Galatians 5:13-26 (click to display NIV text)
Sept. 16, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
In the “Walk to Emmaus” retreat, participants spend three days studying various aspects of the Christian faith together, and then on Saturday evening are ushered into a specially decorated room, where they sing “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” Having been rooted and established in love, in the Gospel, it is time for worship, for a lifting of hearts to the eternal, to Christ himself.
A prayer in “The Divine Hours” prayer book compiled by Phyllis Tickle reads, “Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly; and even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away, hold fast to those that shall endure.”
In this letter of Ephesians, a letter that was read during worship at a number of churches, Paul enters into worship with them. Teaching leads to prayer. Evangelism becomes worship. The life of following Christ is life “in Christ.” Abraham Heschel writes, “Worship is an act of inner agreement with God.” Paul calls the church to agree with God, to set their minds and hearts on that which is lasting, on the eternal. There is a healing, a nourishment of the soul, a transformation of life that comes when we agree with God in worship, when we turn our eyes upon Jesus.
We notice in the two lessons read today that there seem to be two different kinds of praying. Jesus heals the sick and that is a type of prayer, and the line of people seems to be long to receive that prayer. The crowds follow him wherever he goes. Jesus then prays for food to care for the people. This is a prayer of thanks over the loaves and fish that the boy has brought forward. Again the crowd all receive the food provided by Jesus’ prayer. We think of Jesus in the Gospels healing and meeting needs in very practical ways, and the responses to his prayers of healing come immediately.
Paul prays for people to know God better, and for Christ to dwell in their hearts by faith. I don’t know if the line is as long to receive an answer to that prayer. It does often seem like the answer to such prayers comes over a much longer period of time. The Lord often works through the course of years to draw people back to himself, to bring people through struggle and pain to the place of knowing him in a deeper and truer way. In chapter 2, Paul talks about those who were dead in transgressions coming alive with Christ because of the mercy of God. They were saved by grace, through faith. Often that is a longer process than a physical healing by Jesus.
But we notice in the Gospels that Jesus does not simply heal people, or provide food for them; he also often forgives them, and he rejoices with repentant sinners. How did Jesus pray so that people were healed and fed and forgiven? What words did he speak in prayer that brought people to repentance? Maybe some of those all night prayers were quite similar to those of Paul. How did his praying lead him to the cross and the resurrection? Surely his praying was focused on that which is eternal.
Klyne Snodgrass writes, “Life from God comes as a gift, but it is not magic. It is a life of engagement with God’s Spirit, who makes Christ and his purposes known. Life is relational and relations require time and investment.” Paul is praying about the gift from God, a gift that takes time as we get to know God better, as we are strengthened so that Christ may dwell in our hearts. It takes time to be rooted in God’s love, like planting a tree, which then takes time for the roots to grow deep into the ground. Paul prays also that we might be established in love, and that word “establish” is a word from the construction of buildings. It has to do with foundation work, digging deep into the solid ground and laying a firm foundation for a building. It is the part of building that takes the most time and energy.
Rooted and established in God’s love. That might take some time to do well. We like to accomplish things quickly and then rush on to the next project, the next goal. Sometimes we are in such a hurry that we do not even have time to give God proper thanks when prayer has been answered. Paul leads us to pray for souls, to pray for redemption and transformation that takes time and effort, and that leads to knowing love that is long and wide and high and deep. This is the long, slow work of God in our lives: redeeming loss, healing brokenness, granting faith, planting hope, and pouring out love. This is what it means to be “in Christ.”
When Paul prays for these believers, it is always in the context of community. This is not an overly individualistic prayer, as if you might come to know the fullness of God and know God better and have hope and experience great power, all in isolation from the community of believers. It is not primarily “Christ in you” that Paul writes about, it is much more often “you in Christ.” Snodgrass explains, “Christ is the place where believers reside, the source in which they find God’s salvation and blessings, and the framework in which they live and work.” In this community of faith, we are always being made alive through Christ. This is grace, a gift of God. It comes to us through faith. So how we welcome, care for and pray for one another is very important. We most often know the love of God as we express it and receive it in community.
I told you last week that I went to the installation of Father John Trout as the new pastor at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. Brian Paulsen, the pastor of First Presbyterian in Libertyville, and I were the only ones from our Libertyville pastors’ group who came. We were greeted very warmly and given special front-row seats and made to feel very welcome although we certainly could be seen as outsiders at such an occasion. It was a glorious service and I enjoyed it, but as always at a Catholic church I was a little unsure about the Eucharist. I don’t feel it is my place to take the communion in a Catholic church, but I always feel a little uneasy about that. This is the part of the service where they could say, “Well, this is where we have some differences that we cannot seem to resolve, so maybe you should excuse yourselves or go sit in the back row for a few minutes.” But no, just before the bread and cup were distributed, Father Trout walked all the way across the large area around the altar and came over to specially greet Brian and me. He did not need to do that.
We were seated right where the bishop was giving the bread. So we went up and each of us in turn crossed our arms in front of us, a sign that we would not be receiving the wafer, and he spent time with each of us to very personally bless us in our ministry. It was a profound expression of love. Even with the barrier between us that we cannot seem to overcome, there is the love of Christ. And I felt deeply blessed in that moment.
The reality is that we cannot resolve all our problems in the church. Things are said, mistakes are made, and decisions are made that will disappoint some. We can’t always fix everything or solve everything or go back and do it over again. But the love of God can be present in our church, in our relationships. This is the love that surpasses knowledge. This is what we pray for. This is what we live in when we are in Christ.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”