Lamentations 3:19-29, Ephesians 3:7-21
July 14, 2013
How many of us here have a tendency to underestimate God? How many of us are being honest right now. (You know, denial isn’t just a river in Africa!) I think if we’re really honest with ourselves – and I include myself in this – we do tend to sell God short. When we pray, we tend to give him “little requests” to fill. Or we ceremoniously ask him to do the big things, but we don’t really expect that he can. We know he’s done great works, but it always seems like the really big things in our lives – our problems – are, in some way, beyond his power?
I think we need to be reminded about God’s power often! I think maybe that’s why so many of the psalms talk about “God’s wonderful works” and how the people should “remember them and meditate on them.” The psalmist knew the power of God is too easy to forget. It’s too easy for the focus of our lives to be on this life, here on earth. And it’s too easy for our belief in Gods power to dwindle to a small scale and a low estimation.
We need words like we read today from Ephesians. We need reminders and bold statements about God’s power. And we need to take them in every day. Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are renewed every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) That doesn’t sound like a lamentation, does it? That sounds very encouraging! Well, I think we need our knowledge of Gods power to be renewed every morning, too.
Paul wrote the words we read today to the church in the city Ephesus. But they’re really for all of us. These are great words of encouragement, and they speak to us of Gods inestimable power. And I want you to notice that they come in the form of a benediction. Actually this is both a charge and a benediction. The “charge” is those words I say to you just before the Benediction. I charge you to “go out into the world in peace, be of good courage, hold on to what is good, etc…”
Well, Paul’s charge is “I bow my knees before the Father that he may grant you to be strengthened… that Christ may dwell in your hearts…” (Im shortening this a bit. But I don’t want to shorten this part!) “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Those are great words, aren’t they! They’re perhaps the best “charge” I’ve ever heard. May we be those things when we go out from this place! If you look, you’ll see that that great charge is followed by the best Benediction I’ve ever heard! “Now to him, who by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” I love that! I had Donna print those words on the back of your bulletin this morning so that you can follow along, and so that you can take them home and put them up on your refrigerator. (Theres even a little space for a magnet!) So I further charge you to put them there, to read them, and to let them be, renewed every morning.
Well, I want you to notice something else about these words. They sort of sound funny coming in the middle of this letter, don’t they? It’s almost as if the letter were to end here. Sometimes I wonder if Ephesians was actually was actually written as two letters. Or perhaps Paul wrote this at two different sittings. This does appear to be the ending to what we might call the “introductory portion” of this letter, which was pretty standard for Paul. He would normally greet the people, and give them some opening remarks, maybe some words of encouragement. Except this time it went on for three chapters. Maybe he had gotten so “into this” at this point, that he was feeling benedictional. Maybe he wanted to give them words like these to lead into the body of his letter.
For whatever reason, Paul wrote this in a way that it looks like an ending. And again, this would be a great ending, wouldn’t it? This is a wonderful charge and benediction, and perhaps even more than that, these are simply some of the greatest words Paul ever wrote – and that’s saying something! I’m going to use them as our charge and benediction at the close of this service! In the meantime, let’s take a moment to think about what they mean.
First of all, this is a great prayer that we be “strengthened with might through his spirit within us.” Are we? Do we seek to know God’s spirit within us and live in his strength? We know, by God’s word, that his spirit is in us. But it’s too easy to forget, isn’t it? I’ts too easy to overlook and rely only on our own strength. That’s something we have to think about and work on every day. We have take time to listen for his still small voice, we have to be aware of his presence and his peace in our lives, the peace that passes human understanding. Those things are so import, and so easy to forget, as so many things vie for our attention every day!
So take the time to do that. Take the time to think of God’s spirit within you and be strengthened with might. Look at your refrigerators! Read these words! Think about them! Know they are true in you!
Then, think about these next words. Do we know that “Christ dwells in our hearts, and through him are we rooted and grounded in love?” I love that metaphor! Think of the roots of a plant, how they branch out and spread down into the ground. They are the life giving connection to the soil. They are the means of receiving nutrients. Are our roots dug deep in Jesus Christ and his love? Is that how we receive our nourishment? Or do we seek other things for our strength and nourishment? We need to be intentional, and to look to Jesus for those things.
Thirdly, through that love, do we have the power to know the dimensions of God’s love – the breadth, the width, the height, and the depth – so that we are filled with all his fullness? Do we try to see how vast God’s love is? Or do we not think much about it, and thereby let it be underestimated. That’s how it happens, you know. If we don’t give God’s love and power much thought, it will dwindle in our minds. That’s only natural. So be determined not to let that happen. Instead, let it be renewed every morning.
Those are very good things to strive for – seeking to know Gods spirit, living in his love, and knowing the depth of his love so we can be filled with his fullness. Those are very good things to seek, again, every morning!
Now for the benediction. Paul writes, “Now to him who, by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think, to him be the glory…” I love that. I think of those words often, and I hope you will, too. God is “able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think.” And we might add to that, “even when we aren’t underestimating him!” Even then, he is able to do far more than we know.
But notice what Paul says here! God is able to do far more abundantly, not just because he is able. He is able, not just because he is powerful. He is able “by the power at work within us!” Don’t let that go by too quickly! He doesn’t just have great power. He has great power when he is working within us! That may be the greatest charge here. “Let God’s power be at work within you! You won’t believe what he can do!” That’s what Paul is saying here! He believed God’s great power is readily available to and through his people.
That’s us, my friends. We are God’s people, and God has chosen to fill us with all of his fullness. So take these words home. Read them every morning. And be renewed every day in the spirit and the love of God. Know that he has placed the “treasure” of his spirit in the “earthen vessels” of our lives, so that the surpassing greatness of his power will be his, through us!
Eternal God, through the mystery of your love you have chosen to place your spirit within us. Help us to know your presence, and through it, to know your peace. Help us to be open to the power of your spirit working within and through us. For this we pray in Jesus name, Amen.