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We are Marching in the Light

Call to Worship
L: Arise, shine; for your light has come.
P: The glory of the Lord has been revealed by
a star in the East.
L: Lift up your eyes and look around.
P: The wisdom of God is made known to all in
Emmanuel.
L: We gather together to proclaim the praise
of the Lord!

Prayer
Everlasting God, the radiance of faithful souls, you brought the nations to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising. Fill the world with your glory, and show yourself to all the nations; through him who is the true light and the bright and morning star, even Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
-Latin Sacramentary, 5th-7th Century,

Children's Sermon

Purchase a number of Christian bookmarks containing a picture of Jesus, enough for each child to have one. Begin by asking the children what an "inheritance" is. Explain that it is a gift of money or jewelry or furniture or some other valuable item that is passed from parent to child. Hold up the bookmark and ask if "Jesus" is something valuable to pass from parent to child. Yes! Let them know that for a while, the inheritance of Jesus was shared only with God's chosen people, the Jews. Illustrate this by handing a bookmark to only one child. Ask if this is fair, for Jesus to be shared with only one child of God. No! Explain that the apostle Paul made a discovery: that non-Jews, called the Gentiles, "have become fellow heirs ... and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:6). Let them know that God's family has now become huge, and it means that everyone has a chance to inherit Jesus. Show the children that they can all be heirs of Jesus by giving them each a bookmark.

Hymn # 47   There’s the Wonder of Sunset

Ephesians 3:1-12  

The Monarch Mystery

Christians, like monarch butterflies, are drawn to a home we have never seen before. We fly in faith, carried only by God's grace, mystery, revelation and power.

The ability to find home evokes legends doves, pigeons and Rover or Fido who, when owners have moved from one coast to the other, have made a 3,000-mile trek to find their owners in a location to which they've never been before.
At least the doves and dogs each make it back home. But not the monarch butterfly. These insects somehow know how to migrate thousands of miles every autumn, from the Eastern United States and Canada to a handful of sites in Mexico. There, they rest over the winter for the return trip home. But here's the amazing part: No individual butterfly ever goes to Mexico and back, yet thousands converge on the same few sites year after year. These insects know where to go. But none of them has ever been there before. Let's explain.
Sue Halpern is an author with a passion for monarchs, one that drives her new book Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly. Throwing herself fully into the subject, she hits the road and studies butterflies in Mexico with a "cowboy entomologist," tags and raises monarchs with her 8-year-old daughter at their home in the Adirondacks, and takes a glider ride to better understand the thermal forces that propel the butterflies for much of their journey.
"Monarchs are not guided by memory," she explains, "since no single butterfly ever makes the round trip. Three or four generations separate those that spend one winter in Mexico from those that go there the next." A monarch butterfly born in August in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state, for instance, will fly all the way to Mexico, spend the winter there, and leave in March. Then it will fly north, laying eggs on milkweed along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Florida before dying.
The butterflies born of those eggs will continue northward, breeding and laying more eggs along the way. So will their offspring. By August another monarch, four generations or so removed from the monarch that left New York for Mexico the previous summer, will emerge from its chrysalis and do the same thing. It will head south, aiming for a place it's never been, an acre or two of forest on the steep slopes of a particular mountain range.
If you hike into those mountains, you can see monarch butterflies so heavy on the branches of the pine trees that the branches bend toward the ground. You see more butterflies than you ever dreamed possible, 20 or 30 million at a time. Every available place to roost is taken. There are butterflies on your shoulders and shoes, butterflies in your hair. The clamor of butterfly wings is "as constant and irregular as surf cresting over rocks," says Halpern. It feels like a holy and blessed place.
On this first Sunday of the year, we no doubt wish we had the unerring instincts of a monarch butterfly as it makes the journey home, to a place it's never seen before. We pursue the kingdom of God over the course of many changing seasons. We ride the wind of the Spirit like butterflies riding thermal forces over thousands of miles. We have a mysterious instinct for God, one that moves us toward The True Monarch, generation after generation.
In a sense, we make our way through life on a wing and a prayer.
The apostle Paul discovered just how dangerous this journey can be. Although he grew up as an observant Jew, he realized after his conversion to Christianity that God was calling him to take the gospel to the unclean and unrighteous non-Jews of the world, the Gentiles. This call was irresistibly strong, drawing Paul to the Gentiles in the same way that monarch butterflies feel drawn to Mexico.
"Although I am the very least of all the saints," he admits to the Ephesians, "this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things" (3:8-9). Paul felt compelled by God to take the gospel in a whole new direction, and to engage a group of people who were long shunned by the chosen people of God.

It wasn't easy, but he had to do it - just like a monarch has to go "south of the border." Early in today's lesson, Paul speaks of how "the mystery" was made known to him by revelation (v. 3) - the mystery of why God wants to bring all people together in Christ. Although this news sounded scandalous to the faithful Jewish Christians all around him, Paul had to insist that "the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (v. 6). This mystery was not made known in former generations, but it has now been revealed by the Spirit of God, and entrusted to Paul by the gifts of God's grace and God's power.
Paul was really flying on four wings and a prayer. The only things keeping him aloft were four simple but powerful wings - the wing of God's grace, the wing of Christ's mystery, the wing of the Spirit's revelation and the wing of God's power.
Grace, mystery, revelation and power.
Grace, God's unmerited favor given without condition, without basis or any human endeavor that could be rewarded by God. Notice Paul continually emphasizes that this grace was given "to me" (3:2,7,8). His witness is that when God called him to his own unique ministry, God gave him the grace (charis) to fulfil the "commission" that God has put before him. Good news for us on the threshold of a new year as we revisit the "commission" that God has laid upon us. What God calls us to do, he gives us the charis to complete.
Mystery, the unfathomable enigma of that grace and God's plan for the church. The scope of God's redemptive love is unlimited. It reaches not just a select few, not just those who seem deserving, not just the rich and powerful of the world, but everyone, in faith, are also a part of this body called the church, "fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (3:6).
Revelation, whereby God enables us to "see" the truth of this mystery and on that basis proclaim it, to "make everyone see" (3:9).
Power, whereby the proclamation of the revelation, of the mystery of the grace of God, his "boundless riches" (3:8) can achieve its greatest effect.
Maybe this is enough to keep us, as well as Paul, flying high in the spiritual stratosphere Paul calls the "eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord (3:11).
Like monarch butterflies and the apostle Paul, we are guided by the Spirit to a new destination every day, week, month, year and decade of our lives. Like the monarch who completes only half of the journey, we too have no complete knowledge now, how our own comportment as Christians encourages and enables those who follow us, nor are we always aware of those to whom we are in debt, those who have enabled us to make the journey.
That is the nature of the church: connectedness, community, and interrelatedness. We've all been warmed by fires we didn't build, enjoyed the share of trees we didn't plant.
Now we're called "not [to] lose heart" (3:13) but to build fires of our own, plant trees of our own - in short to be faithful pilgrims of the church on our ultimate journey home, where we, like the golden monarchs clinging to the trees of Mexico, will gather around the throne of God in eternal worship and praise.
And yet, how often we fall from the sky because we try to chart our own course. We pursue a private form of spirituality by snatching up religious books, a category in publishing that has been one of the fastest-growing in the past 10 years. Our American obsession with self-help has begun to focus on spiritual matters, and we are now devouring subjects ranging from Buddhism to Christian fiction.
What's wrong with this picture? Simple: The "private" dimension of "private spirituality." Seven in 10 Americans now say they can be religious without going to services in a community of faith, and this is a radical departure from Paul's vision of the church, where the experience of God is always in community. There is no room for individualism when he says, "The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise of Christ through the gospel" (v. 6). For Paul, an experience of God requires a community of faith.
The solution for us is to be more like monarch butterflies, who always migrate in community and depend on each other to achieve the goal of a complete round trip. Although a single monarch may make it from New York to Mexico, on the way back it lays its eggs and dies. Those eggs hatch and then new butterflies continue the journey north, laying more eggs along the way. No one completes the journey solo, and it is only as a community that they discover the fullness of God's plan for them.
Paul knew this truth firsthand. In fact, he was writing to the Ephesians from prison, and wasn't going to be taking flight himself anytime soon. And yet he spoke to them in boldness and confidence, "so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known" (v. 10). He was speaking about God's grace, mystery, revelation and power for the benefit of the community of faith, not for himself.
Are we willing to do the same?
A challenge for the church today is to expand the Christian community by reaching out to persons who have not yet heard "the news of the boundless riches of Christ" (v. 8). Look around and ask yourself: Who am I treating like a Gentile, and failing to include fully in the body of Christ? Is it the recent immigrant who speaks little English? The 20-something with multiple piercings? The lonely widow with 14 cats? The divorced dad who sees his children every other weekend?
The great mystery of our faith is that God desires all these persons to be members of the body of Christ, with access to God through faith in Jesus. But just how we achieve this unity requires a flight of faith, on four wings and a prayer.

Navigation by Jesus. Power by the Holy Spirit. Nourishment from the abundant goodness of God. That's what we require if we're going to fly in faith, and gather a flock for the kingdom of God.
Perhaps there's no mystery to it after all.
Source:  Halpern, Sue. Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly. Pantheon Books, 2001

Hymn # 419  Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah


Commentary

Traditionally, Epiphany is associated with light, revelation and the inclusion of Gentiles as the recipients of the promises of God. Ephesians 3:1-12 underscores this in several respects.

Though mentioned only once in the passage, a reference to light surfaces in 3:9. Here, the Greek verb photisai can be translated "to make see," but a more accurate translation is "to bring to light," "to enlighten" or "to illuminate." Important here is how this enlightenment or illumination is part and parcel of the revelation of "the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things."

The revelation of this mystery is critical to both the narrative flow of Ephesians 3:1-12 and the function of Paul's apostleship. Verses 3-5 and 8-10 repeatedly lift up some aspect of revelation in terms of the mystery's being both communicated and comprehended. Through all of this runs the abiding understanding that the apostle is not the source of revelation but, nevertheless, serves as a divinely appointed conveyor of this revelation to the Gentiles.

With this outreach to Gentiles, we come to the central message of the passage, indeed, the very thrust of the mystery and its revelation. Stated succinctly in 3:6, the revealed mystery is that "the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." This reiterates the end of hostility between Israel and Gentiles proclaimed in Ephesians 2. It also sets the stage for the powerful portrait of the church's unity in the Spirit found in Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 3:1-12 presents an understanding of the inclusion of both Israel and Gentiles in God's salvific purposes that is convincingly in keeping with more undisputed Pauline epistles such as Galatians and Romans. More fruitful exegetical considerations of the text include how the message of Ephesians 3:1-12 is given expression via the structure of the case made by the author, the role of the apostle in revelation, and the inclusion of Gentiles emphasized in Ephesians 3:6.

The structure of the case made by the author indicates parallelism, wherein the first half of the passage is reinforced by the second. Paul the prisoner for Christ is entrusted to convey to the Gentiles the grace of God he has already received (3:1-2); this is reiterated by Paul being the servant of grace received from God with which the apostle is entrusted to proclaim to the Gentiles (3:7-8). The apostle receives the revelation of the mystery in 3:3; the apostle relays the revelation of this mystery to others in 3:9. The apostle's role in conveying revelation and the extent it is comprehended by human beings is put in historical perspective (3:4-5); this is expanded to discuss the role of the church making the wisdom of God known even to heavenly rulers and authorities as part of God's eternal purpose (3:10-11). Finally, the radical inclusion of Gentiles as partners of Israel in the promise of Christ (3:6) corresponds to "access to God in boldness and confidence" made possible by Christ (3:12).

The role of the apostle in revelation is identified in several important respects. First, there is the language of "prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles" (3:1) and "servant according to the gift of God's grace" (3:7). Whatever authority the apostle possesses in making known revelation has to do with surrendering to and serving the gracious initiatives of God in Christ.

Second, by making known revelation that has been given to him, the apostle is an instrument of God doing a new thing - "In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (3:5).

Third, the Greek word oikonomia in 3:2 can be translated "commission," which underscores that apostleship is rooted in "the commission of God's grace that was given me for you." However, an equally, if not more, justifiable translation of oikonomia is "stewardship," whereby 3:2 reads "the stewardship of God's grace that was given me for you." What makes "stewardship" a stronger choice is the language of unity between Israel and Gentiles found just previously to Ephesians 3:1-12 in 2:19-21: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household (oikeioi) of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure (oikodomae) is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord."

Moreover, the selection of "stewardship" is further reinforced by 3:9, wherein oikonomia appears for the second time in the passage, commonly translated "plan," as in "the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God." Again, perhaps the stronger choice would be "the stewardship of the mystery." As a consequence of the presence of oikonomia, the role of the apostle can be understood as that of being a steward in the household of God, reminiscent of Jesus' parables about stewards who are placed in charge of households during the absence of their masters. The role of the apostle can likewise be viewed in terms of one being called to be a steward of what is revealed to be God's own stewardship of God's purposes.

The inclusion of Gentiles emphasized in Ephesians 3:6 is the gist of the passage. The language of the verse also provides helpful imagery and word play for homiletics. Here, the status of the Gentile's partnership with Israel in the promise of Christ Jesus is described by three words that begin with a variation of the Greek prefix syn, which means "with" or "together." Thus, to capture more closely the stylistic flow of 3:6, the Gentiles have become: "heirs together, a body together, sharers together." A compelling interpretive move would be to translate "joint heirs, a joint body and joint sharers." In English translation, at least, the word "joint" corresponds credibly with both the "building" and "body" metaphors employed throughout Ephesians to represent the unity of Israel and Gentiles in Christ.

If we do have a mysterious instinct for God, Ephesians suggests that it most likely has to do with our being "marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit" which is "the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people" (1:14). Ephesians 3:1-12 drives home this message by declaring that the instinct, as such, is not one of self-preservation or survival of the fittest. Nor, for that matter, is it really an instinct so much as a mysterious inspiration to participate in the boundless riches of Christ. And once the mystery is revealed, we find ourselves not just surviving, but thriving, at peace and in partnership with the least likely companions whom God sees fit to include in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Seven in 10
Americans now
say they can be
religious without going to services
in a community
of faith.


Animating Illustrations

The annual movement of wildebeest and other grazing herbivores across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world. Over two million herbivores partake in this great migration, with some 200,000 zebra ahead of, and 500,000 Thomson's Gazelle behind, the main players - one and a half million wildebeest. Not surprisingly, this impressive phenomenon is determined by the availability of grazing - which is dependent upon rainfall - but there are several other factors that shape this seasonal movement.

Essentially, the wildebeest are taking advantage of the strongly seasonal conditions, spending the wet season on the plains in the southeast, and the dry season in the woodlands of the northwest, but the sheer weight of their numbers means that they themselves play a role in shaping their environment to their needs....

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the great migration is the way in which the wildebeest themselves have shaped the structure of the ecosystems upon which they are dependent. The composition of grass species is influenced by grazing, so with more than one and half a million hungry mouths on the plains at one time, those grass species which are able to tolerate the pressure will out-compete those that cannot. Indeed, some grasses only flourish when constantly grazed.

-Wild Watch Magazine Online,
February 2000, www.wildwatch.com.
Retrieved August 16, 2001.


Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" explains that he could not stay comfortably in Atlanta. He had to go where injustice was, even though fellow ministers criticized his decision as foolish. Dr. King could appeal to precedent, of course, and he was not shy about reminding his readers of Paul's missionary journeys and of the great Hebrew prophets who left home to take God's Word elsewhere. He also insisted that ultimately all communities are related:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. ... Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

This quotation captures for a particular situation the significance of Paul's insight that in the end human beings cannot be considered separately.

-Pheme Perkins, "Letter to the
Ephesians," The New Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 412-13.


Geese, marvelous migratory animals, tend to start their journey after sunset and fly all night and the next day. While traveling on a clear night, they use the stars as guides, and while flying during the day, they navigate by the sun. In the same way, it's important for us to keep our eyes on our Lord Jesus as we fly in faith - he's the one who can help us to navigate the unknown and uncertain territory that lies ahead.

The ideal conditions for goose travel include warm temperatures, starry skies and a steady wind at the back - a "tail wind." We, too, need to make use of the wind of the Holy Spirit if we're going to reach our goal. Flying completely under our own power is going to get us nowhere fast.

Geese also know they need nourishment. When they land, they eat grass, seeds and small fish from a marsh or lake. If they land in a goose-friendly habitat, they'll feed, rest and wait for good flying weather. Let's follow their lead and nourish ourselves and each other through worship, prayer, Bible study and rest. God knows that we need to be fed and renewed if we're going to be healthy and strong as the body of Christ.


For many animals, the urge to move when the days change length and temperatures vary is programmed into their genes. Somehow, young birds can unerringly fly from summer nesting grounds toward wintering ranges they've never seen - and then fly back again the next year. Monarch butterflies perform an even more amazing feat: The flappers that return to the wintering grounds in Mexico are actually the grandchildren of those that left the previous spring. It takes three generations for the insects to complete the trip.

Just how these animals find their way around, however, remains mostly a mystery. Researchers have evidence that some migrating animals use visual landmarks - just the way people do - while others steer by the sun, the stars, or even by following smells and the earth's invisible magnetic field. But "we don't really understand how these things are actually done," says researcher Howard C. Hughes of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Even sophisticated sonars, computers and satellite positioning systems, he notes, sometimes barely equal the navigational power of a bird's tiny brain.

-"Globe Trotters," transcript of
an episode of Nature, pbs.org/wnet/nature/navigators/globe.html. Retrieved August 16, 2001.


Lepidopterists are changing their spots.
The popular conception of the collector in a pith helmet tiptoeing through a meadow with a butterfly net is rapidly becoming obsolete. But not rapidly enough. "Unfortunately that's still the image," admits Barbara Farron, a member of the Washington Area Butterfly Club.

These days, they're called butterfly watchers, not butterfly collectors. Many branches of nature study have undergone a similar evolution. There was a time when all naturalists studied animals by killing them and taking them home to look at. John James Audubon, for example, was an excellent shot; many people don't realize that his famous paintings are of taxidermied birds.
But times changed and binoculars got better. Indeed, lepidopterist Jeffrey Glassberg says the public's interest in bird watching coincided with binoculars being made widely available for the first time. Likewise, butterfly watching has benefited from recent advances in the manufacture of close-focus binoculars, which magnify objects six feet away and nearer. "Without binoculars you can barely see them," Glassberg says. "With binoculars they fill your whole field of vision - and look spectacular."

-Nicole Arthur, "Wings of desire,"
The Washington Post, May 12, 2000, N17.


Salmon that spend only one year before returning to spawn do not move very far from their home rivers. They remain in coastal areas or off the coast along the continental shelf. However, the salmon that spend two years at sea, from both the European and North American sides of the Atlantic Ocean, move to feeding pastures either off the coast of Greenland or off the Faeroe Islands. Tagging studies showed that fish from North America are most numerous at Greenland, but European fish are also present.

Off the Faeroe Islands, fish from the European side of the Atlantic are most common, but a few North American fish are also present.

Salmon home back to the river, or even to the specific tributaries, in which they were born to spawn. ... The salmon's sense of smell is strong, and they may be able to smell their home rivers. As well, they can detect magnetic fields and may use this as some sort of a compass. They can also see polarized light, and this can be used in some instances to orient oneself. Finally, where landmarks are present, the salmon may remember the way they went to go to the feeding grounds and follow the same path back.

- "The Atlantic salmon life cycle," ifdn.com/salmon/lifecycle/migration.htm. Retrieved August 23, 2001.


A rainbow can stand for a number of things. ... I see the different colors standing for the different races of the world and how they can all meld together in the body of Christ to make a beautiful presentation to the world.

Imagine how beautiful that rainbow would be if all the different colors, were separated. You might not be able to find some of the colors and even if you did they wouldn't be more beautiful than when they are all beside each other. This is how the body of Christ is supposed to be, close-knit and loving the proximity, shining like the colors in the rainbow and as significant as the meaning of the rainbow in man's covenant with God.

-Gene Gordon, "The body of Christ,"
The Global Wide Web for Christ, gww4christ.com. Retrieved August 24, 2001.



Worship Resources

Prayer

Pardon
The mystery of God's love is illumined by the light of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness abounds! Glory be to God!
Music Links

Hymns
Rise, Shine, You People
De Tierra Lejana Venimos (From a
Distant Home)
What Star Is This, with Beams So
Bright

Praise
 
Gloria
The Lord is Come

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