Remembering the big picture
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family 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 3:14-21 ESV)
The experience of being a Christian is personal and I wouldn’t want to be prescriptive about it and even suggest that we should feel this or that because if nothing else I am talking about something that is hidden, received through faith, and exists when I’m asleep or unconscious or even dead. And yet Paul’s words to the Ephesians and my words to you can describe Christian reality in certain ways.
Last Sunday and reading Ephesians 2 we heard that the momentum or direction of Christianity is towards others, unity rather than separation. Yes, there are divisions and factions and hostilities and even fightings and war are part of this world but the goal of the followers of Jesus is peace where we seek being built together in a holy temple with Jesus as our cornerstone. Of course it isn’t easy when dealing with truth and error but the commitment and purpose is always building together so that we are a dwelling place for God by the Holy Spirit.
Today we hear Paul still mentioning the Gentiles – making sure they are included we might surmise – but addressing everyone who is aware of Jesus, this crucified person, but who sees in him the mystery of the grace, wisdom, and riches of God. And Paul prays that the Ephesians and therefore all his readers including us are strengthened with power by the Holy Spirit so we may have Christ in our hearts through faith to comprehend and live this new life that we now have with God through Jesus and now with fellow Christians. Being a Christian doesn’t wipe away our name, our parents, our families, our relationships, our children, our tribe, our personal history but expands it by placing us, getting us to see ourselves in a bigger picture and including new relationships. That’s why I said that the experience of being a disciple of Jesus is personal but the reality of this new life with this crucified man whom we follow as Lord is expanding or growing as we increasingly sense the world in a new way – the breadth, length, height, depth of anything is expanded because God is there and the love of Christ is there – the fullness of God is there.
Many of us have grown up in the Church – have always know that there is a Jesus and yes, perhaps we have had moments or experiences where it really did it home that ‘Jesus died for me’ but Church, Christianity, Jesus has been part of us to varying degrees all our life. For others of us there are moments or experiences where Jesus came into focus – maybe as a teenager or adult, where going to church or hymnody even at school struck a chord (!) and you found yourself being drawn to Jesus. We’re not unaware of 2,000 years of church history – which is a mixture of good and bad – and the organisational church bodies are complex and seem to be further fragmenting – so for many people Christianity narrows to be ‘me and Jesus’, ‘Jesus saved me’, ‘Jesus is with me’ – and of course that is not at all incorrect! But the point that Paul was making back then and I think applies even more so now in our global complex interconnected world is that any reflecting on Jesus will take you further than just you and Jesus in your head and heart. Any reflection on Jesus and his cross leads you to the Father and the Holy Spirit and that God is not an absent landlord of Planet Earth just ZOOMing in for worship and picking up the phone in private devotions but that God is involved in the world because he keeps the planet spinning and Nature happening but particularly as his people are in the world.
The world operates with its knowledge and science and wisdom – and when they are working for the good of all, they are not too bad – but they remain limited because they do not have the big picture of the fullness of God. Christians can bring that perspective to the world – not to dominate or run the world in some sort of Christian theocracy but to serve the world and to call the world to the love of God – not fear of God – in the person of Jesus.
I have asked the questions many times ‘Why don’t we get zapped to heaven when we are saved in Christ? What’s the point of living on Earth once we know we’re saved?’ And the answer keeps coming back ‘So that we may know the fullness God’ – ok, we could know that in the heavenly realm – and ‘so we can serve this world that God so loves that he sent his only Son to save’ – and we can’t do that in the heavenly realm.
When I say it like that people might think ‘Sigh! That sounds like I don’t get a life if I just have to serve others’ and that is why Paul was praying for the Ephesians and for us that we get the big picture and spiritual strength that we serve that world in our life, in our relationship, in our workplaces, in our congregations, in our country, in the decisions we’ve made – most of us who are married chose our spouse – many of us have the employment we have or had because of both circumstance and choice – and my point simply is that in our life we can find or sense or simply belief and trust that God is already there.
And the more we ponder Jesus and what he has done for us and that he is alive with us now, the more we sense – like going through the wardrobe deeper into Narnia – that God is already involved and he is wanting us to serve in that moment, in that job, in that relationship with the love of Christ in us. And the older we get, the more we may kick ourselves or regret that we could have done better but that misses the point that we will always find sin and fear in our past and in our present but what counts is the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge and is constant and we can also see how God has brought good into the world in and around and through us.
There is no part of creation or part of our life where God is not. Christians are blessed to know God personally through Jesus. For non Christians there is no part of their life where God is not but he is maybe sensed but so often feared or rejected or simply not known personally because the world or other religions lie about him or misrepresent him. And the Ephesians experienced that difference or transition from non Christian to Christian where God ceased being an unknown something or a being to be feared or avoided but became a God who was always drawing people to himself so that they may live well and this God had the face of Jesus.
It isn’t easy to live by faith and that is why Paul was praying and why we pray that Jesus and God’s love for us may dwell in our hearts because it is finally only Jesus and that love that help us live well – better than we could we have dreamt – as we see ourselves as this generation of Christians here to serve.
- Ephesians 3:14 - 21