A sermon preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison on December 6th 2020, remembering those members and friends of Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church who have died during the previous year
‘I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints,’ (1:15) this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians proclaims. But what is our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and what does it have to say about those friends we remember tonight? Well, I want to tell you that Christian faith is about hope, it’s about power, and it’s about love.
‘I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.’ (1:17-18)
Many have hopes about what might come next, once life has ended, yet we have no certainty. No one has ever avoided death, but no one has come back to tell us what life is like “up there”, “on the other side”, or whatever other term we care to use. As a minister, I get to be involved in lots of funerals, which truly is a privilege. Frequently, I hear it said that the deceased “must be looking down on us.” Interestingly it’s often those with the least apparent connection with “organised religion” who are saying it.
Part of me – the truthful part, or the unkind part – wants to reply, “how can you know that? Is this anything more than wishful thinking?” I mention this, not to take a cheap shot at people who vocalise desires that arise from personal loss and anguish, but to point us towards where hope is to be found; not just within ourselves, because that information and experience is not available to us. What is available to us is our experience of God in the here and now, which gives us a basis for hope concerning the future, both for us and for others.
So we begin with hope; what scripture here describes as, ‘the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints.’ Christian faith concerning our human universal situation is located ‘in the hope to which he [God] has called you,’ described as a rich inheritance. God intend something good for us – a rich inheritance, both now and for the future. Further, not only is this thing for which we hope God’s intention, it’s also within God’s power to deliver it.
‘I pray that … with the eyes of your heart enlightened you may know what is the hope to which he has called you … and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.’ (1:19) It’s not enough just to hope that all will be well with those who have gone before us. Such hope needs to be anchored in a power which is sufficient to make things come right, even where death is concerned.
So take a moment to consider the power of God. God is more powerful than any earthly power, dominion, or name that we could name. It almost seems insulting to God to try to draw a comparison, when the most powerful thing on earth is less than a tiny speck or moment in the life of the universe, which itself owes its existence and continuance to the power of God. No wonder that in Old Testament scripture it’s often seen as fatal to a human being to see God; no one of us could continue to exist in the presence of such power.
But our hope for today, and for tomorrow, for ourselves and for others, including those named tonight, lies with a power so great it encompasses the making and remaking of the whole universe; the giving of life to every element or entity within it; able to overcome the death that comes to us all. So, we hope that God intends something good. We believe God has the power to make that happen, but why should we believe that this is what actually God intends?
Well, the answer to that question lies not just with hope and with power but with God’s love: ‘God put this power to work in Christ,’ Ephesians tells us, ‘when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.’ (1:20) We hope because we believe there is a God, one with the power and readiness to unmake death. And our evidence that this is more than just a human wishful fantasy lies in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A God of supreme power could choose to crush us at any moment. To live in a universe presided over by such a God would be a nightmare. But the good news of Jesus Christ is that it’s the very opposite that is the case. God is represented, God is revealed, through our Lord Jesus Christ. There was no need for God to make God’s self known to us in this way. There is no need for God to care for us in this life or in the life to come, except … that God works in the Jesus way; the way of love.
This section of the Letter to the Ephesians ends with God setting Christ above all the powers, not only in this age but in the age to come, and says God ‘has placed all things under his feet and has made him head over all things for the church’ (1:21); all things, including death and life.
So what does our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ have to say about life and about those friends we remember tonight? Well, Christian faith says that life and death are about hope, about power, and about love; about hope reliant on God, not ourselves; about the power of God which is greater than any power, death included; about Jesus Christ, the revelation that’s God’s power is directed by and for love; love towards all people, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, whatever tomorrow brings.
So thanks be to God, the Father of glory, the Son, our Lord, and the Spirit who brings wisdom; the loving source of our hope, and life for us all. Amen.