The Love of God… 1. …is our root. 2. …is beyond measure. 3. …surpasses knowledge. 4. …fills and empowers us. Sermon on Ephesians 3:14-21 for Epiphany 2C, January 13-16, 2022
Right after Christmas one of my Facebook connections put up “Now all the Christmas junk comes down. Now all the Valentine’s junk goes up.” …with a background of red paper hearts. We’re a month early to talk about Valentine’s day—but it’s always a good time to talk about love. That was Paul’s theme in Ephesians—pointing to God’s love as the pattern and the power for our love.
First we have to talk about that word, “love.” In our time, and perhaps it’s always been this way, “love” is used too often to talk about a taking action. What’s your favorite food? Someone might answer, “I love a good steak!” “I love Chinese food—General Tso’s Chicken!” An old commercial for a breakfast cereal said “Brave adults love Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.” Do you see the pattern? All of these are really talking about ways we love ourselves. Love of self is really not love at all, but selfishness. Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment tells us we should fear, love and trust in God above all things. The idolatry of the worship of self puts self first at the expense of others, and puts self first, even pushing God out of first place in our lives. It can result in a very lonely life in this world—and in an eternity separated from God and from all good.
God’s love is our root. Biblically, the word “love” is always a giving action—and stress that word action. Action more than feeling. Think of the most famous Bible verse of all: “God so loved the world that he…. Gave!” When the disciples were arguing with one another about which of them was the greatest, Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to… Give!…give his life as a ransom for many.” Paul wrote, “God did not spare his only Son, but… Gave! …gave him up for us all!” The love of God is the root and source of our love. This is what we celebrated at Christmas—it’s what we will meditate on during Lent—it’s what we will celebrate on Easter. God giving us his love in Jesus Christ. “To you is born… a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” St. Paul tells us about that love in Romans 5(:8), “God shows his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Why would God do that? Well, this is the essence of grace: undeserved love, one-way love—love that loves without looking at the one receiving the love for any merit or worthiness of the love—but love that loves despite lack of merit or worthiness. God’s love is the root and source of our faith, our hope, and our love.
God’s love is beyond measure. Paul prays for the Ephesians to grow in their understanding of God’s love. “I pray that you may be able to comprehend… how wide and long and high and deep his love is.” We just sang a hymn that marveled, “Jesus, your boundless love to me / no thought can reach, no tongue declare.” (CW21 714). Boundless. The Greek word agape is the word for love Paul uses in this section, meaning a divine love, a selfless love. Hebrew has many words for love, too. One special Hebrew word for love is chesed. It’s the “mercy” in “his mercy endures forever.” It’s a love that has all the attributes of God himself. God is eternal: “his mercy endures forever.” God is unchanging: his love is faithful and steadfast. God is infinite and knows no limits (See Psalm 139): his love is wide and long and high and deep. When our small minds limit God’s love: “I’m too rotten for God to love me.” Or “This person who hurt me doesn’t deserve my love—or my sharing of God’s love and forgiveness” then it is we who are limiting God’s love. Then we are the ones shutting off the faucet or closing the door. God’s love has no limit.
God’s love is beyond understanding. Paul is so exited in talking about God’s love that he says something that seems like a contradiction. Did you notice it? In v. 18 he says, “I pray that you would be able to comprehend … how wide and long and high and deep his love is, and that you would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” In other words, “I pray and wish that you would be able to know the unknowable, fathom the unfathomable, comprehend the incomprehensible.” For human minds, we can only see a fragment—like Moses seeing a reflection of God’s glory in the back of that cave (Exodus 33). In a very simplest sense, when we look at ourselves, the love of God is beyond our knowledge and understanding. How can God love me? With all my faults and mistakes and with all the times I knew the right thing but did the wrong…. How can God love me? He does. It may make no sense to you why. Then it multiplies when we look at the love of God displayed to us. We look at the Christmas manger and see how the infinite God came to earth in a small package—at his own great discomfort—hay and straw are lousy bedding for any baby, and at his own great risk—think of old Herod, trying to get rid of this newborn King of the Jews. Why would he do that? Out of love. “For us and for our salvation.” “That we should be his own.” And then look at the Good Friday cross with the figure of Jesus, nailed, bleeding, hurting and dying, forsaken and condemned. Why would a sinless Son of God do that? To bear your sin and take everything you deserved, and to give you righteousness and make you everything he is—beloved child of God, heir of heaven. It makes no sense for him to do that. Haven’t you walked away from those who have hurt you? Or from those who could do nothing good for you? God’s love surpasses knowledge. He came into a world of hurt and hate to display and demonstrate his love.
God’s love fills and empowers us. Knowing the love of God is not supposed to be a mere bit of trivia in our minds, or an academic fact we can know and recite or write on a test. God wants that knowledge of his love to fill us, “fill us to all the fullness of God” Paul says. Maybe that’s why we see people falling away from churches—because that knowledge of the love of God became a fact to know, rather than a truth to be lived. That’s what “fill to all the fullness of God” means. Does the love of God fill your day—when and where you work? Even in the less pleasant things? Oh—we look at the hate and mistrust in the world. The vaxxed against the unvaxxed, the unvaxxed against the vaxxed. One political party against the other. Racial tension. “God so loved the world…” Including even you. Including even them. How can God do his loving work in you? How can God do his loving work through you?
Paul ended the lesson with a doxology, a word of praise: “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, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” I think that’s somewhat familiar. “God is able to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” I’m afraid we sometimes read that selfishly. “‘God can do far more than I ask or imagine,’ so I should pray for big things so God can do big things for me.” Yes you can apply that to God’s omnipotence and his ability to answer prayer, but here it is connected to God’s love. God can do more than you ask or imagine in your life with his love. He can work a change in you. He can work a change in those around you. He will put work in front of you that you did not expect. Then he will “fill you to all his fullness” and do work through you that you did not expect. This is the power of the love of God. This is to his glory, forever and ever.