Every year, Cassie has given the message in worship the Sunday following Christmas. Not only is this an awesome Christmas gift to me, but a wonderful opportunity to show the congregation that we are all messengers of Christ with our own stories to tell. I’m always proud of Cassie for being willing to let God use her as his messenger in this way. I know it’s been an inspiration to others that they too can tell their own stories.
A few decades ago I didn’t even know what ‘Secular’ meant. It is defined as “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.” All of us can identify with being in the secular world. The grocery store, most businesses, television shows, and many of our hobbies are secular.
I attended a Christian workshop one time and they asked me to chart my faith journey on my life timeline. I’m 52 and growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there was often a reminder of Christianity in TV shows. I remember learning different things from Little House on the Prairie, the Waltons, and always the Snoopy Christmas cartoons. I wasn’t raised Christian so at the time I had limited knowledge except for a few Sundays at church with my grandparents. When we moved to Kentucky I was 9 years old and thus saw nothing unusual when my 4th grade teacher would read to us from the bible.
The Faith Building chart was essentially a flat line until age 21 and then it spiked really high. This happened because I was engaged to a Catholic and had to go through RCIA (Rites for Christian Initiation for Adults) if we were to marry. I spent a year working with the Catholic deacons and priests to learn about Christ and the Catholic church. It was an intense study to make sure you can truly accept the faith and the church doctrines. I’ve always said I know more about the Catholic church than the millions of average Catholics. On my 22nd birthday I was baptized and confirmed a Catholic.
I didn’t marry the Catholic, but I continued my Catholicism throughout my twenties. My older daughter, Evelyn, was baptized Catholic. It wasn’t until my 30s, when I was dating Craig, that we decided together to become Methodists but that is a different story.
Let’s come back to the here and now. This is what my Christian Focus chart would look like if I charted it today. In my first decade, I had little hills that would show up when I would watch those TV shows, experience church, or go through the Christmas season. The chart has peaks and valleys. In my mid-30s you can see another peak when I spent the year doing the intensive Discipleship course with a group at church and then my Emmaus weekend.
But this is only one of two charts: the first chart being Christian Focus and the second chart being Faith. Christian focus doesn’t mean you have faith. And faith doesn’t require Christian focus.
In today’s earlier reading, we hear one point that there is a relationship between Faith and Deeds. I challenge back that we can absolutely have Faith without deeds, just as we can have Faith without being fully focused on Christian topics.
My reasoning is found in the entire chapter of Ephesians 3: “God’s Marvelous Plan for the Gentiles”. We’re going to separate the chapter into three parts: Part (A) Christ is also for the Gentiles; Part (B) Paul’s duty to bring it to the Gentiles; and Part (C) is a beautiful prayer to bring Christ and faith to ourselves and others.
Let’s start with Verses 1-6:
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
I imagine Paul sitting in a dirty jail cell writing to these non-Jewish Ephesians. The other Apostles didn’t want the Gentiles to hear about Christ and didn’t believe that Gentiles (that’s us) were also redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice. Imagine in today’s world if certain websites or cable channels had information about Christianity that we aren’t allowed to see. But that’s not the case! Paul was the first to bring Christianity into the secular world. He didn’t require everyone to become Jewish or a rabbi. He wanted Christ to be everywhere, in everything, in everyone.
Which brings us to Part (B) versus 7-13 where Paul brings this message to the Gentiles:
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
“And to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery” is exactly the point! It doesn’t say here to “make disciples of Christ”… which is also a great thing. It says to “make plain to everyone”. He’s not telling us to become biblical scholars. I’m sure I have some statements wrong already in the sermon but that’s OK. This sermon is not to teach you biblical history. It’s telling us to get up and bring Christ into the normal things we do. It’s to be Christian because we made that choice when we accept Christ as our Savior. It’s to have faith because we love our God and Savior!
Most of you know that I’ve been working 6 days a week for the last year. In prior years I had time to read the entire bible over the year, listen to meditations, and participate in the work of the church. My time in the secular world is now 99% consumed with things that are not Christian. I wake up most days between 4:45am – 5:45am to get on work conference calls starting at 5 or 6 a.m. I don’t have breakfast and when I do get a lunch it can be anytime between 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. If I barely have time to eat, where is God going to fit in?
So I go back to my timeline charts. My “Christian Focus” chart is definitely in a valley at the moment. I will keep trying to read my Upper Room booklet but I fail frequently when I don’t have a consistent routine and schedule. I attend church when I’m not traveling. I receive daily Christian emails as a reminder to focus for a few minutes (or at least a minute!). I will keep working to include Christ but it’s not easy.
Now let’s go to the Faith chart. I’ve been doing the first sermon in January for a number of years as one of my Christmas gifts to Craig. A few years back I gave a sermon about death and how I used to be terrified at the thought of death. If I look at my faith chart, it is more of a stair step. There’s a large step which was a leap of faith with my baptism at age 22. For two more decades I had small steps in my faith chart. Then when I was 40 years old and my dad passed, I had a large leap of faith. I had to believe in the salvation of Christ if I was going to be with my dad in heaven. I had to stop fearing death and trust in Christ’s heavenly kingdom and his gift of salvation.
So you see in my Faith Journey it’s not always the Christian activities that bring us to where we are in our Faith. In 15 years when I reach my mid-60s and retire, I will love having the time to spend with God. I look forward to it. But until then, I’ve got to not feel guilty when I’m not devoting time to his word. I tell Jesus that I am a Christian out in the secular world. Representing him. Representing us.
Let us close with Part (C) versus 14-21 of Ephesians: the prayer. Please bow your heads.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.