More Than You Can Imagine, Ephesians 3:14-21
First United Methodist Church, July 29, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
There are certain, special people who you and I have in our lives who we might call "prayer warriors." They are people who you can call when you have a particular need, who you know will dig right in, and give it all they've got to intercede on your behalf—to lift you up in prayer, to ask God for healing, for comfort, for peace. There are certain people who you know will never let you down—who almost seem as though they have a special line of communication with God. It's not because their prayers are always answered in the way that you or they might like them to be answered, but it's because they love God, they love you, and through the grace of God they want the very best for you.
Knowing that someone is willing to get down on their knees in prayer for you—whether literally or figuratively—is an awesome thing. It lifts you. It encourages you. It gives you strength.
This morning's scripture is a prayer for the church. Paul knows the church can't exist on its own power; he knows the church can't grow or do what God is calling them to do on their own strength and abilities, and so he gets down on his knees and he prays. He prays that God's power will come to them by way of the Holy Spirit, and that they will be strengthened from within. He prays that Christ will dwell in their hearts, and that they will be rooted and grounded in love. With this power, with Christ's presence dwelling within them, and with their foundation
built on Christ's love—he knows they will be able to accomplish far beyond what they could ever ask or imagine.
Paul's prayer is as important for us today as it was to those who first heard it. It's an important one for us to hear and to pray ourselves, as we consider who we are today, in this community, in these times. We are a people/we are a part of a culture who want to be sure we're centered and well-grounded. We want to be sure that we're based in reality, that we've checked out all the facts and we know exactly what to expect because we've thought through every possibility. We know that's what makes us responsible—good managers and good stewards. These are important virtues for us; we are convinced that they are the keys to our success.
A week ago or so I read a column in the Pilot that is probably one of the longest running and most highly regarded social exchanges in print, that reflects the heart and minds of people from all walks of life. Can you guess? Dear Abby. Someone was asking Dear Abby if she should dump her boyfriend, because he's such a dreamer. That paper had already hit the recycling bin when I thought of it so I couldn't check out and can't remember any more details—except that the young woman writing the letter was talking about her 16 year old boyfriend. I remember because I thought, good grief, if you can't be a dreamer when you're 16, well—that's kind of sad. Let the young man dream! Do a little of that yourself!
I realize we can't spend our days with our heads in the clouds and not consider the bottom line realities of our lives, but so often, we discount the possibilities God offers us. We don’t ask or expect the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf, so we set our goals according to what we're sure we can accomplish, and we settle for that. But in this prayer, Paul claims the presence and the power and the possibilities that the Holy Spirit offers, to strengthen us, to help us to be more than what we may have realized was possible.
We think we can do life on our own.
We forget to consider what the Holy Spirit might do.
We get caught up on what we can see on the "outside."
At one time in your life, perhaps you looked at the star player on one of the sports teams at your school and thought, wow, if I could only be like that person, the guys or the girls would be swarming around me, I'd have it made! I'd be cool, I'd be important. Or surely, if you didn't have to deal with this impossibly straight or curly hair, or this perceived imperfection that no one else noticed but seemed to you to have a neon arrow flashing and pointing it out to the world. (The bump on my nose was my big deal. Surely this would limit my choices in life).
Paul prays that the church may be strengthened in our inner beings with power through his Holy Spirit. The "big deal" isn't what can be seen on the outside, it's what's inside that matters. We know that but sometimes need a reminder. We remember that Paul is a messenger to the Gentiles. He is one who has built a church that embraces both Jew and Gentile. And he wants all to know that though it may feel as though there's a neon arrow flashing at them, pointing out they’re "different," that they once had no hope, no God, no Savior…God's love has included them, has embraced them, and God has claimed them as God's own.
That's a word for us to hear, as well. A word reminding us that no one is beyond the love of God. Not one of us. We who have secret hurts, private shames and lost hopes, we who sometimes ache at our fallibility, at what we should have said and didn't, or what we shouldn't have said but did. We who lament our inability to turn the tide, to fix everything, to *whatever* —we are called to trust God, to rely on God's power, to realize that it is God who is our strength. Even now, as we grow older…even here, as we wonder about the future… God's help is needed now, as surely as it was needed in Paul's day.
Paul prays that our inner being may be strengthened.
Paul prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. They go together, our inner being is strengthened as Christ dwells in our hearts. Christ's dwelling within us involves our willingness to be changed by his presence.
It's something like having a new person move into your house with you. If they're just visiting, it's all pretty easy. Dominique and Olivia have been staying with us for a portion of this summer. They open their suitcases in the second bedroom and there's not a lot of room in there, so we kind of all step over it. There wasn't any need for me to empty out the dressers in there, because they're not moving in. There's another place in the living room where there's another pile of their things. Our schedule is a bit different because Livy goes to bed earlier than we're used to going to bed (most people in the world go to bed earlier than we go to bed), but we can be quiet. Not a big deal. Our menu has changed, too. She's pretty picky. But it's okay. It's only temporary.
But if the girls were going to move in with us to stay…everything would change. We'd have to figure out new patterns. Divy out the household responsibilities. Eat fewer carbs than we are right now. We all probably ought go to bed a little earlier. We'd need to make some bigger changes.
It's the same kind of thing when Christ moves into the heart of a Christian. It's not a bit of tweaking here and there; it's a major change.
Anne Lamott tells of her experience of Christ indwelling in her in Traveling Mercies. She was unmarried, pregnant, and decided to have an abortion. She coped with the pain in her usual way, by smoking dope and getting drunk. When she started hemorrhaging a week later, she sobered up fast.
It was that night she became aware of someone in the room with her. She writes, "The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there—of course, there wasn't. But after awhile, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus." What she felt was appalled. In her circle of family and friends, no one was Christian. They were all like the Ephesians: worldly, sophisticated, and in need of no one but themselves. But Jesus remained in the corner, "watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn't help because that's not what I was seeing him with."
She had been going to church for some Sundays drawn into a funky little church mostly by the music. The next Sunday she went back. She could not escape the feelings. "It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me."
When she got home to her houseboat, she opened the door, hung her head and said to Jesus, "Forget it: I quit." She actually said it out loud: "All right. You can come in."
Sometimes we're willing to offer Jesus the couch in the basement with a blanket, "this will work, won't it?" because we're not quite sure…we're not quite ready to let him move in completely. We're not sure we can love like Jesus loves. We're not sure we can fully trust, that the Holy Spirit will work within us and through us and through our church. We're just not so sure… And so Paul prays for us—for the church then and for our church now—that we will come to understand the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love that surpasses all knowledge so that we might be filled with the fullness of God.
To be filled with the fullness of God sounds good, doesn't it? Paul's prayer is full of hope for all of us. He prays that God will fill us and strengthen us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He prays that God may dwell in our hearts through faith. That we will know God's love, that's so beyond what we can understand. But he prays that we will feel it, that we will live freely and fully because of it, and that we will need to share it. "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than all we can even think to ask or imagine. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever." Amen.