Creekside Church
Sermon of November 3, 2019

"Remembrance of the Righteous"
Ephesians 2:4-10

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! I heard a phrase on the news a few weeks back which caught my ear. It seemed especially appropriate for this service today, and as we consider this text from Ephesians chapter 2. Maryland representative Jamie Raskin was reflecting on the life and work of his recently deceased colleague, civil rights activist and Congressman Elijah Cummings. Raskin said that in the Jewish faith there is a saying “the remembrance of the righteous is a blessing.” I was caught by that phrase, and share it with you this morning as we begin a series of sermons on gratitude. Of course, receiving blessings don’t necessarily make us grateful. We get to choose how we respond to the things -- good and bad -- which happen in our lives. We all know people who are blessed and respond by feeling entitled, cheated, resentful, or indifferent.

For the next two Sundays and the last Sunday of this month, I’m going to suggest some ways which you might express your gratitude; we also have the Gratitude Tree in the Gathering Area, which I encourage you to fill. I realize that focusing a sermon series on gratitude is a bit like focusing on prayer, or on tithing: aren’t these practices we’re supposed to be doing all the time? Of course they are. We shouldn’t be thanking God only in the month of November, or only on the fourth Thursday of November, but sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded of what God has called us to do, and to have some specific suggestions of how we could practice that. Perhaps the most important function of gratitude is that it changes us. We have all encountered difficulties in our lives, we have all experienced loss -- the candles on this table are testimony to that. But if we are able to pivot our attitude from how difficult our lives are to how we have been blessed by having the remembrance of these people who enriched our lives, that attitude of gratitude will make us more attuned to the love, faithfulness, and continuing activity of God through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians chapter 2 begins in my study Bible with the heading “From Death to Life.” Verses 1-3 talk about how all of us were once dead through our sin and disobedience. The turn happens where we picked up the text this morning in verse 4. It reads, “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.” That, of course, describes all the family and friends we remembered today, who have experienced physical death and are now in the company of the saints with Christ. But the intent of Ephesians is to describe the experience of those of us who are still alive and able to accept the riches of grace here on earth.

In the next 5 verses -- verses 5 through 10 -- the author of Ephesians mentions the word “grace” three times, and repeats one phrase. Any time a concept like that comes back in such a short passage, we ought to pay attention. I know some minutes have passed since Ted read the entire text for us, but if you have it front of you, or if you caught it earlier, do you know the phrase which repeats? It isn’t long, but there’s a lot packed in there. By grace you have been saved. In verse 5 it is inserted into a longer sentence -- by grace you have been saved -- and it comes back almost immediately in verse 8 with a little more detail: by grace you have been saved through faith. And verse 8 adds, and this is not your doing, it is the gift of God.

The practice of gratitude, at least for Christians, is always gratitude which is directed toward God and the work of Christ. Of course, if every good thing comes from God, this can cover a lot of territory. But here’s an endless loop we can get caught in, if we aren’t mindful. If my gratitude is directed toward myself, and how hard I have worked and how successful I am and how much I have accomplished -- or even all the ways which God has made me a success -- I have left grace out of that equation completely. Christian gratitude begins with the realization that we were dead through our sin and disobedience. Another word for this is confession. But somehow now, we are no longer dead. That somehow is the work of God through Christ, and we call that work grace. Grace is not our work, it is a gift from God. No matter what we have accomplished financially, professionally, athletically -- we cannot manufacture grace for ourselves. We cannot accomplish our own salvation through our own good work. Of course this also means that even when we are broken and struggling, at the end of our wits and the end of our rope -- we can still accept that grace which is a gift from God. In fact, I would argue from my own experience that I am more aware and more grateful for God’s grace when I am barely getting by, than when I think I’ve got it all figured out. Conceit is the enemy of gratitude.

Ephesians 2:10 is my favorite verse of this passage. There is entire sermon here but it’s a fine way to think of ourselves in the context of gratitude to God. It says, “For we are what he [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” A few things which I read from this: First, God created us -- not perfect, but with a purpose, and the capacity to realize that purpose through Jesus Christ. Second, that purpose is to do good works -- not because of our own ability, but because of the gifts we have received through God, and especially the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. And finally, God has already gone before us to prepare those opportunities for our lives. God’s will is that we would do good works, and God has provided us with both ability and opportunity: our task is to figure out how we fit into God’s plan.

The remembrance of the righteous is a blessing. It is fitting for us to give thanks for the blessing of these lives which have been lights which helped to guide our way. None of them were perfect, but all of them were created in Christ for good works. But we are missing a significant part of that blessing if our remembrance is only for those who have passed away. We are surrounded by people, saints and sinners, every Sunday. People who are living their lives to do the good work of Jesus, people who are struggling and at the end of their rope and need to be reminded that God is not only with them, but God has gone before them and God will be wherever they are going. Those who have passed away were saved by grace through faith in Christ. Those who are still with us -- not only here at Creekside but in our families or workplaces or at school -- also live and work by that grace. I want each of you to be blessed by the remembrance of a person whom God has placed in your path.

You may, of course, remember and give thanks for that person in your prayers -- just as we did for these saints this morning. But I’d like to encourage you to do something more tangible, to invest a bit more effort in that act of gratitude: because that effort can be a blessing to that person and to yourself. Gratitude multiplies, not divides. There are cards on the ushers’ table which you can pick up on your way out of the service this morning: take as many as you can use -- we’ll make more. There are envelopes, if you need them. Please take time today or this week, to write an expression of gratitude and give it to someone. It doesn’t have to be someone from Creekside, but why not start there? Or maybe someone who is part of our church family but not able to be here on Sunday morning. I suggest that you give this to someone who is not a relative, and I suggest that you write a card to someone besides me. I’d love to receive a card, but I want to be sure others do too. Consider not only gratitude for the work people do -- we have people who volunteer in all kinds of ways -- but for the work you pray that Christ is doing in their lives -- the work of healing or confession or of strengthening their faith or finding their purpose.

We will have the service of anointing this morning: the oil which I place on your forehead during this service is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and a symbol of the faith that we have that whatever we bring to God, we come with the confidence and that faith that God has already gone before to prepare the way. How do you see God at work in the lives of those around you? That is what I hope we can share with gratitude. You may come forward for anointing as we sing the closing hymn. For the month of November I will be using Ephesians 3:20-21 for the benediction: another wonderful text which I recommend for your listening and study.


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