Year B, Lent 4 Ephesians 2:1-10
One of my favorite movies is the Princess Bride. If you have not seen it, you should…now. I can wait. Just pause me and come back. Since you have now all seen it, I don’t need to recap the whole thing. There is one scene near the end where they were trying to bring the main character (Wesley) back to life. Two men took Wesley to a man named Miracle Max. Miracle Max examined the body and proclaimed him “mostly dead.” The friends asked him what he meant and he replied, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”
I was reminded of this quote when I read Ephesians this week. It starts with, “You were dead through your trespasses and sin in which you once lived…” It’s unusual to hear, “You were dead…” There are a few people out there with near death experiences—you might even meet someone who died on the operating table for a minute and lived to tell the story. But you are never going to find someone with experience being dead. Yet Paul, was speaking to a group of people. While he was speaking of spiritual death (rather than physical death), for Paul, it was no less serious. Spiritual death was like the character in Princess Bride—mostly dead, but still slightly alive. While being dead through trespasses and sins is serious, there is a part of that person that is slightly alive—and that is the place where God’s breaks in.
The first four verses of Ephesians are heavy with talk of sin and death, but there is a major shift about half way through our reading for today. “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…” God loves us, even when we are spiritually dead, even when we don’t have time for him, even when we have fallen away from him. Often when I read the New Testament, I am almost envious of these new Christians. They had an excuse for being spiritually dead in the past. They may never have heard of Jesus Christ.
Knowing that, I imagine that once they did hear about him, it was a complete transformation. It was a true conversion experience. And you know, I want that. I was baptized as an infant. I was raised in the church with a Christian family. My church never scarred me. And now I have been to two seminaries and served in two wonderful churches. I have no excuse for being spiritually dead.
Despite not having a good excuse, I have to admit, that I have felt that at times. I felt it when I was going through infertility treatments. I felt it after my miscarriage. And I have felt it over the past year as I have gazed out on the empty church every week, as I explained rules that I don’t understand, as I yelled prayers for a dying person through an open window because it wasn’t safe to be inside. I would imagine that many of us have felt it, especially over this last year.
Yet God, who is rich in mercy and lavish with his love, makes sure that there is always a part of us that lives in his light. God doesn’t need a big opening. Despite the grandeur and greatness of God, it’s amazing that he can work his way into such small places. And when we accept that light and see it for what it is, God expands to fill every dead space within us. It may not be a conversion experience, but it is no less miraculous.
You might wonder, well what must I do? That sounds great. Nothing. You can do absolutely nothing to earn this kind of awe inspiring love. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” That is both maddening and liberating. It’s maddening because we find value in the things we earn. Even the love we experience from family and friends can be dependent on our action and inaction. On earth we have been taught to earn love and we have learned that we can lose it as well. God’s love is different than any we have experienced. It is often compared to the love of a parent for a child, but it’s even greater than that. We are loved not because of who we are or who we are trying to be, but whose we are. We are God’s creation—the jewel of God’s creation. Paul writes, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works….” While we cannot earn God’s love with work—we have been created to do good work.
Here is where I have to disagree with The Princess Bride. Being slightly alive is far different than mostly dead. It might not always feel the way at the time, but it is. Why? Because we are alive in Jesus Christ. We are alive because of Jesus. In a time in our world where we are seeing so much death, let us be grateful for the life we have. “For we are what God has made us” and not only that, we are created to do God’s work, to shine God’s light in the darkest places. So it’s ok, if you don’t always feel like a super Christian or even a slightly passable Christian. You might not even feel fully alive. God still looks at you every minute of every day and says to whoever is listening, “That’s my child and she is going to do wonderful things.”
 I was actually reminded when I read a commentary on Ephesians that mentioned Princess Bride. That was just too hard to explain. I give credit to this commentator for the illustration: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-ephesians-21-10-5