How many of you have seen Toy Story 3? Okay, now how many of you cried during Toy Story 3? Come on — be honest. Well, for those of you who haven’t seen this majestic piece of filmmaking, we’ll be having a brief gathering after church where we can lay hands on you and pray over you and you can repent of your sin. Anyway, this movie has everything you want in a good children’s film: It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you consider the inevitability of death. It’s got it all.
But the basic premise of this third installment of the Toy Story saga is that Andy, the main character; the one who is the owner of the toys, is all grown up and is heading off to college. And he faces a particularly difficult internal conflict. These toys have been such a big part of his upbringing. They were his friends in a lot of ways. Can he bring himself to get rid of them? Should he give them away? Should he donate them? And you can feel the emotional attachment he has to these toys throughout the movie, but when no one’s around and the toys come to life, you can feel it from them too. For as long as they’ve been in existence, they’re purpose has been to be there for this individual who, very soon, won’t be there anymore.
And what will be there for them, what their lives will be like when Andy is gone, is an open questions. Will they inherit a new owner who will love and care for them? Will they inherit nothing more than depression and loneliness? And it may seem kind of silly, but doesn’t this speak to something radically human and existential within ourselves? When the one whom we love and depend on is gone, what’s left to us? Sometimes when someone we love moves on, we inherit their belongings, their homes. Sometimes we inherit their debt and their mess. And sometimes we inherit nothing but the sway their memory has over our lives, the effect they will have on us going forward.
This is the kind of inheritance the author of Ephesians is talking about in our passage this morning. The messiah is dead and gone. He’s supposed to return but nobody knows when. There’s anxiety in the community because they don’t know if that final day will ever come. The only thing left to them is hope. Hope that one day Jesus will come back; Hope that there’s something better ahead because of what’s already been accomplished in the past.
Now, this is admittedly a very dense passage with lots of problems in terms of its historicity and authenticity. We’re not sure this was actually written to the Christians in Ephesus, and we’re reallynot sure who wrote it. Now, since I’ve opened this can of worms, I want to give you a quick-and-dirty rundown of Pauline textual scholarship, if that’s okay. I mean, you don’t have a choice: Paul’s letters are divided into two different subsets, the “disputed” letters and the “undisputed” letters. The undisputed letters are the ones we’re sure were written by this dude named Paul, based on writing style, language usage, theological framework, etc. The undisputed letters are Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The disputed letters, though, are Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, and what are called the “pastoral epistles,” namely the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus. Now, all these letters are open questions, but I personally don’t think Paul wrote Ephesians. I also don’t think Paul wrote Colossians, but I dothink that whoever wrote Colossians wrote Ephesians.
So…those are some fun talking points you can use at your next party, although they, admittedly, only work at certain kinds of parties. Anyway, despite the problematic history of this letter, we chose it to be a part of the canon. The church is what sanctions the Bible; the church is what makes scripture, scripture. So until such a time comes that we’re willing to throw Ephesians out, we have to believe it has something to communicate to us. And I think one of the most pressing things it has to communicate to us is that we’re not alone.
And it’s easy to feel alone in this world. When loved ones, in whom we’ve found companionship and hope, pass away and leave us; when pain and hardship come and we feel like there’s no one to weather it alongside us; when we say prayers and don’t feel like we hear anything back. The worst pain we could ever endure, the worst thing we could ever experience, is the thought that God has abandoned us to our pain. We learned last week that God’s power is perfected in weakness, but what happens when we’re neck deep in weakness and it seems that God is no where to be found?
When life is hard and painful and it doesn’t feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s hard to remember that God chose you. Way back in what we theology nerds call “pre-temporal eternity”, before the foundations of the world when the Spirit of the Lord was hovering over the waters, God’s heart was moved by you. And moved to such an extent that this God become human and died a horrendously evil and torturous death because he sincerely desired to bring life and to bring it abundantly to you. Sometimes when we feel like we’ve been hung out to dry we need to be reminded that we have an identity which is bestowed upon us from outside ourselves, an identity as adopted sons and daughters of a king.
And along with this identity comes an inheritance, something left to us from the one who loved us and blessed us and forgave us as children. And this inheritance is the Holy Spirit — the very life-act of God — to dwell within us. We know from Genesis that God created the heavens and the earth. And in addition to the heavens being the realm above where the sky and space reside, heaven is also used to denote the space within creation God created from himself. Thousands of years ago, people believed that this space was up above the sky and the stars. And then as the Hebrew faith developed, this heavenly space came to earth in the temple and the holy of holies. And finally, God came to us in the person of Jesus and dwelled among us. But he didn’t leave us when he died on the cross — he resides within us through the power of the Holy Spirit. God is not some metaphysical construct in the sky or a deity which is only accessible in a certain building. No, the place God has created for himself within the realm of creation is you.
This divine presence which dwells within you is the inheritance Paul is talking about here. It is the fount of all hope and love which flows from our lives; it alone is the source of the beauty our lives create when we love one another and serve one another. Sometimes, when those whom we love leave us, the things left to us are questions and anxiety: Did they really love me? Did I do right by them in life? Should I have done X instead of Y? But these questions, this anxiety, is overthrown by what’s been left to us in on this side of Jesus’ death: the opportunity to love radically, the chance that we might build bridges and not walls, the opportunity to change the world. That’s what’s been left to us as the children of God: the miracle of faith and hope and love — things we cannot create on our own, but have been given to us as heirs to the kingdom.
And since we’re here; since we find ourselves in this place which is in such desperate need of faith and hope and love, our task is to continue the good work which God has started in us and will bring to completion in us. The good work of preaching the gospel in the way the world needs to hear it. Not the way we want to say it, but the way the world needs to hear it. The gospel comes to the hungry in the form of food; the gospel comes to the oppressed in the form of freedom; it comes to the refugee child in their parent’s embrace and to the ostracized in the form of loving inclusion. We’ve been given the gift of having eyes to see and ears to hear the good gift of our inheritance. Our task is to be the instruments through which God gives those same gifts to others.