I was pretty young the first time I went to camp as a child.  At some point before camp begins, a list of items that needs to be brought arrives. In my case, the Boy Scouts provided that list. It includes the things needed for the week, like a sleeping bag, toiletries, etc. I grew up after the Second World War and Korea. There were hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of duffel bags in Army Surplus stores. Each boy was supposed to bring a duffel bag packed with everything he needed. The first year, my mother packed my duffel bag—it was an act of pure grace. The second year, she helpedme pack the duffel bag. After that, she made me pack my own. Her act of grace was to help me learn how to pack a duffle bag, but it would not have been an act of love if she had continued doing so until I was twenty one years old!
Over the years, I’ve been on a lot of mission trips. I have a backpack I take on those trips. I always pack my own pack. I like to shave when I wake up in the morning on an airplane, so I always have my shaving kit in my backpack. I always pack a granola bar or two. A good bit of the time I pack some medical supplies in case someone gets hurt.
Kathy and I are leaving just after church to go to General Assembly, and I’ve already packed my backpack. Guess what the most important items are? My Bible, My Prayer Journal, and my devotional guide. In the Christian life, it is hard to be prepared and equipped if we never read and meditate on the Bible or pray. This morning our theme is going to be about how we are initially equipped for our Christian life by grace. Grace is the beginning of our equipping. Studying the Bible, prayer, worship, the sacraments, etc.are means of by which we grow in grace.
Equipped by Grace
Our text is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Ephesus was one of the great cities of the ancient world. Itwas a Greek city, located on a very fertile valley, established to be a port city, and became a wealthy and important commercial center. It was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a temple of the Goddess Artemis or Diana. Therefore, it was a pagan city when Paul first visited there. As a pagan center, sacrifice and mystery cult activities probably formed the center of their religion. The Greek religion, like most religions, was about doing thingsto experience and appease the gods.
Ephesiansis one of Paul’s “Prison Letters,” written late in his career.  It contains Paul’s mature ideas about Christ, the Christian life, and the church. Therefore, let’s listen tothe word of God as it comes to us today from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in ChristJesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. …
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.(Ephesians 2:1-10, 19-21).
Let us Pray: God of Love, send your Spirit upon us today that we might be filled with your presence and your love, empowered to live differently because of what you have done for us.
Human Beings Are Separated from the Father
Father’s Day is a difficult day for some people and a great day for others. Many people have good fathers, and they love to celebrate Father’s Day. Other people had poor fathers; for them, Father’s Day can be painful. I have a friend who grew up without a father. There was a time in the 1960s and 70s, when during divorce fathers were often told that it would be best for the children if they separated themselves from the family. We now know this advice was not correct in most cases. In my friend’s case, the father left an alcoholic marriage in order to get sober and get his life together. He did. However, the children were left in a chaotic household. Unfortunately, it took many years, a few bad relationships, and some therapy before my friend found stability and happiness. Perhaps for that reason, my friend has always worked hard at being a perfect parent.
Unfortunately, we human beings are allby nature separated from our Heavenly Father.In today’s text, Paul puts it this way: just like everyone else, to a greater or less or degree, all of us failed to obey God and follow the spiritual forces of our age, what Paul calls “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The New Living Bible puts it this way:
You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature(Ephesians 2:1-3, NLT).
I didn’t grow up in a perfect family, but I did grow up in a Christian family; and, my parents tried very hard to see that we were raised in a good and healthy way. I had a good father. Despite my parent’s best efforts, however, there was a time a time in my life when I followed “the prince of the power of the air,” and it is only by grace that I am here today. I might have continued to follow my own desires and the standards of our culture and age. But, God had other plans. 
The Grace of the One True Father
You see, Paul wants to eliminate any idea we have that good works form the basis for fellowship with God. For Paul, Christ is the center of God’s revelation to the world. Christ reflects the image and being of God. Christ is the center of God’s saving action in history (Colossians 1:15-20). Christ is the love of God incarnate. It is through Christ that God created the world. It is in Christ that we find our salvation. It is in Christ that we see the Love of God, the Grace of God reflected fully, completely and without any blemish. What Christ did on the cross reflects God’s grace, his underserved gift of salvation to the human race. Christ and Christ alone is at the center of our restoration to fellowship with God.
Paul wants the Ephesians (and us) to know that we can never overcome our human self-centeredness and sin by our own power or by our own religious activities. All of us are naturally selfish and self-centered. All of us by nature try to satisfy our own desires and cravings. By nature, we find it impossible to escape our own self-centeredness. That is why he says“it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 24-7).It was not Paul that escaped Paul’s selfishness. It was Christ who rescued Paul from his selfishness. The problem of human selfishness is so serious that it is only the cross and the power of the resurrection that can save us.
Fortunately, God loves us and desires for us to escape our selfishness and experience the joyful life that Christ experienced. This is why Paul goes on to say, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves—it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast”(vv. 8-9).Our escape from self-centered selfishness is an act of pure grace. It’s a gift from God. It’s a gift we receive by trusting God, allowing the power of the resurrection to enter our lives and transform us. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to escape our own self-centeredness and live an “other-centered” life like Christ. The idea behind these verses and many like them is that God does the work, not us.
This Christian insight separates Christianity from other world religions. We all need to pray, read our Bibles, serve other people, and attempt to control our worse desires. There’s nothing wrong with meditation, or stretching, or being mindful, or anyone of a number of other spiritual disciplines. However, none of these can really overcome our basic alienation from God.
God’s Grace Has a Purpose
This is the point at which we might just stop—and many sermons do stop here with God’s grace. Paul, however, does not stop with his unconditional affirmation of God’s grace. He says: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”(Ephesians 2:10). God did raise us from our personal death in sin to a new life in the Spirit; He did not do so in order that we remain the same or relax. God’s grace draws us into God’s church so that we may participate with the church in God’s great mission to make sons and daughters of all the peoples of the world. It is like my mother not stopping with packing my duffle bag. She went on to help me grow up to be independent and to be able to raise my own children!
It might be a good idea to unpack this just a little bit. The idea Paul has been expanding goes something like this: because of our sinfulness we were all dead in our sins and separated from God. It’s as if we were in a grave of our own making. By the unmerited grace of Christ, God has taken our dead self and made it alive. Our life in Christ is God’s handiwork. We are something that God has made by grace. However, God did not make us new people just to look at us like a statute on his shelf. He made us with a purpose: to live and to do those things for which God created us.
My brother is a retired executive. He was a very senior executive at British Petroleum. He was also a very fine a chemical engineer. Today, he gets up every morning and goes to the Lutheran Church to which he belongs. Because of his background, he is capable of fixing anything, especially heating and air-conditioning. He’s also capable of understanding any engineering problem the church has. He’s also capable of understanding their books and records. So, he’s become kind of an unofficial unpaid janitor in church financial officer. He likes to say that all of his professional career was preparation to be the janitor at his church!
That should be true of all of us! All of our life, all of our experiences, and especially all the grace we have received from Jesus Christ, has prepared us for some ministry to share God’s love with others. After my father retired, he became active in our hometown. He was involved in many ministries. He was involved in the United Way. Eventually, he became a City Councilman and mayor. All of his life was a preparation for those years of service to others.
Good Works: Having Many Brothers and Sisters
One of the weaknesses of American Protestantism is a tendency to end the Christian life with personal salvation. Unfortunately, this leaves us with and unbiblical view of salvation. In Chapter 2 of Ephesians, over and over again, Paul uses the words “you” and “we”. These are all plurals. We were not saved by grace to have a merely personal relationship with God. We are saved to be a part of God’s family, God’s community, God’s kingdom. In Christ, all of the divisions which divide the human race find their healing. That is why Paul says:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.(Ephesians 2:19-21).
God created us to be in community with other people. It is if he were building his church as a kind of interrelated temple in which all of us find a place in which all of us find a purpose.
Building anything is kind of complicated. It takes a lot of tools. It takes a lot of machinery. It takes a lot of building materials of all the types. To build an office building you going to have metal, steel, stone, sheet rock, and a host of other building materials. It takes a lot of the equipment to build a building, and it takes a lot of equipping to get the building crews prepared to build. Yet, there is nothing more important than the foundation. I have a friend who is a general contractor. She builds some pretty big buildings. The only part of the building that they actually build themselves as the foundation—because, it is on the foundation that the rest of the building will depend. It is the most important part of the building of all.
The same thing is true of the Christian life. We need a lot of equipment and a lot of equipping to live the Christian life. However, our lives will never be right, they will never be plumb, if we do not get the foundation right—and the foundation of our discipleship is Christ and the grace of God shown and made available to us in Christ.
Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 I would like to dedicate this sermon to my father, George Columbus Scruggs, Jr. and to my mother, Betsey Purnell Scruggs. They will both be mentioned during the sermon and blog. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!!
 The Ephesian Church was founded by Paul on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:19) around 52 A.D. Paul, John, and others. Paul stayed at Ephesus longer than any other church, and it is to the Ephesian elders that Paul says “farewell” before his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:17-38). It was also one of the great missionary churches of the First Century and an important church in the first 500 years or so of the Christian movement. In Revelation, John the Revelator describes the city as having deserted its first love (Revelation 2:4). The Roman Emperor Theodosius convened an ecumenical council there in 431 A.D. This Third Ecumenical Council condemned the Nestorian heresy. The city fell into decline after an invasion of the Goths (250 A.D.) and an earthquake destroyed the city and it never recovered (614 A.D.).
 For the Biblical background for this sermon, I am indebted to William Barclay, “The Letters to Galatians & Ephesians” in The Daily Bible Study Series2nded. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1958) and especially to Peter T. O’Brien, “The Letter to the Ephesians” in The Pillar New Testament Commentary(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999).
 It is unclear how we are to understand the phrase “prince of commander of the air”. Paul does mean a conscious power that draws human beings away from God (see, Genesis 2). The Greek god’s were essentially anthropomorphic representations of the powers of the universe and the human psyche, which the Greeks attempted to control by their religious rites. Paul wants the Ephesians (and us) to know that this strategy is doomed to failure. The New Age and similar movements in our day have the same strategy. When we make God’s of natural or supernatural powers, we are inclined to appease or “channel” them. (The new age channeling phenomenon is not different than the ecstatic mystery cults of Paul’s day.) Biblical religion sees God as beyond these powers, who are created, not divine.
 The centrality of Grace in salvation is inextricably tied to some form of predestination. In Ephesians 1, Paul says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:11-12). This sermon and blog are not about predestination, but there are a couple of things that might be pointed out: First, Election fundamentally is a matter of love not “eternal decree.” Second, it is Christ, the love of God incarnate that we find our election. Third, our election is not so much individual as corporate, “we” were chosen. God’s plan was to create a new chosen people to share his love with the world. Finally, our election is a part of God’s glorious plan to reconcile all of creation to his love.
 Paul repeatedly uses the phrase “in Christ,” in Ephesians 1. In Christ, we find our salvation, our calling, our knowledge of God, our hope, our fellowship in the Church, the power to be new people.