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"Inheritance as Intended"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 11, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Ephesians 1

Eyeing the water below him, Aaron was sure that if he leapt from that ledge, he would hit the surface of the water, and the orange inflatable floaties around his little arms would shoot off in opposite directions, and he would sink straight down to the bottom of the lake. And so he just kept pacing back and forth, back and forth, contemplating this leap from the roof of the boathouse. Actually it was like a patio extending on the same plane as the lawn behind the house.

It also doubled as a roof over the boat dock, which was a flight of stairs below on the surface of the water. But over the years, it had become a sort of patio as well. There was a table out there and chairs and grandma would sit out there wearing her big rimmed, floppy sun hat with her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, cheering them on to take that leap of faith into the water as generations had before them. Even Aaron's younger sister, three-year-old Kaitlin, had made the plunge, wearing her pink life vest and matching floaties. But Aaron wasn't convinced.

In his defense, he was only five years old, but he was the first born son of the eldest grandson and the oldest cousin of the family's third living generation, which meant that one day he might inherit this place. But already it was proving to be more than he could handle. Contemplating an inheritance can do that to a person. Whether it's a daughter inheriting her mother's business or a son inheriting his father's classic car or grandchildren wondering what will happen to the lake house after grandma and grandpa are gone? The prospect of an inheritance is a mixed emotion.

On the one hand, there is the hope of maintaining a rich living legacy, of being able to say to your grandchild one day, "You see that roof over the lake? When your mommy was a little girl, she jumped off of it into the water, and her daddy did it before her and his daddy before him." But on the other hand, an inheritance can be terrifying: the thought of taking on such a responsibility of carrying on that legacy into the future. And then there's death. Death is the driving force behind inheritance, as we know it. Because if the property and the places, the stories and the memories stay with the current generation and are not passed on, then these possessions would be lost forever covered by the flood of time. We pass them on because we can't hold on to them. And so to plan an inheritance is to plan for death. You lose your loved ones and you gain their possessions, knowing that one day you'll have to pass them on to others.

The prospect of an inheritance is like standing with your toes over the edge, peering down into the depths, contemplating the leap into your own mortality. This is how we experience inheritance. It's the passing down of places, property, and possessions from one generation to another driven by death. But the ancient Jewish people, the people of Israel, they started speaking of inheritance differently. They said that their God had created and sustains everything in the universe. They said that their God had given the whole earth to humankind as an inheritance. And that this inheritance wasn't meant to be driven by death. Inheritance was meant to be shared in life, people, places, and the Creator together. Human beings weren't meant to die. And we weren't meant to handle this responsibility on our own.

But that's the lie that's come down to us from our first parents—that we can handle it on our own. That smooth, subtle voice in the Garden of Eden told them that they didn't need a Father telling them what to do. It said that I could have the gifts without the giver. It said that you could be your own head, that you could handle it on your own. And we believed this lie. And so the whole human race has been cut off from God. The source of life and death has been our inheritance ever since. But God didn't give up His plan for His inheritance. He chose the people of Israel, the sons and daughters of Abraham. He chose them for a mission to restore the inheritance of all humanity.

Now, to get them started, God gave them a down payment. He gave them a piece of property, a promised land, like a renewed Garden of Eden where humanity could begin again sharing life with God again. But Israel, like the rest of us, kept on believing that old lie that we can handle it on our own, and they lost their inheritance. So God, just as He had promised, would raise up a Redeemer in Israel—a family member called the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One sealed with God's own Spirit, the One revealed as God's own Son. The Messiah's mission would be to undo death by exposing the lie that we could handle this inheritance on our own.

Two-thousand years ago, a Jewish man named Paul wrote a letter. It's called the letter to the Ephesians. It was probably a speech that Paul gave, sort of like a TED talk. And the transcript of this speech was recorded on parchment so that the speech could be replayed, again and again, not on YouTube, but reenacted by the letter carrier. In Greco-Roman culture, it was the letter carrier's job to deliver the speech to the intended audience. And it was common that the letter carrier would memorize the speech to internalize it so that he could deliver it to the people, not just with the right words, but also with the right emphasis and emotion.

I'll try to do that for you with this letter to the Ephesians. I won't deliver the whole letter, just the opening chapter. But you should know that Paul didn't divide his speech into chapters. He intended it to be heard from beginning to end all at once. And you should do that this week. You should listen to the letter to the Ephesians. You could listen on an audio Bible. You could open up a printed Bible and read the whole thing out loud. And you'll hear how Paul believes. And I believe that this Jewish Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, whom God raised from the dead, is the Messiah we've all been waiting for.

Paul addressed this letter to people who believe in Jesus, that we would believe in Him and live in Him more deeply, more fully. But maybe that's not where you are right now. If so, as you stand alone with your toes over the edge of your mortality, let this be your calling from God to take the leap into life with Jesus.

Paul starts his speech by introducing himself. And then he goes on like this, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, the Messiah. God has blessed us in the Messiah with every blessing of the Spirit in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the universe that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He decided in advance to adopt us as children through Jesus, the Messiah, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace—grace by which He has graced us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He put forward in the Messiah as a plan, as a household arrangement for the fullness of time, a plan to gather all things together under the headship of the Messiah, things in heaven and things on earth in Him.

In Him, we have received an inheritance, having been decided on in advance according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we might be to the praise of His glory, we who were the first to hope in the Messiah. In Him, you also, when you heard the Word of truth, the Good News of your salvation, and you believed in Him, you trusted in Him, you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance until the redemption of the possession to the praise of His Glory.

For this reason, I, because I've heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not stop giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the Father of glory would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that the eyes of your heart would be enlightened, that you would know what is the hope to which you have been called, that you would know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, that you would know what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in the Messiah when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the age to come.

God put everything under the feet of Jesus and gave Him to be the Head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. The Word of the Lord, Ephesians 1.

Aaron, the boy I told you about in the beginning, he almost missed his chance to make that leap. Grandma and grandpa were getting too old to care for the lake house. It was too much for them to handle on their own. And no one in the family was in the position to take it from them to keep it in the family. So they sold it. And Aaron regretted that he was too scared to jump. And when I hear the opening to this letter to the Ephesians, I can relate to Aaron's angst. Because the words of this speech, they transport me. They say set me up at a dizzying height with my toes over the edge looking down at the water below, and I can hear a chorus of voices calling to me, "Jump! Come on, the water's great!" And part of me wants to, but I've got these ill-fitting floaties on my arms, and I'm certain that they'll shoot off when I hit the water, and I'll sink to the bottom.

Because the way Paul talks about life in Jesus' family is so much higher, so much deeper, so much more dizzying than I'm accustomed to. I don't know about you, but some point along the way, somewhere I got this idea that Jesus was just an after-death event planner. And that the best He could offer me after I left behind whatever inheritance I had in this world, the best that Jesus could offer was some kind of misty reunion in the spirit realm with the ghosts of my dead friends and relatives. But now I see how small and shallow that sounds—like a kiddie pool next to the Pacific Ocean—compared to this story that Paul shares about redemption, adoption, and the renovation of the whole universe brought together under the headship of Jesus.

And part of me when I hear it wants to jump in with both feet. But then I have got to let go of this lie that I can handle it on my own. And you, should you jump, you have to step away from the illusion that you can be your own head and that you can handle it on your own. And that's quite the leap. It's a leap to believe that everything belongs to Jesus. It's a leap to believe that Jesus has defeated death and one day will return to undo death forever. It's a leap to believe that in Him, we have an eternal inheritance. And this, by God's grace, is a gift.

A few years after the sale of the lake house, grandpa died, and the whole family came together for his funeral. The current owners of the lake house happened to be renting it out that week and unexpectedly, the family got to be together in that place one more time. And Aaron got another chance to make the leap. And he had to do it this time. He had to. After all, his little sister, Kaitlin, had done it when she was only three years old. She hadn't even known how to swim at the time. She had on her little pink life vest with matching floaties. And her mom and her dad and the rest of the family were down in the water below, calling to her, "You can do it!" So she stepped off with faith like a child into their waiting arms, trusting that she didn't have to handle it alone.

I asked Aaron what it was like when he got the chance to jump after all those years. He said that it was like redemption. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead. Take the leap into life with Jesus and His family. The water's great.

Pray with me. Lord Jesus, all things are Yours, me included. So by Your Spirit, I am stepping off with both feet into life with You, because You live and You reign with the Father and the same Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for July 11, 2021

Title: Inheritance as Intended

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to Today's Q&A segment is hosted by the Rev. Dr. Jason Broge, director of Design and Development for Lutheran Hour Ministries. Here he is now with our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.

Jason Broge: Thank you, Mark. I'm really glad to be here with all of you today. And I'm excited to turn the tables on the Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler. Usually, during this time, he gets to interview somebody, and today I'm going to interview him. We're at the beginning of a series of sermons on the book of Ephesians, which is one of my favorite books, and I'm very excited for this series. But I have to be honest with you, Mike, as we go into this series, I find it a daunting task for you to have to go through each of these chapters of Ephesians. There's just so much in there. Chapter 1, for example, what you're talking about today, in Greek, it's one sentence. It just keeps going and going and going.

Mike Zeigler: Two-hundred-word long sentence. Yeah.

Jason Broge: Yeah. Our grammar teachers would hate it. How do you approach the text? How do you decide what you're going to preach on when there's just so much?

Mike Zeigler: Well, with a letter, and to remember that this is a letter written by Paul, the way I approach it is to imagine that I'm his letter carrier. I'm a Tychicus like the guy he mentioned at the end of the chapter for chapter 6. And in that time in that culture to be a letter carrier, it wasn't like dropping the envelope off in the mailbox in Ephesus, the letter carrier actually performed the letter like a kid at a piano recital would perform the piece that they'd practiced.

So I treat the letter like a written musical composition, and I just start plunking out the notes. I start saying it out loud in my own hearing by myself. I just say it over and over and over again until I learn it by heart and I could speak it to myself. And hearing it over and over again, I am in expectation that God is going to be speaking to me. And I wait and see what he brings to my attention. And for this case, in Ephesians chapter 1, it was this idea of "inheritance." It's a word that Paul mentions three times in the opening chapter, and I sensed God leading me in that direction by meditating on the text.

Jason Broge: What is it about the idea of inheritance, this idea of inheritance that you think is so important and relevant for us today?

Mike Zeigler: In our normal dealings with inheritance, it's driven by death. We talk about inheritance as something you get from a parent or a relative that passes something on to you when they die. So as I started thinking about how we experience inheritance, it is always driven by death. But Paul is not talking about it in that way. He's talking about it as something that we receive in Jesus, who has defeated death. So I felt like that was the first challenge for us as hearers to get what Paul is saying is we're not talking about an inheritance that is driven by death, but one that is given by One who's conquered death.

Jason Broge: And that's a good point. I think the world of today is so drastically different than the world that Paul was writing to, that we hear that word inheritance, like you said, as, "Oh, grandpa died, and so now I inherit something." Back then it's much more an establishment of identity. It says you're a part of a lineage—a different type of person—because you're within this inheritance. That makes these statements from Paul pretty radical, I would think.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, I like how you say that, that it's more about an identity. It's about belonging to a people. But even in their case, their membership in this people is still limited by death. At least as a unique individual, I can be a part of this people for a time, but then we all face death. And so, I think Paul is speaking to that cultural understanding of inheritance as identity being part of a people, but then also addressing this thing that we have in common with the people two-thousand years ago, limitation by death.

Jason Broge: I'm thinking through the words of chapter 1 now with this lens of inheritance. I'm seeing this idea that we've been adopted, right? And if you're a part of the inheritance, then that says something about the surety of your adoption. I'm thinking about the fact that this has all been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and that it costs the very blood of Christ, and just how clearly important this must have been for Paul.

And I'm also kind of thinking about what we started with, this idea that this is one two-hundred-plus word sentence that just seems to keep going and going and going. And it's almost like Paul is so excited about this idea that he loses track of himself and kind of nerds out on theology and glory talk. This is just so amazing. And I'm also kind of thinking about the person who's listening to us right now. What do you think Paul might want the average listener—me, you, someone else listening to us right now—to take from this today?

Mike Zeigler: Well, you used the phrase, I think, "overwhelmed," that chapter 1 leaves the listener in this overwhelmed state of being that this is just so big, he goes on and on and on. And what is this that I've been adopted into? And I think that's part of Paul's strategy as a speaker is to overwhelm us with awe and gratitude and humility. It does feel like in some ways you're standing on the edge of this cliff of what you know and having to leap off into something completely unknown. You mean no more death, you mean the whole world brought together under Jesus, you mean none of the things that we currently struggle with—all the divisions and things that separate people—are all gone away and done away with in Jesus? To leap into that is in some ways exciting, but a terrifying thing. But if I can leap into the arms of Someone whom I know, Jesus, who's given His life for me, then I can make that leap. But it is, it's an overwhelming, in some ways terrifying, thing to think about inheritance in this way.

Jason Broge: I got to thank you, Mike, for this sermon and for going through Ephesians, I picture where I am usually when I get a chance to listen to The Lutheran hour. And to be honest, I'm doing the most mundane things: I'm driving a car; I'm doing the dishes and listening to a podcast version; I'm doing household chores and listening along to you. And amidst of those mundane things, it can really seem like life is just those mundane things. But in this, you've given me a picture of just how big God's plan for us is and how big His plan for all creation is, and that there is an invitation to jump into that. So I'm really excited for everyone else to get a chance to hear the sermon, but also for the rest of the sermons in this series. I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be with you here today, Mike.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, thanks for turning the tables on me and asking these questions. Delightful conversation.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Jesus, Priceless Treasure" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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