07-29-18 GLORY’S MISSION BEGINS

Ephesians 3:14-21
3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

3:16 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,

3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

3:19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

3:20 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,

3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

As I begin my ministry here at Westminster-by-the-Sea, I have spent time wondering what word God might give me to speak as my first sermon. First impressions are hard to nail down, and it’s easy to mess them up! What can I say that might be impressive? How can I convince you that you’ve made the right choice in who is your new associate pastor? I, like some of you may be, am an overthinker. I think about every possible outcome of my decisions. What if everyone falls asleep during my first sermon? What if they have the rotten tomatoes ready to chuck at me the minute I let my guard down? And then I realized the error in my thinking: I am really focused on myself! And if there is anything I have learned from the lengthy ordination process, my years in seminary, and in all of my ministry experience, it is never about me. I have been called to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and that is what I am here to do today. The Holy Spirit reminded me that every step of this process of ministry has been covered in prayer; and prayer is what is going to sustain me and the church for the years to come. So what better way to begin my ministry here with you all than by a prayer? In this letter addressed to the saints in Ephesus noted as a writing from Paul, we see that there is emphasis on unity, living a new life, and putting on the armor of God. This letter is believed to have the most comprehensive and cohesive portrait of God’s plan, using words to paint a picture of a God who is the ruler of the whole universe with a deep love and wide sovereignty for all of creation. This prayer that we just read truly grasps the expansiveness of the God of the cosmos. So now I use this prayer as my own. This is my prayer for this church and for our life together as a family of faith.

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 heart by faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love. There is a deep richness in this portion of the prayer. This is a powerful blessing to enrich the soul. It is a call for strengthening of the inner being with power through the Spirit. Strengthening our outer being involves good nutrition, exercise, hygiene practices, healthcare, and rest; but strengthening our inner being often involves prayer, care from others, and fellowship. When one being suffers, the other tends to suffer as well. We must take care of ourselves inside and out so that we may be strong individuals and a strong team united in the Holy Spirit. Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, founder of the church House for All Sinners and Saints, discusses having an experience of strengthening her inner and outer being. She was preparing for a church event while struggling with a back spasm. Nadia had to load and unload her car full of food, spent hours setting everything up, and had lead worship all while in pain. When much fewer people showed up for the event than she expected, she found herself in a bitter mood, which was only made worse when she found herself cleaning up all alone while others sat around talking and laughing together. One of the congregation members approached her, knowing she was having a rough day, and asked to pray with her. A small group gathered and prayed. Nadia’s back spasm released, and the group helped her finished cleaning. This blessing strengthened her outer being by relieving her pain, but also strengthened her inner being by having compassion shown toward her, being prayed over, and having help to clean up. The Holy Spirit is at work among us, and that is so evident when we show up for one another and strengthen each others’ inner being. According to the prayer, we do this by being rooted and grounded in love. Author Dianna Butler Bass describes being rooted and grounded by looking for God around us. She explains how churches have tall ceilings and architecture that points up to heaven, but she reminds us not to be so distracted with looking up and having a vertical faith practice, that we forget that God is with us, in each of us, and among us as we walk the earth. Our faith must be horizontal as well. This is how we stay rooted and grounded in love and this is what I pray for us, as we strengthen one another.

I pray that you have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and the length, and the height, and the depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. What a thing to pray for: to comprehend each direction, every corner of the love of Jesus. What a blessing to wish upon someone, to be filled with the fullness of God. Even as I pray this for each of you, I myself don’t have a complete understanding of this expansive love and brimming fullness. The closest I have come to having this prayed over me and understanding what it even means was during my time in South Korea with a group from my seminary. After flying to the other side of the world and passing into a time zone that is 14 hours ahead of us, I was met with kindness, warmth, love, and hospitality by each person I met while in South Korea. Travelling this far away over a 14 hour period and being met with welcome truly affirmed a comprehension of breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love. Our seminary group attended a weekly prayer service held at one of the Korean churches. This prayer service used a type of practice called “tong sung kido.” This is a spontaneous prayer spoken out loud; it is not a prayer spoken in tongues, but instead each person prayers out loud their own prayer to God in Korean. The pastor would stand before the congregation and discuss an important topic, such as sharing about some of the sick congregation members. Then the entire congregation would cry out to God in unison together, which roughly translates as, “Please God!” and then they would each pray their own prayer out loud on behalf of the sick congregation members. After a period of time, the pastor would talk about another topic, maybe about their missionaries, then they would go on in prayer again out loud for the missionaries, and it would continue in this cycle. While we couldn’t understand the words that were being spoken, we could feel the passion and intensity behind these prayers. We were surprised when the pastor asked our group to stand up. We were traveling strangers, a group of foreigners, in this church, but he told the congregation that we were seminary students from the United States and that they should pray for us. So this congregation cried out, “Please God!” And then prayed out loud for us. They cried out with the same passion and intensity as before, on our behalf. To hear voices being uplifted in another language by people who didn’t even know us was an experience so profoundly moving, that I will never forget it. This is the closest to the fullness of God I have ever felt, to be overwhelmed by hospitality, love, and prayer by complete strangers to us foreigners, and this is what I pray for each of you.

Our scripture passage ends with a charge and a blessing to the saints of Ephesus, which I also offer as a charge to you, to us as a team: 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 the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever. Whatever you or I can imagine us accomplishing through love in the name of Jesus is nothing compared to what God can do within us. The potential of this world-changing power is unfathomable, and is the blessing I hope for us. Doing the unimaginable will look different from person to person, depending upon our gifts and passion given to us by the Spirit. For example, this might look like a 102 year-old-man who has logged over a thousand hours of service and traveled thousands of miles to volunteer his time to Meals on Wheels. Edward Kydd, who is not too far from us in Rockledge, FL, is not letting his age slow him down. He wants to spend his time giving to others who might need a hot meal brought to their home. Another example of doing the unimaginable might look like English teacher Bijoun Eric Jordan raising over $50,000 to take his students overseas to Japan. Mr. Jordan teaches at a school in Brooklyn where many of his students,who are mostly people of color, come from economically disadvantaged families and neighborhoods. Mr. Jordan knows his students struggle with poverty and are exposed to crime, and he wants them to see the world so that they know there is more out there than what they may be struggling with now. He believes offering them the opportunity to travel to Japan and other countries can be life-changing for these students who may not otherwise be able to afford to see much of the world outside of their neighborhoods. Like Bijoun Eric Jordan and Edward Kydd, if we use our love for others God can accomplish so much more than we could imagine in the world.

We are standing here in this space together, at the very beginning of our ministry. We’re still getting to know each other, and there is so much for us to learn and do side by side. I have already seen God at work here through VBS and our various outreach ministries, and I am very excited about living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community together.  I believe that if we strengthen one another, remain rooted and grounded, and be open to the fullness of God then the work will be good and beyond all that we can imagine. While I pray this for you and for us, I hope you’ll join me in this prayer for our church and for our community, too. If we are sharing this prayer as our mission together, raising our voices as one body with this prayer as our vision  then the power of the Holy Spirit will be a palpable presence. Let us pray and enact this together so that God will be glorified in the church for all generations. Praise be to God. Amen.