Monday, September 16, 2013

To Him Who is Able to Do Far More Than We Can Ask or Think

13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family [3] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:13-21 (ESV)

“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.” Paul closes the chapter with this little doxology. It is awesome. It has the power to restore a heart despairing for the fate of a tiny little congregation he has grown to love. The power to restore a heart despairing over the spiritual fate of the infants and toddlers he has baptized and then catechized at the foot of the chancel. Despairing over the fate of new members in the congregation who though perhaps older in years, are still quite young in the faith. Despairing over the fate of a tiny congregation of sinner saints that he has tirelessly prayed over in the last ten years. The fate of friends and family brothers and sisters and the future of a congregation that has been an oasis of the gospel in the parched and arid land of Utah. And then I read this verse and I remember that it is in God’s hands, his will is done. He is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
According to the power at work within us. What is this power that makes it so he is able to do so much? Perhaps we then also ask why we don’t see so much of it. I have to say, it is probably for the same reason we despair. I assume I’m not the only one who has despaired over these issues. Perhaps, we have done it in different ways, dreading days we hoped would never come, by putting our heads in the sand, or perhaps we despair over it by grasping at straws and lashing out at others, perhaps even blaming the pastor for this or that failure, maybe we beat ourselves up for not doing more here or there, or perhaps we start beating others up for what we think they could be doing better, or differently according to how we see it. And despite all this, there has yet still been prayer.
This is how Paul deals with the despair, the worry, the concern for his beloved congregation in Ephesus. Paul’s concerns for this congregation are recorded in the Twentieth Chapter of Acts. He calls the elders to him, presbyters in the Greek, a word for the office we call pastor today. Paul had spent two years there training pastors, and building the church. He admonishes them to watch over themselves and their teaching and over the flock over which they have been made overseers. He warns them that fierce wolves will come in and attack them. He knows these things, and that they won’t see his face again. Then it is recorded that there were many tears. God’s plans are not always easy, his wisdom can make a man cry. You would hardly believe it was possible for Paul after all the whippings and abuse he had received, the riots endured, etc. And then he weeps, for the love of this congregation. Let me tell you, I can identify with that. But there weren’t only tears, there was prayer.
It doesn’t say what the prayer was about. Not here. I imagine it was something along the line of the prayer that is recorded in our text today. Prayer that the congregation would be grounded and rooted in the love of Christ, that they would grow and take nourishment from that soil, grow in the love of Christ to bear fruit worthy of repentance. He knew the dangers, the fierce wolves would not come from the outside, but rise up from within. As his time to go drew near, he could see it starting among the members, the sinner saints showing themselves to be more sinner than saint. There is bickering about the finances of the congregation that Paul warns them about explicitly when he says he has not coveted anyone’s silver, gold, or apparel. He reminds them of how he taught publicly and in house to house. In house to house, yes there is a long tradition of that sort of thing in the Christian church and no one bickered that Paul would have dinner at another person’s house and develop friendships with those who were members of his congregation. Today there comes about this school of thought, that a pastor shouldn’t be friends with others in the congregation, that perhaps he shouldn’t be familiar with the elders. But then if he doesn’t spend time with them how does he train them? And has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps a person is more inclined to listen to the counsel of a friend than the bitter harangue of a jaded spirit? That even though we call it the church militant this side of glory, it bears little semblance to the military protocol of Prussia, and barking orders isn’t exactly the way to go about things with brothers and sisters in Christ? Oh, I’m sure Paul experienced some discontent and unrest too. It’s hard for me to believe that Ephesus was a congregation of perfect little saints who themselves didn’t break the 8th commandment. I mean his letters to Titus and Timothy are filled with warnings and advice for dealing with gossips, and busybody women who sow seeds of discord, others who want to do nothing but have endless and useless arguments about the law, you know, create controversies about what should and shouldn’t be said and where and how and why. I mean he had to remind the Corinthians that he and his elders, his fellow pastors, were to be regarded as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, and that perhaps complaining about his sermons and bickering and judging behind his back wasn’t the most Christian way of going about things, (yes, they complained even of the Apostle Paul’s sermons) as he subtly reminded them of what happened to those who grumbled about Moses in the desert, how so many littered the trail to the promised land with their very own corpses. This sort of thing was written for our edification too. You don’t think that is a danger? Listen we are all pilgrims on the way to the promised land, and not only can we ruin our own faith with such gossip and discord, but we can trample on the faith of weaker souls and run them off from the food and water with which the shepherd would feed his sheep. The sort of thing for which God routinely chastises the elders of Israel.
Think about this. For the first year I was here, for almost two years I was so exhausted dealing with discord among members vying for control over the pastor and the congregation and the direction it would go, that I could spend almost no time at all, no time at all trying to reach out to the community. And it would not have mattered if I did. No one wants to walk into a hornets’ nest, a viper’s den of deceit and forked tongue discontent. If you want to see this congregation grow, if you want to see this congregation survive and even thrive in the future, be on guard for that, be on guard for that among yourselves, look into the mirror first. And if you see something you think should be done, and isn’t being done, then consider it might be God calling you to do it yourself rather than complaining that it isn’t being done, don’t assume it is someone else’s job. If you think you have been wronged, or had your feelings hurt, then go to that person and talk to them as a brother as a sister, don’t assume they hate you, don’t assume they meant you harm or injury. And then do this favor for yourself, forgive, and be forgiven.
You want to know the power at work within us and through us? It is a power the world doesn’t know. It is a power that our sinful nature doesn’t know, and one that it despises, it is called forgiveness. It is upon this that Jesus Christ builds his church, the forgiveness of sins he won for you on the cross with his death and resurrection. The forgiveness of sins that he won by dying for you, the ungodly while you were still yet in your sins. Yes, a forgiveness that applies even now, to you. Because it is with this forgiveness that he washed you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is with this forgiveness that he sanctifies you and clothes you in his righteousness, it is with this forgiveness that he feeds you body and soul with his body and blood and sustains you on the journey through the wilderness. It is with this forgiveness that he builds his church in and through you and all of us here as we support this church, this congregation and strive to work together, because it is with this forgiveness that he makes all of us who eat of this one loaf, and drink of this cup to be one in him, that you may comprehend with all the saints the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. So it is, that only in this forgiveness, in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ is his love shown, his love in which he grounds and roots you that you may grow in him, and him in you and through you. And it is in that love working through you, that he is able to do far more than you could even imagine, like keep the waters of grace flowing for an oasis of the gospel in a spiritually parched land like Utah. It is in that grace, that power working through you that so many miracles occur here in this church as infants are baptized and brought into the faith, and people instructed with the word of God, convicted of their sin, and given forgiveness. It is through that power working within you that a place like this is kept open, and he is able to do far more than we even dare to ask or think. Yes, this he does even now in you.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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