Trinity 16 2018
The Epistle – Ephesians 3:13-21
The Gospel – St. Luke 7:11-17
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
We asked God this morning that He would pity His Church…His people… and that He would cleanse and defend us.
Furthermore, we acknowledge that it cannot continue unless God protects it and preserves it by His help and goodness.
So, the prayer today is timely. It is a prayer that could be uttered daily for the rest of our lives. It is a continual thing that we should ask for because of what it implies.
It implies that God will in fact do so.
We could ask God every day to defend His Church and preserve it in safety.
This prayer, though necessary to pray, is being answered. God has promised in many places that He is the church’s preserver, care provider, comforter, sustainer, protector.
We may not see it or detect it, because it is incremental…or it is prevalent in places we don’t see or know about or hear about.
Or it is done in such a way that it is hard to observe….or in many ways, it is done despite what we see all around us.
There is certainly a perception problem on our part, because we compare it with what we see around us on a daily basis and what we are bombarded with in the media, in the classroom, in the workplace, in the court system.
But if we take what Paul has written this morning and break it down, we can understand better what he is talking about and it can give us greater insight into how we are to view or process the world and the time we live in.
This letter from Paul, is written from prison. Notice here as we first trace out what leads up to this point where we pick up today, how Paul begins with some important things to know.
This is a common pattern of Paul. Begin with the facts. Then tell us what to do with them and what to believe and how to live. Implications.
And doing it carefully we can see in what ways, what Paul writes can apply to us today.
In chapter 1, he first blesses God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord. Blesses God as he sits in prison.
He tells us that God has blessed us in Christ, with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.
So, our status in Christ is sealed and certified. Therefore, there is a lot there to be comforted by.
In Chapter 2, the news only gets better.
Before we belonged to Christ, we were dead in trespasses and sins. We were alienated from God.
But God…being rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ.
He tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV)
So, he has told us that we have many things in common even with the ancient Israelite people.
God in the Old Testament promised to be the one who would deliver His people.
Not by the power of the sword.
Not by the strength of the legs of the horse.
Not by the might exerted in those who take up the sword…but it would be the Lord who would ultimately deliver them.
And so, the same goes for us with what St. Paul says in these passages. From start to finish, God is working to save us.
God called us before the foundations of the world. This was not so that He would later discard us. ..but so that He would show His power and glory thought His work in us.
Then in chapter 3, he goes on to tell of why he is in prison. It is because he was talking about Jesus Christ to people. He was telling them He was the one they had to worship.
He was telling a bunch of people in a pagan city to put away idols and turn to the one, only true and living God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
And the people there did not just lie down and accept Paul’s message.
Some did. Some gave up their false practices and tossed out their idols.
We even read of times when Paul was making some headway in some place and those who carved or fashioned idols to buy were being run out of business or at least were seeing a noticeable drop in sales.
So, today, he tells us, “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” (ESV)
So, we can certainly apply what he says today and apply that to us as well, since God is still in the business of preserving, cleansing and defending His Church…despite what we perceive as great setbacks…and attacks…and hostility.
He asks us not to lose heart over our sufferings as well.
And then he offers a prayer. …which is what today’s Epistle reading is mostly based on.
Here is a prayer to go along with our Collect for today. It has a similar thrust to it.
He is praying here, by the way, again, from prison.
He does not want them to be discouraged by his imprisonment. A set-back. A defeat. Don’t view it this way.
Commentator - Paul pauses to assure his Gentile audience that his imprisonment does not mean that God has rejected him from his apostolic office so as to compromise their inheritance in Christ.”
He says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
So, first here is the strengthening.
Everyone on the earth, both Jew and Gentile who have been brought to this saving relationship with God is because of Christ’s work in breaking down the barrier and the divisions that once existed.
Now all who are being saved are saved by Christ.
This is according to the riches of His glory. Paul wants them, and by extension us, to be strengthened each day by these things.
No one of us has advanced so far in this life that he can say he does not need to grow anymore in faith.
Calvin – “The highest perfection of the godly in this life is an earnest desire to make progress.”
The strengthening happening here is by the Holy Spirit. It does not proceed from us. It is a gift…a divine gift of God.
This is all because of the riches of His glory. He is rich in glory as well in mercy and pity and grace. Our strengthening is all because of these.
That our very souls may be strengthened by God. That we may be fully convinced of His preservation and grace.
The outward man can be the body. The inner man can be seen as the soul or the self. The mind. The being.
This is not really pointing to outward strength, but it is intended to keep our hearts and minds on the things of God…of His promises. Of His strengthening.
Christ then must dwell in the heart. He must dwell in the inner man as Paul said. The Spirit makes Christ present to each of us.
Some to a greater degree.
Some to a lesser degree.
And this dwelling is by faith.
Calvin – “By faith we not only acknowledge that Christ suffered and rose from the dead on our account, but, accepting the offers which he makes of himself, we possess and enjoy him as our Saviour. This deserves our careful attention. Most people consider fellowship with Christ, and believing in Christ, to be the same thing; but the fellowship which we have with Christ is the consequence of faith. In a word, faith is not a distant view, but a warm embrace, of Christ, by which he dwells in us, and we are filled with the Divine Spirit.”
And when Christ dwells and lives in us, then the fruit we bear is love. Paul says it is rooted and grounded in love so that we may have strength to comprehend and understand and believe and embrace what is the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s grace and preserving mercy.
Our faith must be rooted and grounded…thoroughly fixed, convinced.
Rooted like the deep roots of a well planted tree and grounded like a well-built house with a good foundation.
That is how our faith is to express itself.
So deeply convinced of God’s strength and love for us, that nothing can cause our faith to waver.
Paul gives us all four directions or dimensions of the love of Christ. For this, when comprehended, is what strengthens us. It, in fact surpasses all knowledge. It is the sum of all wisdom.
This fourfold dimension is mathematical in nature.
The breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ toward us is the contemplation of Christ in all directions….and the utter perfection and completeness of His love.
Above, below, in front of and behind… on the right and on the left.
In other words, the great love that God has for us in that He preserves us in His Son, is the sum of all our faith. The totality of our faith…what should occupy our minds at all times.
The fullness of God.
So, as you can see, this is a very well worded, well crafted, rich prayer for his readers…and us.
And then St. Paul concludes this way.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (ESV)
This prayer is obviously the model for so many of the prayers we find in the Prayer Book.
To whom be all honor and glory…
World without end…
To whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost. Liveth and reigneth, forever and ever.
This is all intended again, to give us hope and encouragement in our time as well.
St. Paul says, “He is able.” Christ is able to do this, so our faith must embrace this.
Whatever God can do, He will do as promised. And He will do it far and above and greater than we can ever think or imagine.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.