For the next eight weeks we will be reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Ephesus was a large city of the ancient world, and was a center of commerce and trade. The Temple to the goddess Diana was there, and it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. One hundred twenty seven columns held up the roof. Now, there are only a few fragments of these columns left. I’m sure that one too many earthquake brought it down for good.
Paul’s visit to Ephesus is chronicled in Acts 19.
Apollos had been to Ephesus, and had been teaching there, and had assembled a small group of disciples. It seems odd to me that these disciples had never heard about the Holy Spirit. We can only surmise that it was Apollos who did not have the fulness of the teaching, that these disciples were taught the need to be baptized into the Baptism of John for the repentance of sins.
So St. Paul baptized them in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and then laid his hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came on them. Then they spoke in tongues and prophesied according to the Holy Scriptures. At this point the Church was established in Ephesus.
Things were difficult for Paul in Ephesus because the merchants who sold trinkets and images of Diana had their business disrupted. There was a riot that threatened the peace, so Paul decided he should move on. He exhorted the disciples, meaning he taught them of the faith of Jesus, and told them of his commandments, then he departed for Macedonia.
After more traveling, Paul is eventually sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor, and where he lived and taught until he was martyred by the Emperor Nero, probably around 64 AD. The historians said he was buried outside the walls of the city, and eventually a church was built on the site. During an excavation in 2002 his tomb was discovered buried very near that site of what is now a basilica named in his honor.
So Paul never made it back to Ephesus, but we do have this short letter written to them from Rome shortly before his death. This letter describes the character of the Church, noting, maybe not in so many words, that it is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, words which you may recognize from the Nicene Creed.
In the coming weeks while we study this letter, these things will become more clear to you, hopefully, as I will try to show you how St. Paul envisions the Church, as revealed to him by the Lord.
He opens his letter with his name, when gives it its authenticity. He then mentions the recipients, the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus. It is also encouraging to me that since Paul considered the disciples of Ephesus to be saints, which means one set apart for God’s purposes, that we, too, are to be considered saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.
To be a saint is to be special in the eyes of our heavenly Father.
We are holy, which means we are set apart for his glory. This applies to every man, woman, child who belong to Jesus. All of us are holy. Even me!
St. Paul then wrote, 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him..
To be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places means that these blessings are not of the earth and flesh but of the Holy Spirit.
St. John Chrysostom wrote in his homily about this epistle, “There is nothing carnal here. Accordingly He excluded all those former blessings, when He said,”In the world you have tribulation,” (John 16:33) to lead us on to these [blessings].
“For as they who possessed carnal things were unable to hear of spiritual things, so they who aim at spiritual things cannot attain to them unless they first stand aloof from carnal things.”
He is saying that those who are obsessed with things of the physical world cannot understand the things of the spiritual world. This is precisely why our world is getting farther away from God the Father.
As scientists who study the physical world are able to explain more and more the way things work, the fewer there are who accept the spiritual world. So many people cannot believe in the things they cannot see or touch.
One thing many of us learned in school was the Scientific Method, as if it was the only way we can understand our world. Sometimes those who teach this method mock those of us who believe in the spiritual realm.
It can get harder and harder to hold onto the teaching of the Church when the pressure of the world wants to pull us away.
Notice in verse 4 of this reading that God chose us in Jesus before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him. It is no accident that you and I are here. It is the plan of God that we were chosen to be made righteous and holy in Jesus Christ. God chose us to be his children, so he could love us and care for us.
It does not matter where we have been or what we have done, because the Father offers us forgiveness when we repent, or turn away from our past behavior.
We have been destined to live for God’s glory, says St. Paul. When we hear the Gospel, the Good News of Salvation, and believe in Jesus as the only Son of God, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
That means he has put his stamp of approval on us, and we have that stamp forever, and it is the guarantee of our inheritance, says St. Paul.
St. Paul’s greeting to them, and us, is “Grace and Peace in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he is telling us that we have peace with God by his grace, the free gift of his love. It is the greatest gift we could ever receive. All we need to do is believe and accept it, try to live not for ourselves, but for his glory.
To do that, we need to follow the Two Great Commandments, The first is Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
If we do these things every day we will grow closer to our Father in heaven, and live in his kingdom as his children, and know his love for us. Amen.