First Sunday after Pentecost—The Holy Trinity
June 15, 2014
Growing in God’s Grace
You know they say, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Or an organization is only as strong as the weakest relationships. You can come with a whole list of analogies like that. So, it’s time to get real today. If I were to ask you what is the weakest part of our church? What would you say? This is a rhetorical question obviously. This isn’t a time to complain or air your grievances. But what would come to mind for you?
Well obviously, the structure of our church, right? It needs to be kept up. Repainted. Reinforced. Repaired. But we need the money to do that. So that’s another struggle we have. We need money to make the place look good and sound good. We need money to pay to update and tune the organ...speaking of which, is music our biggest problem? Does our music need to be fancier to bring more people in? If the apostle Paul, who was writing to the Ephesians, were to take Marty McFly’s time machine and step into our church, what do you think he would would say would be the weakest part of our church?
Let’s take a step back and look at our Christian brothers and sisters that Paul was writing to in Ephesus. The church of Ephesus was flourishing. But, there were problems lurking, as they do with every congregation. The Ephesians almost seemed to be easily frightened and easily spooked like a coward. What is a coward worth who runs from confrontation? Not much. The supposed Christians who give up in the face of difficulties, or when effort must be displayed and are lazy instead, we see that they aren’t sincere. The Ephesian Christians hadn’t given up yet, but there was always a danger that they would become scared and discouraged, especially because they saw that Paul was suffering and was in prison. They were pessimistic. They were ready to give up and to wave the white flag in the face of danger. So, if Paul were to step into the Ephesian congregation, what would he say? Well, the walls are sturdy. You’re singing some pretty stellar songs. People are nice. But, I’m concerned.
I know you’re still thinking about if Paul stepped into our church. What would he say as he tries not to trip on his toga coming down the aisle? Paul would look at our church and say, the building looks fine. He’d probably check to see if things worked. It’s not the building. Its not the music, either. The music sure would be different than his Middle eastern Jewish background songs and melodies but no, the words of the hymns are awesome....what would Paul be thinking coming into our church?
Well, Paul gives his thoughts to us in the form of a prayer to God. Paul invites us into his thinking and he wants us to join in on his prayer. But trivia first: did you hear all the names Paul mentioned? Hint: it has to deal with the name of this Sunday. Yeah! Trinity Sunday. Paul mentions all the person of the Triune God. Just some sweet knowledge for ya.
And who was the first person that Paul mentions? God the...Father! Paul says that he kneels before God the Father “for this reason.” Did you catch that when we read the verses today? What is “this reason” that Paul mentions? Well this is actually a continuation from earlier in Paul’s letter. “This reason” refers to all the grace that God had shown Paul, which is why Paul bowed down and prayed. Paul knew that he was unworthy of all the incredible things that God had done for him, and the privilege God gave to him of being able to share with the Gentiles the precious word of life.
We would agree with Paul that we are unworthy of all the things that God has given to us. One of the biggest examples of that is the fact that we are a part of his family. We have been stamped with God’s name. It’s difficult to see it in the English translation, but the word family and the word father are almost the same. God the Father plays a pivotal role in our lives. Its interesting when you observe children. They imitate. That’s how they learn. That’s how they grow. That’s how they learn the importance of putting away the toys so that the big wheel doesn’t get run over by the car. They learn by imitating. Fathers play an incredible role in the family, not to say that the mothers don't. However, children will imitate (sometimes subconsciously) the mood and the actions of the father...and yes, especially at church.
This also speaks of our greater Christian family. We should seek to imitate those who have gone before us. Think of our church’s history. Some 150 years ago, a bunch of regular people got together and said, you know what, we should build a church. Don’t you think there were the people back then saying, well, we don’t have the money! Are you sure there is a need? Yet, the people stepped up, and in faith, trusting in God, built this church. And they made it so cool, like with little guys up on the pulpit, fancy windows. They didn’t just put up a lean to. No they made it beautiful to praise God and glorify him. Let us imitate those family members who have gone before us! Later In ephesians, Paul will even say to be imitators of God. We are his children. We should imitate him!
Paul then prays in regard to the Holy Spirit. He prays that the “inner man” be strengthened through the Holy Spirit. The inner man is identical with the new life that we have as God’s children, and being a part of that Christian family. The “inner person” isn’t found in non Christians, whose inward and outward wants and cravings are all selfish and carnal. Rather in believers, the “inner person” is really the true self, which stands in contrast to the old sinful self, which is still attached to us as that body of death. But, the old self isn’t the true self. Paul wants their “inner person” to be strengthened. This isn’t what our modern society might say to you: You’ve got to know yourself and improve yourself. No, Paul wanted the faith to be strengthened.
So, We see the problem with our church isn’t the building. It isn’t the music. It isn’t the occasional bat that makes me feel unmanly and weak hearted. The problem is you. It’s me. It’s the roots, the foundation in God’s word. How deep are our spiritual roots? Are they even there? Or, are they rotting? Where our church is weak today is because we aren’t always rooted and grounded in God’s message on a daily basis. Simply, Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit work in their hearts and continue to do so. Every day every we should pray to God for this blessing because if Christ does not continue to live in us, does not grow and increase in control, he will gradually fade again from our hearts. We must either grow or die, advance or retreat in spiritual life. We don’t just sit stagnant.
Yet, you have God on your side. We don’t have the strength on our own to strive to grow or even be able to approach God. God will strengthen us through his Spirit who works through hearing and reading the gospel, baptism, and communion. Therefore, it’s important that we use those things! The summer months, are a gift from God. Time for people to refresh and take some vacation time. But man! They can’t be vacations from God. The summer months are the easiest months to slack off with coming to church and having personal devotions. That can be detrimental to the faith life!
But rather, Paul’s prayer is that we stay strong, hear God’s word, so that we have an ever deeper connection to that third person in the trinity. Paul’s prayer is that Christ dwells in our hearts. We also see here that God wants us to understand and to know Christ. He doesn’t say to feeeeel the connection to Christ, as if it can only be expressed in an emotion. No, God gives to us so much more. He gives to us the ability to know, understand, and convey those words to others. That knowledge is so great that Paul says share that message “with all the saints.” One person could never do it on their own, but Christians naturally will tell each other about their discoveries and experiences with respect to that knowledge.
Pause here, you can’t help but question, if Christ’s love surpasses knowledge, how are we going to know it? How are we supposed to completely understand it?
Consider the simple form in John 3:16. This is a profound statement. Something that has baffled philosophers, scientists, and average Joes. It is so vast beyond our thinking. It is like looking at the stars. Just with the naked eye, I have no idea what’s going on up there. There are too many stars to count. Then you get a telescope. Oh man! You start seeing moons on distant planets. Then you go to a planetarium. You know what happens? Your mind is blown by the crazy size of our universe. And that just show the vastness of God’s power and creation. Yet, you can ask any child at our grade school what those words of John 3:16 mean, and they can say that we are sinners, that God loved us and sent Jesus to take away our sins, so that we might be with him forever in heaven. And when we ponder this precious truth, we begin to comprehend how wide, how long, how deep, and how high is the love of Christ. Paul prayed that the Ephesians and all believers never stopped their pursuit of learning God’s love and that we would never get to the point where we would say, “ok, I’m done. I officially know all that there is to know about the love of Christ.” If that was the case, we might as well only have church twice a year, because what’s the point? No! We need to be constantly reminded and continue to learn more and more.
People may read the bible for history sake. Or for good morals. But they will never understand it, unless they are rooted in that love for God in Christ. Otherwise, it is just history. Otherwise, it is just a book of morals. Otherwise, it is just an exotic story. We want to know the love of Christ so that we don’t lose that precious treasure that Christ has won for us. We want to continue to study the vastness of God’s love so that we don’t sway back and forth with the worldly philosophies that seem to change almost every year. We don’t need to be easily frightened when someone challenges our faith, because God’s word is truth. We don’t need to be afraid in sharing this beautiful message with people who think that they are alone in the world, or they think that they are unlovable. But we have a God who loves us, and wants us to be with him forever. That’s a message we want to continue to grow in! That’s a message we want to pass on to every generation and all people.
When we continue to grow in God’s grace, all those arguable weak links that we observe around our church become strong. We use our gifts, our talents, our treasures, to express our love for Christ’s love. When we continue to grow in God’s grace, that airing of grievances becomes irrelevant and changes into opportunities to express our awesomeness to the community. God has given us an incredible grace. Let us continue to grow in that knowledge. Amen.
And the peace and love of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.