Ephesians 3:14-21 CEB
This is why I kneel before the Father. Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.
Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.
I have to ask, does anyone else sometimes get struck by the fact that Jesus is a carpenter? I mean Jesus is the Son of God and the messiah, don’t get me wrong, but there is also a fact that Jesus worked with wood for much of his thirty-three years of life. This popped into my head this week as I read through this prayer in the middle of Ephesians. When I hit the part about Jesus living in our hearts while I was in my office, I began looking up at the picture of Jesus that is currently in the pastor’s office, it is the one where a robed Jesus is standing in a garden while knocking at a door. That’s when it struck me, when we open the door to Christ, we are inviting a carpenter into our hearts, someone who knows how to build and repair things. I do not feel like it is hard to imagine Jesus doing the same in our hearts, building it into a place for God to dwell and rebuilding it into the kind of place it was always meant to be. That’s where we are in Ephesians this week, we are at a prayer, but we are also at a turning point in the letter where we are going from what it means to have this new relationship with God to what this relationship will look like in our lives and in our communities. Here, we are being renewed with love and grace in our very hearts and minds and souls, but it doesn’t stop there as this love and grace will then spill out of us into this world, filling it with the presence and renewing power of God.
A couple of weeks ago now, we started going through Ephesians together and we talked about this powerful reminder of how God’s grace is poured into our lives without reservation because of who God is and what Christ has done for us. At the start of the prayer, we have another reminder of how available this grace is in this world. It starts with “Every ethnic group in heaven or earth is recognized by [God].” Now, the phrase “ethnic group” got me curious as ethnic or ethnicity is a very modern term and even ideas of race did not pop up until at least around the 17th or 18th century in Europe. I looked at the Greek, and the Greek being used here is patris which means families or family groups, so it is essentially saying that every family is part of God’s family. This grace is being poured over all the families of God and no one stands outside it as no one stands outside heaven and earth. Even when you think about the most unlikely person to have God’s grace in their lives, here is this reminder at the beginning of this prayer that even they have God’s grace working in their lives. To realize all this got me excited because what we are talking about in this prayer is all the different forms of grace at work in our lives.
The grace spoken of in the first line is the kind of grace that surrounds us, that is freely given to us, often called prevenient grace, the grace that goes before. It is the idea that God’s presence and God’s unmerited kindness is always working in our lives whether we realize it or not. We all experience goodness, hope, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and love in our lives. All of these good things are grace things and God things. God’s hope is that we will wake up and notice this kind of grace, notice this good presence that is in our lives. The author of this prayer, often understood to be the Apostle Paul, is writing that they hope that this grace, this presence of God will start to do things in the very deepest reaches of our selves. We will wake up and realize that God is there working and acting in our lives, we will hear him knocking, much like Jesus in the picture, knocking at the very door of our hearts.
There is often a moment or a series of moments that wake us up to God’s grace, waking us up to Jesus knocking, often called justifying grace. It is the moment we realize just how much we need God! We are simultaneously being invited by God and accepting that invitation to let Christ in, to enter into this new relationship where we see God differently and God sees us differently through Christ. We are forgiven and redeemed, but we’ve also let Jesus into the very center of ourselves, and now comes the most difficult but rewarding part because once you let Jesus in, Jesus gets to work.
This is where the carpenter piece comes to my mind, and it made me think back to my childhood and one of the shows my dad watched a lot. Maybe some of you have heard of it: This Old House. In the show, the hosts would come into an old home, a house with character you might say, and they would begin looking to tackle the refurbishing and rebuilding of the house with the owners. That is what’s stuck with me this morning. The hosts could have easily had a show about tearing down the home and building something new, but instead, they recognized the unique character of each home and sought to make it like new again with its character intact. They rebuilt, renewed, and perhaps you could say resurrected the house. I can almost see Jesus as a carpenter doing the same thing in our hearts and souls. Pointing out the bits that are rusted and crude covered. Poking around in the broken and rotting parts. We might be standing by, sure that Jesus is about to turn around and condemn the whole property, saying that we are too much work to fix. Instead, Jesus sees the beautiful potential in all of us and seeks to bring that out in us through his divine renewal. Jesus doesn’t turn away but instead rolls up his sleeves and works in us and through us to restore all of us. What an amazing act of love! Here is where God turns to all of us, the ones who are sure that we will fall short, sure that we will be declared as unlovable, but instead, we are showered with a deeper love than any of us ever thought possible! It is through God that we finally understand what love truly can be because we are loved just as we are before we have even done a thing, but we respond to that kind of love and we become renewed through it.
This is sanctifying grace, the grace that brings us closer and closer to God, it is the grace that wells up in our hearts as we respond to the love we have encountered in God. What is our response? Our response is to try and understand “the width and length, height and depth” of love. Love is unique though. You cannot just think about love in order to understand it. You cannot wrap your brain around it, and I think there are a couple of reasons why. The first is that we are talking about the love of God, a kind of love that does not seek to be filled but a kind of love that only seeks to bless and fill another. It is too huge for us to fathom! The other reason is that love is a verb. Love is best understood when you are being loving, when you are engaged in loving someone else.
My friends, the act of love is also how we participate in what Christ is doing in our hearts and minds. You see, the more we love, the more we know the fullness of God and God’s love at work within us. The more God works within us, the more God works through us and the more we love! However, I do feel I need to make clear that love is not just an emotion, as I said before love is a verb. Love is an action verb. Love in action where we live out love in the ways that we actively care for our neighbors. Our good works, our loving actions, become outward reflections of the inward reality, the inward resurrection that is happening within us. It is this cycle of grace, this constant motion to move closer and closer to having the full expression of our relationship with God.
We are all being filled with grace and with God’s love. We are like a vessel in our God’s hands, shaped and crafted to receive this outpouring of sweet grace. The most amazing thing though is yet to come and that is that God does not just fill us up to the top and stop, God keeps on pouring compassion and mercy and love and forgiveness and blessing into our hearts and into our minds and into our souls. We are to become so filled that we begin to spill over with that presence of God, the liquid light of God’s love in our hearts overflows the cup. We are meant to spill God’s grace into this world. It is like the song, “This little light of mine, I am going to let it shine! Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine!” We are that light shining into the shadowy places of this world to show God’s love.
Now, we could simply be signposts, a lighted sign front pointing the way back to God, but God calls us to so much more than that. Make no mistake, we are called to pour all the good things God is pouring into our lives into the world as part of God’s love for us and for the world. The greatest miracle that this prayer hopes for is one that I think we can echo in our own prayers today. It is the miracle that God has all the power and the ability to do amazing things in this world without us, and yet God involves us in Christ’s redeeming work. God works to accomplish things through you and me. Imagine if how we prayed affected this and we lived like this. For instance, someone out there is in need of healing, and we ask for God’s healing but we also ask God to help us as we move to be a lifegiver in this other person’s world. We ask to end hunger, and we also turn around and work to feed those without food security. This latter example should sound familiar since the food bank here does just that.
Reading through this prayer in Ephesians reminds us that when we pray, we are not just asking for God to intervene in this world. We are also asking for God to intervene in all of us, fixing us up and making us like new again! Not to mention, we also ask God to work through us to change this world. We look for ways to live out and respond to this wonderful expression of love we have found in Christ. The rest of the letter to the Ephesians looks to explore what it looks like for us to live out our time as grace filled people transforming this world with love. We were transformed and renewed, so why wouldn’t we seek to do the same? Next time we pray, maybe we should learn from this prayer and from the love we have found. We are not here to simply be on the sidelines but instead we are called to actively live out the love our God has shown us. Let us not simply stop at asking God to do this or to change that, but also ask how we can be that change and spill God’s love and grace into this world! Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman