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Saturday, July 28, 2012

 Ephesians 3:14–21 July 29 2012

Twelve years ago this coming week we began our work together in Christ. On my first Sunday, at my first Adult education class held in the August heat under the tree in the square in front of Charter Hall I asked this single question: What is the church?

What is the church?

I think, if we are willing to admit it, most people have a picture of the ideal church in their minds, the way we want our church to be. What it is supposed to be about; how it acts or doesn’t act. What it considers most important and the things it doesn’t. The ideal church, we picture it, and we may build that church in our mind’s eye with the programs and ministries that we care most deeply about; the type of music; the flow and particulars of the service; and the type of pastor and the particulars of his or her sermons and how the pastor chooses to spend their time and what type of leader they should be. We build in our mind a church; we may all have our own ideas about what it looks like, feels like, this thing that the Apostle Paul calls the Body of Christ, the church.

So what is the church?

As I confront my own thoughts about what a church should look like, feel like, live like, being the Body of the Christ, I cannot help but to be drawn to this passage from Ephesians and to be humbled, cut to the heart, not as a pastor or just as a pastor, but as a Christian, as a person of faith. Simultaneously amazed, astounded, joyful, yet guilty, naggingly guilty and called to repentance, humbly finding myself once again where I always should be, but am not, clinging ever more tightly to Jesus, casting off my will to submerge myself into his will, to stop pretending that my will is his will, pretending that our thoughts are of one mind in most things, which they are certainly not.

What is the church?
Do we come to worship and live and work as the body of Christ, the church based upon our own image of what church should be or what God intends. Our thoughts or God’s thoughts? Our will or God’s will? The answer to that question will always live in the tension between trust and doubt seeking the path of humility.

And for a Christian doubt is not a weakness, but a strength and humility is not a weakness but a strength and the struggle between our will and God’s will is a way of life. And so my life and your life and the life of all Christians is one, as Luther puts it, is one of daily repentance, of turning from our ways, to God’s ways. Of seeking forgiveness and receiving the assurance of grace.

Do you struggle as I struggle?
To rely not upon our own understanding but seeking in humility what God is calling us to be, calling us to do.

So what is the church?
A place of struggle and conversation about struggle: Our will and God’s will. Confession, Repentance, forgiveness, and grace. These are churchy words, but they are also life and death and life for us and for all.
For God meets us here and so it must always be about life and death and life.
Trust and hope. Dwelling in the promise.

God meets us and God acts.
God meets us and God gives.
God, in and through Christ Jesus, longs to give to us and give to us and give to us so that through the Holy Spirit we may in fullness “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.

So we all come as we are, broken, yet blessed, with histories and mysteries, with needs and thanksgivings, certain and uncertain about life, the universe and everything. We come with expectations born of our image of what the church should be, should do and then God meets us here and our expectations look rather small, wouldn’t you say? Our expectations look flat-out bewildering! Consider all of the expectations that you brought with you to church this morning and then hear Paul’s prayer for us, the prayer that Paul prays believing, trusting that God can answer it for the Ephesians, for us. Paul doesn’t wish it was possible, rather he expects that God can and will answer it: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”

That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

That love, its height, its depth, its breadth, is so huge, so amazing, so unexpected, some complete, so different than we imagine it to be that it, that as Paul tells us, it surpasses knowledge, itself. Our brains cannot conceive of it in its fullness.

What is the church?
The Body of Christ, the people.
But also a place.
A place of struggle and conversation about struggle
Where God meets us and acts and meets us and gives.
A place where we may be filled with all the fullness of God, where we may be rooted and grounded in love.

A place where we may be filled with all the fullness of God, where we may be rooted and grounded in love.
And if we find ourselves as so many do of bringing a different set of expectations with us to church, of low expectations for church, the cure is amazingly simple, isn’t it?

We need to raise them, our expectations. We need to raise our expectations, tenfold, a hundred fold. For our God is not a God of low expectations but of power. Of immeasurable love, of daring to dwell in our hearts, of longing to fill us with all the fullness of God. May we conclude as the Apostle Paul has that God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.

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