Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost,"Year B, "HxWxL"


Sermon 7/29/12
Ephesians 3:14-21

HxWxL

“She’s finally set down roots.” I’ve never had so much feedback on a post I made on facebook as I did this week, when I posted words that were music to my own ears: “I am officially a homeowner!” Many of you know that I’ve been in the process of buying a home in Liverpool, and if you’ve been through the process yourself, you know that it is an arduous process! By the end of it, I wasn’t sure whether I was more excited to be a homeowner, or simply be done with submitting document after document to verify that I would be able to handle buying a home! But I was definitely touched and cheered by an outpouring of congratulatory posts of my facebook announcement. And that one stood out to me: “She’s finally set down roots.” I would definitely describe myself as a grounded person, but these last several years have involved a lot of moving around for me. I spent a short time serving a church in New Jersey, but longed to come back to my friends and family and home in Central New York. I rented an apartment for a year, and then moved into a parsonage belonging to another church that didn’t need it right then, and now, I’m packing up and ready to move my boxes into my own home in Liverpool. There’ve been a lot of transitions in my life. During the home-buying process, my realtor kept emphasizing that I would want to make sure my home would have a good resale value. But all I could think at the time was: resale? I’m just buying the house! I don’t want to think about selling it already! I know his advice makes good financial sense. He’s looking out for my future. But I’m looking forward to putting down some roots. I remain covenanted to the appointment process of The United Methodist Church, but I also feel like God has got some big plans for us right here, right now, and I hope very much to set down roots in Liverpool.
We’ve been working our way through the book of Ephesians, and last week, we heard Aaron talk about how the work of Christ breaks down the walls that we put up to separate us from one another, so that because of Christ, there’s no longer “them,” no longer “those people.” Today, we hear a spontaneous prayer, plopped right into the middle of this letter to the congregation at Ephesus, where “Paul” expresses his hopes for the young faith community, and it’s as if he has so much hope, so much anticipation about what they can be, that he just can’t contain his prayer any longer, can’t wait until the benediction, to offer these words to God. He writes, “I pray that . . . [God] 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.”
“Paul” wants the Ephesians to understand, to know the incomprehensible: how much they are loved by Christ, so that they can be filled up with God. He knows it’s a tall order. He knows it “surpasses” our knowledge. But he wants us to have a sense of it. Have you ever talked to a child about how much they are loved? How much do you love me? Do you love me this much? No, I love you THIS much! We know our words are inadequate to express the depths of our love. But “Paul” tries to give voice to his hopes – that the Ephesians know the vast and endless dimensions of God’s love.
Do we “get it?” Do we understand that we are loved by God? I think, unfortunately, that it can be pretty hard to convince someone that you love them, truly, as unconditionally as we humans are capable of loving. It can be hard to be convinced that you are that loved! We hurt one another. We act carelessly. We break trust, break promises. And thus, we make it challenging to believe that we can be loved with all the length and height and depth “Paul” is telling us about. I think it is easy to say that we believe we are loved by God. We know we’re supposed to say that. After all, Jesus loves me is probably one of the first songs of faith we learn as a child. But do we believe it? We spend a lot of time and energy acting like we are still trying to earn God’s love, earn something that is offered to us as a free gift. If we think God offers love because we’re good enough, because we’ve completed some checklist, we really don’t understand what love is. “Paul’s” earnest prayer is that we would be able to have a glimpse of the marvelous truth that is too awesome for us to really know: We are loved, we are loved, we are loved.
So is “Paul’s” prayer of hope actually hopeless? If God’s love is just too good to be true for us to believe in, if we are too hurt and suspicious to believe it, is there anything to be done? “Paul’s” prayer actually gives voice to the way we can begin to touch on the mystery of God’s love for us. “I pray that . . . you may be strengthened in your inner being . . . and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Rooted and grounded in love. My grandfather, Millard Mudge, was a gardener. Half of my childhood memories of my grandpa are of him working in a garden that seemed enormous to me. And for many reasons, but especially out of our love for him, many members of my family have given gardening a go at one time or another. But I’m afraid none of us have had the same success he had. My older brother has been engaged in a prolonged battle with squirrels and rabbits. No matter what kind of fence he erects around his garden, they seem to eat his veggies mere hours before planned harvesting. My seedlings, so carefully nurtured this spring, withered almost immediately when I tried to move them outside this scorching summer. One summer my brother forgot what he planted where, and was caught trying to shell green beans, convinced they were peas. But one of my favorite stories comes from my mother’s garden. Mom had a nice row of corn growing, doing really well, when suddenly, the corn stopped growing, and started turning yellow. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, she discovered that a certain brother, who certainly is not here today, was helping her by watering her garden – with water from the swimming pool. All that chlorine in the water permeated the soil, and was soaked up into the plants, and bleached the corn into a lovely shade of yellow. Sorry – that was supposed to be a family secret! Turns out, what the corn is planted in, the source of its nourishment, is pretty important for the plant to thrive.
How do we come to know and trust in God’s love? We get rooted in it. We plant ourselves in it. We sink our feet into it until we are filled up with it, immersed in it, made of it, from our toes to the top of our head. If Christ dwells within us, if we are rooted in and grounded in Christ, how could we doubt that we are loved? But what exactly, then, does that mean – to be rooted and grounded in Christ? To have Christ within us?
Thursday night we gathered for a social for Vacation Bible School – all of the teachers and helpers got together for a question and answer time, but especially for fellowship, prayer, and worship, a time to prepare spiritually for the week ahead just as so many hours have being spent preparing our space physically for vacation bible school. We talked and prayed about, among other things, what we hope happens at Vacation Bible School. One of the main purposes of VBS is to help children (and the adults who are helping) but to help the children experience the love of God. I think we’ve seen, in the planning and preparation for Vacation Bible School, some of the excitement and urgency that “Paul” felt for others to make sure they start to know the height and depth and length of God’s love. I’ve watched the fellowship hall be transformed into a space that makes me wish I was a child again, and I’ve watched a group of teens and adults try to outdo their previous year’s themes with such energy and excitement, because they want these children to have an awesome, life-changing experience this week, where they learn about God and God’s love, and having that love in their own lives.
What does it mean to be rooted in Christ? We do what Jesus did, as best as we can imitate, follow after him, let his life fill us up and permeate our own lives. And Jesus spent most of his time seeking out people who desperately needed to know it and making them feel worth it, valued, loved. The best way to know love, it turns out, is to let ourselves love. Love with abandon, excitement, urgency. The urgency of “Paul” who bursts into prayer in the middle of teaching, filled with hope for Ephesians. The urgency of vision the creates Promise Island in Fellowship Hall for kids to encounter love this week. The urgency of Jesus, willing to give of himself and give his life so that we might know how much, how deeply we are loved by our Creator, how deeply our Creator desires us to live in love with one another. If we are rooted and planted in Christ, in the ways of Jesus, we’ll begin to understand just how much we’re loved. And that kind of love – God’s love – that’s a power that will change lives, and change the world.
Dear Friends, “I pray that . . . [God] 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.” Amen.

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