Saturday, August 26, 2017

None of Them Except

Is it handbasket or handcart?  I’ve heard both.  I need to know.  Wikipedia isn’t any help.  They just add more.  Handbag.  In a bucket.  Great.  Lots of help there.  When you’re searching for the phrase that describes the current state of affairs in our country, you want to get it right.  We are going to hell in a handbasket.  Or handcart.  Handbag?  Bucket.  “A phrase,” that same Wikipedia article tells us, “of unclear origin, which describes a situation headed for disaster inescapably or precipitately.”  That about sums it up, I would think.  The wheels are coming off, the final trumpet has sounded.  Turn out the lights the party is over.

Actually I want to take exception to the crowd-sourced Wikipedia definition.  That’s too secular for my liking.  When I want to invoke the threat of hell, I do it with a decidedly theological bent.  We are drifting farther and farther from the goal of the Kingdom that Jesus bled for, or so it appears to me. Some of us by choice, choosing hate rather than love, choosing a fantasy of superiority over a reality of equality, choosing to live in a broken and oppressive past rather than a hard won and strenuous but hopeful future.  Choosing to identify enemies instead of discovering brothers and sisters.  But then some of us join in the drift by neglect, by silence, by a tacit acceptance of a sinful lie than to strive for a deeper and more difficult truth.  To allow a Nazi slogan to be shouted in the streets of our nation and attempt to find goodness in the battle cry of white supremacy and to find those to blame on the side of those who stood against it is to surrender any moral high ground won by years of struggle and fighting to overcome a racist history and live into God’s promised Kingdom.   
Us verses Them.  It is one of the fundamental fears of any broken human community.  Who are the enemies, who should we fear?  What makes it difficult is that there are those out there who want to hurt us, simply because we are who we are.  We do have enemies.  We need to take care, to pay attention, to stay strong.  There are responsibilities of a nation to protect its people.  No one can deny that.  But we can also go crazy if we choose to live in fear.  If we choose to see anyone who is different as a threat.  If we turn on ourselves and surrender what makes us a part of the family of God. We’ll go crazy.  And it is the crazies who seem to winning the day.

Luke 4:21-30  21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Everything was going so well.  Jesus makes his proclamation, preaches His nine word sermon and the applause rains down.  I know, that isn’t the way you remember the story.  Wasn’t He rejected, didn’t they say He was just a hometown boy getting too big for his britches?  Well, not exactly.  Not at first. Look again.  “All spoke well of Him.”  They thought, wow!  A hometown boy made good.  He’s one of us!  He’s ours.  Aren’t we special?  Aren’t we cool?  That little phrase at the end of verse 22 wasn’t disparaging, it was pride.  He’s like us.

If Jesus has stopped there, it would have been a glorious homecoming.  They would have slapped Him on the back and invited Him to dinner and talked about the good old days when He was a boy and things were so much better back in the Nazareth that used to be once upon a time.  Jesus would have been a minor celebrity and they’d all wave to Him in the Walgreen’s parking lot, and want to sit by Him in the bleachers at the high school basketball games.  He could have done well back there in the little town.  

But He didn’t stop talking.  He had a bigger vision than one small town in the hill country of Galilee. So He says, I know you want Me to settle down here, because here is where all the people that matter are.  I know you don’t understand why anyone would want to leave Nazareth and go on to other towns and other countries.  But you don’t need Me here.  You won’t hear Me here.

Wait, He said that?  “No prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.”  Different translations have us remember those words in different ways.  But what does it mean?  Why did He say it?  Because He knew what was underneath their approval.  And He knew they didn’t want to hear what He came to say.  He came to say they were important - that much they heard.  God is going to get the kingdom going right here, in Nazareth.  That’ll show the folks down the road, in the next county, in the next country.  God’s kicking things off right here!  Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  Yee haw.  He came to say that they were important.  But that they weren’t the only important ones in the world.  He came to say that God thinks even the stranger, even the foreigner, even the enemy is important.  Important enough to save.  Important enough to love.

This has been God’s plan from the beginning, Jesus says.  You remember Elijah?  You remember that story of the widow?  God thought she was important, saved her, blessed her, loved her.  She wasn’t one of us.  You remember Elisha?  You remember that guy, that foreign general guy, with the skin problem?  That guy was an enemy, a conqueror of people like you.  God healed him.  God blessed him.  God loved him.  Get this, he was Syrian.

Syrian?  Wait a minute here Jesus.  A refugee from Syria?  He might be wanting to hurt us.  He might be hating us.  He might tell us he’s running for his life, but maybe it is just a plot.  To catch us with our guard down.  Maybe he isn’t really sick.  Maybe they aren’t really refugees.  Maybe they haven’t lived their whole lives in fear of their lives, surrounded by war and killing and living in an unjust system that doesn’t value them as human beings but rather sees them as pawns in a terrible game of power.  Maybe we should protect ourselves first, think of ourselves first.

How dare you, Jesus, tell us to love even those who are different from us.  Heck, we struggle to love the others in our pew, don’t go asking us to love across the boundaries that are there to keep us safe. No wonder they got angry.  No wonder they turned into a mob.  You can’t blame them really.  Jesus was inconveniencing them something awful.  Asking them to make accommodations, to change ingrained habits, to think differently about who and what a neighbor really is.  That’s crazy talk.  So, they drove Him out of town, wanted to toss im off a cliff.  But He just left.  He had places to go, a Word to proclaim, a world to save.  He went on His way.

Perhaps the saddest verse in the whole Bible.  Evidence that God doesn’t force us to change, to grow, to love like He loves.  Doesn’t demand that we become something more, something riskier, something with the potential to change the world for the better.  To be more like it was supposed to be in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and said it was good!  It was good.  We don’t have to be a part of the making good.  But Jesus isn’t hanging around.  He says follow me.  And goes on His way.

He leaves them all.  Except us, we think.  Except me.  We don’t want to hurl Him from a cliff.  We’re hurling ourselves, each other, those unlike us. The enemy, the bad seed, the outsiders.  We’ll toss them aside.  We’ll shout them down, we’ll rise up in anger.  And in so doing we grab Him by the lapels and in our anger we hoist Him to the edge.  And maybe if we’re lucky our eyes will open enough to see Him, face bloodied by our own hatred, and we’ll stop ourselves.  And try it His way.  When we see the pain in His eyes, and hear His whispered words, “are there none who will not hate?”  And we respond, none of them, except ...  Will we?  Can we?  Be the exception in a hate filled world?  None of them, except ____.  Fill in the blank.  Please?  Before He goes His way, and leaves us to it.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

As Was His Custom

We’re just back from the south.  South District of the UMC that is.  La Donna and I were doing our roadshow that we’ve been doing since July a year ago.  We taught a course for Mission u last summer titled “The Bible and Human Sexuality.”  And part of the deal is that we would make ourselves available to do some teaching throughout the conference on the same subject.  We’ve been at District UMW (that’s United Methodist Women is case you didn’t know) events, we’ve been in local churches, we’ve been a part of larger events, and we’ve been the only part of the program.  It has been good to do this, we have met some wonderful folks and were able to engage in some serious conversations, necessary conversations in the life of the church.  I’ve loved fulfilling this commitment.  But there are times when I wish I didn’t have to. 

Often it is just before we have to go off and do this again.  There is a part of me that wishes we had said no.  I mean, I have other things to do.  And it is often on a Saturday, usually on a Saturday.  And I have other things on my mind and on my plate on Saturday.  And then sometimes I just don’t want to. You know, right?  I’d rather just be lazy.  Rather just do what I want to do, have a little me time. Don’t I deserve that?  A little me time?  

You’re wagging your heads.  Not saying no, really, so much as saying something like, what a whiner. Am I right?  If you aren’t, you should be.  And maybe I exaggerated a tiny bit.  But there is truth behind the whining.  It is sometimes hard to follow Jesus.  It is hard to keep our commitments.  It is hard to put ourselves out there and do what we know - not what we suspect and wonder about, but what we know Jesus wants us to do.  We sometimes try to act as though knowing God’s will is so hard.  “What should I do here?  I need a sign!”  And yes, there are those moments, those encounters where we aren’t sure.  But really, those are more rare than we like to admit.  Too often we know exactly what Jesus wants us to do.  We just don’t wanna.

Luke 4:14-21 14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

We’re talking about our fears this month.  Last week we talked about our fear of the storm, having to acknowledge that we are often not in control of our lives. That things happen, scary things.  And we talked about how to live not shaped by fear but by faith.  This week it’s a different kind of fear.  Not a helpless feeling, but a willful one.  I call it the fear of the call.  We want to follow Jesus, we really do. But sometimes it is hard.  Sometimes it takes more from us than we are willing to give.  Sometimes there are sacrifices involved.  Sometimes it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, not socially acceptable, not cool.  But we want to be like Jesus. 

Luke says that Jesus had to wrestle with how He was going to perform this ministry, what kind of messiah He was going to be.  The time in the wilderness, there at the beginning of Chapter four, was about deciding, wrestling, if you will, with the possibilities in front of him.  Give the people what they want, that was within his power.  Turn this stone into bread, feed them, get to them through their bellies, through their hungers.  Feed them and they’ll follow you anywhere.  No, he says, there is more to it than that.  I want to feed the hungers they forgot they had.  OK, then, show them strength. Flex your muscles, play the power card, the authority card.  People are drawn to power, like bees and honey.  Be strong and they’ll fall at your feet.  No, he says, power is not of this world.  Power belongs to God, we live in humility, we live vulnerable because that’s what living is, risking, letting go, surrendering.  Hmm.  Ok then, go for the sensation, it was whispered in his ear, the miracles, death-defying acts of derring-do.  Folks go for that, give them a show, you’ll have to fight them off with a stick.  No, he says, shaking off these thoughts as he was shaking off his raging hunger there in the wilderness.  No, you can’t live by miracles, you can’t sustain a faith based on miracles.  No, that won’t work.

What’s left?  How will he run this traveling salvation show?  I know what I’ll do, he thought.  And he came back from the mountains, got a drink of water and a slim jim and wandered into the synagogues and town centers.  Word spread, Luke says, and the early reports were positive.  Everyone spoke well of him.  He taught something different, something new but old at the same time.  He taught ancient truths in a new language, as one with authority.  He spoke plainly, but told the stories, he offered a simple truth, but drew it in pictures that seemed familiar to everyone. 

But what was that truth?  What did he teach?  It wasn’t until he strolled home that Luke tells us the essence of his message.  He ambles into the synagogue where he sat as a boy in Sabbath school, reciting lines and repeating answers to old questions, and maybe asking an impertinent question now and again.  They had gotten the news, his reputation preceded him.  So he was invited to teach. Called to the front, he was handed the scroll, Isaiah, the biggest one, heaviest one.  Was told to read. Luke says he looked for the bit he wanted.  This wasn’t an accident, just happened to come in when the lectionary had the right text.  No, he searched for it.  He found the place, after an uncomfortable silence filled the room, and he began to read.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  Well, of course it was.  Luke told us that in verse fourteen!  He was throwing off Spirit sparks wherever he walked.  It surrounded him like a cloud, preceded him like headlights on bright.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach.  

Yeah, well, that Isaiah, he was quite a guy.  He had quite a message, didn’t he.  Jesus read it through. And they all sighed contentedly.  Yeah, those were the days, they thought.  When old Isaiah stood there declaring the Word of the Lord.  People took notice, you better believe it.  God was closer then. When people like Isaiah were around.  Proclaiming, setting free, opening eyes.  Saying God is close, real close, pay attention and see.  Those were the days.

Jesus let the scroll roll up in his hand like a window blind and then handed it to the dazed attendant, and then he sat down.  Not because he was done.  That’s what it sounds like to us.  But no, rabbis taught sitting down.  You stand to read, out of respect for the Word.  But then you sit to explain and expound and apply.  You sat down and we had the word for lunch, we chewed it over and approached it from every perspective we could think of.  The historical, what did he mean and what was going on at the time?  The literary, what devices was he using to help them hear and see?  Is this poetry or prose?  The contextual, who were the listeners at the time, how did they hear these words.  The theological, how does this tell us more about God according to thinkers over the years?  They expected a lecture on the text when Jesus sat down.  

Instead they got a nine word sermon.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s it.  Can’t imagine they were thrilled by that.  Of course this passage is about Jesus.  He declared his ministry priorities, his core values.  He trotted out his mission statement, laid it out for all to see and hear.  In your hearing, he said.  Which means that, yes, this is about Jesus, but it is also about you. It’s about me.  We have signed up for something bigger than we knew.  When we decided to be within hearing distance of Jesus we have entered into a whole new world.  A whole new understanding of our own lives and the mission to which we have signed on.  It’s about us as much as it is about Him. Because we claim to hear, we claim to follow.  We may be afraid of the call, afraid we aren’t up to it, afraid it is more than we knew.  But it is about us.  It is about loving as he loved, loving enough to make a difference in the world.  Not just in us, but in the world.  

So how do we get closer to being like Him?  Closer to loving like Him?  We make it a habit.  Jesus went to the synagogue, Luke tells us, as was His custom.  It is just what He did. Maybe we can conquer our fear of following if it just becomes a habit.  We don’t stop to think whether we should follow, we just do.  As is our custom.

Follow Me, He says.  Wouldn’t consider anything else, Lord.  Just wouldn’t.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Already Being Swamped

So, how have you been?  Had a good day, week, life?  I’ll bet if you look back there will be that moment, you know what I mean, the moment when it seemed like you were going under, when the waves were high, when the winds were fierce, when the clouds were dark and ominous.  We’ve all had them.  And if you haven’t ... really?  You haven’t?  If you haven’t then just wait.  Sorry to rain on your parade, but just wait.

Over the past week I had heard from three different care-givers at the facility where my Dad is. Three different shifts, the day person, the night person and the weekend person.  They all called me.  Just to say they’ve noticed a difference.  In Dad.  They all loved him.  My Dad is a charmer, always was.  A stubborn pain in the ... family, but a charmer.  One of them told me she really liked my Dad, but didn’t want to marry him.  Because he asked.  Her husband wasn’t in favor.  That’s my Dad.  But they noticed that he wasn’t himself, a decrease, a decline.  I had noticed it too.  It’s hard to describe.  He seemed transparent, as if he was fading away before our eyes.  Dad filled the room, his presence was often overwhelming, loud and friendly, a charmer as I said.  But this person was smaller, indistinct somehow.  Still Dad, in there somewhere.  But then again not.

The doctor came and changed medications, and made some recommendations, one of which, I was told, less than an hour before worship began on Thursday night, was that he was recommending hospice care.  They were to come do an evaluation and see if he meets their criteria for the care they provide.  I love hospice care, the whole idea is a wonderful addition to the medical world, and in my experience the women and men who work for hospice are an amazing group of people whose hearts are large and hands are available, for the patient, for the family for any who need their support.  So, I’m in favor, no, in awe of hospice.  But to hear it prescribed for a member of my family was a different feeling.  A different sound in my ears.  I said, ok, I understand, and went to help lead worship.

Sometimes the storms are on the horizon, far away and while they cause us concern, they don’t really change what we’re doing day by day.  Winds are whipping on the Korean peninsula, clouds are gathering in Charlottesville Virginia.  And we are concerned, maybe even afraid.  We pray for those caught out in those storms.  And when they hit we rise up to help.  But when the storm rages close to home our response is more visceral.  More personal.  We’re rocked to the core by the storms that rage.  And we wonder, as did the disciple of Jesus, whether anyone cares about us and the threats we face.

Mark 4:35-41 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

On that day.  What an inauspicious beginning.  Just a day, a day of teaching and healing, a day like many other days in the life of those who said yes to Jesus.  But this was a particularly exhausting day. A tiring day, Jesus wanted to get away.  No elaborate farewells, no ritual good-byes.  He turns to His disciples and says, “let’s blow this pop-stand!”  And off they go.  Get in a boat and they set off. Across the sea.  The lake, not that big really, not like an ocean crossing.  But the geography surrounding this lake make is susceptible to pop up storms.  Out of no where, nothing on the horizon, then - bam - there it is.  You’re in the midst of the storm.

That’s the nature of storms, they just happen.  Sometimes we can look back and see it coming, but most of the time they just come.  Almost as if someone, something was out to get us.  There is a feeling about the storm in this story, that it isn’t just a storm, a natural occurrence, a common happenstance.  There is something bigger here, something malevolent.  When Jesus tells the storm to calm down, he shouts “Peace!  Be Still.”  These are the same words Mark tells us He used to cast out demons.  There translated as “Be quiet!  Come out of her!”  Same words.  This storm, Mark implies, is demonic, evil, needing the hand of a savior.  

We’ve been visited by evil in our town recently.  That evil exists is beyond debate.  It’s not always easy to name it, to identify it in a messy world, a world broken by sin and fear.  But sometimes it is the responsibility of those who claim the name of Christ to identify evil, whether it be in a culture and country so foreign to us as to be almost incomprehensible, or one that is all too familiar and even claiming to be the true face of patriotism and nation.  Like Christ, we sometimes need to stand in the face of the demonic and tell it to be quiet and get out.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  The story isn’t really about the storm.  The storm demands our attention.  It seems the major character, the biggest threat, the loudest voice.  But this isn’t a story about storms.  It’s a story about Jesus.  And a story about faith.  It’s easy to miss it.  We are distracted when we are afraid, we lose hope.  And often one of the first things to go is faith.  Belief in a loving God.  Hope in tomorrow and today.  

That’s why Jesus jumps down the throats of the disciples.  They let go.  “Have you still no faith?” Still?  Just the paragraph before this passage, Mark tells us that Jesus always spoke in parables, in riddles and stories.  People often wandered off confused, uncertain.  It was almost as if Jesus didn’t want to spoon feed people, like he wanted them to come and meet Him halfway.  Take a risk and say I believe, even when I don’t fully understand.  I believe, even as I doubt.  Jesus was ok with doubts. Doubters get a pass from Jesus.  But those who are afraid got a reprimand.  Anyway, the paragraph before the storm starts says that Jesus always spoke in parables, except for the disciples.  To them He explained everything.  Everything?  Everything.  He told them who He was.  He told them what He was about.  He told them what it meant.  Everything.  Have you still no faith?  What else can I do, says Jesus?  What else can I give you?  What other cheat sheets, what other cliff notes?  For heaven’s sake!  

At the end of the story they are in awe.  “Who is this?” they said.  Even the winds and waves obey Him!  Who is this.  They’d never seen anything like this before.  Jesus had never stilled a storm before.  Never stopped a wind gust, never smoothed out a wave.  It’s no wonder that it never occurred to them to ask Jesus to do such a thing.  They had no idea that this was in His tool box.  And frankly, if they had gently awakened Jesus and said, “Um, it’s pretty wild out here, anything you can do?” He probably would have smiled and then given them that “watch this” look and brought them to safety.

The problem is they don’t ask Him to do anything.  Did you notice that?  They don’t say, in Mark’s version of the story anyway, we need help here.  No, what they say is infinitely more offensive to Him.  It is evidence that they have been dozing through disciple class, minds wandering as Jesus patiently walked them through His history and His mission.  Worse than that, they miss the class motto, the mission statement, the center of everything.  They forgot the most famous verse in all of the Gospels: For God so loved the world ....  So loved.  Don’t you care?  They shouted that in their fear.  They lost their grip on the main truth about Christ.  Don’t you care?  You might as well shout at the birds in the air – Don’t you fly?  Or shout at the rain drops passing by their noses – Don’t you fall?  Or shake their fists at the sun and ask – Don’t you shine?  Don’t you care?  Of course He cares. That’s why He’s there sleeping on a cushion because He is exhausted from caring for everyone and everywhere.  Of course He cares.  

But in their panic, in their fear, they forgot.  They lost their grip on Him and thought only of their own lives.  Their boat was already swamped, and they gave up.  On life, on hope, on Him.  They gave up.  Have you still no faith? It’s easy to forget in the midst of the storm.  Forget to hold on to Him. Not because He’ll still every storm, but that He’ll stand with you in the swamped boat, in the crashing waves.  He cares, and that is everything in the midst of the storm.

I got the call from the hospice agency on Friday, to say they had evaluated Dad and he does meet their criteria.  Once I sign some forms they’ll get to work.  They will care.  I got that call in the ER of Community South where I had taken La Donna for severe pain in the abdomen.  Turns out her gall bladder will need to be removed.  The boat was already swamped.  But we’ll persevere.  Because He cares.  And we’ll learn to not ask what’s next!


Saturday, August 5, 2017

To Know the Love

August 5th this weekend.  It falls between the worship times here at Southport.  And yet is an auspicious day on our personal family calendar. ” It was on August 5 1994, after an anxious nine month wait (yeah, funny isn’t it?), La Donna and I drove to Chicago O’Hare airport to pick up Kim Myung Hoon, a nine month old with bright eyes and a ready smile, and as if by magic turned him into Rhys Edmund Myung-hoon Weber.  Who is now 23 going on ancient and somewhat embarrassed to be the center of such attention.  Gotcha Day.  Every August 5th.

It’s Gotcha Day.  Not like a birthday, but then sort of.  A rebirth day.  A day of becoming a family. That little life from halfway around the planet changed our lives in an instant.  Filled a gap we didn’t even know we had.  Turned us upside down, or right side up with a simple smile and a reach from the hands that held him on that long flight from South Korea to our hands.  To our hearts.  

An odd moment in the process was when we met with the judge to formalize the adoption.  The legalese was stunning, to say the least.  But one phrase stood out in my mind over all the others. Whereas - it’s always whereas for the legal profession - whereas over time they learned to love him ... I almost said, excuse me, but no.  No there was no over time thing here.  It was an instant.  In the terminal at O’Hare airport, standing at the gate (yes, you used to be able to go clear to the gate in those days.  Watch the plane land, waiting anxiously for all the passengers to disembark and then set eyes on the child who will be, who was your child), in an instant he was mine.  He was ours, we were his.  Family.  Just like that.  We didn’t need to learn to love.  We needed to learn to live with him, still doing that frankly, because it changes all the time it seems.  We needed to learn how to express that love, how to respond to that love.  But the love itself was a gift.  A moment of grace that came from somewhere, Someone else.

Ephesians 3:14-21  For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power 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, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

For this reason, Paul writes.  OK, one little aside here - there is some considerable debate about whether this letter was written by Paul or not.  We do know that not all the texts in the New Testament that carry Paul’s name were actually written by Paul.  We know that plagiarism as a concept didn’t exist at the time of the writing of the documents of the Bible.  We also know that it was a common practice to attribute a letter or a sermon to someone famous in order to get more people to read it.  No one would have considered that odd in those days.  So, one of the questions that biblical scholarship needs to help answer for us is whether the documents we have were actually written by the persons whose names are on them.  It is important for us to know from a historical point of view.  It is good to know how the bible came to be as we have it.  It is important for us to understand that the words that we value so much came about through a community process, that the Spirit inspired a wide range of folks over a long period of time.  We need to understand that the words we read are a part of a lived experience, not some abstract truth that we were handed from above. The historical critical process is one of the tools the church can use to examine our foundational documents.  So, you need to know, and I need to be honest enough to admit, that there is some debate as to whether Paul wrote these words or not.  And to be honest, I’m not sure.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it matters all that much.  If we view the bible as a community project anyway, then who actually put pen to paper (or some ancient world equivalent) doesn’t really matter. I have no doubt that if Paul didn’t write this letter, then he certainly influenced it.  It is his words and his thoughts that appear throughout these verses.  Which is why I am happy to use the short hand and talk about what Paul said.

For this reason, Paul writes.  What’s the reason?  Well, he spends the first part of the letter explaining the reason.  It is because of the immeasurable grace of God.  Because in that grace all are welcome, all are included.  All.  And for Paul all means all.  Some of the rest of them had to struggle with all. Surely not gentiles, they said, surely not pagans, surely not enemies, surely not those whose lives are just way too different from ours, who don’t speak our language, who don’t dress like we do, think like we do, work like we do.  Not all, surely.  No, says Paul, all means all.  And for this reason I fall to my knees in awe of God.

And, he says, I pray.  For more.  More of this grace freely offered.  More of the love that staggers the imagination.  Give us more.  Give us strength.  That’s first on his list.  Strength in the inner being. Strong hearts, strong souls.  He wants us strong at the core of our being.  Knowing that we are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he wants us strong where it counts.  We pray for bad things to go away, or not come to us.  Paul prays that we have the strength to stand when the bad things come.  He prays that we might have power.

That power comes from the Spirit.  It comes from the Christ who dwells in us.  Because we are in process.  As you are being rooted and grounded in love.  We receive the capacity to love by grace.  It is a gift.  Boom.  Instant.  Like a new life awaiting you in an airport terminal.  But, it takes time to learn to live that life of love.  It takes effort.  It takes moving forward and falling back.  It takes success and failure to learn to live a life of love.  We have to rock the vehicle, back and forth in order to break free of the rut we find ourselves in from time to time.  We are being rooted and grounded in love.  Being rooted.  We’re not done.  As soon as we think we are done, as soon as we think we’ve got it, we’ve lost it.  Hold on to the Christ who dwells within.

So we can know.  That’s why we contemplate Christ.  That’s why we study His life, listen to His words, weep at His example, rejoice at His blessing.  So that we can know.  Know what?  Know what is unknowable.  Know what is beyond knowing.  The breadth and width and height and depth. ...Um ... of what?  Of Him.  Of His love.  Paul wants us to know that which surpasses knowledge.  If your head isn’t spinning yet, then go back and read it again.  Paul prays that we are to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.  And this knowing of the unknowable, or maybe better, this knowing that we didn’t come to on our own, but was given to us like a child in an airport, allows us to be filled up.

That’s what happened that first Gotcha Day all those years ago.  I was filled up.  We were filled up. With love and joy and happiness.  With concerns and worries and needs to be met.  Filled up with that which keeps us going, which pushes us to go further, to go deeper.  It’s a commitment, certainly.  A new way of living, of being, of loving.  Paul calls it being filled with all the fullness of God.  Blessing and possibility, and suffering and hurt too.  God doesn’t call us to an easy life, but a full life.  A deep life.  A life that struggles with how to love, but also driven by the certainty that loving is a better way to live.  Even if we don’t always know how it is going to work out.

But that’s OK.  Not knowing is OK.  Because there is One who knows.  And our vision is limited, so we’ll trust in the One who sees more.  And can work what seem like miracles every day.  Far more than all we ask or imagine, because we don’t know how to ask or imagine.  We’ll just love.  Together. That’s the other important secret of this passage.  All the yous are plural.  We do this better together, this learning to love thing, this living in hope thing, this being filled with all the fullness thing.  We do it, we know it, we experience it better together.  All y’all.  Us all.  Now that’s worthy of a doxology, right Paul?  “Now to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  Amen.