Opening Ourselves to God

Pastor Kim Gilliland
November 21, 2021 Christ the King
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 1: 15-23
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
Ephesians 1: 18 (NIV)

CHRIST THE KING

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian year. Believe it or not, next Sunday is the beginning Advent, when we begin our preparations for Christmas and the birth of Jesus. The end of each Church year is dedicated to a very important concept. It is the Sunday that the Church has called Christ the King. On this day, we focus on the reality that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and that all power and authority in creation ultimately ends with him.

As we think about this, I want to share with you a reading from Ephesians 1:15-23 (NIV):

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

As we read in Ephesians 1:21-22 (NIV), “[Jesus Christ sits enthroned] far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church which is his body…” That is what the Bible says about Jesus. It is who it says Jesus is. He is the one and only King of creation. There is no one and nothing greater than him. That is not only true of this world. It is also true of the next.

To know that Jesus is the King of king and Lord of lords is important. Those are not just idle words. They are a description of the awesome power of God. They tell us that God is not an tyrannical potentate who expects to be worshipped but is powerless to really love us or affect creation in any way. God is not a distant deity with whom it is impossible to have a relationship. God is not a cosmic clockmaker who started everything ticking and then went on vacation, leaving us to fend for ourselves. God was powerful when he created. God acts powerfully in our lives today and God will continue to act with power until the end of time and beyond.

One of the most amazing things in the Christian walk is to see what can happen to lives when people really open themselves up to God’s power. What happens is that people are transformed. They see things in a new way. They understand life in a new way. They gain better insights and stronger purposes. All because they have opened themselves up to the one who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

As a pastor, I have to tell you that there is nothing more satisfying in ministry than to see people grow in faith and in their relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s not to say that there aren’t other important things in the church. Worship attendance is important. Music is important. The size of our mission budget is important. The turkey dinner is important. Even our building and property are important. But none of those things can quite compare with the joy of seeing someone grow in faith.

Do you know why that is? It’s because when someone is growing in faith, all of the other things get better too. A person who is growing in faith will want to come to worship. That helps our attendance. A person who is growing in faith will want to get involved. That helps us with our programmes, our outreach and our missions. A person who is growing in faith will want to understand the Bible and so our study programmes and small groups get a boost. It even affects our offerings. That’s because a person who is growing in faith will want to give.

That’s an interesting point. There are all kinds of churches all over the country that are in financial distress. Do you know how most of those congregations try to solve their deficit problems? They have fundraisers. They have dinners and bake sales and rummage sales. They initiate programmes and campaigns to ask people to open up their wallets to give just a little bit more. That works to a point but do you know what works even better? Rather than asking them to open up the wallets, get them to open up their hearts to the Lord. When they do that, the church won’t need to ask them for money because the Spirit will compel them to give, and not only give but also to give cheerfully.

Nothing the Church does is more important that providing opportunities for people to grow in faith and in their relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s because when people open their hearts to God, everything else in the church, all of its ministries and programmes just get better and better.

OPEN HEARTS

It is interesting to me, however, that Paul suggests that the people in the church in Ephesus don’t quite have that figured out. The hint comes in Ephesians 1:18-19 (NIV) which says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Paul’s prayer is that people will be enlightened. Another translation, the Contemporary English Version, says that he prays that “light would flood their hearts”. What does that mean? What does it mean that light might fill someone’s heart? Think of it like this. Think of yourself sitting in a dark room. There are no lights. There are no windows. There are no cracks in the walls. All there is is darkness. But then you discover something on the wall. It’s an odd shape, sort of like a squished ball on the end of a stick and it’s sticking straight out from the wall. Guess what it is? It’s a door handle. Then you realize that the squished ball turns and so you turn it. There is a click and the door cracks open. And for the first time, light creeps into the darkness around the edges of the door. It enters the darkness and begins to create shadows and images and muted colours. Then you pull the door towards yourself and more light comes in. More things become obvious. And so, you open the door all the way. Light floods into the room and fills the space, chasing out the darkness and allowing you to see clearly all that has surrounded you for so long. Suddenly things you couldn’t see before are obvious to you and you wonder how you could ever have been so blind.

That’s what it’s like to open your heart to God, to let light flood into your heart. That’s why in John 8:12 (NIV) Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” If you want to walk in the light, you have to have Jesus to do it. He is the light of the world that chases away the darkness.

That’s also why we are called children of the light. Later in this same book, in Ephesians 5:8 (NIV) it says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” You are children of the light because you belong to the Lord. He is the light and you live in the light when you belong to him.

Paul’s concern for the people of Ephesus is not that they aren’t living in the light. It is that they are not fully opening themselves up to what that can mean for them. His prayers in Ephesians 1:18 is that light will flood into their hearts and they will understand the hope that is theirs in Jesus Christ.

The interesting thing about the Christians in Ephesus is that they are doing all the right things. In Ephesians 1:15-16 (NIV) Paul writes, “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Paul has heard about their faith. He has heard of their love. He has heard what they are doing and he is pleased as punch with how they are working out their faith in the world.

They are doing all of the right things. They are acting in loving ways towards each other. They are supporting each other. They are looking after one another. But something is missing. They still need to open their hearts up wider to the light of Christ. The door is open a little bit. The light of Christ is peeping through the cracks around the edge of the door. But they haven’t opened the door fully. They have not yet fully opened up their hearts to the light and love of Christ.

The same thing is the case thirty-five years later when John writes the book of Revelation. In chapters 2 and 3 of that last book, John pens the seven letters of Jesus to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Interestingly, the very first letter in Revelation is to the church in Ephesus. In that letter, Jesus starts off by lauding their accomplishments. He acknowledges their good deed, their hard work and perseverance. But then he says this in Revelation 2:4 (NIV) “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Even then, thirty-five years after Paul wrote his letter to them, they are still doing all the right things. Jesus commends them for the good things they are doing. But they have missed something. They have forgotten about him. They have forgotten why they’re are doing what they are doing. They have forsaken their first love which, of course, must be Jesus Christ. And, more than anything else, he wants them to open their hearts to him. Not much has changed in thirty-five years in the church in Ephesus.

 Paul writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

ORTHOPRAXIS & ORTHODOXY

There are two things in the faith that need to happen simultaneously for us to live a balanced Christian life. One of those things is called orthopraxis. It comes from the two Greek words orthos which means correct and praxis which means deeds or actions. Orthopraxis means correct deeds. We tend to get that right in the Church. We tend to stress the need to do the right stuff. We are very good at helping the poor and lifting up the broken hearted. Last week, we gathered shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. We often gathering donations at this time of year for Christmas hampers for the Essex Food Bank. Next week, we have planned for enough leftovers from the turkey dinner to send two hundred meals to the Downtown Mission.

This year we’ve been intentional about making better use of our building by making it available to the community. So far, we have yoga classes on Monday evening and Saturday morning. Scouts are on Tuesday night, Guides on Wednesday. There is a dog training class on Thursday evenings. Stephanie is hoping to start a music studio in the church in the new year for piano and voice. The office is now fielding calls on a fairly regular basis from people and groups wanting to use our space.

The word is getting out that we want to be a hub in our community. A couple of weeks ago, we got an email for a mother asking if we had a youth group for her daughter who is looking for something to do. So we’ve had some discussions about the daughter and her friends and how we can maybe get something going to help the youth in our community. We’ve even had a couple of folks from the church volunteer to help lead a youth group. That’s good because providing leadership for a youth group can be pretty scary for many adults. Are we good at orthopraxis? You bet we are.

But what about the other side of the coin? It’s called orthodoxy. Like orthopraxis, orthodoxy comes from two Greek words. Again, orthos meaning correct and doxis which means beliefs. Orthodoxy then, means corr ect beliefs. It is not just important to do the right things – orthopraxis – it is also important to believe the right things – orthodoxy. While we usually pretty good at getting the action part right, if the Church falls down anywhere it is often with the beliefs part.

Too often, Christians are left to dangle out there without a clear understanding of the basic tenets of the Christians faith. Even people who have been involved in church all their lives often don’t understand the basic doctrines of the faith because they’ve never been taught. Many Christians don’t understand what is meant by the Trinity. Even more don’t understand that Jesus is God. All kinds of Christians believe that when we die, we become angels in heaven. The trouble is that there is nothing in the Bible to even suggest that these beliefs are true. All kinds of well-meaning Christians believe that God accepts people based on their good works, that somehow if, during your life, you have enough good deeds to cancel out your bad deeds, then you get to go to heaven. But again, that is not what the Bible teaches. We are saved through faith in Jesus alone. There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we stop doing good things. Jesus still wants us to do them. But he also wants us to understand that we are not saved by them.

It is important that we do the right things – orthopraxis. But it is equally vital that we believe the right things – orthodoxy. To be right with God, we have to believe the right things. We have to accept that we are sinful people, separated from God by a great chasm. We have to understand that Jesus died on the cross of Calvary as a sinless sacrifice so that our sins could be forgiven. And that when Jesus rose from the dead, he took that cross and laid it across the chasm that separated us from God and it became the bridge so that we could once again be right with our Creator.

It’s important to believe the right things – orthodoxy. It’s even more important to accept the one who did the things that needed to be done to reconcile us with God. Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, gave himself for us so that we could have everlasting life through faith in him.

Paul wants the Christians in Ephesus to understand that and that is why he writes, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

OPENING UP

Paul wants the people to open themselves up to the fullness of Christ so that they can experience blessings that he has waiting for them. His words ring true today as well. His blessings are still there for those who seek them. Do you know what I mean by those blessings? Have you experienced them? Do you want to? It’s not a hard thing to do. In fact, anyone can do it. All you have to do is accept Jesus into your heart and his light will come along with him. All you have to say is, “Yes Jesus, I admit that I am a sinner and there is nothing that I can do to make myself right with God. And so I’m asking you to do it for me. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for going there and dying there just for me. Thank you that when I was helpless to save myself, you came and paid the price.” Once you have acknowledged your own inability to save yourself, all you have to do is ask Jesus into your heart. As King and kings and Lord of lords over creation, let him rule in your heart as the Eternal King.

There is only one catch. He can’t come in unless you ask him. In Revelation 3:20 (NIV) Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” He’s knocking at the door. But he won’t open it unless you invite him in. You have to allow him to sit on the throne of your heart, to accept him as your King of king and Lord of lords.

When you do, when that door opens, the light will flood the darkness and you will see life in a way that you’ve never seen it before.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God our Shepherd, God our Friend, God our Heavenly Father, we come before your throne of grace to give thanks for all that you have done and been for us. You created us. You protect us. You call us home. In our times of turmoil, you give us peace. In our times of stress, you offer relief. In our times of doubt and fear, you give us comfort. Hear our prayers and the prayers of all of your people.

We give thanks for another year ended on the Christian calendar. Even as the new church year begins, we see signs of the coming Christmas season all around us. Houses are being lit up. choir is practising for this year’s performances. With the coming of Advent, next week, we think about the coming of Christ. May we not wait until Christmas to invite him in when we can ask him into our hearts even today.

We pray for ourselves as we approach the turkey dinner on Thursday. This is always such a big event and we pray that it will also be successful. May the food be tasty, the weather be good. We give you thanks for all of the hard work that goes into this event.

We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We especially pray for Mark, Carol, Rachel, Richard and Angela. Bless them and all of us and heal us in those places where we need most to feel your touch.

Finally, today, we pray for your justice. Your judgements are good and holy. Sometimes, we do not understand what happens in our world. We question events and decisions. Enable us to change the things that we can and accept the things we cannot change. Help us, O God, as individuals and as your church, to live by your standards, to seek your justice in all things and to support the poor and needy. May we use our abundant resources for your purpose and glory. We lift up these prayers to you in Jesus’ name who gave all that he had for us. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

November 21, 2021/ Christ the King

SCRIPTURE

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Matthew 25:31-46; Ephesians 1:15-23

CALL TO WORSHIP

May the people declare God’s praises.

and sing a song to the Most High.

We come before God with thankful hearts;

God’s faithfulness extends from age to age.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Holy is your Name, O God of the Ages. Great is your mercy and many are the marvelous works of your hand. We come before you, on this day, mindful of your abundant love. You come to us in our need bringing comfort and peace. You come to us in our confusion and show us the way to go. You come us in our pain and soothe our wounds with the healing balm of your Spirit. Come to us now, Lord Jesus. Sanctify our lives in this time of worship that we may walk in your way.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Your way is made known to us through the Scriptures. But in our busyness we forget to read from your word. We forget and go astray from your path. Remind us, O God of Light, of the covenant which you have made with us. You are our God and we are your people. Even though you always remain faithful, there are times when our sinfulness separates us from you. Enable us to turn back to your way and receive, once again, the assurance of our salvation in Jesus Christ.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Even though sins seems to rule for a season, it is Christ who prevails and reigns supreme. When we repent of our sins, our confessions are heard and the stain of our transgressions is washed away.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

For abundance and prosperity, we give you thanks. In the midst of all that we have, remind us of those who have less. Enable us to see those who do not have enough. Give us the courage to share with others that all people may be blessed.

COMMISSIONING

Jesus Christ is King forever. He reigns over heaven and earth. It is his name that we proclaim. It is his salvation that we are called to claim as our own and to share with others. Go in the name of Jesus to touch the life of another child of God this week.

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