August 16, 2015 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost
A year ago in July we began the New Beginnings process, asking the question together “What is it that God wants us to do and be in this time and place?” Last July we shared the gifts we experience in this community. In the fall we met in small groups to talk together about the demographics of our neighborhood as well as what we’re most passionate about, what we’re best at and what our resources are; and then to pray together about where all those gifts and opportunities might connect in what God desires for us to be and do in this time and place.
In the winter, the small group leaders met to share the conversations that took place in their group and to gather together all the lists of our passions, what we’re best at, what our resources are and the long list of ideas of what we could do next.
The rather amazing thing to me is that while the list of all of those passions, best at, resources and ideas was long and varied, all seven small groups which included a total of 81 people in our congregation came up with a very similar big idea for the shape of what God seems to be calling us to do and be in this time and place.
The overarching idea that emerged is twofold. One: that we would engage a few social justice concerns to get involved in as a congregation and, two: that we would focus, as a congregation, on spiritual and leadership development.
In the spring the nominating committee asked people to serve on the task force that would take the overarching idea and all the particular ideas gleaned from the small groups and bring back to you some possibilities for the specifics of how this might shape the next couple of years of our life together. How all this conversation and prayer, how the ideas and the possibilities, how the resources of our neighborhood and of our congregation might come together in the particulars of what we sense God calling us to do and be in this time and place.
The task force began its work together this summer and the goal is to bring those pieces together by the end of the year.
As we’ve embarked on this New Beginnings process and spent a year talking and praying about what it is that God desires for us to be and do in this time and place, I have often thought of this line from Ephesians 3: “Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” (3.20-21)
It’s a sentence of doxology—a hymn of praise to God. We typically think of The Doxology which we sing after the offering is received. “Doxology” comes from the Greek word that means “honor” or “glory.” “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” we sing, giving honor and glory to the One from whom all blessings flow.
Ephesians started with blessing. “Blessed be the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” the author writes, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” And now the theological foundation in chapters 1, 2, and 3 comes to a close with doxology. Praising God for all that God has done in Christ.
In verses 14 through 19 we hear the author’s prayer for the church. The author prays “that God will empower the church” to become what we are called to be: “a new humanity in Christ.”[i]
In the old version of the Book of Order, the second part of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) there was this great little line: “The Church of Jesus Christ is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for all of humanity.”[ii]
Professor Allen Verhey and Pastor Joseph Harvard in their commentary on Ephesians talk about this demonstration using the image of demonstration plots in agriculture. “Demonstration plots are places where new crops are cultivated and nurtured so that others may observe their growth and development for the benefit of the whole community. Sometimes those new crops provide essential produce for those in need of nourishment.
“The church is a demonstration plot for the new humanity brought about by God’s reconciling work in Jesus Christ. To be the church is to be…people who respond to God’s work with joy and praise, who display something of what God intends for all of humanity in [our] common life…It is to be a community that resists efforts to [re-establish…the] walls of division and [hostility] that Christ has broken down.”[iii]
The author also prays that God will strengthen the church so that we will can grasp on to the truth of God’s love. That we will hold on to God’s love and allow God to hold on to us in love. That we will be rooted and grounded in love. Living in a culture of divisiveness and hostility, where reactivity and defensiveness is the norm, the author prays that we will be held and nourished by God’s love. A love that is not just for us as individuals or even just for us as the church but that we, the church, will be a demonstration in the world of God’s great love. And having received that love, we will live our lives rooted and grounded in love and then the fruit of our lives will be love.
In chapter 1 of this letter, the author writes of “the immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power” (1.19) and now we hear that again at the end of chapter 3. This time the author is not just praising the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. The author praises the power of God that is at work within us—at work in the church—a power that is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
This letter feels so relevant to where we are in our life together.
As we seek out God’s desires for us as a congregation, it could be easy in a culture of scarcity and fear to wring our hands and play Eeyore, the gloomy and pressimistic donkey who was a friend of Winnie the Pooh, or Chicken Little, who was convinced the sky was falling and disaster as imminent. But instead, we pray to be a demonstration of the new humanity in Christ that God is creating and that rooted and grounded in God’s love, we can trust ourselves to the God who is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. What God desires for us is good and is beyond what we can even begin to imagine.
James Finley, who was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a clinical psychologist and who now teaches at the Center for Action and Contemplation says, “If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things, then we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.”[iv] [read that quote again!]
In this liminal time when we have invited God to reveal to us what it is we are to do and be in this time and place, may we pray to be so rooted and grounded in the love of God that we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love. May we pray to be open to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.
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[i] Allen Verhey and Joseph S. Harvard, Ephesians, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 126.
[ii] The Constitution of the Presbyerian Church (U.S.A.), Part II, Book of Order (2009-2011) (Louisville: Office of the General Assembly, 2009), G-2.0200.
[iii] Verhey and Harvard, 106.
[iv] Quoted in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, July 30, 2015, cited as: James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation, 2013).