Ephesians 3:14-21 —14 This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. 16 I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, 18 I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. 19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.
20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21 glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.
- We are working with the Epistle of Ephesians – in the New Testament. It’s a letter written by Paul to the emerging Christian church in Ephesus. Turns out, Paul was in prison in Rome when the letter to the church in Ephesus was written.
- The recipients of Ephesians were the residents of Ephesus which was the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor – that is modern day Turkey.
- Their city was a center of pagan worship and was home of the Temple of Diana.
- The residents lived in an important commercial center that ranked close to Alexandria in Egypt in importance and as an educational and political base.
- The Letter to the Ephesians lifts up the importance of character formation and spiritual maturity in the church.
- Growing up “healthy in God, robust in love,” as Eugene Peterson (the author of The Message) puts it, is a particularly appropriate subject in light of Easter and our call to be resurrection people – to be Easter people.
- So it is that today we continue this sermon series on the book of Ephesians which is all about growing and maturing as people of faith.
- Ephesians is one of the most encouraging books in the New Testament.
- The purpose of the book of Ephesians was to reinforce and offer advice to the emerging Christian church leaders to maintain their first love that they held when they first became believers. The love of Jesus Christ.
- Today we are working with a portion of the third chapter in Ephesians. — Paul is imploring the church to remain deeply in love with Christ and to be devoted followers of him.
- The key to this love is prayer – and this chapter is Paul’s prayer for the church.
- Ephesians 3:14 – begins “I kneel in prayer to God the Father. All humans in heaven and on earth received their life from Him.”
- This first verse begins with kneeling.
- It begins with an action, a posture.
- We humble ourselves before God.
- We get down our knees.
- In this way our faith is embodied.
- Now, our Friday morning’s men’s prayer group really picked up on the few first words. Essentially – 6 out of 8 of the men are 70 or older – so we reflected on getting on our knees — as I am certain that many of you clearly understand – kneeling in not something we can do easily – and we all need something to grab on to get up. Some of the guys said that they could not get up. So – the discussion continued — is kneeling the only way to humble ourselves in the sight of the lord.
- We can sit in a very prayerful position – open our hands outward
- We can raise our hands as a way of honoring God.
- Let’s look in some detail to theses short verses.
- Paul, the writer of Ephesians has spoken, for two and a half chapters, about the power, providence, grace, and glory of God.
- We perceive God’s revelation as cosmic and also personal. God’s love for us is wide, deep and focused.
- We understand God’s bringing us together in Christ is both accomplished and yet to be completed.
- It is a mystery that we comprehend only in part, and yet it moves us to thanksgiving and praise.
- Therefore, we bow.
- But, this bowing and kneeling is not in our nature, if we are honest.
- We want to be respected.
- We wish to be acknowledged.
- We yearn to be honored.
- To bow before something, or someone, goes against the grain of our temperaments.
- Yet we sometimes find ourselves in the presence of the Holy. It may be a sacred place like the Grotto in Emmitsburg or a quiet garden or a surprising view from nature. The presence of the Holy surrounds us.
- This One unto whom we bow is God “from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.”
- Many of the New Testament letters ascribed to Paul speak of congregational conflicts; leaders are named, situations are identified. We feel like we know the churches at Corinth and Philippi.
- Ephesians is a different letter.
- It reminds us that God is not only attentive to local matters; God is also interested in the planet.
- God is in communion with all of humanity.
- For that reason, we bow in humility before God.
- We confess our small part in the grand scheme of things. We say, with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
- We sing, with the swaying chorus, of an “awesome God.” Remember – “Our God is an Awesome God.”
- Our speech and our singing find its way through our bodies and we discover that we are on our knees before God.
- When was the last time you were on your knees? Figuratively or actual.
- Talk about the “Dirt” article.
- On our knees, we find ourselves returning to the source. Sometimes we pray for others. Sometimes we pray for ourselves. Ephesians reminds us, “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.” We sometimes find ourselves on our knees because we come to the end of our own power, our own strength, and we confess a need for something more.
- Listen to this parable:
- A young pastor serves in a rural community, and one of the patriarchs of the congregation is a farmer, wise and powerful among his neighbors.
- Along the way the pastor comes into conflict with the patriarch and communication becomes difficult.
- The pastor makes a point, on occasion, to drive out to the farmer’s home to keep the conversation going.
- The visits are never easy. There are always long silences and nothing tangible seems to be accomplished.
- As the pastor approaches the farm, she sees a sign that becomes a reminder to her: “Pavement ends.”
- When the pavement ends, the road becomes rough.
- When the pavement ends, the turbulence is greater. When the pavement ends, we depend on God.
- When the pavement ends, we have a new normal. Ann and I have a new normal – it’s called chemo – once a week.
- Can you think of a time in your own life when the pavement ended: a financial crisis, a family tragedy, a church conflict, a health issue?
- When the pavement ends, we are forced to do things differently.
- We open ourselves to God, who, we discover, has already been reaching out to us.
- The gift is like a bequest of riches, which we had not known about or had forgotten, like an inheritance that we had ignored.
- The gift strengthens us, in our inner being, with power.
- We are encouraged. We are supported. We are uplifted.
- Humility connects us with the uplifting power of God. As we become more grounded, we become more able to “rise up and walk,” in the words of Jesus (Luke 5:23).
- In the Christian tradition, it is often noted that the deadliest of sins is pride. Pride is our inability to ask for help. Pride is our refusal to accept a gift. Pride is our rejection of God.
- The removal of pride makes a space for something else, something greater: “I pray . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
- Christ takes the place of pride in our lives. The love of self gives way to the love of God and neighbor.
- The illusion of wanting to be in control is replaced by the image of the One “who loved [us] and gave himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20).
- The arrogance of desiring first place is corrected by the great reversal of the gospel, where the last are now first.
- In my pride, I might be tempted to drive at full speed, even when the pavement ends. In my pride, I reject the natural limits and boundaries that shape my life. In love, I give thanks for circumstances that ground me. In love, I praise God for creation and my place in it.
- In pride, we claim more knowledge than we actually possess.
- In humility, we stand before a mystery.
- Paul continues, “I pray that you 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 that surpasses knowledge.” Ephesians 3:18
- We bow, finally, before a mystery. God creates, redeems, sustains, and sanctifies the world.
- As we become more grounded and more humble, God draws near us.
- We come before this God in prayer and in worship, in adoration and praise.
- We ask for the knowledge to comprehend, in part, the riches of this holy and majestic God. And even beyond such knowledge, we pray for the gift of love. We love, because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).
- Thus, we bow, on our knees or open our hands, grateful for the gift. May our lives be a living doxology, with the words at the chapter’s conclusion: 20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21 glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.
- Thanks be to God.
My garden is a very important part of my life and my spiritual life. Each spring, I gather the seed catalogues and clean up the remnants of the winter leaves and muck that comes with having a large garden. It’s hard work but it’s rewarding work.
One key ingredient in my garden is the soil. After many years of planning and laborious work, the rocky, clay soil has been transformed. It is rich and loamy. There is a certain perfume that emanates from the constant mixing of cow manure, ground up leaves and wood chips together with an ancient rototiller. The smell is soothing and radiates potential growth, as I kneel in the moist soil and slowly place the seeds and onion plants into their proper location. I ponder as to how old the soil is — millions of years. I hold it in my hands and reflect about the miracle of God’s creation. The key to my communion with God is that I have to kneel in the garden dirt. It’s like praying outside in the early morning savoring the warmth of the rising sun with the background melody of the spring songbirds as a heavenly choir. Planting the seeds in the dirt becomes a holy encounter with the Divine Creator.
It was an early January several years ago, the snows had come and gone in Maryland and the mud that comes with winter was everywhere. As a United Methodist pastor, my daily checkoff list had an important funeral. I was rushing about in the barn because the funeral was in two hours. In my hurry, I ceased to pay attention to what I was doing, and I slipped on the manure covered floor. My right leg moved forward, and my left leg stayed fixed. A key recipe for disaster. The SNAP that I heard and the pain in my left leg was loud and strong. I was in deep trouble. I could not get up and my left lower leg just hung from my knee. As I was rushed to the emergency room of the local hospital, I did have enough awareness to call the funeral home and explain that I was not going to be able to do the funeral – a forty-five-minute advanced notice to the director.
The x-rays revealed the obvious. I had ripped the quadricep tendon from my knee cap. If I didn’t have surgery soon, I would never walk again. The surgeon quietly and competently explained the procedure — the tendon would be reconnected to the kneecap by sutures and screws. Healing would be a year and painful physical therapy would be months. As I lay on the examination table, I had one question for the surgeon – “Will I be able to kneel in my garden?” “With a lot of painful work and patience, yes!”
Initially it was hard it is to get the leg to bend after knee and tendon surgery. It seemed that the leg would not bend more than 40⁰. When I would kneel in my garden, I could sit on my heals and work the soil. 40⁰ would not cut it! Slowly and steadily, healing was progressing and one day, several months after the surgery, the leg was bending at 135⁰.
In the late summer, I was able to kneel in my garden dirt. Dear friends had helped prepare the garden and it was time for the late summer planting. Slowly, I was able to get down on my knees and bend both legs. The pungent smell of the rich soil raised my spirits again. I was home! I was very emotional. My only words were “Thank you Lord for the miracle of healing” and the seeds were being planted again!