This text is taken from a talk I gave on the passage Ephesians 1: 3 – 14 yesterday at St Mary’s Church in Moston
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen
Have you ever felt that you don’t belong? That you shouldn’t be here, didn’t fit in? I’m sure that at some time or another, each of us has experienced a time or an occasion when we didn’t fit in or didn’t feel we belonged.
You may perhaps remember that feeling in primary school when everybody else seemed to get picked before you for team games or in the playground. I know that feeling very well too. Even when I had proved myself at rounders in primary school and was captain of the team (pictured below), when it came to my classmates picking sides for games or friends at playtime, I was usually one of the last. That feeling of not being good enough, of being embarrassed at being left standing there like a dummy. It’s not a nice feeling, never was, and it has shaped my life since.
If we look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we can see that he has some reassurances for us; not only that we are we on God’s team, but we were picked to be on it at the start. God didn’t leave us waiting until the “best” had been chosen and he was just making up the numbers by choosing us. Not all all! In fact, the exact opposite. God chose us before we were even born. Not only that, but he chose us before the game was even invented, if you want to think of it like that.
How good is that?! That before the game – or the world – was even made, we were chosen by God to be one of his. If someone had told me at the age of 8 or 9 that I had already been chosen by God, I wonder how the shaping of my life might have been different.
Paul talks about adoption: God adopts us. He calls us his own through Jesus Christ. When we think of adoption, we perhaps think about parents adopting children as babies, and bringing them up as their own. And that’s great. That is one form of adoption, certainly.
But there’s a different way of thinking about the word adoption, which is tied up with the idea of being included. To be adopted is to be included.
You can’t have not known that the last four weeks have been filled not only with sunshine and dry weather, but the football World Cup competition has been on. It is an event that is of worldwide interest, and if you’re a Manchester City fan like me, you may well have had a special interest this time round. No less than 17 City players were playing in final stages. Seventeen! That’s a world record, by the way.
That’s seventeen players who all belong to their country – they play for their national team, speak their home language, hold a passport for their home country and presumably pay their taxes there; but as well as playing for their national teams, their working week is spent playing for their club here in Manchester, and they all live around here, their children go to school round here and so on. Whilst they are here, they may well adopt local customs or traditions, some may adopt a few words of the local dialect even. Can you imagine Sergio Aguero going to a chippy and asking for chips and gravy? Those players have adopted Manchester as their home, even though their home-home is in an entirely different country, and Manchester City Football Club has adopted them as belonging to it, as have the fans.
Here’s Riyad Mahrez signing his contract for City the other day. We can see he is in a City shirt, happily posing for photographs. If he hadn’t have been wearing City colours or if he’d been wearing his own shirt or something, we wouldn’t recognise that he belongs to that particular club. He needs those colours and that shirt as a sign that he is newly adopted, newly included at the club.
In his letter, Paul too talks about a sign that the people belong to God. He means the sign of the cross that is placed on our heads at baptism – a sign that we belong to God and that we are included as one of his people. But the cross that is placed on our foreheads when we are baptised is an invisible sign that we belong to God. How do people around you know that you belong to him? That you are his? How do you make visible the fact that you belong to God and have been adopted by him?
I don’t think there are many people with a tattoo of a cross on their forehead – how much simpler that might be! But there are ways to show that we belong to God, that we are one of his people. Life in God is signed, is shown, in different ways. We don’t walk round with huge placards saying “I AM GOD’s”. We don’t tend to introduce ourselves by saying things like “Hi I’m Pam, I’m a child of God!!” That would be weird in many situations.
So how do we show that we belong to God?
It might be the way we talk and the things we do. Do we gossip about other people, tell lies, complain and get angry about life not being fair? Or do we give people words of encouragement and love, sharing God’s truth and celebrating the blessings he has given us?
Do you think that people around you would know you belong to God by the way you act and speak? How would you go about making sure they do?
When you believed in the risen Christ, when you heard that message of truth about the gospel, you were marked with a seal – the Holy Spirit was given to you at the moment you believed. You were chosen by God before the world was even created, yet it was only at the moment you believed that it was sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what marks you out as a child of God and who drives your actions and your words if you let him.
When you are adopted, included, in God through Jesus Christ, you receive untold riches and blessings. You are forgiven of all your sins, you receive the holy spirit, God’s energy and grace, and you are redeemed through Jesus Christ. It’s a forever deal – not a 5 year contract with the proviso “we’ll see how you get on in training before you make the full team”. No, when you are claimed by God, redeemed by Jesus, it is forever. There is no £88m transfer fee, no price to pay at all, Jesus paid it for you. When you were adopted by God, it was before life, throughout early life, and for life ever-after.
You belong to God. You are a child of God. You stand forgiven, redeemed, loved and cherished for life evermore, and he has claimed you for eternity.
Your challenge as you go from here is to work out how you show it to the people around you.
We belong to the Lord – let’s praise his glory.