First United Methodist Church Commerce Texas July 25, 2021

Scripture Ephesians 3:14-21

3:14 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.

This the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Message

I am so thankful that Sam invited me to come share with you today.  I attend Powderly United Methodist Church. I am in the rotation of lay speakers as we are part of the North Lamar Parish which consists of four churches, so while Powderly is my home church, I get to love on four congregations and we all get to hear the perspectives of several different speakers.

It almost makes me wish I was speaking on last weeks’ text from 2nd Samuel.  If you remember, the reading was about how David wanted to build a temple for the Lord but the Lord said um, no thanks David. I have been with you and my people all along without a temple. But I will make YOU a house. God makes a covenant with David. This story foreshadows the coming messiah but it is also a picture for me of how God goes with us, no matter where ministry happens.  

Sam has been both my pastor and friend, so it is especially sweet to be speaking here this morning. My current pastor, Mark Hutchison, has been an encourager and nudged me to get out of my comfort zone and start speaking. 

I have been blessed with pastors like Sam who always modeled the grace of God to me and Mark who has modeled servanthood. I have been prayed over by my pastors and I have prayed for them. 

In our text from Ephesians today, Paul prays for the church. 

The letter is addressed to the church at Ephesus, but it is such a good prayer for us as the church, today as well.

Paul knew too well from his own life, that becoming a follower of Jesus does not mean we will not face hard things. On the contrary, it is kind of built in isn’t it? There are some things that we could not walk through without the help of the Holy Spirit. 

How amazing is it, that we all bring our little gifts and God multiplies and uses them in ways we could never dream of!  The church at Ephesus had some problems, as all churches do. They only see their church and their issues. We know that Paul had planted several churches and was committed to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who was crucified, dead, buried and rose again, for the redemption of the whole world, that all of humankind, could be reconciled with God.

How often do we focus on our individual situation without seeing the big picture? But God sees.   My husband is a kidney transplant recipient. He is the middle child with two older and two younger sisters. When he was born, my mother-in-law was done. In her mind, her little family was complete. God had other ideas and along with raising five kids on a game warden’s salary, she also cared for an ailing mother-in-law who was a little contentious. She very much loved all of her children, but I am also sure she had moments when she wondered about God’s plan. There were some tough times!

She passed away several years before my husband went into kidney failure. He was blessed to have a live donor. His youngest sister, the last baby born, donated a kidney. God had a plan in place for a problem that didn’t even exist yet! Mother died without seeing the entire picture. The sister who gave the kidney, had a gift to give that no one else could give. His transplant was 13 years ago and in that time, he has seen both of our kids graduate, get married, and three grandchildren be born. 

So sometimes, like my mother-in-law, we do not get to see the whole picture. Sometimes, what seems like an inexplicable cross we have to bear, is the answer to someone else’s prayer, and while we would very much like to see that end result because we want to know that the places and situations that we are called to walk through in this life have a reason, have meaning – sometimes we are called just to trust God. In those times, it is our faith that keeps us walking, even when we can’t see the path. 

I am a question asking, Jesus seeking, answer needing human but sometimes, God is silent and I have to hush and just trust that God is working. 

So my husband’s mother never knew that the last unplanned surprise baby, would be the person who could give him the gift of life. 

When my husband was in the hospital he had a time when he just was so unsettled. He told me that he just did not have a peace about getting this kidney. It weighed heavy on him, that his baby sister would be left with only one. What if something happened to that kidney? He worried about her health. We had a conversation about what if it wasn’t about him? What if it was about  God working in her life. We only see our little part. 

Then there are times, when we do see the fruit of things that happen in life. When I retired, I thought I was sort of finished. I could take it easy. Enjoy those golden years. We all know about those golden years right? It means your gold is going to go to the doctors because about the time you retire, your body’s check engine light comes on and your calendar is now filled with doctor appointments.

We started to attend a little Methodist church out in the country. It seemed a perfect fit. I already had a few friends there and the congregation was for the most part, either my age or older.  

But God did not plan for me to just fill a space on a pew every Sunday. There was choir, and bible study, and food pantry. Our church in conjunction with several other churches started a Celebrate Recovery chapter.  

Celebrate Recovery is a world wide, faith based 12 step recovery program based on the Beatitudes, for hurts, hang-ups and habits. Some attend as part of a legal obligation. Some have lost their kids and are required to attend a program as part of the process to get them back. We with the other churches in our community,  take turns providing a meal. We have childcare.  Some people, like me, come to help out and end up going through a step study. 

One night a lady was sharing and the group leader said she had heard over and over the same situation that was causing her very real pain.  The leader asked her what was her way forward. Now that might seem like a simple phrase to you but I whipped my head around and asked her to say that again. Because I am one of those people who gets on a hamster wheel when someone hurts me or I have a problem. I go around and round. I thought I was at CR to be on the praise team. I didn’t have any problems. But now, I think God put me in that place at that time, to hear that phrase. That night I learned, get off the wheel. It doesn’t matter how small the step you take as long as you take the step. 

We meet on Thursday nights and we eat, then we worship in the sanctuary and have a lesson or a testimony,  then break off into small groups. And after, is dessert and coffee and fellowship. 

So I am doubly blessed. I get to do church on Sunday mornings with hymns and liturgy in my little church of mighty spirits. Then I get to have church on Thursday nights

And…I have to tell you that the first time I opened my eyes as I was up front singing at Celebrate Recovery, and looked out and saw a shaved head, prison tatted, recovering addict, singing his heart out to Jesus, with his hands raised, I felt the tears coming and nearly stopped singing. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in that room and there was a truth in knowing that on Sunday morning when we are all cleaned up and singing hymns and doing church as we have always done, the broken parts of us are sort of covered up. The Holy Spirit is there on Sunday morning too. I have felt it. But Thursday night church? People walk into that same sanctuary, wearing their brokenness on the outside and God still shows up. 

Singing on the praise team and being involved with CR grew my faith and my confidence and led to lay speaking which has led me over and over back to scripture, feeling a weight of wanting to study harder, go deeper, and find something to give to the congregation. 

Instead, I found God was giving something to me! I found a deeper relationship with God.

When I am going to be speaking, I read the text from the lectionary.  I read the text around it. I read commentaries. I pray for understanding and I am finding that the more I hang out with God, the more I want to hang out with God.

This year, I have been on a different kind of faith journey, maybe because we all spent more time at home and I had more time to read. I have come to understand that God does not need for me to make sense of the bible. He doesn’t need me to be certain about everything. I believe in our basic theology. I believe every word of the Apostle’s Creed which is a wonderful way to clearly line out our basic beliefs. But at no time does Jesus say, study this book, take the test and you will graduate. I have learned to be okay in uncertainty, and to remain teachable.

It’s kind of funny to me. Disciple Bible Study, was probably the first time I ever got an overview of the whole bible. I remember when we started reading about all of the kings and the cycle of this king did evil in the sight of the Lord and this king did good in the sight of the Lord. And I got to the point where I was wondering, why is this in here? And I asked myself the same question I used to ask in Algebra class. Why do I need to know this. How am I ever going to use this.

But then, I stopped trying to understand and just started listening! All of these voices, speaking to us from their time, about how they were experiencing God in their culture and they were inviting us into the conversation. They were inviting us to see God as they perceived him. They were inviting us to find ourselves in their stories.

We start with creation. Heaven and earth were together! God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was one place. Then? As we are often prone to do, humans decided they should make their own decisions and feeling like God was maybe withholding something good from them, they did the one thing God said not to do. And sin ripped us apart. Heaven and earth became two places. And everything from that point on until the end of Revelation is filled with stories of people trying to put it back together on their terms, while God is working it all out in a much better way if we will just trust Him. And we are invited to be a part of that beautiful reconciliation. We are invited to be a part of all these conversations and to encounter God, not through a pastor, or a lay speaker, but through people in biblical times that are just like us. Imperfect, sometimes grouchy, sometimes brave and kind, as they try to understand how to live in community with others as followers of Jesus and as kingdom people in a world that often loudly proclaims the opposite. Anne Lamott says it like this. “We are Easter people born into a Good Friday world.”

So this wandering brings us back to the text for today. Paul writes this prayer, specifically to the church at Ephesus, but I think he would have prayed this same prayer for all of the church today. He was not praying for a building. We are the church. A friend and fellow lay speaker, Cheryel McElroy says it like this. “When the doors of the building open – the church goes in”  

So Paul prays that the church would be strengthened, in their inner being – for spiritual strength, not through our own power but through the work of the Holy Spirit. We can hear the Word spoken to us. We can see the Word by reading our bible. But we do not actually make it a part of us until we invite the Holy Spirit to do the work in our hearts.

Paul prays for the church to be rooted and grounded in love, that Christ would live in our hearts.

I love that.

Have you ever heard of the Chinese Bamboo Tree? Apparently the seed is so hard that once planted, you have to water it and care for it for five whole years before anything happens. Then! It grows as much as three feet in one day! In six weeks it will be ninety feet tall. All that growth happened because of years of preparation and without good roots, that ninety foot tree would never stand.  

Paul also prays that the church with all the saints, may have the power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Paul wants us to go beyond just knowing things. We need to lean in to living them. And if we are having trouble with deciding how to act in a particular situation? When we have prayed and we have gone to scripture and we have sought Godly council and we are still not sure what to do? Err on the side of love! because we are told in First Peter that love covers a multitude of sins. We can’t live out someone else’s faith.  We have to take hold of it ourselves. with everything in us, and God has already provided grace for our messiness.

Because, that is our  own faith story. We all have faith stories and when we share them by how we live and by using our words if we have to, THAT is how the gospel spreads and the church grows.

We all have a Jesus shaped box. We read the bible. We learn the stories. We think we understand and we fit Jesus into this box that we can comprehend. But for me, just when I think I have Him figured out, God puts a situation or a person in front of me that blows that little box to pieces because Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb and He is not going to stay in my little box. Paul uses this dimensional language because he knows from his own life that we  humans are only capable in our own understanding, of getting a tiny glimpse of the magnitude of God’s love for us. He found this out on the road to Damascus when he had His own encounter with Christ. I think it is interesting that Paul was struck blind when he was so certain that he saw the right of things. He was certain that he understood God. But God pulled the rug or road, right out from under him and said “no, Paul, I am so much more”. And for the rest of Paul’s life he was a different man. For the rest of Paul’s life he was being transformed. And that takes us right into the last line of this prayer.

Paul prays that the church would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that all of the church (I’m paraphrasing here) may be filled with all the fullness of God. If we are truly being transformed, if we are filled with the fullness of God, it is going to spill out of us, far beyond the sanctuary doors and far past Sunday morning. So today, I thank you for listening and I pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen your inner being. I pray that you will be rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you will get a glimpse of the immeasurable love the Father has for us, and I pray that you will be so filled with God that as you go about your lives during the week, others will see Christ in you and their faith will be strengthened and like a stone thrown into water, those ripples will continue far beyond what you can see. Amen? Amen

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