Getting The Big Picture
(Lectionary Starters)

Epiphany Sunday, Year A
January 5, 2003
Ephesians 3:1-12
Jim Killen, a minister of the United Methodist Church, Beaumont, Texas

Paul caught a grand vision, and we can catch it too. And, if we catch that vision, it will put everything into a new perspective. The vision that Paul caught was a vision of God as the God of the whole creation. Earlier in the letter to the Ephesians, he wrote, “With all wisdom and insight, he, (God), 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.” (Ephesians 1:8-10).

I. Sometimes we are prevented from catching the vision.

Sometimes we look at life and it just doesn’t make sense to us. The ancient philosopher who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes mused on everything that he saw but still came up with bewilderment. He said, “for everything there is a season”, there is some order in everything. And, God has put a sense of past and future in our minds, an ability to ponder, but we just can’t understand it all. We cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-13) Do you ever experience that kind of bewilderment?

Sometimes we can’t catch the vision because we have let ourselves be blinded by some other explanation of things, something we think is a vision of God but that is not. Paul had once had another “vision” of things. He professed a rigid religion that taught him that the God who made all things was the God of his own people, the Jews, and not the God of other people. That made the Jews feel superior, but it set them against everyone else in the world. When you look at life from inside of that kind of understanding, you are likely to become a part of the conflict that always threatens to pull the world apart.

There are lots of us who have our own little systematic explanations of everything.
Some of them make us parts of the destructive processes going on in the world. Others just keep us from catching a vision of God. What are some of those little explanations? Does even our religion sometimes do that to us?

II. But Paul caught a vision that put everything into a new perspective.

Instead of a world divided into conflicting little groups, Paul caught a vision of a world in which the love of God surrounded all people and in which God was working to bring the whole creation together into a harmonious whole.

That vision was made known first in Jesus Christ. But Paul said he had received it through revelation and through the Holy Spirit, the presence of the living God. He experienced it being lived out in the fellowship of the Church where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave or free man (Galatians 3:28). And he believed it was his job and that of the Church to make that vision known to everyone, even to the powers on earth and in heaven, who had not yet caught the vision. In that vision of God gathering all things up in him. Paul believed he saw the hope for a divided and violent world.

Paul found a new purpose for his own life in sharing that vision with the Gentiles.

He had to work at maintaining the vision. He had to spell out the requirements for entering into that all encompassing love of God without letting the Christian religion become just another set of beliefs that obscured the vision. That must have been difficult as he dealt daily with all of the practical problems of life in the early Church.

He also had to pay a high price for his commitment to the vision. He was writing from prison.

Yet, he continued to be excited about the vision of God and of God’s plan that he had received.

III. What would happen if we could catch that same vision?

If we could catch the vision that Paul had, wouldn’t it give us a new hope for ourselves and for our world? So many things seem to be falling apart — or being blown apart — around us. Believing that there is a great eternal and loving God who is trying to pull things together and move them forward, should give us a joyful new hope.

And wouldn’t it teach us a new respect for other people — especially those whom we used to think of as “not our kind of people”.

And wouldn’t we find new purpose for our lives as we become participants in the work God is doing. Some of us might become evangelists, like Paul, some might give loving response to human need and some of us might become peacemakers.

If we could catch the vision of God working to gather up all things into himself, it would shape our whole way of looking at life — and of living it.

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