Ephesians 3:14-21 (EHV)
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the entire family in heaven and on earth receives its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he would strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner self, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is, 19 and that you would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled to all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him, who is able, according to the power that is at work within us, to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may experience the fullness of your love for us through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Once upon a time, a young man walked into a department store. This was a very special store where you could purchase anything you want…for a price! He walked right up to the counter and placed his order, saying: “I would like to be loved.”
The concierge behind the counter said, “Certainly sir. A very wise choice. I would be happy to help you place your order to be loved, and so that I may ensure you are loved to the fullness of your desires and expectations, I wonder if I may ask a few questions?”
The young man agreed.
The concierge then asked, “So that you might experience love, would you require a wife?”
The man said, “Well, I suppose if that’s necessary, but would she love me?”
“Oh, certainly she would love you! Although so that she might love you to the fullness of your desires and expectations, I would suggest a few optional extras at a very minimal cost. I suggest you buy her flowers on occasions and purchase gifts for her on birthdays and at Christmas.”
The young man seemed surprised, and asked, “Why would I have to do that? If I want to be loved, shouldn’t she be the one doing things for me, rather than the other way around?”
The concierge smiled kindly as he replied, “Well certainly, although in our experience, you would find most wives work more efficiently and provide a more satisfying service of love when their own needs for romance are also seen to.”
The man said, “Well, ok, if I have to!”
The concierge made a note and said, “Certainly sir. A very wise choice. May I also suggest engaging in conversations with her, listening patiently when she speaks to you (even if she speaks for long periods about seemingly mundane and ordinary subjects), and also touching her with gentle affection.”
The concierge patiently explained, “Well, again we find most wives respond very positively to these things. So that you might experience the fullness of love to your complete satisfaction, your wife will require some care and attention!”
The young man thought about it for a while and then said, “Ok, I’ll give her some care and attention.”
“Certainly sir. A very wise choice. Would I also be so bold as to suggest you assist her with the dishes, offer to take out the laundry, and give her the occasional compliment? We do find these things add value to the relationship and can help greatly in you being loved to your heart’s desire.”
The young man started getting red in the face, but finally agreed.
The concierge replied, “Excellent, a very wise choice! I can see you’re going to be loved very well and you’re going to be completely satisfied. Now, children?”
“Children. Would you like to order some children?”
The young man was getting a little upset. “Why would I want children? All I want is to be loved, and you’re suggesting children? Children are always so demanding and whingy and messy and expensive and difficult to get along with! Why would I want them?”
The concierge gave a little giggle, smiled and said, “Yes, they certainly are that! I see you’ve come across children before. Delightful creatures, aren’t they? The reason I suggest children is because you do want to be loved, don’t you?”
“Yes, but what’s that got to do with children?”
“Well, in order for you to experience love to the fullest, with all those wonderful feelings of satisfaction and contentment, you may also want to experience the love of your children along with the love of your wife. While wives can provide so much love which satisfies many men’s hearts, there’s nothing like the loving trust of a child who cuddles up in your arms for comfort, who looks to you for help and support when they get hurt, or who eagerly drags you outside to play with them. If you want to be fully loved, I certainly suggest children!”
The young man thought about it for a while, and said, “Fine. Throw in some children as well.”
“Certainly sir, a very wise choice. If I may be as bold to presume that you’ll also want to change their nappies, blow their noses, carry them, read them stories, send them to school, teach them to drive, and walk them down the aisle at their wedding? That last one really is the icing on the cake and is a wonderful experience of love. I certainly recommend that one, but in our experience, this always comes as a package with all the rest. Would you like all these as well?”
“Certainly sir. A very wise choice. Now, would you like a god?”
“What? Why would I want a god? All I want is to be loved! The gods I know are always so demanding and want you to do so much for them, like going to church, and believing in all types of stuff that doesn’t make sense! All I want, is to be loved!”
The concierge smiled and said, “Well, if you really want to be loved, I certainly recommend having a god, although in this case, I have a particular God in mind who will serve you and love you and forgive you. When things go wrong in life, it’s certainly comforting to know God loves you and is with you always. In this case I can give you some unexpectedly good news. All the benefits of believing in this God have already been fully paid for.”
The young man said, “Well, that seems more like it. Finally, I get to be loved without having to do anything in return! Yes, I’ll take this God.”
“Certainly sir. A very wise choice if I say so myself. Now, so that you might enjoy the fullness of being loved by this God, might I suggest listening to him, learning from him, being washed by him in baptism, gathering with all of God’s people (even those annoying ones many find so hard to forgive), believing his words of forgiveness, receiving holy food and drink in the Lord’s Supper, and…sir, where are you going? You do want to be loved, don’t you? You do want the full experience of love to your complete satisfaction, don’t you?
As the young man walked out of the store, the concierge shook his head and said, “Why do people always want to experience the fullness of love by just putting in the minimum of effort?”
In our reading today, Paul is saying a prayer for the people of Ephesus, but it’s also a prayer for you and me.
He prays for you so that, according to God’s vast richness of his glory, you’ll be strengthened by him so Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
He doesn’t want you to receive only a bit of Christ, but to receive Christ in his fullness so you may be firmly grounded in his love. He also prays you would have the strength to comprehend and know the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love for you. He wants you to know and experience the fullness of God’s love for you.
The trouble is, many people ask what’s the bare minimum of effort they need to put in toward their faith and yet still receive the fullness of God’s love.
For example, have you ever heard someone say they don’t have to go to worship and mix with God’s people because they 1) believe in God, 2) can read the Bible for themselves, and 3) pray whenever they like?
And yet, how many of these people can clearly define what they believe about their God, or have actually read the Bible from cover to cover, or who truly pray with any regularity? How many of them receive the fullness of God’s love for them by limiting their experience of God and his people in their life?
You too might wonder why you need to gather every week with God’s people in worship and miss out on other Sunday routines such as sleeping in, going for a Sunday drive, or going fishing, especially when people in worship don’t always meet your expectations?
Similarly, why would you need to read the Bible regularly? Why would you need to set aside some of your valuable time to go to Bible studies? Why do you as a congregation need to consider how you might be a blessing to anyone else in your parish? Why would you need to forgive someone who has hurt you when you know they’re probably going to hurt you again anyway? Why can’t you just keep your faith private and stay home so that you might watch your own choice of worship over the internet?
Well, out of love for you, St Paul says he wants you to experience more of God’s love, not less of it. He sincerely prays for you to know and experience the fullness of God’s love and not just a portion. By choosing to limit your participation with God, his holy things, and his holy people, you also limit your experience of God’s love for you.
Just like many of your relationships with your spouse, parents, children, and friends, would you really be happy with the bare minimum of love and effort from them? Would you be happy for them to receive the bare minimum of their relationship from you?
Similarly, is aiming for the least effort really the best way to receive the most out of your loving relationship with God? Do you really experience the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness by withdrawing from a Christian community when troubles come?
While God has generously saved you through Jesus’ death and resurrection without you having to ask for it, and he freely offers you forgiveness of sins and life with him in his eternal kingdom, wouldn’t you like to experience the fullness of his love for you, even though this comes through participating in a flawed community, receiving and passing on forgiveness, suffering for the sake of Christ as you bear witness to his grace, serving those around you, and faithful obedience to God’s Word?
God wants you to experience and know the full breadth and length and height and depth of his love for you in the unity of his Church through Jesus Christ his Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here in this imperfect community, whom God has drawn together, he cleanses consciences and creates new hearts through faith in his Word of forgiveness. He washes you with water touched by his Word in baptism. He feeds you with his own body and blood through physical bread and wine which has been blessed by his Word. He loves you and wants you to experience his love through the physical presence of those led by his Word and Holy Spirit. In this way God delights to love you through the God-pleasing words and actions of those around you.
Instead of settling for a bare minimum, why not choose to experience God’s love with all his people in all its wonderful and awesome fullness, some of which can only be received through struggle and forgiveness.
Here, as we gather to receive the grace, forgiveness, and life of Christ through his holy gifts of Word and Sacrament, and as we gather as one in Christ to forgive each other as Christ forgives us, we experience something of the fullness of the love of God, which is why St Paul can say:
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, for ever and ever. Amen.