- September 16, 2018
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 16 September 2018 (Proper 19 Year B REV)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Ephesians 1.15-23; Psalm 116:1-8; Mark 8.27-38
Title: The Immeasurable Greatness of God’s Power
Give us your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, O God, that we may have the power to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and to be filled with all of your fullness. Amen.
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe” (Eph 1.17-19).
My dear saints: do you know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power?
Have you experienced this power at work in your life?
We are continuing our journey through the Letter to the Ephesians, and today we arrive at the second major section – which is still part of the Letter’s initial greeting.
You may recall that we cannot say with certainty whether or not the apostle Paul actually wrote this Letter. But it WAS most certainly written in the spirit of Paul, so for the sake of simplicity we will refer to the apostle Paul as the author.
And here Paul writes to convey the reasons for which he thanks God for these particular disciples: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints” (Eph. 1.15).
Such beautiful language! Faith in Jesus and love for one another. If we could cut through all of the noise and all of the big words and boil all of this way of life down into its most basic elements, THIS is what we would find!
Faith or trust in Jesus and love for the saints – which includes you and me and everyone who is baptized in the way of Jesus. WE all are the saints of God. But we come to claim this title for ourselves in different ways.
There are some of us, like Neils Rogers who will be baptized here in short order, who are brought into this way of life as a child. Some of you here today have never known another way of seeing the world.
But there are many who have a very different experience of God’s power at work in their lives.
Sara Miles is a writer and active member of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.
Sara was never baptized as a child and faith was not part of her early life. In fact, she was a vocal atheist, a lesbian activist, and a left-wing journalist from the Bay area who thought that religion was a crutch for those who just couldn’t deal with reality. She found it odd that people were still clinging to the old superstitions that are espoused in church.
That is, until one Sunday morning just a few years ago, when she was 46 years old, Sara decided to walk over to Saint Gregory’s there in San Francisco. She still can’t exactly say why.
It was an interior call, a pull, a tug on her heart to explore something that was foreign to her. So she entered the congregation and she received the Body and Blood of Christ.
And somehow, that was it. Sara was not yet baptized, of course, and so officially was not supposed to receive communion, but she didn’t know about that. And thank God she didn’t! Because that moment of eating Christ was a revelation. An immediate enlightenment.
Sara Miles didn’t even know what she was looking for, but she knew right away – with that deep kind of knowing on the inside, like this spirit of wisdom and revelation for which Paul prayed – she knew when she took that bread and wine that she was feeding on Jesus.
And that Jesus was feeding her. And that Jesus was calling her to go and feed others.
How does this kind of breakthrough happen? God only knows.
But did you notice all of this talk about the power of God in this passage from Ephesians? The power of God actively at work on planet earth. The power of God that raised Christ from the dead. The power of God that is still changing the hearts of human beings – sometimes even the hearts of those who have no interest in God.
The heart of Sara Miles was ambushed by the power of God.
So she prepared for baptism. And as she described it, “When that [baptismal] water poured over my head, I realized the big problem with my new [faith]: God actually lives in other people. I could not be a Christian by myself. [And] I could not choose who else was my brother and sister” (Sara Miles: Take This Bread, 2004).
So here is the rub. This is the great challenge of this way of life.
Being baptized into Christ means giving up control. Or perhaps it is far better to say, being baptized into Christ means giving up the ILLUSION of control.
Yes, that’s better. Because when we submit ourselves to the power of God, then we are giving up on our illusions.
And, you know, this may be the most difficult thing about baptizing infants (like Neils). It’s hard enough as an adult to work on letting go of our desire for control.
But when parents bring their children to God in baptism, it means that they are giving up the illusion of control over their own child.
It means admitting that the child does not belong to them as parents. The child belongs to God and was brought into this world for God’s purposes.
When we walk back to the font, the child is handed over to the church to be brought into the death and the new life of Jesus. Do you see? The child is given away, given back to God!
The Body of Christ names this child and recognizes it as a child of God, and then of course the child is handed back to the parents – but no longer as their possession. But only so that they can care for this one who belongs to God, so that they can nurture this one part of the Body of Christ. The child does not belong to them, but to God.
O you saints of God, the same is true of all of you!
If you try to save your life by clinging to this illusion of control over it – by demanding that you get what you want, then you will lose it.
But if you give your life away, if you let go and welcome the power of God into your life, then you will save it.
And your brief little life will be swept up into something far bigger and far more meaningful than anything you could ever imagine.
As Sara Miles wrote about her encounter with the power of God: “I came late to [the Church], knocked upside down by a mid-life conversion centered around eating a literal chunk of bread. I had not figured out a neat set of ‘beliefs’, but [I] discovered a force blowing uncontrollably through the world (Sara Miles, Jesus Freak, p.xi).
Do you know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power which continues to blow uncontrollably through the world?
And are you ready to have your heart changed and your life re-arranged by this force of God which continues to create something beautiful and good and holy out of the chaos of our world?
May it be so. Amen.