Sermon from October 31

Sealed

Ephesians 1:11-23

O God our help in ages past our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

I felt like I was persevering in a stormy blast one day while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean at Fenwick, Delaware.  A storm had gone through but the winds were still gusting and the waves just billowed in high and hard and fast, one right after another.  I’d just be dealing with one and before I could totally process or recover from that one it seemed the next one was right on top of me.  That can be an obviously dangerous situation and I don’t recommend swimming in that kind of surf but I’ll have to admit there was something exhilarating about it that day.

One commentator describes this first chapter from the book of Ephesians in that manner, saying, “These exultant lines heap one upon the next like breakers rolling ashore” [Sally A. Brown, www.workingpreacher.com]  But these of course are all almost too good to be true waves of blessing and love that just seem to keep coming in on us.

Then he says something quite striking which changes our focus from an image of sea billows and breakers to an exquisite wax seal.  He says, in Jesus, when we believed we were SEALED in him with the Holy Spirit of promise.  You were sealed in or by Jesus with the Holy Spirit of promise.

Have you ever seen an actual wax seal on an envelope?  They can be quite fancy and meaningful.  Before the days of lick-‘em envelopes or self-stick technology we have today, they dripped a bit of melted wax upon the envelope and sealed it or marked it by imprinting the wax with an official or artistic impression which then remained etched on the document or envelope.  The sealing of an envelope had two functions: one was to authenticate and the other was to protect the contents of the envelope.  Similarly, Paul is saying that when we believe in Christ and accept the gift of salvation that what happens spiritually to our heart is that he seals us or authenticates our identity and spiritual inheritance for now and into eternity and he protects our identity and inheritance until that day comes when we enjoy it in full.  He seals our hearts, he protects and authenticates us for this identity and inheritance and he protects and authenticates it for us – now and into eternity.

You were sealed in him.  Let us look a little more closely at what that sealing means for us.

First, it authenticates our spiritual identity and inheritance now and into eternity.  And I want to suggest that all we can do with that is to respond by receiving that identity and inheritance reverently.  Receive it reverently.  This  sealed inheritance is an incredibly valuable eternal gift.   What can we do?  Receive it reverently.  V18 I pray that the eyes of hour heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of his calling , what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

Is everybody aware of identity theft?  It occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent use.  Most of us are dismayed by this cyber-age crime and would never assume that theft of another person’s identity is acceptable behavior.  The surprising reality, however, is that Christians are, by definition, people who have someone else’s identity and therefore inheritance.   They’re called Christians because they’ve taken the identity and inheritance of someone else: the Christ.  Not only have we been given an identity and inheritance that we weren’t born with or didn’t earn the right to use, but we’re invited to empty the checking account and use all the benefits this identity and promised inheritance brings!  This is so much better than identity theft, it is identity gift [Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me: How Christ transforms Our Daily Life (Crossway, 2008), p. 51].   This sealing of our hearts in Christ authenticates our identity and promised inheritance.  All we can do is to receive it reverently.  Maggie did that.

Maggie Montgomery is one of the saints who has passed from our midst in the past year whom we are remembering and honoring today.  I remember once sitting up in fellowship hall at a table across from Maggie.  I think it was getting ready for the bazaar one of the first years I was here and there were maybe a dozen other people around but we were just sitting there chatting and she said something witty and funny in her inimitable way.  Unfortunately I can’t remember her witticism but I do remember what she did and how it made me feel.  She had this way of going (raising shoulders, smiling, relaxing and) hmmmphf.  It just made me feel – at ease – for a moment in time like no matter what messes or challenges there were in the world, everything was going to be alright.  Just less than a week before Maggie passed I remember seeing her at the hospital and she had been telling pastor carol and me and anyone else who would listen that she was ‘ready’ and at one point I said to her ‘you’re just ready to go home aren’t you Maggie.”  And she just went, (raising shoulders, smiling, relaxing) hmmmpf.  Our  sealing in Jesus authenticates our identity and promised inheritance.  All we can do is to receive it reverently.  Sometimes just by going … hmmmmpf.

But that brings up one other thing.  Our sealing in Christ authenticates our identity and promised inheritance in him, but it also protects it for us and us for it  – in the moments of our lives right now.   I want to suggest that that enables us to persevere powerfully.  V19-20 — I pray that that you may know what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe, in accordance with the working of the strength of his might, which he brought about in Christ when he raised him from the dead.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work right now, as if it seals all our hearts in this big envelope and protects us in the moments of our lives – no matter how crazy things get ‘in the moment’ all around us.   Having been sealed/protected, we can persevere powerfully.

Susan Sparks is an attorney from NC who now lives in NY and whose life has taken recently an interesting turn vocationally.  She has transitioned now into being a part-time stand up comic SLASH part –time Baptist minister.  God has put some interesting, odd crazy people in this world – this lady is one of them.  I’ve heard her speak and she talks, though, about something Charlie Chaplin once said, he said, “Life in the close up is a tragedy, in the long run, it’s a comedy.”  You see, what Ephesians 1 describes is a big envelope future of God, which if not a comedy, is at least guarded within and defined ultimately by God’s loving intent.  We are sealed in that envelope which means that in the moments of our lives we can persist powerfully.

It says here we are sealed in Christ.  It means our identity and inheritance are authenticated.  All we can do is to receive that reverently.  It means our identity and inheritance in Jesus are protected.  All we can do then is to persist powerfully in the moments of our lives.

Susan Sparks also tells about going to India a few years ago to work with Mother Teresa when she was still alive.  And she walked into the clinic with all these children, many of them desperately sick and dying, but others seeming to brim with life.  One little girl just kept on holding onto Susan’s leg and she asked what she should do?  The sister explained to her that this little girl Anna was deaf and blind and that she could sense, though, by the vibration of the floor when someone was near, and her favorite thing to do was to get up in someone’s lap, and when someone would laugh she would feel the vibration and movement and imitate it.  And so she picked her up and laughed, and the little girl responded with this infectious contagious kind of laugh that got Susan laughing more and others joined in.  And for a moment in time, in the middle of desperate human need, that place became a comedy club for God [“The Comedy of Susan Sparks,” Audio CD, Festival of Homiletics, Nashville TN, May 17-21, 2010].

If a little deaf blind girl, sealed in Jesus love could receive so reverently and persevere so powerfully, how much more might we do in the moments of our lives?  Hmmpf.

Let us pray.  O Lord as you have sealed the heart of Maggie and Anna all who’ve gone before us, so seal ours, this day and always.  O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be thou our guide while life shall last, and sealed now and forever within your loving intent, our eternal home, in Jesus name.  Amen.

Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church

Smyrna, Delaware

October 31, 2010

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