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Lent 4B Sermon
Ephesians 2:1-10

March 14, 2021

Sermon Archives


Ephesians 2:1-10

2You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Lutheran Christians all over the world are familiar with this verse. It is central to our theology of justification by grace through faith, that foundational promise that God loves us and forgives us, as we proclaim in our small catechism, “out of parental and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on our part at all!” I was trying to remember the last time I preached on this vital passage and for the life of me can’t. I think the reason is that we only hear this passage once in our three-year cycle of scripture readings in worship, and it always accompanies the verse which is probably the best known in all of scripture for Christians and non-Christians alike, that being John 3:16.

When I think of John 3:16, I think of guys with rainbow hair holding a sign at golf tournaments and other sporting events; I think of Luther’s words about that passage that, “it is the gospel in a nutshell.” I think of the choral piece which is known by many as, “Stainer” because it was Sir John Stainer who wrote and arranged it as part of his oratorio, “The Crucifixion.” You’ve probably sung or heard it many times - “God so loved the world ….” It is a moving melody and easy harmony to memorize. I was thinking this week that as we mark the anniversary of a very strange and different living situation, that it would be good for us to experience scripture readings that are familiar, especially when so many things have changed, but maybe to experience it in a new way.

Today I would like to introduce you to someone new … I assume he will be new to you; he was new to me when I investigated his life this week. He is a man from Finland named Kari Tikka. Kari was born in 1946, only eleven months following Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allies ending World War II. With an entire eastern border shared with Russia, you can imagine that his growing years during the cold war were a bit tense - Finland remained a free market, politically autonomous, and had freedom of religion and worship, but they signed an agreement with the USSR that helped influence the Finnish foreign policy to favor their Soviet neighbors. Into this situation was born a talented musician, Kari Tikka. Kari was trained at the Sebalius Academy, which is kind of the Juliard of Helsinki, and all throughout the 1960s was a principle oboist with the major symphony in Helsinki. In the 1970s he turned his attention to conducting and has directed many symphonies around the world ever since. He is also a composer; as a matter of fact, he composed a very unique opera based on the life of Martin Luther, complete with the Reformer’s world changing story, and opportunities for the audience to join together in “congregational singing.” That is something opera attendees don’t experience very much!

Why am I going on so much about Kari Tikka this morning? One of his best known pieces is a tune called, “Armolaulu,” or, “The Grace Song.” Immediately after my sermon I will invite you to join me in singing that wonderful song as it is our hymn of the day. The melody might not be the most recognizable, but it is fun and simple, and I am sure that you will pick it up quickly. For Tikka, texts from the Bible are sources of great inspiration, comfort and new perspectives. In a 2006 interview, Kari talked about choosing sacred themes for his works: All my youth I had struggled seriously how to be in a good relationship with God. I thought that I have to please God or at least make a decision to take Jesus in my life. That kind of religion did not give peace. And when my life collapsed in divorce and with many disappointments in my professional life, I got as a gift from heaven St. Paul’s words, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ I don’t have to succeed. God’s grace is enough!

Kari’s life is a concrete example to me of the grace about which we will sing in a couple of minutes. The words of this hymn might have come from the writer of the letter to the Ephesians, but the soul of the piece comes from a man who has lived through much - the after math of a devastating war, the threats of a nearby foreign power, the struggles to develop and use God’s gifts and talents to give praise to God in an industry where, had he stuck to strictly secular themes he probably would have gained more wealth and fame than he has with sacred themes; and the personal struggles of a failed marriage and resuming life and love after being healed. The melody of Armolaulu is almost like a lullaby - “For by Grace you have been saved and even faith is not your own …” I love how it literally makes these words sing from our very souls. And the second verse twice mentions God’s grace being all sufficient for each child who is God’s own. Kari ends each verse with a confession that this is God’s great gift, then an Amen! Amen literally means, “Yes, it is and shall be so!” What a witness that our special guest, Kari Tikka, has shared with us this morning. His life, while not stunning or overwhelming in its pains or its successes, quietly proclaims trust in the one who freely comes to us in our weakness to make us strong in Christ. He does this because he himself has experienced that strength in real and concrete ways all through his life.

As familiar and important as the passages from John 3 and Ephesians 2 are for us Christians living today, it is good to hear the latter of the two in a new and melodic way. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the enduring promise of God’s grace and mercy offered to us simply because God is our Father, and God shares the same love that devoted parents exhibit to their children. As we continue our Lenten season in a new and different kind of reality, looking forward to the return to gatherings, especially for worship, may we hear that familiar Gospel message sung to a new tune; may we join the song - and may that new tune fill us with expectation and joy as we look forward to the new life and strength which God has promised to provide to us as we grow in grace. Yes, it is so! Amen!