s129e00 Somerton Park Sunday 17 30/7/2000
"I pray that you may ... know the love of Christ" Ephesians 3:18,19
The letter to the Ephesians is wonderfully comforting. We ourselves look to God to be strengthened in our inner beings with power through his Spirit. In the liturgical sequence of events, we are in the middle of working our way through this letter, which is ascribed to Paul, but perhaps was written by one of his disciples. So it is appropriate for me to focus on this letter at some stage as we read portions of it for the epistle, in the past few weeks and for the next few weeks too.
The writer greets his readers in the first two verses of the first chapter, and goes on to describe how God had blessed them in Christ and prays for them. They are very comforting and affirming words. In chapter 2 he describes how those who were dead have been made alive and those who were far off as Gentiles had been brought near through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the beginning of chapter 3 he says that his ministry has been to the gentiles who also have access to God. And so we have this prayer for strengthening, and in the light of what has gone before, this quite unusual prayer that forms my text for today: "that you may ... know the love of Christ" ...
Of course the readers knew the love of Christ. They were the very ones who had been dead and were now alive (2:1,5). They were the ones who were the uncircumcised Gentiles (2:11,13) who had now been brought near, as we read about last week. How could the writer now suggest otherwise, and have to pray that it be so? The letter, other than this rather unsatisfactory snippet, could well finish here, with all of us looking to God for inner strengthening.
How often do we feel powerless and think that there must be more to the Christian faith than this. Are we to be forever waiting for spiritual power to descend upon us?
But the letter doesn't end there, and as we will read in coming weeks, we will be exhorted to "lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called ... bearing with one another in love ... making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4:1-3). The following week the letter will bid us "be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." (Eph 4:32). The following week we will be told "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph 5:21).
The logical conclusion of being made alive and being brought near, is knowing that those realities in our lives are as real in other's lives as well, and that we conduct our relationships accordingly.
Knowing Christ means knowing Jesus acceptance for ourselves flows on to others.
So if we wait on our knees for God's strengthening, we will, I suspect be waiting a long time. We will find God's strengthening ready and present as we get on with the job of getting on with those around us, for that is when we will need it.
So we know the love of Christ in our lives already, and we come to know the full extent of the love of Christ as we see Christ in others.
The message of the Old Testament lesson, is that the offering of first fruits which the man from Baal-shalishah wanted to offer to the prophet, is instead given to the hundred others who needed the food.
And no doubt Andrew, Simon Peter's brother would have thought that the five barley loaves and the two fish might just have sufficed for a rude meal for Jesus and his disciples - and here was Jesus giving it away to the multitudes who could have nowhere near enough to satisfy any of them! It just wasn't sensible. I can imagine, he like I, would have seen the bread and the fish being offered to those outside the inner circle of followers, and being more than a little startled. I am sure Andrew wondered where Jesus was going to find some other food for himself and the disciples.
And yet there were scraps aplenty for them, despite their unbelief.
The love of Christ is overflowing for one and for all. The love of Christ is meant to be given away - freely to others. Indeed it multiplies precisely when it is given away.
So this is precisely why we can "know the love of Christ" yet keeping it to ourselves, we fail to really know the love of Christ, the "breadth and length and height and depth ..." By keeping it to ourselves, we didn't know it for what it really was in the beginning. It is only as we give it away freely, the true nature and extent of the love of Christ becomes evident.
This is why the letter to the Ephesians reminds his readers to remember their former life, when they themselves were dead, when they themselves were Gentiles ... They hadn't been able to come alive through their own exertions. They hadn't been able to overcome the religious boundaries. They were what they were because they had realised that Christ had died and risen for them. And if Christ had died and had risen for them, Christ had died and risen for everyone.
Indeed the basic division we find in the letter to the Ephesians - the first section about what God has done for us - leading on to the second section about how we are to relate to those around us - has many parallels. Romans 1-11 and Romans 12 - 15.13 follow the same pattern. From this we can conclude that the "old" chasm between St Paul and St James, between faith and works, between evangelical and catholic, is a "furfy". It can in reality be seen within the great St Paul himself, and if he did not actually write the letter to the Ephesians, by his disciples who did. Faith and works cannot be separated. The one feeds the other.
We cannot use the first eight chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans and claim: "I belong to Paul" (1 Cor 1:12) without listening to Paul's words in his very same epistle: "Who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." Romans 12:5
The love of Christ that Paul bids us know, multiplies in the very act of giving it away, in the act of seeing the love of Christ in others. So instead of looking to God to be strengthened in our inner beings with power through his Spirit, we rightly look to ourselves, and the extent that we see the love of Christ in other people. As we get on with others, we will know God's grace aplenty.
There have been times in my life and ministry when I've thought that the Church's message has got a bit stale and uninteresting. There is nothing like seeing Christ in another to spice things up. And this is because others, particularly those of other faiths and cultures, bring new insights and perceptions to our own existence.
With Paul, "may (we all) ... know the love of Christ", as we see in each other and in all of humanity people who can contribute to our lives as much as we may be able to contribute insights to theirs. Amen.
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