Rev. Eric M. Estes
In his book “The Word and Power Church” Doug Banister writes, "The Spring of 1940 found Hitler’s panzer divisions mopping up French troops and preparing for a seige of Great Britain. The Dutch had already surrendered, as had the Belgians. The British Army foundered on the coast of France in the channel port of Dunkirk. Nearly a quarter million young British soldiers and over 100,000 Allied troops faced capture or death. The Fuerher’s troops, only a few miles away in the hills of France, closed in on an easy kill. The Royal Navy had enough ships to save nearly 17,000 men, and the House of Commons was told to brace itself for ’hard and heavy tidings.’ Then while a despairing world watched with fading hope, a bizarre fleet of ships appeared on the horizon of the English Channel. Trawlers, tugs, fishing sloops, lifeboats, sailboats, pleasure craft, an island ferry named ’Gracie Fields,’ and even the America’s Cup challenger Endeavor, all manned by civilian sailors, sped to the rescue. The ragtag armada eventually rescued 338,682 men and returned them home to the shores of England, as pilots of the Royal Air Force jockeyed with the German Luftwaffe in the skies above the channel. It was one of the most remarkable naval operations in history.”
One would think that a ragtag Armada full of non-military sailors would have lost confidence and hope at the thought of endangering themselves against a great navy. Think about sailboats, pleasure crafts, tug-boats, and a ferry trying to race the clock against strong powerful instruments of war designed to be fast, accurate, and lethal. Yet, still these weak vessels and sailors boldly and confidently sailed into danger knowing that they were connected to something much bigger than themselves. They were connected to a great nation in war and their brothers in combat needed their help. They may have been a weak ragtag bunch, but they had been connected to a mission greater than themselves, a mission to save the lives of thousands. Banister continues and writes, “The church, likewise, is God’s ragtag armada. The church is a mix of flawed individuals on a rescue operation commissioned by God."
Though it is full of ragtag sinful people, and though it may look like a bunch of weak vessels in the face of weapons of war the Church is connected to something larger than any navy or nation or power in world. As Paul writes in the Epistle lesson this morning we are connected to the “manifold wisdom of God”. When you were baptized into Christ and became part of His Church the God who created the world and who knows the outcome of all history made you a part of a mission bigger than yourself or any other person, group or nation in the world. Together as the Church we witness to the manifold wisdom of God in Jesus Christ who has brought His light into the world to save the lives of all those afloat in this world with the enemies of sin, death and the devil attacking them. You are part of something bigger than you ever imagined.
When we think of the salvation in Christ is that how we often think of it? Do we think of it as the manifold wisdom of God that overcomes even the powers and authorities in the heavenly realms? When we tell people the gospel, about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ do we think to ourselves that at that very moment something cosmic is happening? Something as powerful as when the earth shook below the cross of Jesus is occurring right at that very moment as God’s manifold wisdom is being proclaimed to someone? Do we think that something cosmic is happening, that the manifold wisdom of God is right here and in our face every time we come to this place and hear the Word, receive Communion or see someone Baptized? I’m sure we all know by now that the answer should be yes, but if we polled ourselves beforehand we may have different outcome.
We get comfortable with church and our worship. We get comfortable with the news of the gospel and can think, “Oh, yes. Jesus forgave my sins! I’m happy about that!” But, how often does it just knock our socks off that we have been connected to the manifold wisdom of God? God intended from eternity for you to be connected to His wisdom and plan of salvation! Do we every think that big? Do we ever think that large scale up to cosmic proportions? Do we ever think that what we do now will make a difference all the way into the heavens and into eternity? That is what Paul is telling us this morning. We have been gifted with this mystery, this manifold wisdom, that God has saved all people through His Son and it is ours to boldly and confidently profess to the world knowing that forgiveness is given by Jesus Christ. This cosmic, all encompassing plan of God is exactly what you were Baptized into and you are now taking part in it everyday of your life.
You know, I think if I knew I was connected to something of cosmic proportions I would be telling everyone about it. I remember once when I was working at the Peabody there was an employee he was going around showing everyone his birthday gift from his wife. She had purchased a star for him. The National Star Registry will for a fee register a star under a name of your choosing and his wife had named a star after him. It was a fun gift, he had a picture and everything and he said, “I have my name in the cosmos!” When I think back on it though, I wonder if I should told him that there is a better way to be connected to something cosmic. To be Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ is to become part in proclaiming the manifold wisdom of God which is greater than any star in the sky.
I once had a friend tell me a story about a phone call he receive from his old boss. It had been some 20 years since he worked for him, but his boss looked him up in the phone book. He said to him, “Merle, I just want to let you know something, some news I think you’d be interested in. I’ve been baptized, I’m now a Christian and a part of your Church that I always heard you talking about. I know that Jesus has saved me and you had a lot to do with that.” “I did?” Merle asked confusedly. “Yes you did.” His boss replied, “You were one of my most reliable employees even when your wife was going through cancer. You once expressed to me your confidence that your wife already had the victory in Jesus Christ no matter which way her life went. I didn’t get it back then and as you know I even hated when Christians talked like that. But God used it and now I’m part His church!” Merle told me he was astounded. He never thought His weak witness to his boss could make such a difference in the life of his boss. Merle said that this experience changed his whole point of view of witnessing to Jesus, he realized that the whole thing was a lot bigger than him and his weak looking efforts.
That’s exactly the problem though, we think too small, we always have weakness on our mind. I’m too sinful to be a witness one might say or I don’t have the gifts. The enemies we face have convinced us that a simple proclamation like the one my friend Merle made about his wives confidence in faith is too weak to make an eternal and cosmic difference in someone’s life. We forget we are connected to something bigger than ourselves. We forget that God’s Word spoken simply to another is His manifold wisdom being proclaimed and coming into the world. There are things in our Christian lives that we don’t perceive as weak though. We come to this altar and receive bread and wine, but know in it is the body and blood, the power of Christ’s forgiveness and strength for our faith. We simple water placed on a persons head and we know that it is washing and regeneration in the Holy Spirit, we know it’s the old Adam being drowned and the new Christian being raised in Christ’s resurrection. Why should our perspective be any different when we tell someone of God’s manifold wisdom at work, home, the grocery store, school or anywhere else? Is it because we’re afraid we’ll look too weak, that our words are too simple or perhaps too complicated?
Robert Fulghum in It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, tells a story involving his daughter, Molly. One day, as Fulghum was ready to leave for work, Molly handed him two brown paper sacks. In one was his lunch. What was in the other was a mystery. When Fulghum asked Molly what was in the mystery bag, she said, "Just some stuff—take it with you." At lunch time, Fulghum tore open the mystery bag, dumping the contents onto his desk. The contents consisted of: two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses, and thirteen pennies. Later in the day, when Fulghum was cleaning off his desk before going home, he wiped the contents of Molly’s bag into the waste basket. As he said, "There wasn’t anything in there I needed." That evening Molly asked where her bag was. He told her he had left it at his office, and asked, "why?" Molly said, "Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like—I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag did you, Daddy?" "Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like." To Fulghum the hair ribbons, small stones, pencil stub, a used lipstick and all the rest did not seem like much. To Molly, they were her most priceless treasures. The things she loved the most. But Fulghum did not have the sight to see their true value. Long ago some magi left their homes in the East and made their way to see a little child. When they saw him they saw a very ordinary child which looked like any other. Yet, Matthew tells us that they knew who they were seeing. They were seeing the ruler of God’s people Israel. The one who would have all things placed under His feet. The creator and savior of the world stood there in front of them in weakest form as a little toddler. They knew that this was the manifold wisdom of God to come down as this little child to save the world. This was God’s priceless treasure and they worshiped Him.
That same wisdom and power was given to you at your baptism. You were saved by this ruler from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. You were saved from all your weakness and sin. Jesus Christ came in weakness and rose in power at the resurrection and through the gift of faith you can boldly and confidently proclaim Him as Lord of the heavens and earth. You have been connected to something greater than yourself, you have been connected to God’s people on earth the church, you have been connected to God Himself through Jesus Christ. That is truly something great, something cosmic, something to be treasured.
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.