Over the last several months of substitute preaching I have had a number of requests for audio copies of sermons, but different churches have had so many different methods (or lack of methods) for recording that I haven’t ended up with a lot of files to offer. Last Sunday I just plopped my iPod on the pulpit and left the mic from the headphones sitting on top. I hope it sounds okay and pray that you find the message edifying.
A sermon based on Matthew 15:21-28.
Be the Dog (click to download or listen)
It is with some trepidation that I post this audio sermon recorded more than two years ago. I am reminded of the text whenever I am surprised by the “treatment” I’m receiving from the Lord. And the theme is one I’ll never forget because many members have quoted it back to me over the years. It doesn’t help that I also tried preaching this same sermon at a pastoral conference, and the host pastor still reminds me how he brought my manuscript back to me afterward with a wry smile on his face. Why? Because his dog had taken a bite out of it.
Despite this sermon’s colorful history, however, the Lord has comforted me many times through many difficulties by reminding me about what I learned as I prepared it. I pray that it is encouraging to others, as well.
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Brothers and sisters in Christ, especially my family at Michigan Lutheran Seminary-
I can’t say it’s been a surprise, but it’s certainly been an experience listening to friends and families share their conjectures with me. Sometimes it’s what they’ve heard from others and sometimes what they’ve personally thought. I wanted to put up this post to try to ease some tensions and to try not to lose the value of my resigning for the good of the ministry.
We have a few terms in our circles for describing different kinds of resignations. A resignation for cause is the one that I think people fear the most. Resignation for cause means that a called worker has done something sinful that disqualifies them from serving. A clear-cut example would be teaching heresy. Other more complicated issues would be getting caught in some big, public sin like adultery or embezzlement. The distinguishing mark of resignation for cause is the repentance that everyone will be hoping for. The forgiveness the resigned called worker receives is the same forgiveness we all receive—complete and unconditionally paid for by the blood of Christ. However, the called worker still must leave their post because leaders in the church are held to a higher standard than those who serve as members. “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1 Timothy 3:2-4,7). There is the possibility that the called worker might return under some circumstances, but the reputation requirements do make it difficult.
A called worker may also resign for personal reasons. Due to circumstances in his life, he cannot do the work. Perhaps his health is failing. Perhaps his family can’t handle the pressures of the ministry at this point in their lives. Perhaps it is an issue in which his wife needs extra attention so that he does not feel he is able to offer due attention to his work. These things could certainly be addressed in a way that allowed a return to the ministry if the the worker desired it.
There are some circumstances that are much more difficult to parse. There is no great, public sin. Inability to serve is not the issue. As a leader the called worker has a decision to make in a difficult situation and reaches the conclusion that the best thing for the ministry of the gospel in general and the ministry of the calling body in particular is that he simply step away, confident that the Lord of the church will provide another worker to take his place.
That’s where I am. I came here to offer myself in whatever service the school needed most. I can’t say that I thought this was the service my alma mater would need most from me, but I’m confident that is the very best service I could offer under these very unexpected circumstances.
What were the circumstances? That’s the thing, my friends. I can only serve the school by this resignation if I am able to take the reasons with me. I can only tell you why I didn’t resign. Did my marriage need intensive counseling? I’m happy to take the free counseling that the synod offers to help us deal with the upcoming transition, but I could have gotten that without resigning through the Member Assistance Program that operates right out of the school, too. Plus, that would be a resignation for personal reasons. Does it have to do with my hospitalization last spring? That’s an interesting coincidence, but that issue has been corrected (and, again, that would be personal reasons). Did I do something wrong? I do plenty, but nothing to disqualify me from serving in the ministry. Last but not least, is there something going on in the synod that a poor, naive parish pastor couldn’t handle looking at and so he had to walk away? Brothers and sisters, walking away from that wouldn’t be for the good of the ministry, would it? Of course not. There’s plenty I’d still like to work on in the ministerial education system and in the synod, too, and, quite frankly, I wanted to keep working on those issues as the president of MLS and as a delegate to the 2011 convention (I was up next for the first time in my ministry). Those things were hard to give up.
So thank you for your concerns and prayers. I still have my CRM status, which means that I am still eligible to preach and receive a call. But I will be looking for a job while my family heals from this. We will be mourning the joy of serving at MLS. Will I go back to the ministry? I’d like to, but I want to be sure of my family’s feelings first. Resignations like this are rare but still possible, no matter where you serve. I can tell them how unlikely a similar situation would be, but first I want to make sure that it won’t sound to them something like talking about the rarity of a plane crash to someone who has just survived one.
Thanks again for your support and prayers, and God bless you all with the peace that comes from knowing that the omnipotent Father in heaven was more willing to let his perfectly faithful Son die innocently for our sins rather than see us die in them—and especially with the peace of his victory over our death.
Your brother in Christ,
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Romans 10:18-11:6 (NIV)
18But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”[a] 19Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,
“I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”[b] 20And Isaiah boldly says,
“I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”[c] 21But concerning Israel he says,
“All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and obstinate people.”[d]
The Remnant of Israel
1I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: 3“Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”[e]? 4And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”[f] 5So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.[g]
Mom hears the door slam and the sound of her sixteen-year-old daughter running up the stairs. Mom stops what she was doing and listens more carefully. Was that a sob?
As she heads to the stairs herself, she can hear the door to her daughter’s room slamming. This can’t be good, mom thinks to herself. Her daughter had been at a school dance, and Ryan, the object of her biggest crush yet, had taken her to it. She had left the house giddy and nervous, but already, as mom climbed the stairs, she could hear that her daughter was, in fact, crying. The sob that forced its way out as she ran up to her room had been followed by a flood of tears.
Mom stood outside the door for a couple of minutes, not knowing whether she should knock or just let her daughter cry it out. Wondering wasn’t necessary for long, though. Her daughter somehow knew she was there, and she got up to let her in.
“He used me, Mom,” she said between heaves. “He used me. He doesn’t care about me at all. It was so obvious. He only took me to the dance because he wanted to make Sarah jealous. I feel so stupid.”
Breaks your heart, doesn’t it? No one would ever want their child to go through something like that. People want to be loved, truly loved. They don’t want to be objects, something that someone else deceptively uses to get at another person that they actually care about. That’s a disgusting use of emotional manipulation, and it really hurts.
So what if I told you that God was using you to make someone else jealous? Did you understand that as I read from Romans 10 and 11 just now? “I will make you [the Israelites] envious by those who are not a nation [Gentiles, non-Jews]; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”
There’s no doubt about it. The words are very clear. God is using Gentiles like me and you to get at the Israelites. Paul was seeing more and more Gentiles come to faith in the one, true God, and he had to ask: “Did God reject his people?” Did he reject his chosen ones? No. They were still his chosen ones, and the rest of the nations in the world were not. He was using the Gentiles, Paul was saying, in attempt to get to the Jews.
And Paul was not the first one to say it. He was actually quoting from a song that God gave Moses to sing aloud right before he died, right before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The song predicted that the Israelites would fall away from God. Like a wife who would become ungrateful toward the husband who loved her, like a wife who took her husband’s loving and abundant care for granted, Israel would be (in Moses’ words), “filled with food” and become “fat and sleek.”
That’s what the song says. I’m just quoting it. God could see this sad future so clearly that, even as he prepared to shower his joyful and (currently) obedient people with blessing upon blessing in their new home, he spoke of Israel’s future rebellion in the past tense: “He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior. They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. They sacrificed to demons, which are not God—gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:15-18).
And because they would make him jealous by running after false gods, God would teach them a lesson, he said, by taking the blessings that were normally theirs as his own, special people on earth and showering them upon other people scattered throughout the world. “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” Those others are the mix of peoples gathered around the Word of God here this morning. God is using you to get to them.
How does that feel? Does it upset you? Does it make you mad to hear that God is using you in this way? Do you feel something like the teenage daughter from the story I told a moment ago? Do you feel like he doesn’t really care for you, that this is all just a show to make his chosen people jealous?
Well don’t feel like that. The story I told earlier is not a true parallel to the way in which God is using all the Gentiles who are here to get to the descendants of Abraham. It’s just not the same.
And how is it different? Well, for one, this is not a boyfriend-girlfriend situation here. This is the relationship of God to all the creatures that he made in his image. This is the relationship of God to those that he created to enjoy a life of service to him as he serves us with all our needs. Those two aren’t really the same.
For another thing, the boy in that story didn’t really care for that poor girl. He only cared about the other one. That is so not true with you and God. God doesn’t just want Israel to be saved. As Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy, “God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3,4). He doesn’t just want them. He wants you and he wants them. So he’ll love you with every ounce of love with which he loved Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and the Apostle Paul. And he hopes that the sincere love he shows to you will also remind the Israelites of the sincere love he showed to them—and make them want him back!
Actually, the key to understanding what makes this using and loving different from the using and loving of sinful humans is the big Bible word used four times at the end of our text: grace. Surely you remember hearing that word before. Grace.
When I say that God is both loving you and using you to get to his lost people, I’m talking about the same kind of love that Paul is talking about. I’m talking about grace. Grace is not the love of boyfriends and girlfriends. Boyfriends and girlfriends get together because they find one another attractive. When they get serious, they get exclusive. The message is, “I find you so attractive that I don’t want to date anyone else. I’m most attracted to you.” That’s why a girl involved in a story like the one I told before would be so brokenhearted. Being used like that is to feel as though the boy has just said to you, “I only want you here because I’m really attracted to her, not you.” That is cold and sick.
The difference with that special love called grace is that attractiveness doesn’t enter into it. Grace is a love that is undeserved. Grace is a love of commitment that is not based on the attractiveness of the other. It is the only love with which God can love our race, because we are all sinners. By the rightful judgment of his own Word, the expression of his heart to the world, he hates sin. He hates disobedience. He hates rebellion. Yes, he even says in his Word that he hates sinful, disobedient and rebellious people (Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 12:8; 44:4; Hosea 9:15; Amos 5:21; Zechariah 8:17; Malachi 2:16)!
But his chosen he has chosen. Do you understand? He chose his Old Testament people to be his own. They did not deserve it. They were not less rebellious or more noble than the other nations of the world (Deuteronomy 7:7; 9:4-6; Ezekiel 20:44). Nonetheless, he chose them. He called them his own, and he will not go back on his Word!
Likewise—and I do mean, “in exactly that way”—he chose you. He has chosen you and loved you with the same eternal love: grace. If he did not choose you as he chose them, how could his relationship with you drive them to the kind of jealousy he wants, the kind that reminds them of God’s promises to them and makes them long to rejoice in the comfort of those promises once again?
He loves you because he loves them and wants them. But it’s the same love with which he loves them, not a pretense or a ruse. Therefore, although I can say that he loves you because he loves them and wants them, it is also true that he loves you because he loves you and wants you. That is the love of grace that finds no righteousness in you just as it found no righteousness in them (otherwise, Paul says, “grace would no longer be grace”).
“I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!” He can’t and he won’t. He is perfectly righteous. He is perfectly faithful. He has always reserved a remnant of his people, as Paul both indicates and himself exemplifies. He does not change his mind. He still shows his grace to them, still seeks and redeems them.
And the same is true for you: Used for their sake, but truly loved. He has sought you. He has paid for all your sins. He has called you his own in baptism. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10). Now live as people of God, holy and noble, as together we prepare for the day when all his people will be gathered to his side, to live with him in perfect righteousness and joy forever. Amen.
Epiphany 4 Loved and Used
January 31, 2010
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Romans 10:18–11:6
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Acts 4:24-31 (NIV)
24When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
” ‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.[a]‘[b] 27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people[c] of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
It’s that time of year when it’s hard to be a football fan.
You may think that I have it backwards, but I meant what I said and I said what I meant. This is a hard time of year to be a football fan. It’s not hard to be a fan of football in general, but it’s a hard time of year to be from anywhere but New York, Indiana, Louisiana or Minnesota. After all, if you’re not from one of those areas, who are you supposed to be rooting for?
So people get together for the big games and they feel the need to declare allegiances and defend their choices. I’ve seen a room full of steamed people watching championship games before. It’s not pretty. I’ll tell you what’s interesting about it, though. What’s interesting is the way that the people in the room will suddenly grow quiet when something big happens on the other team.
When the game is up in the air or their side is winning, they talk up a storm! They hoot and they holler! They even make fun of the fans rooting for the other team. But when it starts to look like they’re going to lose the game, all that goes away and they quiet right down. They don’t want to make fools of themselves by talking about what a sure thing it is that they’re going to take the game.
Is that why Christians are so often reluctant to speak up? Is it possible that they’re not as sure about the outcome of the “game” as they say they are? Well, Speak Up. You’re Not Wrong. Pray like the Christians in Acts 4 did that we may all speak boldly about our Savior and the fact that, in the end, no matter how things look in the meantime, “he will stand upon the earth” and that “in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25-27).
You might think about that a little bit as you watch the last few games of the year now. Think about how it would be if you were absolutely certain of how the game would come out, no matter what happened. It would make all the difference in the world, wouldn’t it? You’d absolutely speak up about it. Really, you could be as boastful as you wanted and still know you were okay. I suspect you would even put money on the game—that is, assuming there was someone who would still want to bet after you told them that you knew how the game was going to come out!
That’s like the early church, isn’t it? They totally knew how this was all going to come out. These were the very people who personally saw Jesus rise from the dead. They absolutely understood this. And since Jesus had risen there had been the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. There had been the conversion of 3,000 people in one day. More and more had joined the church until, at this point, there were actually 5,000 people who believed in Christ, and it looks like all this had happened within a few months of his execution. Of course they could see that all of this was working toward some great victory! And why would they not be bold to speak up about it?
Sure. They knew they weren’t wrong. I mean, Peter and John had just been released after an arrest by the Sanhedrin, but what were they arrested for? They had miraculously healed a man born lame and given the credit to Jesus. It was pretty obvious to them that they weren’t wrong.
So why did they even need to pray for boldness? Wasn’t the “big game” going in their favor? Wasn’t their team scoring all the touchdowns? And didn’t they know that they were the ones destined by God to win? So why did they have to pray for boldness? Why weren’t they naturally bold, like a superfan watching his team trounce all over the opposition at the Superbowl?
That’s because the prophecies that spoke of their destinies as winners also spoke of circumstances that would make them look and feel like losers. We look at their time and we think, “Miracles—cool! Wouldn’t it be neat to have those?” I’m sure they would have looked ahead to our time (if they could) and thought, “Wow! Peace and freedom to speak of the gospel. Wouldn’t it be cool to have those?”
Okay, so perhaps you’ve never seen a disciple of Christ reach out his hand and perform a genuine miracle of physical healing. So what? You’re still not wrong. You’re still on the winning side. Do you really doubt that? Do you think it’s disheartening to have people belittle you for speaking up about Christ and that’s the reason you don’t want to say anything? Really? You cave into peer pressure and live like the rest of the world because you want to be popular with the people who live like nothing but self-righteous and rebellious sinners, but all this time you could have been using your freedom of speech to offer them the truth, to show them that they are the ones on the losing side. You could be telling them that the ultimate winner, Jesus Christ, has already purchased them a ticket to sit on the winning side and that he has left that free ticket in their names at the will-call window. Speak up! You’re not wrong about this. Those who do not believe and mock Jesus with their sins are wrong—and if they stay that way, they’ll ultimately be damned. Why would you live like them? You’re a child of heaven! Speak up!
Besides, if you think that seeing some miracles—or even performing some miracles—is the ticket to speaking boldly, think again. This prayer for boldness came from people who were already performing miracles. They were performing miracles, but they were also witnessing great evils. They themselves were witnessing the unholy alliances that were always working against the Christ, the “nations raging” and the “peoples plotting,” all of which was prophesied in Psalm 2, which they quoted. They had seen it directly and powerfully through the collaboration of two men: a Jewish King over the peoples of Israel (Herod) and a Gentile ruler over Palestine (Pontius Pilate). They not only saw them plot against the Anointed One, but they saw the rulers murder him!
If this was a Superbowl, then it was looking like a blowout in the other side’s favor. At least, it would have appeared to be a blowout for the majority of the game. If this was a Superbowl, most people would have started watching the commercials and skipping the game a long time ago. They would have assumed that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh had gotten this game sewn up almost before it was started.
Remember that this is how it would have looked to them, since that same council that killed Jesus was still in charge of God’s people Israel. The side that would ultimately win it all, then, was in danger of giving in to the opposition and clamming up in the face of their mockery and persecution. We know that would have been foolish when we look back now, but that’s only because we live in the future and we know how this is all going to work out! But, as far as they were concerned, this was the situation: The rulers of the world had plotted against the Christ and—guess what—they had actually killed him. Now, he rose from the dead, so at least the home team was answering these big scores in spades, but now what? Jesus arose and had ascended into heaven, and now all that ire that had been directed against him was being directed instead against his much weaker followers!
So they prayed for boldness. They prayed for the courage to speak up. God had told them how this was going to end. It didn’t matter which way the game was going at any given moment. They needed to speak up because they weren’t wrong about the outcome of this “game,” and the Holy Spirit demonstrated how true this was by shaking the place where they were meeting, and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
And now, you. Now, us. Disheartening things have happened to us. Temptation has stricken many blows among us. It has even gained some victories. Perhaps most frustrating of all is that, under much less pressure, we have prayed for help much less often than the early church did, and we have become far too much a part of this world, rather than being the bold witnesses to the truth that we are called and privileged to be. How can we speak under such shame?
By the power of the Spirit. By the power of the Spirit who shook the room where the early church met. We can speak up because the Spirit comes to us through this earth-shaking message: As incredible as it sounds, you are forgiven. Despite your failures, God does not count you as wrong; he counts all of your wrong against his Son for your salvation. Jesus was a perfect witness that God may see a perfect witness in you for Jesus sake. Now that makes you a personal witness of his forgiveness and salvation.
So speak up! You’re not wrong, so speak up! You know the salvation of God. You know his forgiveness. You know how this story ends, so speak up, and God will surely bless. Amen.
Epiphany 3 Speak Up. You’re Not Wrong.
January 24, 2010
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Acts 4:23-31
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(click the link above for the originally published pdf)
14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
He Can Do Immeasurably More Than You Imagine. That’s good to know. He can do immeasurably more than you can imagine. Nowadays, that’s awesome to know!
Just look at what’s happening in the world around us. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, died in that earthquake in Haiti. They keep talking about an economic turnaround, but I’m not seeing it around here. Our loved ones are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The morality in this world is dropping deeper and deeper into a dark, fathomless hole. And our church, which made a miraculous recovery in offerings at the end of 2009, is starting out 2010 with two of the lowest totals we’ve seen in recent memory, launching us into a new year with a surprising and disturbing deficit—and we haven’t even voted on a budget yet!
But He Can Do Immeasurably More Than You Imagine, and that’s what the Spirit of God and his inspired Apostle would have us know as we meditate on Ephesians 3 this morning. 1. Paul’s life makes it clear just how true this is, that God can do immeasurably more than we imagine. And 2. Paul prayed that we all may understand it as he did.
Now, you may not know Paul’s life well enough to know how it helps us to understand that God can do immeasurably more than we imagine. You should, though. It’s fascinating stuff. It’s all recorded in the book of Acts. I mention it specifically because our text starts out, “For this reason I kneel before the Father.” “For this reason” refers to his life up to that point, especially the fact that (as he wrote a few verses prior to this), although he was “less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given [him]: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
That’s cool. That’s amazingly cool. It was an unimaginable privilege and honor for Paul to serve God and his people as the Evangelizer of Gentiles. But that’s not entirely the reason that Paul was dropping to his knees before God. The thing that he’s actually focusing on more than anything else was what he had said earlier about being “less than the least of all God’s people.”
What proved to Paul that God could do more than any of us can ask or imagine is the fact that he now believed in the “troublemaker from Nazareth” as the one, true God and his own, personal Savior. Never forget what Paul had been doing that brought him into contact with the Good News about Jesus! Paul was a Pharisee, an enemy of Christ. He was the star pupil of one of the leading members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council that had dragged Jesus before Pilate in order to get him crucified. Paul had been trying to impress the faithless religious leaders of his day and the figment of his imagination that he thought of as the God of Israel by chasing down followers of Jesus and throwing them in jail. He even had a hand in killing some of them.
So I guess you’d say that Paul knew of what he spoke when he talked about what a miracle it was to become a Christian. He never should have been one. He should have been shut right down and thrown into hell for letting his sinful pride be the boss of what he believed instead of simply listening to the message of Christ and believing him. What a different life he was leading all those years ago when the Savior appeared to him and said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5; 22:8; 26:15)! And now he was Jesus’ number one man for bringing the Good News to the Gentiles of the world! God truly can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine! Paul was living proof!
On the other hand, this text isn’t really about Paul. Paul we just a starting point. Paul’s life makes it clear just how true it is that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, but the point of what he’s saying here is that he is praying for the Christians in Ephesus (and ultimately us, as well) to understand the love, grace and power of God the way that he himself does—better, in fact, because he is praying for all Christians everywhere to understand the love of Christ better: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Now, how can you come to understand the depths of God’s love as well as Paul, the great persecutor of the church who was saved by Jesus Christ’s direct intervention on the road to Damascus? The simple answer: Recognize that you are not really different from him. Neither is your story.
What Paul said about the Christians in Ephesus earlier in this letter applies perfectly and directly to all Christians without exception: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:1-10).
Miraculous intervention. For a lot of us, those miraculous waters of regeneration touched us when we were too young to even remember the change that it made in our hearts, but that doesn’t matter. It was miraculous intervention nonetheless. It was spiritual life from spiritual death. It was the pure, undeserved love of God (grace) performing a spiritual resurrection toward which we could contribute absolutely nothing.
And if you are one of those who can’t remember that initial intervention in your life, I can still give you a very vivid illustration of this grace that you can relate to right now. Do you want to know what it is?
You’re looking at it. It’s right here. I mean me, but I don’t just mean me. I’m talking about all of us being here in this holy place.
Look back on your week. Was it abundantly clear to everyone in your life at all times that it is not your old, sinful heart that is in the driver’s seat in your life? Or, as you think about your angry responses, your impatience, your worldly goals, your grudges and bitterness and your backbiting tongue, do you see all too clearly someone who has forgotten the waters of their rebirth and stooped to live like those still controlled by their sinful natures? As you see those failures more and more clearly, do you not also see more clearly how appropriately Paul’s description of himself also fits you: “less than the least of all God’s people”?
Don’t run from the truth, even when it shocks you with images of your own failure in the face of temptation and shallowness in your thinking. Through a genuine understanding of the depths from which God saved us, God is teaching you to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know the love that surpasses all knowledge.” You are beginning to understand the full measure of God’s forgiveness and grace “together with all the saints” for whom Paul prayed, that we may be strengthened in our “inner being” through that message.
It’s good to remember that God can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine when we see rampant disaster and immorality in this dying world. It’s good to remember that. But to understand that he does immeasurably more than we ask or imagine requires looking at the disaster and rebellion caused by our own sinful nature, the disaster and rebellion from which our gracious God and Savior has delivered us through his life, death and resurrection— disaster and rebellion from which he has personally delivered each one of us individually through the Spirit working in the Word of salvation and through the sacraments to which he has attached the power of that message. You need look no further than right here to say that God can and does do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, for here we see that God has saved us—even us—and will deliver us to life with him in eternity. Amen.
Epiphany 2 He Can Do Immeasurably More Than You Imagine January 17, 2010
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Ephesians 3:14-21
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