Proper 29, Year A, St. Anselm’s Church, Nashville, November 26, 2023

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Eph. 1:20).

In our second reading today, the apostle Paul is praying a blessing upon his parishioners in Ephesus. Paul is a pastor, tending the flock; like the shepherd in our reading from Ezekiel, Paul wants to give them what they need. So he prays God to give them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph. 1:17) as they come to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wisdom and revelation: that is, the wisdom that comes from God, the wisdom that is not of this world, the wisdom that is foolishness in human eyes, as St. Paul writes in First Corinthians. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25). The wisdom that Paul is talking about is the wisdom of the cross, where for him “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), as he writes later.

This kind of wisdom is not obvious in worldly terms. That’s why Paul, as he blesses his parishioners, asks God to give them a spirit of revelation. In other words, God’s wisdom will need to be revealed to them; it will have to be uncovered and placed before them because there is no way they are going to figure it out by themselves! The truth about the power of the cross is not self-evident.

Again, St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7). This wisdom is like the treasure hidden in the field that Jesus talks about in the parable (Matt. 13:44). The man in the story has to find it. Afterwards he goes and sells all he has to buy it, but he has to find it first. St. Paul must love his parishioners in Ephesus, because he prays for them to find this spirit within themselves; he wants them to have “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph. 1:17), as it says in our reading today.

Paul is not just flattering his parishioners by praying for God to bless them. The blessing is very specific; it’s given for a purpose. It’s not just any old blessing. He wants them to have this spirit within them so that they can understand the ways of God. He wants them, and he wants us, to “come to know him” (Eph. 1:17): that is, to come to know God; he wants them (and us) to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (Eph. 1:18), as he says. No more blinkered vision. No more looking away. The spirit of wisdom and revelation is going to open their eyes so that they can know God, and the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.

The Apostle Paul has really wound things up in this first chapter of Ephesians, and here is the kicker: there are things he wants them to remember. First, “the hope to which he has called you” (Eph. 1:18). Hope is faith oriented toward the future, the reason we look ahead. In worldly terms it seems like a scarce commodity; when we think about the world’s prospects for the future the debit side of the ledger seems to far exceed the credit account. People abandon hope, lose hope, come to a dead end.

But Paul’s point is that the hope to which Jesus calls us never runs out. It’s as inexhaustible as life that springs out of death. It’s resurrection hope. That’s the hope of his calling that was mentioned at the beginning of our liturgy today. It’s faith oriented toward the future; hope that is eternal. It’s not wishful thinking, because it is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Second, “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints” (Eph. 1:18). Here St. Paul is reminding his parishioners that they are Jesus’ treasure, his inheritance. Remember, Paul is a pastor, tending the flock. The members of the Church are Jesus’ prized possession, of uncounted value. He’s gathered us from the four corners of the earth, and he’s never letting us go. “Here am I and the children whom God has given me” (Heb. 2:13; Is. 8:18), as it says in Hebrews.

Third, “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:19). Here, power underscores the wisdom of God, who “put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Eph. 1:20). This power is the key that unlocks new life. God raised Jesus for our sake to show his power, and to raise us to new life in him. He “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:20-21), as he says. Christ is the King, our king, and we can no longer be under the authority of sin and death because we belong to him.

This is a mighty blessing that St. Paul invokes. Wisdom and revelation; hope, inheritance, and power. We’re unlocking this blessing again as we gather to celebrate confirmation today. Through prayer and the sign of laying on of hands we ask God to share these gifts with our confirmands this morning. God’s Holy Spirit is present and active in our gathering today. We all recommit to following Jesus Christ, and pray that God will give us these same gifts as we continue to serve him in the world.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee