beginning ephesians

On Ash Wednesday (which falls on February 22 this year) we at University Hill Congregation begin a six week lenten study of the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians. We will meet in three groups - on Wednesday mornings over breakfast at a local restaurant, on Thursday evenings over dinner in a member's home and on Sunday mornings prior to worship over coffee, tea and dough-nuts in my office. If you live in Vancouver and would like to participate in one of these groups you would be most welcome. You will find contact information at University Hill Congregation. If you are unable to join us you are welcome to participate via the related posts that I will make to this blog each week. The purpose of such congregational Bible study is, as it says in Ephesians 4:20, "to learn Christ". We will not so much learn about Jesus Christ as we will endeavour to learn the peculiar grammar of a communal life that is lived in Jesus Christ. Eugene Peterson calls this "practicing resurrection".

You can find the text of Ephesians in Eugene Peterson's bible paraphrase called The Message. The version that we read on Sundays in worship is the New Revised Standard Version which is available online at Oremus Bible Browser. One of the background books that I will be using during this study is Eugene Peterson's Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ. In it Peterson says this about the reasons for us to read Ephesians:

"Sometimes we hear our friends talk in moony, romantic terms of the early church. "We need to get back to being just like the early church." Heaven help us. These churches were a mess, and Paul wrote his letters to them to try to clean up the mess.

But the dominant concern in this Ephesian letter is not to deal with the human problems that inevitably develop in church - no church is exempt - but to explore God's glory that gives the church its unique identity. The letter also gives us an adequate vocabulary and large enough imagination for living in the fullness of God's glory, living to "the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:14). "Glory" is a large word in our Scriptures, radiating the many dimensions of God's grandeur, brightness, effulgence, and illuminating everything around it. The letter also makes it clear that none of us can comprehend this individually, each Christian picking out items that appeal to him or her, cafeteria style. We do this as a church, a congregation of Christians who sit down at table together and receive in gratitude what is prepared and served to us by our Lord, the Spirit. It is as if Paul takes time out from his responsibilities for straightening out the problems of belief and behavior that have cropped up in the various churches and writes out, as clearly and completely as he can, what makes church church. And what comes clear is that church is not what we do; it is what God does, although we participate in it ....

So we don't read Ephesians as a picture of a "perfect church" to which we compare our congregations and try to copy what we see. Rather, we read Ephesians as the revelation of all the operations of the Triune God that are foundational beneath what is visible among us and at work throughout each congregation. This is what makes us what we are, however imperfectly or neurotically we happen to be living it out." (pp. 16-18)

If you would like to join us online in hosting the letter to the Ephesians I suggest that you begin by reading the entire letter. Then, for this first week, focus your reading on chapter one. Take time each day to read it over once again. Is there a particular verse or phrase that you find yourself going back to - either because it speaks powerfully to you or, perhaps, because it confounds you? What is it in this verse that you find compelling or confusing? What word might this chapter be speaking to your congregation? to your denomination? to the church in North America and beyond right now? What do you hear God speaking into your own life through this passage? Your comments posted here will be part of our conversation (and I will endeavour to reply to them as I am able).

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