Today’s scripture begins with St. Paul on bended knee in prayer. A prayer that illustrates Paul’s “sense and wonder and adoration at what God has done, is doing and is going to do.” [The New Century Bible Commentary: Ephesians, C. Leslie Mitton, p.130] It is his prayer for every one of us.
Have you ever had someone pray for you? Maybe as a prayer request? Or maybe you came up to the altar rail and pastor Karen or me placed a hand on you and prayed. Or maybe a loved one—your parent or grandparent—your child or pastor or friend—prays for you every day. I know that my grandmother prayed for me every day without fail.
Sometimes we pray for ourselves…we pray and pray and pray but it seems like nothing changes. When Paul shared that very same thought to God about that thorn in his side that would not go away, the Almighty’s response was “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” [Ephesians 1: 9]
What do you need prayer for today? Think about this. Be honest. Jot it down and later when you are invited to silent prayer before The Lord’s Prayer, lift up the prayers of your heart. Remember that whenever we are weak, God is strong. [Ephesians 1: 10] God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.
We’ve been looking at Ephesians these past two Sundays. In this letter Paul invites hearers “to join in praising God for the plan of salvation” [New Interpreters Bible, Ephesians, p.352] because they live now as new creations in Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday in the second chapter of the letter, we were reminded:
The cross brings us near to God and to each other because Jesus Christ has broken down the “dividing walls of hostility” so that we might all be sons and daughters of God—new creations
And the cross brings us near to God and each other because all of us, like stones, are built together into a holy temple of which Christ is the cornerstone. This building is the dwelling place of God among us.
Originally Paul composed his letter for what would have been most likely the second generation of Christians. People who if they did not see it firsthand certainly were aware of the number of Christians arrested and martyred for their faith. Their deepest question may very well have been—can the church survive this persecution? It is out of this context that Ephesians was written and continues to be a source of hope for the Church and for Christians even to this day.
As one bible scholar noted: “Paul is providing prayers for the witnesses, prisoners, martyrs for the gospel and their friends—everyone whose life is fragments in need of sorting.” [NIB, p. 418] Fragments. Brokeness. Paul prays for everyone experiencing brokenness –then and now. Let me share with you just what he lifts in prayer on bended knee.
First, he prays that believers “may be strengthen in [their] inner being” and that Christ may dwell in them. A repetition of the letter’s earlier theme of how we grow into a human temple, a dwelling place for God when God’s Spirit is with us. We become the dwelling place for God so that the Almighty would be located right in the midst of his people. Present and accessible.
Then, Paul continues with a second prayer petition. He prays that those who read the letter will be “rooted and grounded in God’s love.” [v. 17] [Imitators of God: A Study Book on Ephesians, Letty Russell, p.61] Another translation, The New English Bible, reads like this: that they will have “deep roots and firm foundations” through God’s love. Deep roots has to do with planting and growing, firm foundations has to do with building and building upon. Both come about through the power of God’s Spirit.
The final petition of Paul’s prayer begins in verse 18 when he prays that his hearers may have the power of God’s Holy Spirit to understand the awesome dimensions of God’s love. A love without easy measure—whose breadth and length and height and depeth are immense. A love that can most certainly handle anything, anywhere, anytime for whatever reason. Here’s what the apostle Paul has prayed for in a nutshell. He has prayed that Christ will dwell in us; he has prayed that this will enable us to be rooted and grounded in God’s love; he has prayed that these first two prayers will open our eyes to the spiritual vista of the awesome and limitless power of God! Whew! What a mighty prayer.
And how does this happen? Paul saves the very best until last. This all happens because “…God by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…” [v. 21] No matter what we can trust God’s boundless grace! No matter what happens to us. No matter what people do to us. No matter how we feel. No matter who you are. No matter where you are.
Paul and I have covered a lot of ground this morning and I hope you were able to glean at least one or two things for your life. Something that will reinforce your faith or give you a new understanding of God’s tremendous love for you or bring some hope to a difficult situation with no easy answer. Let us pray:
Almighty God, Thank you that Paul prayed for us. Thank you that we can turn to you with the difficult and broken things in our lives. Thank you that your boundless grace can do far more than we ever can ask or imagine. Amen.
Do you ever tend to forget the things you should remember and remember many things you wish you could forget? I know I do, and I’m sure that might happen to you occasionally as well! In today’s passage the apostle Paul begins by asking us to "remember" something very important. What is it that is so important that he repeats the word twice in two verses? Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, knows how important it is to remind us what we were and what we have become in Christ Jesus.
Do you ever see those before and after photos in Weight Watcher ads or ads for Cross Fit? Paul is sort of lifting up a before and after scriptural picture so we remember the “before Christ” in our ancestors’ lives of faith and can claim and celebrate “the after.”
Let’s check out the “before Christ.” Paul reminds us about the absolute barrier that had existed between Jews and Gentiles previously. It was believed at that time that “Gentiles were created by God to fuel the fires of hell” and “it was not…lawful to give help to a Gentile woman in childbirth because that would bring another Gentile into the world.” Likewise, if a Jew married a Gentile, “the funeral of the Jew was carried out.” [Ephesians, William Barclay, p. 123] This barrier between Jews and Gentiles was as absolute as any Berlin Wall or Iron Curtain.
Also, before Christ, Gentiles lived what might be described as pragmatic lives…not forward thinking or filled with hope. The Jews on the other hand had the understanding that history had meaning and direction and that it would culminate in in a glorious ending. It was sort of a “march to God” verses the Gentile’s “progress to nowhere.” [Barclay, p.123]
Paul has us remember that before Christ, Gentiles were also “strangers” to God’s laws and covenant promises. The Jews were a covenant people with special privilege and also responsibilities. Gentiles were not yet part of the covenant people.
Then Paul switches gears from “before Christ” to “after Christ.” The important things we are to remember. How the barriers are down now because Gentiles have been “brought near.” Jesus has “broken down the dividing walls of hostility.”[Ephesians 2: 14] The phrase Paul uses “brought near” is the same that described Gentiles who converted to Judaism in Paul’s time. But instead of having Gentiles become Jews or vice versa, Paul says that Jesus removes the barriers and brings about unity.
The gifts of unity are threefold. First, Jesus transforms us into new beings. We are all new creations in Jesus Christ. More than we were before, and not yet what we shall become. That has not yet been revealed. As new creatures in Christ we see life in brand new ways. In each person we encounter, we can look past the exterior and see a heart that God loves no matter what. We can learn to love as God loves and we can even love our enemies and pray for them. That leads directly into the second gift of unity.
The second gift of the unity of Christ is that of bringing together the children of God who have been estranged from each other. Enemies can become coworkers or friends. It is removing the barriers. Because we are all God’s children, Jesus showed that we can be friends with one another. It is the natural thing to do because we are full members of God’s family. This is vital as we learn to coexist alongside our politics, and in negotiations with one another in godly and loving manners. Christians are peacemakers.
The final gift of unity is access to God. We Gentiles, who were previously far off, are now covenant people as well, having special privileges and acknowledging our special responsibilities as well. We have been set apart and consecrated by the Holy Spirit for God’s work. We are called directly into service.
As you are aware, our main responsibility is bringing the love of God to bear on the human situation. I have seen that countless times here among you, exercising your privilege and responsibilities in caring for the homeless; for moms and children in shelters; building houses alongside Paterson families; packing thousands of meals for school children in Africa; having dinners to raise money for mission; reaching out during the pandemic in caring caravans, small groups, and caring calls. And last but hardly least, your volunteering in so many, many different community organizations. We are a church that is living out our Christian responsibilities.
In the final section of this morning’s scripture, St. Paul gives us a stunning image of everyone of us as a stone, mysteriously growing together into a “holy temple.” It is understood that Jesus is the cornerstone of this eternal dwelling. And just as important every stone, every one of us here this morning, is an important part of this “dwelling place for God.” Amazing thought! We are the house that Jesus’ love builds! Growing, becoming secure, stones forming walls, an ongoing building project in which we bring God close to his family, have him live intimately with us, have walls that shelter and protect us from sin and death and rooms and roof that provide shelter from the storms. Within the house, the dwelling for God, a light burns brightly, signaling that Christ is the light of our lives and Christ is the light of our world.
There is no darkness in the family of God. No unwanted people, no misfits, no one is outside of the circle of this healing welcoming light within the circle and fellowship of our lives. This is the church at its best! And this is what Paul would have us remember. Your place in the building up of the house where God dwells.
Let us pray:
Good and Gracious God, We thank you for the life and sacrifice of your son whose death and resurrection brought us closer to you; clothed us with privilege as your children and with responsibilities as your servants; and built us into a home where you can visit among us sharing lighgt and strength and hope. Amen.
the forgiveness of trespasses, according to the richness of grace.”
Ephesians 1: 7
Once when daughter Robin was little she curled up next to me on the sofa one evening and she asked: What if a little kid doesn’t have a mom, who would take care of her? I thought a moment and answered: Well, I suppose that child’s father would take care of her. There was a pause. And then another question: But what if that little kid doesn’t have a father? Another pause. I replied: Why I suppose a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or a friend would take care of the child. And then her real question: What if, what if that kid doesn’t have anybody at all?
What if? “What if?” is that existential question. What if there is nothing else. No divine being or any purpose to life at all…Like Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There is?” What if? Even as adults we want to value the certainty that there is a plan, that there is someone or something looking out for us. That life has a purpose, a meaning greater than ourselves.
In today’s scripture Paul assures us that there is more to life than meets the eye. He expresses words of assurance and joy, as one commentator put it “a lyrical song of praise…gift after gift, wonder after wander” concerning our place in God’s plan. [Ephesians, William Barclay, p.87]
The riches of God’s grace is a favorite theme of St. Paul. In last Sunday’s scripture, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians prayed that God would remove what he referred to as the thorn in his side, but that did not happen. Instead, God enabled Paul to continue his work, to follow his calling despite the things that troubled him. God answered Paul like this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” [v. 9] And Paul esponds: “Therefore I am content…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” [v. 10] That promise of sufficient grace is for us as well.
In today’s lesson Paul shows us additional gifts of God’s grace. Perhaps the first point and most special of all is that God has chosen us to do God’s work. Jesus repeats this in John 15: 16 “You did not choose me but I chose you.” What really is special about this choosing is that it was God’s choice to bless us deeply. Haven’t we heard adoptive parents saying this to a child. We have chosen you. To love you, to care for you and to treat you as a member of our family. You are special.
God says the same thing to us. Paige, you are special, Bill, you are special, Ken, Jane, Max, Robb, Ruth, Amy, Jeannie, Jackie, everyone of us, you are special. We are special because God has chosen us for adoption into his family. That we might be the children of God. Imagine that.
Sometimes people brag about their families. You’ve heard them. Things like my dad was a Super Bowl referee. My mom sells fashion on QVC. My uncle has his own podcast. My cousin is vice president of her own hedge fund. You know those folks. But it is us who have something to really brag about. We can say with assurance. I am the daughter of God. I am the son of God. I am a child of God. This is the first of the“riches of grace.”
Secondly, God is overwhelmingly generous in sharing with us goodness and peace of mind. There is never any worry necessary that we might not have anyone to watch over and care for us. Instead, our hearts and minds are at peace because this great God of the entire universe and of the tiny sparrow, has seen fit to provide a peace that passes understanding for our troubled souls.
How do you welcome the peace of God into your life? So many different ways. Setting aside a time each day to read some scripture or a devotion. Maybe engaging in meditation or yoga or a time of silence or walking in nature opens hearts to the peace of Christ. When Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples, he explains his gift of peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” [John 14: 27]
Let’s move on to yet a third aspect of God’s grace. Perhaps the greatest gift of all the riches of grace is being “sealed” with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: In [Christ] you…were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…” [ v. 13]
In the sending of scrolls or important packages, a seal was often applied to show who owned the scroll or the package that was being transported. Just so, Paul uses the same word for the “seal” that the Holy Spirit affixes to the believer. It is this “seal” that identifies us as belonging to God.
Then Paul describes the Holy Spirit like this: “ the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” [v.14] In the New International Version [NIV] it is translated this way, this seal is “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” [v. 14 NIV]
Paul uses the Greek word arrabon here which described “a regular feature in the Greek business world…a deposit paid in advance as a guarantee that the rest would in due course be paid.” [Barclay, p.100] In other words, God has paid a deposit on us in advance. As one commentator shared: it is “a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven.”[Barclay, p.99]
All of the riches of grace bless us, the children of God, and bring us peace for all that troubles our hearts, and promise us eternal life in heaven. The take aways?
Serve your heavenly parent with reassurance,
invite God’s peace into your hearts and lives,
live every day knowing that the best is yet to come.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, sometimes we forget how rich we are! How your grace pours through our lives like a mighty rushing stream. Help us to “dive deeply into the living waters of loving fidelity”* and to someday reach the shores of eternal life and the “blessedness of heaven.” Amen.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor. 12: 9
‘While I was changing channels this week watching TV I came upon one of the strongest man competitions. The event in the contest I watched was to see which man could pick up the heaviest barbell from the ground, straighten up and hold it for a few seconds. The winner picked up over a thousand pounds. That was pretty incredible but what captured my attention was how the winner seemed to use absolutely every fiber in his being, he mustered every iota of his powerful muscular strength in the gargantuan task of lifting the barbell.
That’s the gold standard for strength. The muscular capability of a human to lift over four times his weight. Wow. Our scripture today from St. Paul’s Letter called Second Corinthians is also about strength and heavy weights. But in a very different way. Let’s check it out.
In the beginning of today’s passage there is an odd story about a person who visits heaven and then returns to earth. Kind of puzzling and then one realizes that Paul is talking about himself… that this man is Paul, and that experience happened to Paul. He writes as if he is in the third person: “I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven….and was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” [vv 2-4] A mystical kind of experience.
It seems that Paul’s spirit somehow rose up to heaven and experienced God. “Things that are not to be told….not to be repeated.” [v. 4] Paul recounts that he was caught up “into Paradise.” We sometimes use that word for heaven but Paul seems to be referencing Paradise the way Persians referred to it. Paradise represented a “walled garden.” So, Paul was not only transported to heaven, he was admitted to God’s special garden. A walled garden where he would have had conversation and companionship with God.
I wonder if this scripture helped inform the favorite hymn “In The Garden”? Remember the lines? “He walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own. And the joy I feel as I tarry there none other has ever known.” It is clear from this scripture that Paul has had a life changing mystical kind of experience!
The thought process that follows next for Paul is a bit surprising. He doesn’t boast because he has smelled the roses in the heavenly garden, instead, he shares that just the opposite happens! He writes “to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh.” [v.7]
There have been many theories over the centuries as to what that “thorn” was. It may have been the continuing opposition and persecution he faced; it could have been worldly temptations; it could have been his physical appearance; many medical “thorns” have been surmised from epilepsy to migraine headaches to eye difficulties. Proponents of each have scripture passages to support their views. A well known pediatrician from Philadelphia has gone on the record convinced that Paul had autism.
Paul prayed that God would remove the thorn in his side, but that did not happen. Instead, God enabled Paul to continue to follow his calling despite that thorn. As one Bible scholar put it so well: “[God] does not spare us things, but makes us able to conquer them.” [Second Corinthians, William Barclay] God answered Paul like this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” [v. 9] And Paul esponds: “Therefore I am content…for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” [v. 10]
Even when we are feeling incapable of doing something we feel called to do, Paul’s words remind us that we are not the world’s strongest people on our own. Instead, God’s strength and power is our energy source.
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley preached 42,000 sermons in his lifetime; travelled 4,500 miles yearly by horseback; and preached three sermons per day average. At age 80, Wesley wrote in his diary: “I am a wonder to myself. I am never tired, either with preaching, writing or travelling.”
This power and strength of God can help you and me through our weaknesses so we can proclaim along with John Wesley “I am a wonder to myself.” God’s power and strength can respond to so many trying things in our lives. Maybe it is physical weariness, we are tired and feel worn out; maybe it is some kind of pain or ailment that hampers us; maybe we are struggling with our faith; each of us has a thorn in the flesh that reminds us of our need for God.
The great good news in or lesson today is that when we reach down to pick up that very, very heavy barbell, it is not us alone lifting it. God loans us strength for all the heavy lifting we have to do in our lives from parenting to growing older, from caring for friends and neighbors in need to serving in our local church. God’s strength and power are made perfect in our weakness. Never forget the weightlifting miraculous power of God. For whenever you are weak, God is strong.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, Life can be very tough at times. Some responsibilities seem too much. Some tasks too daunting. Some pain feels as if it has no end. Be present in our weaknesses, fill us with your strength, let us feel your power in the everyday opportunities in our lives. We thank you and praise your name. Amen.
This is the STAFF LOGIN area. If you have no website account, click the Create Account link above to create one. Then, confirm your account through email. One of our admins will then confirm who you are and approve the account.