Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 26, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
Sermon Theme: “A Prayer for Spirit-Filled Fullness”
(Sources: Anderson’s, Cycle B, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Examples; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary; Online Christian jokes)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Just as there are hymns in the Bible, both a whole book of them, as well as, songs imbedded throughout, there are prayers throughout the Bible, the Psalms being both songs and prayers. The most cherished and most often prayed Bible prayer is known as the “Our Father” or “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Almost as well known are the three prayers Jesus prayed before His arrest, — for Himself, for His disciples, and for all believers, and His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Like hymns and songs, prayers are commanded by God. Psalm 148 says, “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures . . . wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds . . . “ How literal we are to take this I don’t know.
However, there is an old story about a pastor who went to a restaurant to eat, and, quite upset, he summons the waiter.
“What’s this fly doing in my soup?” asks the pastor.
“Praying,” answers the waiter.
“Very funny,” says the pastor, “but I can’t eat this; take it back!”
“You see,” says the waiter, “the fly’s prayers were answered.”
Today’s sermon text from Ephesians is a lesser known prayer by the Apostle Paul. From Jesus and the Bible, we learn how to model our own prayers. Although Paul says he is kneeling as he prays this particular prayer, that does not mean kneeling must always be the posture for prayer. We may pray as we walk, sit, recline, or even run, but our inner being must always kneel in reverence and humility. We are kneeling and bowing our heads on the inside.
Paul addresses his prayer to the Father, just as Jesus addresses His prayers to the Father. In a general sense, because He created them, God is the Father of all mankind; in a spiritual sense, God is Father of all believers, because they have become His adopted children; and in a very special sense, He is the Father of His only begotten Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Instead of a series of disconnected petitions, as we often have in the Prayer of the Church, Paul’s three prayer requests are closely related. They are for his disciples, but they are for us, too.
His first supplication for his disciples and for us is asking that “[The Father] may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.” Paul is asking for the blessing of “Spiritual Power.”
People in today’s world are so obsessed with their outer appearance, spending huge amounts of money on beauty treatments, gym equipment, and clothes. But few people seem to be concerned any more with their “inner” appearance.
More than half my friends on facebook have gym memberships, eat organic health food, and work out regularly to keep themselves looking good. That in itself is not a bad thing. But they all seem so obsessed with their outer appearance, some even showing off their abs. Fitness is the way to happiness and fulfillment, so they think.
To counter that, and, as a pastor, put the emphasis on the inner person, I have been posting dozens of Bible verses and uplifting spiritual messages on facebook, suggesting the importance of nourishing your inner being.
Pastor Andrews’ wife was very concerned with healthy food, exercise, and outer appearance. On his way home from the church office one night, she texted him to bring her some organic kale. At the store, after an unsuccessful search in the produce department, he asked an employee for help. The young clerk seemed confused by Pastor Andrews’ request, so Pastor explained, “Look, this organic kale is for my wife. All I need to know is whether it’s been sprayed with poisonous chemicals.”
The visibly horrified clerk replied, “No, Reverend, you will have to do that yourself.” According to our sermon text, the way you strengthen the inner man or the inner woman is by opening your life to God’s Spirit so that the Spirit will ground you in God’s love and fill you with the fullness of God.
Paul’s second supplication is “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Actually, the indwelling of Christ into your heart occurs the moment you have faith. But Paul’s petition here is that Christ will feel at home in your heart, that you will not eject Him by your sinful words, thoughts, and actions, thus you can become more like Him and your faith will grow.
Paul’s third supplication is for you “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Paul speaks of the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge. We can almost feel the Apostle Paul reaching, straining to express more than he is able to put in words.
The “breadth” of Christ’s love is the world, according to John 3:16. The “length” of Christ’s love, according to 1 Corinthians 13:8, is forever. The “height” of Christ’s love, according to 1 John 3:1-2, is heaven. And the “depth” of Christ’s love, according to Philippians 2:8, is death on the cross.
No doubt every servant of God has experienced, like Paul did, the difficulty of expressing the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love. You and I have that problem when we try to tell others about the love of Jesus.
It’s kind of like children trying to outdo each other in telling their teacher how much they love her. “Miz Sharon, I love you this much,” said one kid stretching out her arms. Another student said, “I love you more than that. I love you THIS much,” wrapping his arms around his own neck and giving himself a hug. Still another kid said, “I love you a million times more than that.” The last boy to speak shouted, “I love you a gazillion times more!”
When the Moravian leader, Peter Bohler, exclaimed to Charles Wesley, “If I had a thousand tongues, I would praise God with them all,” Wesley wrote his famous hymn, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” Believing in the greatness of Christ and His love makes us all a little hyperbolic! No doubt that’s why Paul says in the text, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” – no knowledge of words is adequate to express that love!
Paul struggles to express that great love, because knowing the love of Christ is a necessity for all of us. It is necessary because it is the love of Christ which fills us with the fullness of God.
Is anything more satisfying after a hard day of labor than to push away from the supper table of your favorite food with a pleasantly full and satisfied feeling? This feeling is intensified in the presence of people whom you love and enjoy. When we are forced to go without food, there is a persistent, gnawing sensation of hunger that won’t let up.
To be sure, all people can suffer from hunger of the soul as well as the body. And just as you can be filled with junk food that gives you a sick feeling, you can be filled with junk spiritual food that does not satisfy. Paul prays for the satisfaction and joy of being filled with the fullness of God, the fullness of His love and grace. Nothing can be more satisfying than that. In His mercy, may God answer Paul’s prayer for us. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.