October 27, 2013 Ephesians 1: 11-23 Luke 6: 20-26
Rev. Catherine Purves
Inheritance can be good or bad. And I guess there is a certain irony in that. You might inherit your grandmother’s diamond ring, or your father’s sunny disposition, or your great aunt’s ability to play concert piano. But you could inherit a pile of debts, a bad reputation, or a genetic predisposition to heart disease. Inheritance happens through relationships: familial, physical, or intentional relationships. You don’t get to choose your inheritance. You get what you get. Some inheritance may feel like a blessing. Other inheritance might seem like a curse. But we all will receive an inheritance of one sort or another. Whether that inheritance affects our health, our wealth, or our salvation, it is good to know what that inheritance will be.
Oh, it’s easy to live without paying any attention to your ultimate inheritance. Living in the moment, living for today, especially when living each day is something of a challenge, well, that can take up all of your energy and attention. Sometimes, contemplating choices and consequences or reflecting on possibilities not seen or anticipated is just too much to be getting on with. The immediacy of the present with all of its demands and decisions can easily dominate everything. Then simple things, like intending to invite someone over for dinner, or complicated things, like planning for retirement, just never seem to get done. This is no way to live, but it is the way a lot of us live. When all we manage to do is to focus on today, then the past can creep up and sabotage us and the future can, for good or ill, surprise us. This is what happens when you pay no attention to the reality of your inheritance and how it must shape your life.
Now, someone might argue that becoming obsessed with one’s inheritance (good or bad) is simply a recipe for constant worry. Rather than being rooted and grounded in the reality of the present, you could find yourself gridlocked by constantly contemplating the ‘what ifs’ of life. Then your inheritance seems to hover over you promising an uncertain future. What if my money runs out? What if I get cancer like my father? What if I lose my faith? What if someone I love dies? What happens then? Is there an inheritance that gives peace of mind and an ultimate assurance that will free us to live each day faithfully and without fear, knowing that there is a future inheritance that we can count on?
This is the kind of inheritance that our two Scripture readings for this morning point to and affirm. It is an inheritance that puts today and today’s worries in perspective. And it is an inheritance that expands tomorrow’s possibilities by framing them in the overarching purposes and promises of God. It is an inheritance that can be known now, and when it is known, that inheritance empowers us to live today and tomorrow.
Our reading from Luke’s Gospel, his version of the Beatitudes, talks about an inheritance that will literally turn the world upside down. Here Jesus gives a word of real hope and blessing to the poor and the downtrodden and to all who suffer. But he gives a word of genuine warning and woe to the rich and the powerful and to all who inflict suffering. In these well-known blessings and woes, Jesus is not saying that it is good to suffer injustice and poverty in this world. He is saying that God has a special love and compassion for the poor and that the inheritance they will receive will bring them future joy. Jesus is also not saying that it is bad to have material security or to be well-fed. But he is saying that there is an inheritance of judgment for those who use wealth and power to exploit others. Inheritance can be good or bad, a blessing or a curse. What Jesus wants to impress upon his disciples is the fact that this inheritance is real, that it can be known, and that it should shape our life in the present.
The letter to the Ephesians also talks about inheritance. That entire reading, 23 verses in our Bibles, is actually only two sentences in the original Greek. Translators have broken it down and inserted periods, just so that we can follow the flowing prose that barely stops for breath. Even so, it is not that easy to understand. When read, it feels almost like a mighty river of words that flow by us and tumble overtop of one another, rushing toward a virtual waterfall of words and images at the end of our reading. But there is a dynamism and a power in this writing that makes our unseen inheritance come alive, and that reveals a glorious future that is pushing in upon the present and transforming it through faith. What may be hard for us is to see in this letter of hope more than just words. But it is meant to give us a real window into this mystery, so that we can see and know our inheritance which is both a present and a future reality.
The first verse confirms this: “In Christ we have…obtained an inheritance.” Notice that this is stated as a fact, a done deal. It is not some vague future possibility that might or might not happen. The letter goes on to say, you “were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance.” Again there is certainty here. The seal of the Holy Spirit may be a reference to Baptism or to the gifts of the Spirit, but this past and present reality is the proof of our inheritance and the way in which we can receive, in small part, the riches of that inheritance now. This is God’s plan. This is our destiny.
And now we are caught up in that rushing river of redemption and in the uncontainable energy of a prayer that asks God to enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we can know the hope which is to be our way of life. This hope is certain because it rests upon the glorious inheritance which has been revealed. But what is that inheritance?
Taking up this raging river of thought at verse 19, we see that it is all about power. This is the power that will turn everything upside down through the fulfillment of God’s justice. It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead. It is the power by which he rules and by which he will forever rule. It is a power that is above all other powers. It is a power that extends to embrace everything, “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Our inheritance is to be lifted up by that power, united with Christ in his resurrection, bound to him for all eternity, sharing his victory over death, and knowing and worshiping him as Lord of all. This is our promised inheritance.
That is still not quite so clear or simple a picture of our inheritance as the one Jesus gave and that is recorded by Luke as the blessings and woes. But it is one and the same reality that can be experienced in the present and that is our certain destiny in the future. We all of us stand in the midst of this rushing river of redemption. And on this day, in particular, when we remember all of the saints who have gone before us and as we feel the future pressing in upon us, let us hold fast to that inheritance of hope which we share with all the saints, the assurance of our salvation in Christ.
Of all the different things that you may inherit in this life –blue eyes, a second home, a way of parenting, a Presbyterian heritage, and perhaps your final incurable illness – of all the possible inheritances, this is the most precious and the most powerful: to know that your salvation is secure in Christ and that your future is ultimately and for all time in his loving hands. This is our promised inheritance.