A sermon prepared for Community Church of Howey-in-the-Hills
Primary Scripture Ephesians 1:15-23
A week ago, I stood at the front of the congregation gathered in Oviedo, my church of membership. I had mentioned to the pastor that I would be coming to worship with you and asked for prayers, so that I might bring the word God wanted to you to hear today. That is why I found myself praying with the saints gathered there for the saints gathered here today. And they are committed to continue praying with you and for you on this journey.
They are not the only ones praying for you. And they were not the first to pray for you. Not by a long shot. Christ prayed for all generations of believers everywhere. He prayed that we might be as one, pointing to the love of Christ so that others would come to know God. The early churches were exhorted to pray for one another, and the New Testament letters contain beautiful prayers for congregations – joyful, hopeful prayers that echo Christ’s desire for unity. Prayers that point to the glory of God.
If we believe that the Bible is God’s word for us today- and I believe that we do – we can claim Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians for our own gatherings, our own congregations. Right here. Right now. Shall we? Let’s imagine that this letter started just a little differently…
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To the saints in Howey in the Hills who are faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the next section, Paul goes on to bless God, and then he reminds us of our place in God’s cosmic plan to bring all things to himself through the work of Christ Jesus and the witness of the saints. Paul then turns his attention to this church. To this part of the body. To you.
He writes: I know about your faith in Christ. And I have heard of your love for all the saints. How you have believed in the church universal, praying for your sisters and brothers in the faith – across the street and around the world. I remember you in my prayers. This isn’t Paul saying he prays if he remembers. This is Paul’s way of saying “I mention you by name in my prayers.” And because the eyes of your hearts have seen the light- the true light of the world, Christ Jesus- I ask that God would give you spiritual wisdom and revelation as you continue to grow in your knowledge of God.
Did you hear the assumption in that statement? It’s kind of like the assumption in a statement like, “I’ve got a treat for you when you get that room completely clean.” The assumption is that someone is already started and will finish the work of cleaning up. Paul assumes that we are engaged in learning and will continue growing as disciples. We are not to grow stagnant in faith, but grow deeper.
Now- here is we get to Paul’s SO THAT… The reason he prays that God would bless our continued discipleship with wisdom and revelation is SO THAT you, each and every one of you, would know three things:
- the HOPE of God’s CALLING
- the WEALTH of God’s glorious INHERITANCE that awaits the saints,
- the GREATNESS of God’s incomparable POWER for believers today.
Paul prays that through our relationship with God, we can see the world and all that is in it through the unique lens of those whose hope is in the Lord. Whose hope is in the fact that God calls us and pursues us and receives us.
Paul prays that as we come to understand God more, we will be more interested in the wealth that is ours as co-heirs in Christ than the status and wealth the world offers. We can trust that as God gathers us in through death, we are not paupers, but children of the God most high.
Paul prays that we would know more completely and recognize more readily the greatness of God’s power. Power that is beyond comparison and yet available for believers here and now.
And so, we need not be without hope for today. We need not be without hope for the future. We need not live on our power, under our own steam.
God is offering hope and power, the very power that God exercised in Christ
- when God raised Christ from the dead.
- When God seated Christ in heaven, at God’s right hand
- When God put all things under Christ’s feet and
- When God gave the church to Christ as its head.
The power that God exercised in Christ is in us. Is in you. The church – the whole church – is Christ’s body. The whole church includes my missionary friends in Alaska, Singapore, Madagacar and the Dominican Republic. Jamal in Lebanon and the poor scientist on the South Pole who is reading her Bible every day to keep growing. The church – this church – is Christ’s body. And it is
- Filled with resurrection power.
- Filled with the power to lift high the name of Christ
- Filled with the power to put away and cast down anything that would replace Christ as the head and focus of our lives together.
- Filled with the power to live a life worthy of Christ.
- Filled with the power to live under the lordship of Christ in all aspects of life.
The church is the fullness of Christ – the one who fills all in all. In other words, Christ fills the church, fuels the church, and empowers the church. Which means that Christ fills you, fuels you and empowers you Now, I must confess: Some days, I wonder whether it is altogether wise for God to fill me, a goober if ever there were a goober, with this sort of power. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Like one of those stories about late-night, alcohol-fueled decisions to strap rocket engines to the roof of a car just to see how fast it will go. That never ends well- for the car or its occupants.
The resurrection power of God in me? Why would God entrust us with the power that can move mountains and speak a universe into being.
The truth is that we are- all of us – broken people. Paul describes us as broken vessels, cracked pots that we carry about the light of Christ within us. And yet, Christ remains in us, cracks, sins, warts, and all. Christ shines through us, thanks to those weaknesses. Those cracks allow people to see God in us, even as the cracks remind us whose power fills us and holds us together.
And as we seek God first, as we meditate on God’s word, as we allow the desires of our hearts to be molded to the desires of God’s heart, we become faithful witnesses to Christ’s redemptive power in the world, rather than humanity’s destructive power in the world.
John records Jesus saying this another way… I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) As we branches draw nourishment from the vine, we are able to grow, to flourish, to produce fruit.
The late Dr Bill Bright was to the very core of his being an evangelist. By the time I met him, just a few years before his death, he was not preaching to thousands at large events. He was confined to a wheelchair and unable to breathe well. At this point in his life, much of the good news he spread was in one-on-one conversations with the people he met: the taxi driver or skycap, the waitress, the medical staff that cared for him.
Dr. Bright loved to disarm people from the beginning of a conversation with his smile and humor. But as he would begin to share the faith that filled him, he would tell them what he called the first spiritual law: God loves you, and God has a wonderful plan for your life.
This is what Paul was telling the Ephesians (and us) in this letter. God loves the church. And God’s got a wonderful plan for her life. God loved the church so much that he placed Christ at the head. God loves this church. And God’s got a plan. A wonderful plan. No matter that we see much more mystery than plan. No matter that there will be pain. God loves you. God loves you all. And God has a wonderful plan for your lives together in Christ.
It is a plan that involves grower deeper in faith, knowing the hope of your calling, trusting in the wealth of your inheritance to come and believing in the greatness of God’s incomparable power.
God’s Resurrection power.