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Beyond Imagination!

Beyond Imagination!

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Sermon on Ephesians 3:14-21 for 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, January 20, 2019

 

A concern among child psychologists and probably teachers, and maybe parents today is that children aren’t allowed or forced to use their IMAGINATIONS.  They don’t seem to read like children used to.  They don’t seem to be shooed outside by Mom and told to “find something to do” or “go out and play”.  There seems to be too much time behind a screen, with everything pictured for them to look at and not have to create a mental picture of what’s happening or what a character looks like.  That’s what happens when you read a story.  You have to develop mental images or pictures – of the characters, of their appearances and voices, of the scenes, of the activity.  When it’s all on a screen right in front of your eyes and ears, there is no need to make the brain work to imagine or develop a mental image of what’s happening.

Perhaps the imagination is still used by children in the classroom (or by worshipers during a sermon!) when they “daydream”.  Those might be times when we picture in our minds us doing great things, sometimes “unreal” things.   I used to imagine myself soaring off the gym floor to slam dunk a basketball.  UNREAL!  Some might imagine themselves playing beautiful music in front of a large audience.  Some things we imagine about ourselves may come to pass.  Some are totally beyond our capability to do what we have imagined.

St. Paul wrote in our lesson from the letter to the Ephesians that there is something so marvelous that, not only is it beyond what we are capable of, it is beyond what we can picture in our minds.

Beyond Imagination!

  1. God’s love for us.
  2. God’s power at work for and in us.

 

The Christians in the city of Ephesus may have been having problems believing God loved them.  That tends to happen to Christians when they let their relationship with God be based on their feelings.  They may have been feeling a little “empty”, depressed, wondering about God’s love for them.  They lived in a big city.  Ephesus was a large city on the west coast of what is now Turkey.  No doubt it had all the problems we associate with big cities, such as being impersonal, crime, violence.  It was a heathen city.  It was a center of worship for Greek and Roman religion with temples dedicated to several false gods worship by the Greeks and Romans.  Along with that came much sexual immorality.  The beliefs and attitudes of this heathen religion was all around them.

On top of that this was the beginning of a time of persecutions against Christians from the Roman government.  Within their congregation there were also some issues; a split.  The congregation, like so many of the ones begun by the gospel work of St. Paul, was a mix of ethnic Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).  Apparently the Jewish segment of this congregation were bothered by the reception of Gentiles into their group; Gentiles who hadn’t been the “chosen” people of God and who had not been forced to be under the ceremonial rituals / laws the Jews had lived under.  There was tension among them.  And finally, they were questioning God’s love and care as they heard that Paul, the man who had brought them the good news of peace with God through Jesus the Savior, was being held prisoner in Rome for simply proclaiming that good news.

As said earlier, the questioning of God’s love and care arises when we base our relationship with God on our feelings that arise from the various difficult situations of life we encounter.  We think we don’t see any evidence of God’s love for us.  Such questions and doubts may occasionally arise within us, too.  We live in a big, increasingly non-Christian nation. For whatever reason, usually sinful, splits occur in some of our relationships.  We sometimes disagree on things within our congregation that causes tension between us.  We experience  material and physical struggles.  Skeletons of guilt occasionally rise from a past sin.  If we base our understanding and relationship with God on our feelings that arise as a result of our circumstances, we question; we feel “empty” and despondent.

Paul used the entire first half of his letter the Ephesian group to address this.  Listen to just a few of the statements he makes in his opening sentences (chapter 1) to drive home how much God loves us and what, in love, he has done and does for us.

  1. He has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ! (1:3)
  2. He chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight! (1:4)
  3. In {Christ} he predestined us to be adopted as his sons! (1:5)
  4. In Christ we also have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins! (1:7)
  5. He made known TO US the mystery of his will…in Christ! (1:9)
  6. In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will! (1:11)
  7. You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession! (1:13,14)
  8. Chapter 2 – “BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED, THROUGH FAITH!”

In his concluding statement of our reading today Paul wrote, 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…forever and ever!  Amen. (verses 20 & 21).  What our God has done and continues to do for us in Christ is BEYOND OUR IMAGINATION!!!  When I reflect on my behaviors, I CAN’T IMAGINE HOW GOD CAN LOVE ME!!!!

When I reflect on what is necessary to have peace with God, I CAN’T IMAGINE THE LOVE that Christ has for me, that he would take on human flesh and life, that he would endure God’s anger over my behaviors that offend God!!!  We’ve already focused on some of it early in this new church year.  The Son of God was willing to take up a human life in this sinful world in our place.  He was willing to be laid in an animal’s feed box as his first bed!  He was willing to take on every temptation to sin set before him, and to overcome every one of them!  As we move through this year and glance during each worship service at what he suffered at the hands of men and of our holy and just God to give us all those eternal blessings mentioned earlier by Paul, it’s beyond imagination!

 

Paul wrote that he regularly would get on his knees before God, he would pray for those Ephesian believers that they might grow in knowing the greatness of this love, the love that God DOES have FOR THEM!  It is evidenced in what Christ does for us that we might enjoy forever with God all his goodness.  Paul wrote all this so that those believers might have what he wanted for them, as he expressed it in the sentence before our reading:

So I ask you not to lose heart because of what I’m suffering for you” (3:13).

In the section of the letter before us today he went on to tell them that he prayed that as they contemplate what God does for us eternally and beyond this life in Christ, that they might be “rooted and grounded” in that love God has for us.  He would often pray that they might understand a little more each day and in each situation,  how great God’s love is for us.  To be rooted and grounded equals sinking our hearts and minds into the fertile message that tells us of his love.

God can make that happen!  He is able, by the power at work within us, to do more than we can ask or imagine!  He is able to make us know that he loves us no matter what is going on in our lives!  And he is able to make that same love flow through and out of our lives in every situation!  When he convinces us that he loves us, and that everything he gives and allows works for our eternal good, he makes us more powerful for loving others as he loves us, so that we strive more and more to do what is eternally good for them, too.

How does that play out in our lives?  Perhaps you have been in situations in which you’ve said, “I am so angry with him/her that I can’t imagine ever talking to them again!”  When we’re at odds with someone, we sometimes can’t imagine ever making peace with them.  Or, there may be times in our lives when we’ve dug holes for ourselves through our words or actions, we can’t IMAGINE how we’ll get out of them.  But when his love has overpowered us, his power takes over within us.  His power that has worked for us and now works in us reveals to us and can fill us with his love that does the unimaginable!  Look at what Christ did for you!  All to accomplish for each of us the forgiveness of sins we need to be at peace with God and to have perfect and never ending life with him!  He can do more than we can imagine!!!  And he has worked in us with that power.  And he puts it in us by his Spirit’s work through his assuring word of forgiveness in Christ!

This is perhaps the reason this section from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian believers has been paired on this day with the Gospel reading from John 2 – Jesus did the UNIMAGINABLE.  He made wine in a way that is beyond imagination.  He overruled the laws of nature he himself established at creation.  He made wine out of water; no sugary fruit juice, no yeast, no time.  What power!  What love for that newlywed couple who may have been a little embarrassed by the situation of running out of wine for their guests!  This demonstration of his divine power and love combined with what he had been telling his disciples about himself and his work of love for sinners led his disciples to root and ground their lives and faith in him!  They would see more of that power and more of Jesus’ life of love for others in the next 3 years.  And then they would see the ultimate act of love beyond imagination…this Jesus offering his perfect life up on a cross to make peace with God…this Jesus taking back his life from death!  All this for them and for all people!  And after Jesus’ resurrection they would see something beyond their imagination when thousands of people would believe their message about Jesus on Pentecost.

God’s power at work for us and in us is also beyond imagination!  The fact that you and I have faith in Christ for eternal life with our God is beyond imagination.  As Paul wrote about it at the beginning of the second chapter of this letter to the Ephesians he wrote, “You were DEAD in your transgressions and sins” (2:1).  To be raised from spiritual death and unbelief in which our earthly existence begins to faith, life and peace with God through trust in Jesus is beyond our ability and imagination.  But he has done this for us and in us!  The fact that you and I sill have such faith and trust in the face of struggles that were mentioned earlier is beyond imagination and beyond our own ability.  And being able to still love and praise our God even in the face of struggles and sorrows is also beyond our own ability and our imagination.  But he has done it!  And he can do in and through us those things we think are undoable and unimaginable – such as forgive and make peace with others.

God’s love for you and his power at work for you and in you  – it is beyond imagination!  But not impossible!  Our powerful Savior himself said, “For nothing is impossible with God!”  Amen.

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