Faithful Together: Grace
By: Pastor Krista Ducker
Ephesians 2:1-10; From Death to Life
2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
As we conclude our Faithful Together series this morning, we take time to reflect on a gift available to all of us; a gift so outlandish and unreasonable that we often find it hard to receive. That gift is grace. Paul talks about it in verse 7 of the passage we just read together: that somehow, throughout all ages before and to come, God chooses to show is the “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Somehow, that grace comes to us in such a way that it re-forms us into God’s image; the image in which, scripture tells us, we were created.
And yet, sometimes it can feel to us like this may not be quite good enough; that somehow, we need improving--like an upgraded version of the model the universe gave us.
Some of you who were around back in the 90s and 2000s might remember a fad that took over all the talk shows of the day; Oprah was perhaps best known for it. It was the “makeover” craze. Remember that? Well meaning relatives and friends of hopelessly un-stylish people would nominate them for a surprise makeover; they would be whisked away to a back room in the bowels of the studio where hair and makeup gurus would transform them into some other, shinier version of themselves. And then there would be the big REVEAL; when family and friends would ooh and ah in astonished delight at the product of all that flurry of work, and hairspray, make-up and costuming. You remember this, right?
It was easy to get caught up in the excitement as these people were fawned over and transformed. But there was also an underlying message that said; “You aren’t quite good enough as you are.” “You’re fine, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could just be a little bit better for all of us.” And we the public ate it up; all the while buying into the false message that if we could just change our outsides enough, our insides might follow suit and we could finally be the upgraded versions of ourselves we all wished we could be.
This makeover craze reached a troubling zenith in a show that aired for only two seasons in 2004, called “The Swan”; it was a play on the story “The Ugly Duckling”; a group of poor “ugly duckling” women sacrificed themselves over a period of three months to plastic surgeons, dietitians, exercise gurus and stylists in order to win the prize of becoming “The Swan.” They could not even look at themselves for the duration of the show as gradually they were voted off, until a small number achieved the honor of being paraded in a beauty contest at the end, complete with a swimsuit competition. America swiftly voted the show off the island of network TV, realizing how grotesque the premise was, but not before over 9 million people tuned in.
You know the ironic thing about all this? The Ugly Duckling is not about an ugly duckling that becomes a swan. Do you remember the story? It’s actually about a swan, who ends up hatching in a nest with a group of ducklings, spends his childhood thinking he’s just an oddball duck, only to discover that he has been a swan all along. It’s about a swan discovering who he was actually born to be--not a duck changing into something else.
How tempting it has always been for us to believe that we can improve on the original; that somehow by augmenting, or adding to, or buying more things for, our outer selves, we can get around whatever annoying or painful parts of ourselves we’d rather avoid. It is so hard to believe that we are worthy of love exactly as we are. It is so hard to accept that we can do nothing to make ourselves more or less worthy of love--that we are, exactly as we have been made--beautiful, worthy of love, and free to be who we are, as we are.
This idea, that somehow we have to change or add to ourselves to make ourselves acceptable has been with us for time immemorial. We’ve always struggled with this. Paul knew this. So Paul reminds the Ephesian church, and us, that God’s salvation comes to us as a free gift; we don’t have to do anything to earn it or deserve it.
Let’s remember together what Paul told us in the first nine verses. Paul reminds us of the message of salvation in Jesus; because of our sins, both individual and collective, we became lifeless; “dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived.” Dead to life. Dead to our true selves. “But God (Paul says), who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved.”
Paul says to us that we were dead to our true selves because of the sin that held us down--dead to the people God had intended for us to be--but through Christ, God brought us back to life--our own life--the one God intended for us to have. How do we know this? Hear again verse 10:
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
If we believe that by becoming a Christian we are somehow given a divine makeover--whisked away and tinkered with until we turn into someone more acceptable to God--then we have misunderstood the gospel. Friends, God doesn’t make us into a shiny version of someone else that God might like better. In Christ, God brings us back to our own divinely crafted, mysterious and wonderful life; a life already there for us from the foundation of the world. We are already beloved--already created to bring good into the world. We do not become someone else. Like that little swan in the children’s bedtime story, by God’s grace in Christ we become who we always have been.
Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s “workmanship”; the word for this is poiema; in Greek it is a word that means “a thing made/a work”; poiema is the product of careful, sustained, loving attention, made by a master craftsman. I think of a potter, carefully crafting a piece of clay into a vessel; each one unique and each bearing the mark of the master. A potter may make thousands of vessels; but each one is unlike any other, and all of them carry the master’s mark into the world. That’s what you and I are; we are God’s poiema--God’s masterpiece, created to do God’s good work in this world. It is what we always have been; it is what we are created to be. How in this world could anyone improve upon that?
Beloved, God has not saved us to make into someone else--God has saved us so that we can be fully ourselves. God’s grace comes to us to bring back to life what we always have been.
So hear me now; if you have ever heard a message telling you that you needed to do anything to make yourself acceptable to God--even if you heard it church-- hear this now--it’s not true. You are loved, fully and freely, exactly as you are. That is grace. It is a free gift--accept it. Accept that new life is here, waiting for you. Accept that you can discover, by God’s grace, the person you have always been. We are here to walk with you in that journey.