Living a Resurrection Life

Sunday, September 18, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Building in Christ Series

Ephesians 2:1-10

Grace and peace to you from Jesus the Christ. Amen.

We’re in our second week of our series on Ephesians. The letter encourages the first couple of generations of Christians to build their lives and the church in Christ and grow into full maturity of faith. To be a follower of Jesus in those early days was no easy feat. There wasn’t a church on every corner, and there certainly weren’t laws on the books guaranteeing freedom of religion or separation of church and state. If you were under Roman rule, Caesar was your god and your political ruler. At best, there was tolerance for other religions, so long as it didn’t threaten the fragile ego of the emperor. The forces of Rome, that our reading may be referring to, didn’t look like the generous and gracious ways of Christ by any stretch of the imagination.

Chapter 2 begins with the dead-end ways of those who lived under these conditions. Paul writes to Gentiles, Roman citizens who were now part of the church. He says, “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in 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 in those who are disobedient.”

This was a life that was focused on self-indulgence, cynicism and revenge, and obsession with one-ups-man-ship. It was a society where the powerful used and abused underprivileged people for economic or political gain, and among the Roman elite, took things that didn’t belong to them. It sounds pretty horrible, right? And yet, we don’t have to look very far in our own world today to notice that not all that much has changed. Plenty of forces continue to exist that stand in stark contrast to the gracious, resurrection ways of God.

NPR reported earlier this week that slavery and forced labor (mostly of women and children) has increased by 10 million people in the last five years – up to nearly 50 million. That’s 1 in every 160 people living in the world right now.

Over the last six months, we have watched Putin’s Russian invasion of Ukraine and military coups in places like Myanmar traumatize and displace millions of people.

And closer to home, American media continues to sell a bill of goods that lures young people to believe that they are only as good as the number of followers and likes on TikTok and Instagram. This has caused a national crisis of mental health among our youngest generations.

When we take a moment to look around, there are just as many dead-end, sin-stained paths to follow today as there were at the time of the early church.

Last week in my sermon, I mentioned that where we begin with God matters, and perhaps more to the point, where God begins with us matters even more. Ephesians reminds us that God has seen this dead-end story before. And out of God’s great love from the very beginning, we can trust that even today God paves a new path for us in Christ. Rather than death and dead-end ways, God leads us to resurrection life.

We hear twice in this short passage, “by grace you HAVE been saved”, not by your own doing, but by God. Fully, completely. Nothing more, nothing less than an abundance of mercy, love, and unrestricted grace is offered to us from the one who creates us and redeems us. It’s hard to wrap our minds around this as modern day, merit-based, Americans. That’s what’s so radical about God. It’s not about us. It’s all about God. What does grace do though, and what does it matter that we’ve been given such a gift?

I mentioned in the Faith Practice Video this week that I was a lifeguard when I was in high school. (Pull out Lifeguard tank top) In all the hours and days I sat by a pool I only had to rescue one person. I was teaching swimming lessons one evening to a group of 4 & 5-year-olds. One of the little girls in the class was super excited to be starting swimming lessons. My partner and I had them all lined up on the edge of the pool facing away from the water to give them some instructions about getting in the water. Before we could give any instructions or get them in their floaties, I heard a SPLOOSH at the end of the line. This girl couldn’t wait! But she also couldn’t swim! So, I jumped in and retrieved her from the water. She came up smiling, as if she had just had the best time of her life. I got her back up on the edge, told her she needed to wait to get floaties on and then we would swim. I jumped out of the water to grab floaties from just a few feet away and I heard another SPLOOSH! She had jumped in again. And again, sank like a rock in the shallow end of the pool. I fished her out of the water again. This time she was a bit less smiley and maybe a little more willing to follow instructions so that she could actually learn how to swim.

Maybe we think of the grace of salvation a bit like being rescued from drowning. We get excited and jump into something that we shouldn’t be in, and God comes and scoops us out of the danger. This certainly is one aspect of salvation, but it’s not the whole story. There’s more to faith than just being safe, like there’s more to swimming than knowing that there is someone around to rescue you. When we trust that this lavish gift of grace and salvation is really ours, it leads us to new life, to resurrection life. When God’s grace gets under our skin and seeps into the rhythms of our lives it changes how we see our lives and our relationships and the world.

Last night, Lutheran Social Service held their annual Celebration of Changing Lives event in downtown Minneapolis. As you likely know, LSS is a ministry partner of Augustana’s. Over the last year, we have supported Rezik Teen Housing, LSS Youth Services, and a number of other vital services LSS provides to people in all 87 counties of Minnesota. What struck me about the stories they told last night is that they practice accompaniment in all their programs with the Minnesota residents they serve, in the same way we practice accompaniment with our global partners. They do not go into communities with answers to problem the community doesn’t know they have. Instead, they listen carefully to the people they serve and work together to create programs and solutions that will enable Minnesotans from all backgrounds and experiences to be their best selves and thrive on their own terms.

That feels like resurrection. It makes me wonder how God might be calling us to develop the same kind of relationships with our neighbors, both individually – wherever we live, and as a congregation, here on South Robert Street in West St. Paul.

This is the kind of ministry Jesus did. He met people in the marketplace, on the margins, and on Main Street. He met people in the dead-end places in their lives and offered them the healing and wholeness they sought, and he helped them see that the life they sought was rooted in God’s life. That’s what resurrection looks like. Those of us who have swam in the waters of resurrection know that dead-end ways of the world still exist, but we also know it’s not the only way. The grace of God living in us leads us to be bearers of life for others – lifeguards, if you will. Resurrection life gives power to walk with others in the richness of God’s grace and gift of resurrection life.

God has saved us not just to keep us out of trouble, but so that the resurrection life of Jesus takes root in our lives and in the world. Poet Mary Oliver asked, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” Through grace, we see that we are how God works in the world, that our lives and the life is grafted to the life of Christ. “We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” When we embrace grace we can’t help but see that the work we do, the relationships we cultivate, the ways we respond to the world’s needs is God’s work. As you leave here today, consider the ways you are swimming in God’s grace in your life, how you are God’s work. And consider the people you see who are caught in the dead-end ways of this world. I’d encourage you to be so bold to ask them what true life, resurrection life would mean for them, and then trust that God will work through you and through others to make resurrection possible. It just might change the world. Amen.

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