I was about 16 years old, and had just completed the Counselor-in-Training program at the camp I attended every summer as a child, when Ephesians 3:14-21 was given to me as a gift by one of my counselors. Read aloud to me at a graduation ceremony around the campfire, printed out carefully in calligraphy on a little card. I carried that card around with me in my Bible for the longest time, and treasure the passage to this day.
So I want first of all to pass along to each one of you, and particularly to our newest church members, this gift that meant so much to me at an important point in my own faith journey. It’s the gift of a prayer, and it goes like this:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 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, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 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, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
Hearing those verses at that moment in my life, I remember being impressed by the ‘huge-ness’ of the whole thing. Breadth and length and height and depth. Knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. A God who could accomplish more than anything I could ask or imagine. To put my faith in Christ’s love, then, was to be rooted in solid ground and able to soar up to the heavens all at the same time. If all this were true, there was nothing I couldn’t do. They were words I needed to hear, and it felt like they were written just for me. This was a prayer that I might be strengthened, that I might be rooted and grounded, that I might be filled with all the fullness of God. The ‘you’ in that prayer was me.
As I’ve revisited these same words in more recent years, they’ve begun to hold an additional, even richer layer of meaning for me. Because it turns out that the ‘you’ that appears throughout the prayer is not singular, but plural. It doesn’t always show up in English, unfortunately, but the Greek is clear enough. And we know this letter was written to a church, after all, a community of faith. So it really would be more precise to read “all of you” or to borrow the Southern “y’all” whenever we come across the word “you.” Listen again:
v. 16: I pray that you all may be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s Spirit
v. 17: that Christ may dwell in your hearts (plural)
v. 18: I pray that y’all might have the power to comprehend
v. 19: and that y’all may be filled with all the fullness of God
It may sound like a trivial distinction. Individuals, churches, it’s the same God at work. The same work of God. What’s the difference?
The difference is what this morning’s worship service is all about. The difference is that we belong not only to God, but to one another. When we said the Apostle’s Creed together this morning, we talked about “the communion of saints” and the whole “catholic (or universal) church.” We are united around the world and throughout time with the rest of Christ’s Church. Likewise when we join with a particular congregation, we’re choosing to worship, serve, and live with a community of faith.
A trivial distinction? Can’t we just as easily be women and men of faith on our own? I suppose we could try. But it’s hardly the recommended course. Which is why it is such a great joy to welcome our new members today, and our new music director, Andrey. We hope that we can support them as they support us, over the years, as we seek to be faithful to God together.
Of course that strong sense of family also makes it hard to say goodbye. Believe me, I tried to explain to Jane and Jarrad that it should require at least a ¾ majority vote of the congregation before they should be allowed to move with their kids as far away from us as Texas. But we pray that they – and everyone we care about whose geography prevents them from being with us on Sunday mornings - will still feel our love and support from afar. We certainly know that God will be with them there, as God is with us here.
And the heights and the depths the author of Ephesians is talking about aren’t even the roller coaster ups and downs of our lives, individually or as a church, though admittedly those can take us for a wild ride sometimes… but the infinitely greater dimensions of God’s love, power, and grace that hold us through it all.
Who are we? We are a family rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, trying together to comprehend an amazing God who promises to accomplish in us (plural) not just more than we can imagine, but abundantly far more.
The weeks following Pentecost are a great time for superlatives like these, aren’t they? Think the author of Ephesians has gone a little overboard with the dramatic imagery? You try reacting to the miracle of the resurrection or the great whooshing outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church without relying heavily on your thesaurus!
Rooted and grounded and reaching for what lies beyond. Together. The hymn we are about to sing offers beautiful reminders of what that
togetherness can look like.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
Here together on the road,
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
I will weep when you are weeping,
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
To those of you joining this church today; to others of you we’ve only just met this morning, and to those of you who’ve been coming here for decades; to one and all, welcome to worship with this family of faith. We’re so glad you’re here.
Because together, with all the saints, we’ll be so much better able to comprehend God’s great mercy, power, and love. And together, God will be able to accomplish in us abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, for all generations, forever and ever. Amen.