What Power Is at Work Within us?

July 29, 2018
Reverend David Shinn

Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-14

Sitting in the absolute darkness for hours and likely for a couple days, they waited. While the blinding darkness surrounded them, they can still hear the sound of dripping and running water. They can feel the rising water encroaching on their ever shrinking perch of a land. As they sat, their coach taught them to meditate. Prepare their minds: fear can only lead to more fear. Inspire their hearts: peace can beget peace. They meditated and took on calmness, serenity in the midst of growing chaos, and releasing fear one breath at a time.

In the blackness of the cavern, a small flicker of light began to grow larger and closer. What could it be? The coach had assured the soccer team members that someone would find them. Someone would find the abandoned bikes outside the cave and wondered where the team had gone. As the flicker of light grew larger and closer, a diver emerged from the murky water, and the light from their equipment broke the darkness, and transformed their hope into reality. They had been found!

It was a miracle that the 12 young footballers and their coach were found in relatively healthy condition with only few scrapes and cuts on their legs and feet. It was even more miraculous, they were emotionally calm and psychologically composed. One news article praised the young coach, who was also a novice monk, for his spiritual leadership. He led the young men in several meditation sessions during the 10 days they were trapped with no sign of escape and diminishing air supply. How they survived through this unspeakable misfortune exceeded all imagination and understanding. Perhaps it was something greater at work within them.

Our scriptures today speak to us on this very power within us from Paul and from John the apostle. Paul was speaking to his young congregation in Ephesus through this marvelous letter. John was recounting several miracles in chapter 6 beginning with the feeding of the five thousands.

Ephesians 3 is a prayer that serves as a hinge between the first three chapters, which describes what God has gone by gathering all things in Christ, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility, and creating in Christ “one new community.” Then it connects to the next three chapters, which instruct the readers what we do in response, such as we are “to lead a life worthy of the callings to which (we) have been called” (4:1). With theological tenets on one hand, and the spiritual practices on the other hand, Paul lifts up this prayer to name the inseparability and the connection of theology, what God has done, and spiritual practice, how we respond.

Paul, unmistakably, tells us why he bends his knees for every family before God. Every family, patria in Greek, means there is no longer outsider and insider. It is beyond citizenship, and tribe. It transcends borders and walls. What brings him to his knees is the mystery that in Christ Jesus there is now peace between God and those previously estranged from God, and peace between those previously hostile to one another. This is made known to us in the boundless riches in Christ’s wisdom for us. This mystery is made available for us through our prayer.

In this prayer, for the first century audience and for us, we seek to be strengthened in our inner being with the power through the Sprit, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love. This prayer illustrates for us that it is only through the power of the Spirit that we can seek for strength, and understanding. Here is a crucial petition and practice. Paul emphasizes the point that it would be presumptuous of us to take the dwelling presence of Christ for granted.

While we are known by God, and we know God, it is through our daily spiritual discipline and intentional practices to nourish and deepen our relationship with God. With this relationship with God, faith and knowledge come together for us to 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 and be filled with the fullness of God.

Having Christ dwell in our hearts is akin to having a new person move into our household. This person is moving in to stay, not just a short visit. Then, everything changes; conversation changes, relationship begins to realign, household tasks increase, and responsibilities shift. Everything changes.

Anne Lamott shares her profound experience of Christ’s indwelling presence in her. She was unmarried, pregnant, and decided to have an abortion. She coped with the pain in her usual way, by smoking recreational drugs and imbibing copious amount of alcohol. When she started hemorrhaging a week later, she sobered up fast.

It was that night she became aware of someone in the room with her. She writes, “The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there – of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus.” Jesus remained in the corner, “watching me with patience, and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.”

Lamott remembered this experience when no one in her family was Christian and she had been attending a small church on some Sundays because she liked their distinctly funky music. Then the next Sunday after this mysterious encounter, she attended worship. She couldn’t escape the feelings. She writes, “It was as if the people were singing between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.”

When she got home to her houseboat, she opened the door, hung her head and said to Jesus out loud, “I quit. Alright. You can come in.”

Paul’s prayer is a prayer of hope and power: for Christ to take over our lives, to strengthen us by God’s own Spirit, to love, to comprehend, and to be filled with the fullness of God. So we can all say, yes, Lord, come into all of our hearts!

I wonder perhaps that was what the little boy was thinking on the fateful day listening to Jesus teaching and talking about blessings and God’s love. The little boy probably just wandered with the crowd gathering to hear Jesus. His mother packed him some food in case he got hungry. After all, he was a growing boy. Then trying to get a better view of Jesus, he wedged himself toward the front of the immense crowd. After all that talking about God, love, and faith, then watching Jesus healing people, it had been a long day with no food and water. Even Jesus was talking about feeding people. Perhaps, he thought to himself, “I better eat my meal now before any adults take it.” Just minding his own business, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, shined the spotlight on him and said, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Nice going Andrew!

Then, Jesus asked people to sit down, the boy gave up his lunch, Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” At the end of this meal, people were satisfied, filled, and 12 basket full of leftover were collected.

We all have heard this miracle story before and preachers often point to the miraculous multiplication of bread and fish, and the generosity of the people actually sharing the meals that they carried with them. The miracles can be both ways – Jesus indeed did multiply the meager meal into a feast for thousands, and Jesus did multiply the hearts of the people and they generously shared what they had. Jesus wasn’t about to protect the people from their own generosity.

When the Thai football team members and their coach were fund after being trapped nearly 1 mile below ground and 1.5 mile from the cave entrance, the Thai people from all over the country rejoiced with the news and supported the rescue effort for the thousands of people. For the next 8 days, nearly all logistics, cooking, cleaning, barber shop, snack shops, were all provided for the thousands of people involved in the rescue effort. Almost everything was freely supplied by the Thai people. They opened their hearts to generosity. Finding the trapped football team was a miracle. Rescuing them was a miracle. Supporting all who worked together to rescue the team was beyond what everyone could ever ask and imagine.

Through prayer, with the fullness of God at work within us, Paul tells us, we are able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask for or imagine. Should we ever wonder or speculate the fullness of God at work within us, I like to invite you to look to your right (my left) down that hallway, to the Trinity staircase, to the Westminster Hall, the Recreation and Garden room, and to the Corner Gallery. Look up to see our community partner with St. David, and look out the windows from Westminster Hall during the inspiring new worship we are starting next month, our new Monday and Wednesday listening session for our guests, our new senior center partnership with downtown library, just to name a few. The new building and new ministries are examples of accomplishing abundantly far more then all we can ask or imagine. This is only the beginning. In just 6 months, we have learned so much about our new building, new ministry opportunities, and strategic responses to those opportunities. This is only the beginning, because we have the next 100 years to actively live out the vision. I suspect, generations will come and witness and experience beyond what they ever ask and what they ever imagine.

Beloved Westminster, let us keep praying and let us keep living out the faith with our hands, feet, bodies, and all of ourselves. Let us keep drawing deeply and generously the power within us to be strengthen in our inner being, with the power of the Holy Spirit, have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith and daily practices, comprehend with all the saints, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, be filled with the fullness of God, and to go out and accomplish all that God asks of us far more than we can ask and imagine. That’s how we know the power is at work within us. Let us as a church say…Amen.

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