Ephesians 2:1-10
“What if our lives were only precious up to a point?”

That’s the question left ringing in my ears this week after listening to an interview with playwright, performer and social activist Eve Ensler.

“What if our lives were only precious up to a point?”

And as I wrestled with this question, as I turned it over in my mind, I started to hear echoes of Marnie’s sermon last week. I started to hear the resonance of God’s sacred call to keep Sabbath and to keep it holy.

I started to hear that the practice of Sabbath and rest offers a time for contemplation on the goodness of Creation, but also the chance to slow things down. To get out of the rat race and its cycles of production.

And that frees us up to love God and to love our neighbours, who are themselves, created in God’s own image.

“What if our lives were only precious up to a point?”

It’s a question that offers multiple entry points. Here are two:

What if you saw your life as precious? Full Stop.

What if you saw that your life is no more precious than any other?

In today’s epistle, a letter delivered neither by Canada Post nor by lean-framed bike messenger to the disciples of Jesus in Ephesus, we are confronted by similar questions. Written by Paul, or perhaps one of his inner circle, the letter is delivered in the faithful hands of Tychicus, one of the apostle’s trusted friends. Tychicus, who, the letter goes on to say, is himself a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord.

This is a letter that would have been read, perhaps by Tychicus himself, to the church assembled in a particular Ephesian home. After the joy of receiving an emissary from Paul, the great apostle, evangelist and teacher of the faith, the messenger would have been given some time to freshen up, something to eat, and some time to rest.

Who knows how long his journey had been? Who knows how many stops he had made along the way? What news did he have of the other Christ-following communities that dotted the countryside and port towns along the way? What perils had he faced? What hospitality had he received?

And so after ample time to rest, catch his breath, and to feel human again. After time sharing stories of the other churches he had visited along the way, Tychicus takes centre stage to read the letter.

To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And we, the church of today find ourselves eavesdropping on this letter. Overhearing the apostle’s words, we are challenged to ask what they might mean for us today.

To the saints who are in Vancouver and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all.

Grace and peace be to you.
Grace and peace.
Grace and peace.

Tychicus reads Paul’s words of introduction.

As the hearers look around, they all seem to be noticing the same recognizable pattern. There’s something about the cadence that feels familiar, as the author draws on well-known snippets from early Christian hymns and liturgies to make his point.

And then he moves into the exhortation:

I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

Thank-you for your faithfulness.
Thank-you for your witness.
Thank-you for staying true to your first love, which is Jesus Christ.

You are precious to me. I give thanks for you. For your work. Your witness. Your steadfastness in the face of so much.

Paul knows what they’re up against. He knows that this fledgling Christian community in one of the Empire’s thriving boomtowns is surrounded by a very different way of being. Different sets of values. It’s never easy to resist the tides of culture.

You might say that Ephesus is to Rome what Vancouver is to Toronto. It’s hopping, it’s vibrant, and it’s got ambitions. But it’s still a little more redneck than the local mayor would like to admit.

Even so, Paul knows what this community is up against. The culture of the place. The way things are done. There is no god but Caesar. Nothing to worship but the almighty dollar. And anyone who gets in the way of imperial expansion and economic progress is no friend of the emperor.

I wonder: what might such opposition mean to a community practicing Sabbath? What might it mean to be a community that celebrates the Lordship of Christ over and against the Lordship of Caesar or anything else claiming to be divine. It’s impossible to dodge the implications, when Tychicus reads Paul’s declaration aloud:

God demonstrated his power in Christ when he raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenlies, 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. [Ephesians 1:20-21]

And it’s into this community that Paul’s [treasonous] words ring out. He reminds the community of where they’ve come from. He reminds them that they were once caught up in the way of the world, clamouring for individual success, asserting their autonomy, stroking their egos, leaving their neighbours behind – Damn the consequences, damn your neighbours, damn your health and integrity of self.

It’s into this community, a community that is coming to see itself as Christ’s very body where no part is dispensable. A community whose offense and scandal isn’t (as Rachel Held Evans points out in her latest book) who it keeps out, but who it lets in. It’s into this community that Paul reminds us of who we are and who we are becoming.

Through this precious, beloved, Christ-following community, Paul dares to suggest, God will change the world. It sounds crazy. And it sounds impossible.

But the early hearers of this letter would have known, as we know today, that we are children of impossibility. For ours is a community founded by the one who was impossibly raised from the dead.

And this leaves us with no room to boast. Our lives are precious. But they are only precious up to a point. Later in the interview, Ensler made her reasoning clear:

“My value isn’t more than anybody on this planet,” she shared, “And yet in the West, when bad things happen, we think they’re so awful and unexpected. When they happen in other places, we write them off as being anticipated or expected, as if people aren’t suffering the same as we’re suffering when bad things happen here.”

And this is where Paul seems to be leading us today. We are precious and beloved of God. We are beloved of God. And in response, we are invited to participate with Christ in seeking the common good – this very way of life that God has set out before us.

So what will it take for us to know that we are truly, deeply and profoundly beloved of God? What will it take?

And how will we respond? “What,” in the words of Mary Oliver, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”