Trinity's Sermon from Sunday

 

 

Roots of Love a sermon on Ephesians 3:14-21

Rev. Joe Cailles, pastor Trinity United Methodist Church

July 15, 2018, The Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians

14 This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every family 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.

Common English Bible (CEB)

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

 

A few weeks ago I was driving north from Lexington to visit a new colleague who now the pastor of two United Methodist Churches in Augusta County.  I had not been to that area before, so I put his address on my phone’s map app, and off I went.  This particular map app will always give me the absolute quickest way to get from point A to point B, often cutting through subdivisions or taking strange, alternative routes if it calculates it can get me to my destination even a second or so more quickly.  I didn’t know where I was going, so I couldn’t very well second guess it, I just hoped and trusted that the directions I was getting would get me there.

 

I was making my way and came to an intersection at the top of a mountain.  It was getting darker and starting to rain.  The paved road that I had been traveling on curved to the left and the way was fairly clear, and to the right was an unpaved road, through the dark rainy woods, down the mountain. 

My map app said to turn right, onto the unpaved road. 

 

I wanted to turn left and to stay on the paved road.  I wanted to stay on the familiar path, the road I was used to, the one I wanted to take me to my friends house even though I could tell, that wasn’t the right direction. 
 
I turned right and drove off the paved road and onto the unpaved road. 

 

Now clearly, I’m fine. I didn’t die on that road.  I didn’t even get lost a little bit. I made it there where I was needed and back again where I’m needed, safe and sound, but I did have to take a leap of faith going a way that was unknown and uncomfortable for me. 

 

Paul is writing to folks who have come to the end of their pavement.  They too are at a crossroads and have to make a decision about how to move forward.  The Christians in Ephesus are united in their beliefs that Jesus is God and savior.  All the Christians in Ephesus believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  But the Christians in Ephesus come from two distinct groups, Gentiles and Jews, who each have distinct histories, and values and conceptions of how life works.  They agree on Jesus but disagree on how to live out their faith together.

There would be everyday, practical differences like, can we eat the same foods at the church potluck suppers.  Can Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians marry each other? If there are children, how shall they be raised?  There are larger existential questions too:  Who should be in charge and make decisions about the standards and beliefs of the entire community?  Of one group of them should grow larger, what happens to the rights and beliefs and practices of the minority group?  

 

Perhaps the Christians in Ephesus have been debating and arguing and fussing and fighting for so soon about all these issues that maybe they’ve come to a crossroads where it’s beginning to make sense to part company.  You go this way.  We’ll go that way.  We have our traditions and our way of life, and you’ll have yours. 

 

It would be very tempting for them to part ways, I know.  We know how it is.  Our denomination, our American society seems as divided as many of us have ever known:  Progressives, Conservatives, divide by race, divided by money and divided by politics. We’re divided on whether we are recent immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. We’re divided by people who think pineapple is an appropriate topping for pizza and those of us who know it is not. 

 

Maybe many of us wish the other side would just go away or at least be quiet.  Maybe we find ourselves divided in our own souls. We look good and fresh and shiny here on Sunday but in truth it’s like a civil war in our home or even in our own souls.  Division isn’t just out there.  It’s in here [sanctuary] and in here [our souls] too.

 

Perhaps that’s what the Ephesians were finally feeling too.  That they’ve tried to persuade and cajole and even force their way on the others but now, they’re out of pavement.  And so Paul writes to them to have them recheck their rear view mirrors and to re-examine the road they were on.

 

Remember, he writes, it was God who brought you all together and God has been at work since the beginning and will keep at it until heaven and earth are united.  Remember, Paul writes, it is God put you on this road together for a purpose: to be a light and a blessing to the nations, and to love God and to love neighbors and to make disciples of Christ of yourselves and of each other.  Remember it is God’s will to unite people together and unite them with Christ. 

 

Paul writes, you see yourselves divided, God sees a united people not with one group dominating the other, but will all folks loved and welcomed and comforted and challenged.  All are welcome into God’s love and care and into the family of faith but united in Christ you don’t get to stay the same and you mustn’t let your differences divide you.

 

That’s what Paul has been saying in the letter and we looked at those passages over the past two weeks.  Now Paul, who knows the united and also divided Ephesians are at the end of their own pavement, and he’s clearly not there with them to show them how to navigate their differences, so he offers the passage we read together, a prayer for them.  At the end of their pavement, Paul prays for them and it’s a prayer that any united but also divided Christian folks in any age can pray for themselves and for each other. 

 

Paul prays, “May you be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts, rooted and grounded in love.” 

 

May Christ dwell in your hearts.  I’m convinced that there is a difference between letting Christ visit in our hearts and letting Christ dwell and live in our hearts.  To have Christ dwell within us is to allow Christ to change what he finds in our hearts and souls and lives.  Karen Chakoian, a Presbyterian pastor in Ohio, writes:

 When we have guests and visitors in our homes, not much has to change. We offer guests and visitors hospitality and put out the nice guest towels and use our best manners.  But when someone moves into our homes, to stay, everything changes.  We can try to hold onto established, familiar patterns and routines, but things change.  Conversation changes.  Relationships realign.  Household tasks increase, and responsibilities change.  So it is when we welcome Christ to dwell in our souls and lives and homes and churches.  Everything changes.  [adapted from Ephesians 3:14-21 Pastoral Perspective, “Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3.” 2009]

         

Paul prays, “May Christ dwell in our hearts, rooted and grounded in love.”  Rooted and grounded in love, God’s love for each of us, for our united and divided community and for our united and divided souls.  The change that comes for us when we let Christ move in and dwell here is that we move from own self-interest and self-preservation and priorities based on fear of change into a life based on God’s love for us, our love for God, and all of that love and care uniting us in Christ.

 

When the pavement in our churches and society comes to an end, when the pavement in our souls comes to an end, when health and wealth and church life and all that we have depended on to be solid and constant aren’t any more, when we feel more and more fear and anxiety about losing what we’ve always known, then that’s the time Christ is pounding on the door saying, “Let me in. I’ve come home and we’re throwing out the old garbage and installing more love, more care, more generosity, and more hope.”

 

Paul prays, “May you have the power to know and comprehend the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.”  Our faith in Christ is both knowledge and intellect and affirming our beliefs, and faith in Christ is also feeling and living and experiencing. Those may be unpaved roads for some of us.  In John Wesley’s day, he found too many Christians, including himself, who traveled exclusively on the intellectual roads of faith: who knew the scriptures, knew the creeds, knew Christ as savior but only up here, and let’s confess it there are many, many, Christians today who would do right well to become more knowledgeable with our scriptures and traditions and historical beliefs.  Sunday school and Christian education aren’t just for children.  We United Methodists are at our best when we are life long learners.

 

But John Wesley soon realized what many, many Christians know today, that faith isn’t just knowledge.  Christian faith is also experience of the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ:  Christian faith is an experience of God’s love for us, our love for God and love for one another even when we genuinely disagree about life and faith and everything.

 

As united and also divide Christians we pray Christ will dwell in us to change the foundations of our lives from fear-based to love based.  We pray that Christ lives in our minds and in our hearts.  We pray that Christ dwells in our words and deeds. We pray that we will have the fullness of God in our lives which surpasses what we can ask for or even imagine.

 

It’s hard for us to imagine continuing onto unpaved roads.  Better the familiar ways, even if we suspect that if we keep going that way, we’re not going to get where God would have us be.  It’s hard for us to imagine being reconciled with those whose values seem so different from ours.  It’s hard for so many of us to imagine that the way life is now for us, is not the only way life has to be for us.  I’m reading a book now on the existentialist philosophers of the 20th century and their impact on the social reform movement of the 1960s, you know some light summer reading. One of the slogans that fit both philosophers and reformers was:  “Be realistic: Demand the impossible.”  Be realistic: Demand the impossible.  Perhaps the slogan for us united and divided Christian people is Be real in Christ; Imagine the impossible.

 

On the rainy mountain road a few weeks ago, I had to drive into the unknown, unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Most of all of us are doing that everyday.  We can’t see how we’re going to fix our souls, we can’t figure out how to fix our churches  and we feel powerless to fix our broken world.  Thanks be to God the one who has, the one who is, and the one who will unite all that is divided, is in here [sanctuary] and in here [our souls]. Christ is here, ready to dwell here and here, and that changes us and unites us and fill us with new life beyond what we can even ask for and or even imagine.  Thanks be God.