETERNAL Covenant. What God has brought together in Jesus, we can never put asunder, no matter how much we forget him, or do wrong.

And this is the spirit in which we keep Lent. We do not fear that God will not love us. We do not worry that we are not doing enough. As Christians… our challenge is to keep lent… in faith… faith that God’s promises to us in Jesus are true. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life.

And this is what we come to now. We approach this table… we affirm our faith in God’s promises to us… we affirm our faith in the New Covenant in Jesus, the promise that will always stand firm… we receive the blood of the covenant… we receive the body of our Lord.

And we rejoice… even in Lent… for God has promised us good things… love and life that will never end. This is the promise of Jesus. This is God’s covenant, God’s good promise, to me… and to you.

Love… and life in Christ… whatever happens.

Love… and life in Christ… whatever happens.

Amen.

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Reading: Gen 15:1-12,17-18

God’s Covenant with Abram

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

 Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’

Queer Ephesians 2.1-10: Death to Life

The first part of chapter 2 invites us to come to a healthy awareness of our queer stories, to critique our past, and then to acknowledge God’s love for us in our past, present and future. This journey of transformation, healing and wholeness, invites us to witness to what we most fully are, which is created in Christ Jesus for good works.

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Critiquing Our Past

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

Ephesians  asks us to do something hard, but something many queer people spend a lot of our lives doing.  It is vital for the Christian, according to Ephesians, to have a critical awareness of their past, and especially the times that were hardest or most painful.

To help us do this, Ephesians draws a stark contrast between our life as Christians, which should be in hope (as we saw in the previous posts), and our life without the knowledge and love of God, living as “those who are disobedient” (v.2), following not God but the figure of the devil, “the ruler of the power of the air” (v.2).

This is strong stuff, but the point that it is making is that it is important to ask the question, What was the driving force of my life when I was younger? And Ephesians tells us to ask ourselves whether we charted our own course, or whether we were merely “following the course of this world” (v.2), following what magazines, our friends or the television told us to do.  It tells us to ask ourselves whether we lived intentionally, considering our path, our motives and the impact we might have on others, or whether we “lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses” (v.3), just doing what we felt like, regardless of the impact on ourselves or others.

I look back at my queer story, and those questions make me sit up and think.  All of us can look back at times when we have responded to our queerness in a less than healthy way. And all of us, I think, have made bad decisions at one time or another as we have learned to live with our queerness. We have all at some time or another been foolish, or angry, or “children of wrath” (v.3) as Ephesians puts it. And an important element of our maturing in faith is this self reflection and the self-awareness it begets.

As many of us spend a lot of time learning to self-affirm, it is also important, according to Ephesians, to learn to be healthily self-critical, especially in respect of where we have come from. This is the way to appreciate where we have come to, and to chart our course for the future.


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God’s love holds us tight

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.

Note the shift in emphasis at verse 4. We’ve moved from the critical awareness of our past to an exciting and hopeful assessment of our present and future.  After the acknowledgment of the difficulties of our past, comes the affirmation that God loves us, and makes us “alive together in Christ” (v.5). And this is not due to our learning to be better people or more perfect, but he does this “even when we were dead through our trespasses” (v.5). He raises us up with Jesus and enthrones us “with him in the heavenly places” (v.6), such is the transformation God seeks to effect in our state and our self-esteem. And once more, the desire of God to bestow “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us” (v.7) is emphasised.  After the critical section before, all the goodness that Ephesians expounded in chapter 1 is stated again. Even in the more difficult times, God’s purposes for us are good.

But this section does more than just re-emphasise God’s goodness. It reveals something profound about God’s love for us. God is “rich in mercy” (v.4), not because he is a soft touch, but rather “out of the great love with which he loved us” (v.4), even when we are at our worst.

And in this passage, that love means three things. In our past, God has mercy, loving us in our past stumbling and fumbling, however bad it got. In our present, God makes us “alive together with Christ” (v.5), raising us out of that stumbling and fumbling, “rais[ing] us up with him and seat[ing] us with him in the heavenly places” (v.6), firmly in God’s hands and firmly in God’s love, close to the Father’s heart, where our deepest identity is certain.  And in our future, God will grant us the “immeasurable riches” of all the good things he has in store for us, in this life and the next.

This is the sort of love which can sustain us, which allows hope, comfort, and self-assurance, even in the profoundly difficult experience of self-reflection and criticism. God’s love strengthens us to go back into our darkest times and darkest places, and to grow through them, as we live in the present and look to a joyous future.


A Queer Life for Good Works

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

A healthy sense of self-assurance, of independence and self-affirmation is good.  But it can go too far. Many streams of queer culture can be difficult for Christians, because they suggest that once we are free to be ourselves, we will not need anyone else. And in a certain sense they are right. When we know ourselves to be children of God – our past, present and future held in God’s hands – in a sense we do not need to be worried about what other people say. But when we seek greater self-affirmation and independence, there is a danger that we can forget the God who brought us to that better place.

After Ephesians has affirmed the good and joyful elements of the life the believers have, their hope and God’s good gifts, they are reminded that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv.8-9). Whilst we can feel some sense of satisfaction in how we have lived, the good choices and relationships we have made, we must always remember that the deepest things that matter in our lives are the things that God has given us freely. And to him we must give glory.

For however self-aware, self-affirming, composed and content in our identities we become, we are, at the end of the day, “what he has made us” (v.10). We have not created ourselves: only grown a bit more into the person God has made us.

And by our faith, we are “created [again] in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (v.10). This journey of transformation, healing and wholeness is not solely for our own benefit. The blossoming of the light within us by God’s good gift carrries with it an opportunity and a duty to share that light with others, to show it to others, to be ourselves not for ourselves but “for good works” (v.10).

This is the greatest challenge of Ephesians 2:1-10. Once we have come through the painful awareness of our past, and once we have come to rejoice at the love of God and his promise of a better future, we are called to live our lives “for good works” (v.10). Just what that means for each of us in our own queer circumstances, we have to discuss and discern for ourselves.

Queer Ephesians 1.15-23: Paul’s Prayer

In this section, Paul’s prayer, we are urged to give thanks for each other in the Church, as hard as that may be, and to have hope in God’s promise to deliver His gifts, even when trusting God’s goodness is hard.  God has proved his trustworthiness by His work in Christ, and calls us to be faithful to Him by being more truly the Church, by being more faithfully ourselves.


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vv.15-16 – Thanksgiving and Prayer

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

The author (let us call him Paul from now on) begins his prayer by assuring the Christians in Ephesus that he gives thanks for them, and the reasons he gives for this thanksgiving are instructive. He gives two: (i) their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and; (ii) their “love towards all the saints” (v.15).

Those of us who have interacted with the Church as queer people can at times feel like few in the Church give thanks for us in this way.  We are tolerated, and even at times actively included, but I can’t imagine a church leader announcing in the pulpit that “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (v.16) in the way that Paul does here.

Paul’s prayer starts with the Good News that two things are causes for rejoicing in the church, and two things only: faith in Jesus and love towards other Christians.  Everything else is secondary to those things. Your queerness, your difference, your distinctness… none of those things should distract the Church from publicly giving thanks for you in the pulpit on a Sunday if you love the Lord and love your neighbour.

Even if our church leaders do not or cannot give thanks for us publicly, if we love the Lord and love our fellow Christians, Paul would be.

But it works the other way around, as well.  There is an obligation on us to not only be the objects of thanksgiving in our churches, but to actively give thanks for our fellow believers as well.  Even those we find profoundly difficult, if they love the Lord and love their fellow believers, are worthy of thanksgiving.  And we should not cease give thanks for them “as [we] remember [them] in [our] prayers” (v.16), however counterintuitive that might be.

And if Ephesians suggests that all who love the Lord and love their fellow Christians are worthy of thanksgiving, then sometimes in order to be worthy of that thanksgiving ourselves, we must actively choose to love our fellow believers.

This opening passage suggests that the Church should give thanks for all who love the Lord and love their fellow believers, it prompts each of us too to give thanks for all those in the Church, and it suggests that we might sometimes have to choose to love them, when it doesn’t come naturally.

And it calls us to do all these things in the context of prayer, prayer for all in the Church as well as ourselves.  This is what loving the Lord Jesus and loving the saints means.  And it is a powerful message for those of us queerly working out how to approach the many different people who make up the Church.


vv.17-19 – Hope in the Spirit of Wisdom

17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

One of the things I have found to be true repeatedly during my journey of faith is that hopelessness has a habit of creeping up on me, again and again.  Sometimes it is prompted by shocking events, or media frenzies. Sometimes it is little things.  But that hopelessness comes time and time again, threatening to make me give up on thinking that the Church, faith and God could really have anything good to offer at all.

Paul prays here that that may not be the final experience of the Ephesian Christians.  Rather than hopelessness and despair, he prays that “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (v.18).  As Christians, whoever we are, we are called not to despair but to hope. That’s not to say that the occasional taste of despair or hopelessness isn’t an authentic part of the Christian experience – I really think it is, and read St John of the Cross if you aren’t convinced! – but rather despair isn’t the overall picture of our experience of God.  It can be hard, but the overall trajectory is one of hope.

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And this hope is a gift of the Spirit, from “the Father of glory”, “a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him” (v.17).  Wisdom and revelation here are not in the sense that we usually think of the terms. Wisdom is not the wisdom of the aged scholar who has learnt witticisms and always has something useful to say.  And revelation isn’t the sudden zap of prophecy from God to a person frothing at the mouth.

The wisdom and revelation about which Paul is talking here are the deeper Old Testament wisdom, the wisdom of Job and the prophets, the wisdom which Jonah found so difficult to apprehend, the sort of wisdom that trusts God’s power and God’s goodness absolutely.  It’s the sort of wisdom that knows both that God has promised us good things, “the immeasurable greatness of his inheritance among the saints” (v.18), and the measure of God’s ability to deliver them, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (v.19).  That’s a very different wisdom to witty aphorisms.

And if we grow in that deep, trusting wisdom, our eyes are opened to see the world in a very different way.  The reality of the world, as it rests in God’s hands, is revealed to us.  If we grow to trust God more completely in the spirit of wisdom and revelation, then we become far more resistant to the things that so often shake us and prompt us to despair and hopelessness.  Hence, “with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (v.18).

I pray that I can grow in the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, to trust God more in his good purposes and power to deliver them, because then the gift of hope will be far more apparent in my faith and in my life.


vv.20-21 – God’s Power in Christ

20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

Trust can be difficult for queer people.  Some of us have spent a lot of time hiding ourselves from those around us.  And some of us have spent a lot of time hiding from ourselves as well.  All that hiding begets in many of us a degree of internalisation, a self-dependence that makes trust a difficult thing to do.

Trusting God is hard for any Christian, but for those of us with added barriers to trust, it can be profoundly difficult; and learning to trust can be one of the most formative and fundamental passages of faith.

The writers in the Pauline tradition were good at remembering this. You can’t tell people to hope in God without reminding them why they can trust Him.  And they had a very clear answer: we can trust God because of what He has done in Christ, or as Ephesians puts it: “God put this power to work in Christ” (v.20).

The power to deliver His promises is proved in His work in Christ.  God takes this Jesus and proves His power because “he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (v.20). A human body, raised from the dead and enthroned in heaven, is the sign and seal of God’s trustworthiness.

And Jesus is enthroned not just in earthly power, but “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (v.21):  He is raised so high that no nation or corporation or law or violence could ever touch Him.  Jesus is raised “above every name that is named” (v.21): He is more powerful and trustworthy than our teachers, our pastors and priests, our bishops and public figures, the people whom we depend on and who have affected us most.  He is raised above all things, “not only in this age but also in the age to come” (v.21): nothing will ever be more remarkable than God’s work in Jesus.

That God has raised and enthroned the body of Jesus is our cause to trust Him, not because of any great metaphysical equation, not really because there is something theologically profound going on.  Paul’s point is that no one will ever do anything more remarkable than God, submitting Himself to be born a human, and dying and rising, and enthroning Himself as a human in heaven, over and above all the remarkable things of this world.

God is a God who we can depend on to deliver his promises.  God is one whom we can trust.

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But I don’t think that’s the end of the story. The Pauline letters continually remind their readers why they should trust God. And from that we can infer that the fledgeling Churches found it hard to trust God. So often, being unable to open up to God or trust Him with our lives, we are made to feel like weak or bad Christians. In many traditions, holding ourselves back is portrayed as the ultimate sin and barrier to a Christian life.  But no. Ephesians paints a different picture.

When we find it hard to trust God, we are standing right alongside the early Christians, experiencing what they experienced.  It is hard for any Christian to trust God, and how much more so for those of us who have reason to be wary of trusting others.

But at the same time, we need to be reminded why God is worthy of our trust, why God alone will never fail to deliver on his good promises, and that God in Christ is holding us gently through our holding back, coaxing us gently, slowly, to trust Him more and more.  His purposes for us are good.


vv.22-23 – We are the Fullness of Him

22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The Church as Christ’s body is a difficult concept, especially for queer people.  How can an institution or group of people which seems so flawed and causes so much hurt be the body of Christ?  What does that make the body of Christ?

But Ephesians recasts the metaphor of 1 Corinthians 12 to be read in a different light.  The emphasis is not that we are all, with our different gifts and identities, members of Christ’s body, though that is most certainly true.  It is rather that we who are members of the Church are so dear to God, that God has put Christ over all things for us.  When Ephesians says, “he has made [Christ] the head over all things for the church” (v.22) that is not so much a statement about the Church, but a statement about God.

All that God has done in Christ is done for usfor we are so close and dear to Him that we are “his body” (v.23), even “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (v.23).  God so loves us that He did his remarkable work in Christ, not for His own benefit, not as a means of enthroning Christ in glory as is Jesus’ due, but God has done this all for us, who are the Church, “which is his body”.

But Ephesians goes further, for we the Church are “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (v.23).  God holds us so tight that as the Church we participate in God’s own life: we participate in God’s own being.  When we are one in Christ, we taste what it means to live in God’s fullness, in His faithfulness to His self, His faithfulness and comfort with His own identity.

The Church, in all its brokenness, in all its weakness, has the potential, when it is working well, to show us what all that hope and trust in God might be leading towards: life as God lives it, faithful to ourselves and faithful to God who is the deepest reality of ourselves.  The two go together.

When God asks us to be faithful to Him, He does not ask us to stop being ourselves.  Rather, He calls us to be more faithful to Him by being more faithful to who He has made us to be.

For many of us who are queer, that is a journey that is painful and at times exciting. But God who calls us to trust and hope in Him, proves His trustworthiness by His work in Christ, and in Christ calls us to be faithful to Him by being truly the Church, by being faithfully ourselves.