Uncovering the Secret! (A sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22) – Part 1

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

These are the unmistakable words of St Paul (for those of you who know him) – Paul-the-passionate, Paul- the-controversial, Paul-the-Apostle-to-the-gentiles.

I get the feeling that if Paul had initially been preaching these words rather than writing them on a parchment, he would have pounded the pulpit as he spoke. For Paul was a passionate man. He believed deeply in the things he believed deeply in, and here in his letter to the church at Ephesus he speaks about the things he feels most passionate about.

And the main subject of the letter, and the main subject of the passage we are looking at this morning, is ‘the mystery’ – a great secret that Paul believed had been hidden for ages but that he had re-discovered.

Now Paul doesn’t actually use the word ‘mystery’ or ‘secret’ in this passage, though it is very much his core topic. He introduces his mysterious terminology a few paragraphs later:

for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 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 (Ephesians 3:2-5)

The Mystery!

I don’t know if you’ve ever discovered a mystery or a secret – some hidden treasure, buried in the back yard perhaps, or an insight into life that had long been forgotten?  I believe I have.

I talk about the hidden treasure that I discovered all the time in fact – boxing!

It’s no secret around here that I consider boxing training to be a wonderful tool for helping young people make the transition into adulthood –boys into men in particular – and I believe that this truth had been lost (to the white Australian community in this country, at least) for about a generation.

I won’t go into details as to how I think we lost this great truth, except to say that I think we confused boxing with violence, and that we rightly wanted to put an end to male violence.

Whatever the reason, I believe our community lost a great truth, and it’s a truth that quite a number of people around the world have recently been re-discovering, and it’s like digging up a treasure that’s been hidden in your own backyard!

Speaking of mysteries hidden for ages and uncovering secret treasures reminded me of that movie and novel that came out a few years ago, entitled “The Secret”.

It was six years ago, in fact – in 2006 – that Australian writer and television producer, Rhonda Byrne, came out with “The Secret”, which then remained on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly 3 years!

The ‘secret’ that Rhonda Byrne was talking about was the secret of how to attract to  yourself anything that you want – health, wealth, fame, better sex, better relationships. You can have it all if you know ‘the secret’!

No surprise, but Rhonda Byrne’s secret had a lot to do with positive thinking, and she herself obviously learned ‘the secret’ because she managed to sell over 19 million copies of her book, and she attracted all sorts of things to herself!

Now … regardless of what you think of Rhonda Byrne’s secret, I can assure you that the secret St Paul has in mind – the mystery of Christ, the mystery hidden for ages, the secret made known to him by revelation – has absolutely nothing to do with attracting greater health and wealth to yourself!

So what is ‘the mystery’ according to St Paul?

What is the secret hidden from humankind for generations but which has now finally been revealed through God’s holy Apostles and prophets?

If it’s not the secret to greater health, wealth and happiness, what is it?

It is the secret about the end of the world – when and where it’s going to happen, and what countries in the Middle East we should be supporting to hurry it along?

Is it a theological mystery perhaps, concerning the true nature of God and of Jesus (or do we already have that in the Athanasian Creed)?

What is the mystery-made-known to Paul and the prophets which had been hidden from the world for so many generations?

… I quote from St Paul in Ephesians 3: the mystery hidden for ages but revealed to God’s holy Apostles and prophets is that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Jews and non-Jews, in other words, are equal before God!

And you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a bit of an anti-climax!

So black and white people are equal?  Is that really the mystery hidden for ages in God? I reckon we could have worked that one out, Paul!

And it would be easy for a 21st Century white guy like myself to think that way. After all, I didn’t grow up as a slave in 19th Century America. I didn’t grow up as a black man in apartheid South Africa.  I only have 2nd-hand knowledge of being an Indigenous person in this country. And I certainly have no first-hand understanding of what it would be like to grow up in first century Judea – to be a man like St Paul, whose who life, prior to his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, revolved around his being Jewish!

“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Philippians 3:5-6)

Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four.Visit http://www.fatherdave.org for more information.


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