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A Priestly Word — 20 Jul 18

A Priestly Word

Sunday’s portion of the Epistle to the Ephesians (2:11-22) conveys St Paul’s stunning insight into the mission and purpose of Christ’s ministry and that of the church. Christ and the church broke down the wall separating Jews and Gentiles, reconciling “both groups to God in one body through the cross” (2:16) and giving both groups “access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18).

Formerly, the Gentiles had “no hope” “without God in the world” (2:12). The Gentiles lacked Israel’s messianic expectation, the several covenants God made with Israel, and hope of salvation and knowledge of God. But through Christ all these divisions have been transcended by the abolition of the Mosaic law for the sake of uniting Jew and Gentile in a single religious community imbued with the same Holy Spirit and worshipping the same Father. The Gentiles are now included in God’s household as it arises from the foundation of the apostles and those endowed with prophetic power. With Christ as the “cornerstone” (2:20), Jews and Gentiles together are being built “into a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21). The Ephesians themselves are built spiritually in that temple, itself “a dwelling place for God” (2:22).

The implications of St Paul’s insight are enormous though in truth, however large they are, they themselves are but a part of God’s entire design or plan in Christ, announced to the shepherds, to deliver “on earth peace among those whom he favors” (St Luke 2:14).

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A Priestly Word — 13 Jul 18

A Priestly Word

We begin on Sunday a journey through St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the great epistle about the worldwide church whose head is Jesus Christ. This journey continues through August 26.

Certain early manuscripts omit the phrase in Ephesus from the first verse, and this omission raises the question of whether the epistle was addressed to a particular community of believers, where Paul ministered for well over two years, or was written for a broader, if not universal, audience. Certainly we believe that whenever we read any of the Scriptures in church that the reading applies to us as well as to all Christians.

A major theme of the epistle concerns the purpose of the worldwide church which is to be the instrument for making God’s plan of salvation known throughout the universe. God’s plan of salvation, shown most especially in Jesus Christ, flows from God’s saving love for all whom God created.

The portion of the epistle appointed for Sunday (1:3-14) refers repeatedly to God’s plan of salvation: “[h]e destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” (1:5) and “[w]ith all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:8c-10) are prime examples of Paul’s emphasis on God’s plan of salvation.

Paul concludes Sunday’s portion, the opening of the epistle, by specifying that his readers, too, specifically were targeted in God’s sweeping plan of salvation: “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance twoard redemption as God’s people, to the praise of his glory (1:13-14).

A Priestly Word — 6 Jul 18

A Priestly Word

Our course reading of II Corinthians ends on Sunday (12:2-10) in a section of the Epistle where St Paul defends his ministry with the revelation that he has had an ecstatic experience of God and of things heavenly.

He does not wish to boast about his experience, and so he refers to himself in the third person: “I know a person in Christ” (12:2) and “[o]n behalf of such a one I will boast” (12:5). In other words, St Paul boasts not about himself but the experience he has had.

The experience takes him “up to the third heaven” (12:2), to “Paradise” where he “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (12:4). Ancient cosmologies told of a multilayered universe. Seven was a popular number for the heavens, but so was three. In the “Testament of Levi,” part of Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, God lives in the third heaven. Without specifying any particular structure of the universe, Paul claims a spiritual journey to God’s dwelling place where secrets (“the exceptional character of the revelations” [12:7]) were revealed to him.

And, to keep him humble (“to keep me from being too elated” [12:7]), “a thorn was given me in the flesh” (12:7). The exact nature of the “thorn” is not known. It may be a sickness, or physical disability, or temptation, or hindrance associated with his apostolic ministry. It even may be an opponent who was persistent or obnoxious.

We learn that Paul appealed to the Lord to be relieved of the “thorn,” and, instead of removing it, the Lord reveals to Paul that his “grace is sufficient for you,” (!2:9). Paul possesses his soul in patience to endure “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (12:10), because “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).

Just as Christ is King even when nailed to the Cross, St Paul is strong even when he faces adversity. He is strongest when he appears to be weakest.

The next course reading is of the Epistle to the Ephesians.

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