Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity 10/02/22
Comprehending the Love of Christ
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
People often struggle with the idea of a loving God. People respond to war, to human tragedy, to illness, and to sorrow , and ask, "How can a loving God permit this to happen?" They act as though they believe that God should be responsible for these sorts of things.
When we confront human tragedy and sorrow in general terms, we rarely consider the sort of control that God would need to exercise in order to prevent or control the things which cause such trouble and sorrow in our world - such as war, crime, and abuse of one another. Much of the freedom of decision and action which we enjoy would need to be taken from us, if God were to prevent every difficult experience from confronting us.
Also, when we ask how a loving God can permit such things, we also have to ask how we can permit them, or what are we willing to do to prevent or ameliorate such difficulties. Are you willing to surrender your freedoms? Are you willing to give up your free time and work to solve these problems? Are you willing to divest yourself of your treasures and your wealth to eliminate human sorrow and suffering from this cause or that? Of course, the answer is that if you were willing to do so, you would already be doing it. If we are not willing to expend our resources to eliminate our troubles, how is it that we can hold God accountable? It is only when we can seriously ask these sorts of questions that we can begin to ask the right sorts of questions that might help us understand God and His love. Our text addresses that issue briefly, and our theme, this morning, is "Comprehending the Love of Christ."
The love of Christ is far more complex and thorough-going than we are accustomed to think. We tend to love far more simply and shallow. Our love often is a love of pure emotion, and very little intellect is applied. Many parents have trouble doing the things that are wise, in regards to their children, simply because they are difficult or painful to endure. So we have an entire generation of parents who say, "My child is not going to have to do this - or do without that," simply because they had to do or endure it, and did not find it delightful, or understand it well. They never stop to think of how their experiences – whether they thought them good or bad – schooled them and made them the people that they are today. They just know that they did not like it (or them) and they resent it, and they will not allow their children to experience it. And that is that!
The love of Christ is far wiser and deeper and more compelling. God permits us to do the difficult and even painful things that we need to do in order to achieve the good that He has planned for us. Take for example the opening words of our Epistle lesson by Paul, Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
Paul realizes, undoubtedly by God's inspiration, that the troubles he is enduring are going to work out for the better for him and for those Christians to whom he is ministering. He doesn't necessarily know exactly how, nor does he need to. He simply trusts God - and accepts that what God has said is so. The tribulations he is enduring will work out for their glory. In fact, he says that his own tribulations are their glory. We also have the Word of God which tells us that our difficulties will work out on our behalf. So all we really need is to take God at His Word, and trust that He will do what He has promised. That is the nature of the Love of Christ for us.
Paul then writes this prayer, For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Paul never met any of you, and yet this prayer is also for you. Such is the love of Christ. Paul is praying that you might have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you with His mighty power so that you might believe - and so that Christ would dwell in your hearts through faith. The purpose for this is simple, that you may comprehend the love of Christ.
Paul writes, "and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God." This isn't simply a prayer that you will realize that Christ loves you, but that you will begin to understand in some measure the nature and enormity of the love of Christ.
Don't feel bad if you have trouble capturing it all in your mind - Paul writes to us that it surpasses knowledge. You simply cannot think that big, or in such complexity and detail. The Gospel is a good place to start, if you want to understand the love of God, but it just isn't clear enough for us to get an accurate fix on that love. Because I am talking about things beyond my comprehension, I may sound like I am babbling at times as I try to impress you with the love of God, but bear with me.
The Gospel tells us that God the Father loved us enough to send His Son to live for us and die in our place, innocent of any guilt, and not deserving to die at all. Some try to draw an analogy which would make the staggering depth of the love of God for us clear, such as comparing us to ants, and one of us being willing to step down to the existence of an ant for their benefit. It fails as an accurate analogy because we have more in common with ants than God has with us, by nature. We are created things, with bodies and such. Besides, ants never did anything to really offend us. We may find them inconvenient but they have never sinned against us. They are not even capable of doing so.
We have to grasp the nature of sin and its offense against God to understand what He chose to do for us. We could probably compare it to a stinging slap of insult and rejection - although it is far more. It is also destructive and evil and caustic and contrary to God in every way. Yet His love fervently desired to rescue us from sin - even though we are willing participants.
Then try to imagine the love of Christ, who took on human nature and came to live among us offensive sinners. He did not walk about holding His nose, mincing through the crowd as though He feared touching the pollution, as we might if we were working with foul, smelly, and contagious people - especially if they were flinging their feces on us and calling us names and spitting on us as we worked to help them. The love of Jesus was enormous. He came among sinners to save sinners, and endured the wickedness and the hypocrisy and the hostility of sinners toward Him while He did good and healed them and prepared to suffer and die hideously for them.
Then, He took your sin, that foul stench, on Himself and then paid the penalty for it as though it was His own - so you could have life everlasting, and joy and peace and freedom. That was His love. And yet the love of Christ is still more, and larger. It is not that we can take those few words and clearly imagine how it was for Jesus or what that love must be like. We cannot! But that love is just part of it!
Another aspect of that love is how He blesses and protects and guides you each day. He takes you at times where you don't want to go, and where you only go kicking and screaming and doubting His love, His presence and power. He takes you where you need to go, and blesses you with all sorts of blessings - the soft and wonderful kind, and the rough and prickly sort that we hate to experience. He walks with you and watches over you and strengthens you so that you can endure, and that you can accomplish what He has set before you to do, and you receive the glory - whatever it is here and now, and all that it shall be in His heaven, there and then.
He has promised to feed you - and in all the years of your life, He has kept that promise. He has promised to clothe you, and none of you have stumbled in here naked this morning. He has promised to guide and protect you, and here, in the fellowship of His people, He does through Word and Sacrament. He provides everything you need, but it may not always be in a way you expect or coming to you as you would prefer. But unlike your typical parent, Jesus takes us where we need to go even when it is painful and difficult for us to experience, because His ultimate goal is our ultimate good and salvation. He is not so much worried about being our friend as He is being our Savior.
Comprehending the love of Christ is not easy. Our culture and our natural tendencies work in a different direction. And Jesus has perfect vision when it comes to what is right and good for us. He is not limited by our sense of things. Jesus is willing to bear our frustrations and confusion when we don't understand the paths our lives take. He can take even our sins and turn them to our blessing, at times, although I would not suggest sinning in order to provide Him with opportunities of that sort. But I would recommend trusting God – and that is aided by diligently applying yourself to comprehending the love of Christ, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. These words make a fine way to end a sermon, but you want to listen to them carefully, as well. We confess in these words that Christ is able to do "exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think." He can do far more than you can imagine, or ask of Him. And He does it all by the very power which dwells in us through the Holy spirit. It would nice, according to the way we think, if we could access that power and do what we desire to be done - but He loves us too much for that. We would do the things which benefit the flesh, but hurt the Spirit. We have the power in us, but He is using it for us and for our good. But when you are facing the difficult, threatening and challenging things of life, it is a great comfort to know that power you need is not a long ways off, or hidden somewhere. It is in you.
All you need is to remember the love which Christ has for you, and trust Him. This moment, this problem, this illness, this situation is going to work out for blessing and good. That is the promise of God, who loves you. Even if it works out for death, in the end, it is a blessing, for death is but the next step to eternal life. To see the blessing, however, you must take God at His Word and trust Him – but the blessings is there, and, when you comprehend the length and breadth and height and depth and know the love of Christ, you can look forward to the blessing of God in any and every situation.
To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, October 02, 2022
Comprehending the Love of Christ