What does it mean to be rich? Does making six figures mean you are rich? Maybe owning lots of land makes you rich? Maybe “rich” means having enough so that you don’t ever worry about having enough. Maybe your understanding of being rich is something unattainable, like being Batman rich or Scrooge McDuck rich. McDuck literally bathes in money because it is more plentiful than water. For a moment I would like you to think of the word, “rich,” as meaning “full,” like a good dessert or an experience you can’t forget. It is no surprise that the word “rich” conjures images of money because maybe when we think of being full, money is the stuff of our desire and dream. If you were to cradle your hands together and given the opportunity to choose one thing to posses, what would that one thing be?
Let’s think about our hands for a moment. What you do with your hands is a great way to think about what kind of stuff fills your day. What do you hold in your hands most often each day? Maybe it’s the steering wheel of your car because you are on the move with business or in the car pool line or maybe a friend or family member is sick and you’re going back and forth from home to hospital. Maybe your computer keys are touching your fingertips most often because of invoices you organize or letters you write. Maybe your cell phone monopolizes your hands because you are connecting with people or organizing our Stuff sale next week or maybe you’re scrolling Instagram for funny cat pictures—no judgment. But how often are our hands folded in prayer or unoccupied in order to receive what God has in mind?
The letter to the Ephesians certainly sounds like a prayer. It says:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 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, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God
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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” The author of Ephesians begins his prayer in the context of community. I think Paul Eckel said it well in his article on Ephesians. He said, “By ourselves we cannot know the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love because it is a love that is revealed as we are gathered . . . The communion of saints is not simply a community that, by word, proclaims that we are loved; its very existence is the way God loves us—together.”
Listen to the language in Ephesians: “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, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” God’s riches, the power of the Spirit, Christ dwelling in your hearts—community is the heart of the Trinity. God in God’s very essence is community; therefore when we welcome others, when we open our doors, when we go out into the community and engage with people where they are, when we let go of our stuff so that our hands are open to receive our neighbor we dwell within the very essence of God, and the good news is that we are “being rooted and grounded in love,” which means that is a ever present reality and we are a work in progress. We are being rooted and grounded in love. We aren’t perfect, but God chooses to plant us in fertile soil anyway. It is time to let go of the guilt of imperfection!
Sometimes when we talk about giving in the church, there’s a fair amount of guilt that is tossed around. Non profits know that guilt is a means of encouraging you to give your money, like having Sarah McGlaughlin singing about being in the arms of angels while sad puppies in slow motion stare at the camera. We could talk about how this is our first year without conference funding and making up the difference has been slow going. We could talk about how worship attendance has gone up while average giving has remained the same. Or I could lay it on think and say something like, “In God We Trust’ is printed on our money, which is why we use our debit cards because we would rather look at our own name than God’s because we know our money isn’t going to the right place.”
What I would rather have you realize and live into is the language used in Ephesians. It says, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” This is the kind of language an abundant giver uses. Someone who gives abundantly and sacrificially says things like, “I pray that you may know just how big and wonderful and graceful and abundant God is.” God is not a vending machine. It is not that you give God a nickel and God gives you a nickel’s worth of blessing, or if you give God $600 a Sunday God will bless you with $600 worth of blessings. Heaven is not a currency exchange. In fact, Jesus overturned those tables. Yes, you reap what you sow, which is biblical, but what that means is the less stuff there is distracting you from God, the more you realize how many blessings God is offering to you and has been offering to you. In a way, it’s like eating junk food before dinner. If you fill up on cotton candy then you will have no appetite for the good food that is being served. The food is being served whether or not you’ve ruined your appetite, but if your hunger has been temporarily filled with junk then you will not be hungry for the good that is being offered, or as Ephesians puts it, “I pray that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” It’s the kind of fullness that satisfies but always leaves you hungry for more. God is not a vending machine. God doesn’t have to be because the blessings have already been offered to us, and if we can get rid of the stuff that clouds our visions we will be able to see it.
Our reading ends with, “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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.” When God offers blessings God has in mind all the generations of the world, and holding that imagine in our mind is difficult if not impossible. It is true that God’s blessings are greater than we can imagine, so I wonder what a bite-sized portion of that kind of blessing looks like. Next Sunday Broadmoor United Methodist in Shreveport is celebrating its 75th anniversary. I wonder if the founding members had any idea that their great grandchildren would be celebrating their commitment to the work of God. I wonder if 75 years from now the children of the children who are learning God’s story right now might one day gather to celebrate that in 2008 God called a new community of believers in Ponchatoula to build God’s kingdom. That’s the kind of stuff that should surround our life. I pray that you might know the length and breadth and height and depth of the richness and fullness of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.