The View from Paul’s Ferris Wheel Ephesians 1:1-10
Many years ago--about 50 in fact!--I convinced one of my best friends that it was time for
us to ride the big Ferris Wheel at the Mid-South Fair. I had seen it in previous years, but was
too afraid. But with my friend convinced, I felt ready. He was more scared than me, but on we
got on. As the bar clinked in front us, we sat back, and then it started to move. We were
excited, held on to our stomachs as it made its first, and then second sweeps around. And then,
it started up for the third time, slowed, and stopped at the top. And as we sat--still scared--we
started to notice the view from the top. And it was so exciting and captivating. We started
looking around, and began to see where we were in relation to the whole fairgrounds. As we
began to notice where we were, and where everything else was, we completely forgot we were
up so high. We were more captivated by what we could see, and how it was all laid out before
us--the lights, the sounds, the smells, indeed, the whole view below us. We could see it all, like
we hadn’t been able to until we got up there. We were almost disappointed, when the wheel
began to move again, and take us down. But we had a new perspective now and wanted to ride
the wheel again, and again.
Well, sometimes I think reading Paul’s Letters can be something like being on the ground
with Paul, but not knowing how his teaching all lays out. We know his teaching in certain
letters on this, and maybe that, but we don’t have the big picture, and it makes reading Paul
somewhat difficult. Well, I want to suggest to you that reading and understanding the Letter to
the Ephesians gives us, if I may say, “Paul’s Ferris Wheel” View of things. And this is
especially so when it comes to the important theme of “the profound mystery of…Christ and the
Church,” (Eph 1:9; 5:32).
Paul spent more than two years in the city of Ephesus on his third mission
journey as recorded in Acts 19-20. What was Ephesus like? Well, it was a large and
important Greek city (in what is now western Turkey). It was the regional capital of the Roman
province called Asia, something like Jackson to the state of Mississippi or Nash-ville to
Tennessee. It was near the Adriatic coast with a large port, and so it was a very important
commercial center. Merchants flocked to it from all over the Mediterranean world. All kinds
of people mingled there--Greeks and Romans, Egyptians, Jews and other mid-easterners.
Further, Ephesus boasted one the largest ancient Greek open-air theaters. It held at some 25,000
spectators. And there was also a stadium for chariot races and combat with animals.
But Ephesus was also a religious center of enormous significance. The city’s great boast
was its Temple to Diana. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It measured
some 450’ x 225’ x 60’ high (or almost 4 times the size of the Parthenon in Athens). It had in it
a large statue of Diana, believed to have been thrown down by Jupiter from heaven. In Greek
mythology, Diana was the daughter of the chief Roman god, Jupiter, and she was twin sister to
Apollo. Generally speaking, the Diana was a goddess of women’s concerns. She was believed
to protect the virginity of those who were unmarried or wished to remain virgins. Diana
oversaw marriage, childbirth and assisted with child-rearing. Young women preparing for
marriage would visit the temple on a daily basis for prayer and sacrifice. In the temple, Diana
received garments in thanks for a happy marriage or successful childbirth. One Greek inscription
refers to her as the “soother of child-bed pangs“. But in addition to these womanly concerns,
Diana was strongly associated with the wilderness and wild animals, and thus with hunting and
the rites of transition to manhood. For this reason, men had reason to venerate here.
Diana herself was depicted as the “virgin hunter” and “shooter of swift arrows“. As a goddess
with so much influence, there was fervent belief in Diana’s’ ability to answer prayers. For all
these reasons, the cult of Diana was a civic and religious affair, and her festivals were a vital
aspect of the life of the city, financially as well as religiously. The selling of images of Diana
was an enormous business. Great processions in the city attracted enormous crowds. (Think of
what Elvis means to Memphis!) The story of Diana was defining to the city and people of
So then, into this city came the apostle Paul. He had a different story to tell the
Ephesians. So he offered a much different interpretation and understanding of life, that
involved a different god and a different outcome. What did he say? How did he say it? How
do you talk to people about Jesus who have no knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures? Maybe
he said something like this: “Great Ephesians, I ask you to hear me. I’m no fortune teller or
the son of a fortune teller, but I do know who you – each of you – are intended to be! I know
this from the story that comes from my people, the Jews, but meant for people everywhere.
That story begins with the one true God creating a world he intended to be a temple-palace.
That’s right, a temple-palace. A temple is a place for God, the King, to dwell with his people.
That’s what this world was, and is to be. If this world is a temple, somebody has to be the
priests, even royal priests, because they are servants of the King. Priests are the folks who staff
the temple and perform its two major tasks: representing God to the people and representing the
people to God. Who are these priests? At the start of this story, they were called Adam and
Eve. In this story, they are the symbols of the whole human race to whom God has given the
extraordinary dignity and calling to serve him as priests in his garden-temple. They were
created in the
“image of God” the true God of all, and to be his image means to be his priests in the world.
You are familiar with priests and priestesses. You have over a thousand of them in your
great temple here. But, try to see it in terms of this story I am telling you. God created you,
man or woman, to together reflect his will and way to the world, and to protect and nurture this
creation to its full flourishing. That’s who you are – it’s your basic dignity, your primal dignity –
and what your life is all about – it’s your vocation.
But as the story goes, sad to say, Adam and Eve--and we, too, with them-- rejected this dignity
and calling, choosing instead to tell God to buzz off with words our children, or we ourselves,
say: “You’re not the boss of me!” This inexplicable, irrational, and heinous rejection of our
royal priesthood in favor of wanting to be “God” ourselves turned out to be a bad deal – a really
bad deal. You see, we’re just not up to the job. And to be honest, do your gods really do much
better running the world? Jupiter, Mars, Venus, or Diana?
Well, before you know it, all God’s creation came apart at the seams. Things just didn’t
hold together after we started to act like “gods” instead of God’s royal priests. So we became
no longer at one with God, with ourselves, with each other, or with the creation itself.
Everything now is fight and struggle, compete and conquer, a zero-sum game of scarcity and
hoarding. In short, the exact opposite of what God offered to us as his royal priests!
But let me tell you now, and hear this: God does not give in, give up, or give out in
working to make his world the way he intended it. He doesn’t clear the decks and start
completely over again (though he was sorely tempted by this option in the Great Flood we all
know!). He doesn’t change his plans and opt for a different result (say, that we live with him
in heaven forever as some kind of “spiritual” beings while the earth and our earthly lives
disappear and destroyed forever in judgment). No, God plugs on with renewed determination
and creativity to have his creation as he envisioned it no matter the obstacles or cost to him of
doing so. So what did this God do? The story goes on.
God choose--he elected--Abraham and Sarah, nobodies from nowhere, and called them
to parent the people God will claim as his own. These were my people the Israelites. He
taught them and equipped them to show the world how things are supposed to be and to invite all
other peoples to join Israel as God’s royal priests in building God’s temple-palace all over the
globe. To do so, he rescued them, the Jews, out of slavery in Egypt, to make them into his “holy
nation” and royal priesthood”--to live as God’s chosen people as the light of the world. But
sadly, Israel too, like Adam and Eve failed to be faithful royal priests. They gave up. They
followed falsehoods and went the wrong way, too.
Finally, God did what he had intended to do all along – he actually became one of us--a
man. This man became God’s royal priest in this world! This man was Jesus from Israel.
Instead of coming in human form just to deepen and enjoy fellowship with his creatures in the
most intimate way possible, his agenda was now more complicated. In addition to showing us
what it is to reflect God’s character in ever clearer ways and nurturing the creation toward its
fullest flourishing, Jesus had also to renew and reestablish humanity’s relationship to God as its
very source of life. How did he do that? His unique priesthood shows us.
To and for us as God’s Son, Jesus lived out God’s love seeking his erstwhile royal
priests--you and me--no matter what the cost; and it took him to death on a cross, yes,
crucifixion. For us to God, Jesus offered the life of utter fidelity and indefectible loyalty he
desired from his royal priests (leading--as I said-- to the cross). By this way, God came
to us, and we come near to God. But that wasn’t the end either.
Hear this, Ephesians! God did something never done before in the history of the world.
God raised Jesus from the dead! This act was God’s great “Yes” to the way Jesus lived and
died, and it signaled God’s triumph over all that hindered and opposed his will and way in the
world--sin, suffering, and death. The risen Jesus means “God wins!” Jesus had come as one of
us, lived as one of us, lived faithful and loyal as God’s royal priest as none of us had, died and
was raised for us so that through him God could reclaim us (by forgiving us and reconciling us to
God) and restore us to our primal dignity and vocation as royal priests. By Jesus, if we will
have him, God makes us his children again, adopting us, as it were, into his family to love and
serve him and each other, and be his rightful priests in the world again.
Thus we--you and I--can begin anew to use our talents, gifts, and resources to reflect
God’s character and shape the creation as the royal temple-palace God always intended it to be.
Indeed, that’s just where this Story takes us! Though we cannot build this royal temple-palace by
our own resources, we can use the gifts and abilities God has given us by the Spirit of Jesus in us
to do what we can, assured that what of our work is done out of genuine love for God and
humanity--as faithful royal priests--will be purified and preserved by God as part of his finished
glorious temple palace! That’s how heaven and earth come together forever, and this is God’s
plan now being realized through the Lord Jesus, the true King over all.
This new garden-temple-palace, like a great city, will cover the globe and -- surprise of
surprises! – the city itself is not a building but the whole of this new world covered by faithful
royal priests in unhindered fellowship with their great Leader royal priest Jesus, and through
him, with God himself. “Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the
light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always,”
(Rev.22:5). Basking in the light of God and “ruling” forever – that’s what God always wanted.
And that’s what God through Jesus has gotten - a whole host of royal priests caring for one
another and the creation around them. Well, dear Ephesians, that’s the story I proclaim to
you. I realize it’s perhaps a good bit different than what you’ve heard about your meaning, life,
and God. In a sentence, the one, true, and living God dearly loves us, created us to be his
representatives in protecting and caring for this world, and has done all that love could do to
reclaim and restore us as his royal priests, so that all might be right and good in the world again.
But one more thing. See how this story keeps all parts of our lives together?
It has nothing to do with a “spiritual” realm apart from the physical, material world or an “inner”
life distinct from our life in the world. Living as royal priests is not a matter of going
somewhere to do “religious” things nor of a set of practices to do in a certain way or at a set
time. Rather, it is a matter of living life in the world in God’s way, Jesus’ way-- that is, by
people-keeping and creation-keeping out of love and gratitude to God for the gift of life. This is a
pretty amazing, I think. I hope we can keep on talking about any of this that piques your
interest. I do believe that this is the true story of why we here and what our lives are all about.
And maybe through my telling this story, you’ll discover really wonderful it is and embrace it as
your story too!”
Well, is that what Paul said? I think it’s pretty close. Of course, he said a lot more, too.
He was in Ephesus teaching and preaching for more than two years, so he could go into a
lot more detail. But what we read in chapter 1, vss. 3-10, touches on upon some of these
themes. Notice how Paul blesses God for everything God has done for us and the world “in
Jesus Christ.” As Adam and Eve were first chosen, then Abraham and Sarah, then the people
of Israel, he speaks of the Ephesians as “chosen in Christ” and “adopted” into God’s family to be
God’s people, “holy and blameless,” to carry out God’s god will in and be the light of the world.
When he tells the story of Jesus’ cross, speaking of “redemption through his blood” and the
“riches of his grace,” we can hear, underneath it, the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and the
story of the Passover, when God rescued the Israelites from slavery. But now in Christ, the
true and greater story of “redemption” and “deliverance” has taken place, from the real slave
master, and all accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And when Paul speaks of God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in
[Christ], things in heaven and things on earth,“ (Eph 1:10), he is clearly speaking of the “New
World” or New Creation when all the human race is fulfilling its royal priesthood in a perfected
world. Indeed, God intends to flood the whole created order, heaven and earth together, with
his presence and grace. Or as we sang earlier, “This is my Father’s world, the battle is not
done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and heaven be one,” (“This Is My Father’s
World“, vs. 4). But for now, Paul is quite clear: Jesus Christ has been raised to restore the
rule of God on earth, and the church--the churches, the people of God--are the entry points for
this restoration project God is working in and through us with the Spirit of the Reigning Jesus
to accomplish his purpose in the world.
You see, until they heard Paul’s Gospel of God’s Great Story for all humanity,
the Ephesians lived by a partial Story at best with their gods and temples. In a similar way,
though, people in our day live and act by partial stories at best. They work sometimes, but
sometimes not so much. People just get by. But by God’s grace, we are called. We have been
spoken to winsomely. We are invited and encouraged to become part of the ongoing
wonderful story of God’s will for us and the world. By this Story we learn of Him who is the
Way. Then, as his people, when we take up our royal priesthoods--as we are meant to--we also
point the Way. And as Jesus’ followers, we are empowered to live the Way. That’s the Great
Story Paul is telling. That’s Paul’s “Ferris Wheel” view of God’s Plan in and for the world--in
and for each and every one of us. That’s the Good News, in case you haven’t heard it. Amen.
Portion of the sermon, “What Paul Might Have Said to the Ephesians,” I have adapted from an
article by a friend, Lee Wyatt. Thank you, Lee.