Gunpowder Plot to God’s Kingdom

November 5, 2017

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Preached by Revd Dr Sarah McClelland, Curate of the Worthys and Upper Dever community of churches, using Ephesians 1:11-23 at Evensong on Sunday 5th November 2017, the 4th Sunday before Advent.

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,

Gunpowder treason and plot.

We see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!’

Well, who could forget that failed plot to blow up parliament by Guy Fawkes on this day back in 1605? Catholics in England were being gruesomely persecuted under the new protestant King James, and they had had enough. A small group lead by Robert Catesby planned to blow up parliament, helped by one Guy Fawkes, and it was he who was captured and tortured until he revealed the names of his fellow conspirators. Maybe you’ve seen the BBC series about the gunpowder plot. It’s come in for criticism for being too gory, showing scenes of torture and execution. But as the BBC pointed out to its critics – it was a realistic portrayal of the horror.

Maybe the criticism arose because we are so very far removed from the life of the seventeenth century –  persecution of fellow Christians, extreme violence and torture, divisions in society, even the idea that a small group of passionate people could ever succeed in toppling the government with so few resources.

And yet maybe the Kingdom of James 1st is not so far removed from our lives today. We too are subject to the rulers of this age, mentioned in our passage from Ephesians today. Things that rule us in this age such as – seeking power through violence or wealth, or abuse of hierarchy. These all belong in what the Bible describes as the Kingdom of this world, neatly demonstrated by Guy Fawkes’ story and equally inhabited by us today.

But as Christians we know that there is another Kingdom, one where God reigns unopposed. The book of Revelation tells us that, at the end of time, the Kingdom of this world will be transformed into the Kingdom of our God. Maybe you recognize those words as part of the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah. I shall try to resist bursting into song!

The Ephesian church to whom Paul was writing were firmly in the Kingdom of this world. But in our Epistle, we heard that the apostle Paul’s eyes were clearly fixed elsewhere. He was looking to the Kingdom of God as he prayed for his readers. In doing so, he was looking for their worldly tendencies to be transformed; for the Kingdom of this world to be transformed to the Kingdom of our God. And his prayer for the Ephesians is as relevant for us today, we who are just as firmly in the grip of the powers of this world.

And so he prays these three things for the Ephesian Church: first, that they might have eyes to see the hope to which God has called them, secondly, that they may know the riches of the glorious inheritance they have in Christ, and then finally that they might know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for those who believe.

I’m going to look at those three things in a little more detail. Then to close, I will consider how we, with Paul, might lift our eyes from the Kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of our God.

Paul’s first prayer is that God might give the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know him, so that, with the eyes of their heart enlightened, they may know the hope to which he has called them. Paul asks the Holy Spirit to show his readers a future hope, a future vision. Hope is what causes us to lift our eyes from present troubles to something better. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul described the future hope that he had in mind, and that hope is this: that, as God’s adopted and redeemed children in Christ, we will know a future in God’s loving presence for all eternity.

It is this plan for a future with God, that Paul refers to as an inheritance. This is the second prayer that Paul makes for the Ephesians, and it is also how we started our Epistle, as Paul overflowed with excitement at what his readers are to obtain.

I wonder if you have ever come into an unexpected inheritance? Money or a property that you had no idea was coming your way. Chance would be a fine thing, I hear you cry! But you will agree that a large inheritance can be life-transforming. That’s the sort of inheritance that Paul is referring to. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we have access to something that will entirely change our lives.

But this is not just a hope for the future in God’s Kingdom. We have received an initial payment that hints at the enormity of the whole, the first fruits of what is to come. As we put our faith in Jesus and his death on the cross, we are marked with the seal of the promised Spirit, Paul tells us – the Spirit promised by prophets of old. As Christians, we are filled with this Holy Spirit, the Spirit who empowers us to sense God’s presence, to know God’s love, and the truth of his word today.

And so we come to Paul’s third prayer for the Ephesians, that they might know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for those who believe. This power that is available to us through the Holy Spirit, is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. The immeasurable power that Paul is talking about is the power that Christ has over all things. Christ, who never abused worldly power and so was crucified, has been given power over all worldly kingdoms. He reigns now, but he will reign unopposed at the end of times when we shall know the Kingdom of God completely.

But for now, we live between the times. We live in the Kingdom of this world, but the Kingdom of God has broken in. We know the now of the Kingdom of God, but we also have to live with the not yet. We see that tension in Guy Fawkes. He was a man of strong faith whom we may imagine, knew something of the hope, the inheritance and the power of God’s Kingdom. But in his failed plot we see the attributes of the Kingdom of this world.

So what about us? Can we hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom? As Christians we are its agents and ambassadors. Our subversive weapon is prayer: Thy Kingdom come!  And that is where Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that we’ve considered today helps us. Because we can most effectively pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’ when we too have a Kingdom vision, when we know the hope to which we are called as children of God, when we know the glorious riches of our inheritance, and when we are confident that the powers of this world have already been defeated. We can most effectively pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’ when we know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power at work for us who believe.

The great theologian Karl Barth said that ‘to clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.’ So let us rise up in prayer to see the Kingdom of this world become the Kingdom of our God.