Church Service Sermon July 25 with Rev. Dr. Paul A. Day

                       

The Good News:       “Dimensions of Love”       Rev. Dr.  Paul A. Day

Ephesians 3:1-21

First Congregational Church of Gray, Maine

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                    July 25, 2021

The Good News: Dimensions of Love                                                           Rev. Dr. Paul A. Day

Ephesians 3:1-21

 

Introduction: This is the third message in our series on Being the Church from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Chapter One lays out our Identity and Purpose, or Mission, in Christ. Chapter Two stresses the importance of Unity among God’s People, breaking down walls of hostility and suspicion; in the First Century Paul dealt with the division between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Today we look at Chapter 3 — Ephesians 3:1-5

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:

Paul wrote this letter from jail. (I happen to think that he wrote it one time while we has in prison in Ephesus, writing to the churches in the area. Some scholars date the letter much later, written from Rome. Either theory does not affect the content.) As he begins chapter three Paul expands on what he wrote before—mystery—in Greek mysterion!

A mystery is something which is secret, kept unknown, but later revealed. I love mysteries! Dark, brooding Nordic Noir, from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. Or British cozies such as Agatha Christie. Among the stack of books by my chair is usually a mystery, along side history and theology. And Diana and I subscribe to one streaming service mainly because of all the mysteries from the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In the end, the mystery is solved; the culprit is revealed.

The Mystery of Christ

Paul says the “mystery of Christ” has been revealed to “holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Indeed, in the Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus gave us the commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.” and told the gathered disciples — John 15:13-15

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

What, then, is the “mystery of Christ”? Let us read on—Ephesians 3:5-9

5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things . . . .

The mystery – the secret that was hidden and is now revealed – is simply this: God includes all humankind – Gentiles (non-Jews) as well as Jews – in the grace of Christ – to redeem all mankind!

Now, in any good mystery there are clues along the way before the truth is revealed at the end. And so it is in Scripture. After all, Adam and Eve are seen as the ancestors of all humankind. When God called and blessed Abram/Abraham, he told him, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3b) When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he prayed:

“When foreigners, who are not of your people Israel, come from a distant land because of your great name, and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, may you hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you. (2 Chronicles 6:32-33)

The prophet Isaiah foresaw the day when all nations would come together to worship God. But that is only part of the mystery.

God’s Plan and Our Prayers

Let us read on — Ephesians 3:9-13 – God’s purpose is . . .

9 to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

God’s plan, or eternal purpose, involves the Church. Through the Church God reveals God’s wisdom in its rich variety. And in order to do so, God has granted us access to God via prayer in boldness and confidence through faith in Christ. How is God going to do that?

The Love of Christ

Remember when Jesus revealed God’s plans to the apostles in the Upper Room it was with the commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

And so Paul prays for us — Ephesians 3:14-19

14 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.

Notice: Paul prays to “the Father from whom all fatherhood / every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” He reiterates the universal dimension of God’s plan of salvation.

Notice, too, the content of Paul’s prayer: (1) that we may be strengthened within by the power of the Spirit; (2) that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith – Jesus had told the disciples to “abide in his love” – (3) that we might be rooted and grounded in love; and finally (4) that we might comprehend – understand and embrace – the love of Christ in all its fulness. For only then will we be able to “love one another as Christ has loved us.”

What, then, is “the breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love? We see the four dimensions of God’s love in the Cross. Someone has pointed to John 3:16 in answer — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.”

  • What is its breadth? How wide is God’s love? For God so love the world.
  • What is its length? To what length will God go for us? That he gave his only Son.
  • What is its depth? How deep does God’s love extend? Whosoever believes / trusts in him.

“No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” (U.C.C.)

  • What is its height? How high will God bring us? Shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Paul prays – and we pray – that we may know Christ’s love not just in our heads, but in our hearts and in our actions that we “may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

If indeed we know and embrace that love God’s wisdom will be revealed in its rich variety through the Church – through us! Not only will we be filled with Christ’s love but, as Jesus promised, Christ’s joy will be in us, and our joy will be complete. (John 15:11)

And God will be glorified! — Ephesians 3:20-21

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.

As we reflect on the mystery of Christ made known to us through the love of Christ, let us lift up Isaac Watts’ hymn – When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

  1. When I survey the wond’rous Cross On which the Prince of Glory died,
    My richest Gain I count but Loss, And pour Contempt on all my Pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the Death of Christ my God:
    All the vain Things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his Blood.
  3. See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet, Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such Love and Sorrow meet? Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?

The final verse of Isaac Watts’ hymn calls forth our offerings:

  1. Were the whole Realm of Nature mine, That were an Off’ring far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.