March 14, 2021

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10

From Death to Life

2 You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ[a]—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

One in Christ

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,[b] called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;

Footnotes

  1. Ephesians 2:5 Other ancient authorities read in Christ
  2. Ephesians 2:11 Gk in the flesh
  3. Ephesians 2:16 Or reconcile both of us in one body for God
  4. Ephesians 2:16 Or in him, or in himself

Sermon

The Power of the Air


Ephesians 2:1-10
Those of a certain age might remember a song called, “Love Is a
Battlefield.” Ephesians cranks things up another notch. Love isn’t a
battlefield, Ephesians says, life is—and we’re on the front lines.
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following
the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now
at work among the disobedient. (Ephesians 2:1-2)
Back in the days of Ephesians, what these verses call “air” was the
stormy, unstable space between the earth and moon. The “air” was also
where demons lived.
They were everywhere. Open your mouth at the wrong time and a
demon could pop right in, making you sick or worse. Life is a battlefield.
It doesn’t sound so different, really, from the world in which we’ve
lived for the last year or so. It was at this time, way back in 2020, that
everything changed.
Suddenly, COVID demons filled our air. Masks and hand sanitizer
became necessities. Other necessities we once took for granted—like toilet
paper—disappeared. Going out to look for them became an adventure.Page 2 of 6
“Social distancing” turned into a way of life. Friends drifted out of
touch. Family members marked solitary holidays. Always and everywhere
came news of illness and suffering, separation and death.
This new normal took its toll on us, mental health professionals say.
The shock produced by the situation has reduced people’s cognitive ability, leading
them to take more risks, despite the risk of contagion, and make poorer choices,
including a tendency to be less altruistic and the desire to punish others.
To paraphrase: the pandemic demons of the air made us fuzzy
minded, risk taking, selfish so and so’s who want nothing more than to
hurt those who disagree with us. Sadly, there’s more.
Depression rates have tripled since prepandemic days. Stress levels
and anxiety are off the charts. Millions are out of work. Millions more are
lonely. Parenting is a stressful jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none
pandemic marathon.
People are packing on pounds, drinking way too much alcohol, and
longing for a good night’s sleep that never comes.
The consequences of such widespread grief, loss, and depression will
play out for years to come. Life is a battlefield, all right. Ephesians agrees.
Early on, Jesus’ followers looked for his quick return. As the first
generation of believers died, though, Christians stopped looking so much Page 3 of 6
to the future and started focusing instead on Christ’s presence with them in
the here and now.
Christians saw faith’s battle with “the ruler of the power of the air”
not as a short-term skirmish before the end of the world, but as a long,
drawn out, struggle. People of faith weren’t just on the front line. They were
the front line. We still are.
We can deny it. We can angrily insist that we’re FINE, dang it! That’s
denial, refusing to accept the truth about what’s going on in our lives.
Denial can sometimes be a good thing. The feeling that “This can’t be
happening” or “This isn’t real” is denial trying to keep pain or grief from
overwhelming us.
But if denial stops being a short-term way of coping and becomes
instead a way of life, we’re in huge trouble.
CBS News’ “Money Watch” once ran a list of “Ten Signs You’re In
Denial.” Though meant for the business world, the list speaks to some of
the spiritual challenges we face, too.
 Denial is the opposite of the Serenity Prayer. People in denial try to
control things they can’t control and ignore things they need to
change.Page 4 of 6
 People in denial have all the answers. Just ask them. They’ll tell you.
In fact, they say things like, “I know what you’re thinking.” Well, no,
you don’t. But if you let me get a word in edgewise, you’ll find out
soon enough!
 People in denial don’t share information or ideas. Why let facts
interfere with what you know is true? If we build those kinds of walls
high enough, we lose touch with things as they really are.
 People in denial are overconfident. They think that everything is fine,
even when it’s not. Asking for help or advice is the last thing they’ll
do. As they see it, all it does is make them look weak or less than
perfect.
Even before the pandemic, people in denial were more stressed,
anxious, impatient, and foul-tempered than they’d otherwise be. Pandemic
related mental health issues have made a tough situation even worse. Of
course, they’ll deny that, too.
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following
the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now
at work among the disobedient. (Ephesians 2:1-2)
Spiritually speaking, we’re all in denial. We’re dead but won’t admit
it. We’re ruled by “powers” of one sort or another, but pretend we aren’t.
How do we break free?
As it happens, what we’ve gone through in the last year can teach us
a few things in that regard. In a recent survey in Medical News Today, 90% Page 5 of 6
of those who responded said that at least some good had come out of their
living through a pandemic.
They appreciated family and friends more, for one. It also forced
them to slow down and think about what their personal values really were.
Folks like this underwent what psychologist call “post-traumatic
growth.” They also had some things in common.
They were more likely to believe that the world is basically a good
place. They were open to the future and better able to live with uncertainty.
They empathized with people as a whole, not just those who saw the world
in the same way that they did.
Ephesians tells us we can’t move from death to new life on our own.
We need help from other people. We also need God’s help breaking the
deadly patterns we’ve built, some in the past year, others over the course of
many years.
After freeing us from the grip of our old sins, God’s grace still
supports us down the new, more faithful, path we try to walk.
You’ve been saved by grace through faith, and this isn’t your own doing; it’s the
gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what
God made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2: 8-10)Page 6 of 6
God spiritually hardwired good works into us, Ephesians says.
They’re what happens when we accept that God accepts us, as we are and
where we are.
In Christ’s resurrection, God defeated once and for all “the ruler of
the power of the air.” Evil won’t go down without a fight, though. Saved
by grace, created in Christ for good works, may we as people of faith rise to
meet the challenge of the times in which we live