St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Trinity, October 2, 2022
“… that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”
IN THE BEGINNING, as God put the last touches on His great Creation, mankind rose, male and female, out from the elements of earth, and He said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion...” Gen 1:28 At the subsiding of the great Flood, He likewise blessed Noah and his family. Melchizedek, king of Salem, blessed Abraham and gave him bread and wine. God blessed Abraham and Isaac on the Mount, willing to sacrifice, millions of descendants, and a seed blessing all people. These were blessings for this life, holy and good. God blessed Moses’ exodus, King David’s line, the Jews with a Promised Land. But the blessing for both this world and the next waited for the One who would come from Eternity’s shores to these, and become as much a part of this world as we are.
The hands of the carpenter’s son were large, skilled and tough. They handled the saw, the plane, and the rasp. Dark from exposure, yet beautiful. These hands gently touched the heads of young children, upturned chins of hopeful faces, and eager hands, reached out to Him. These hands lifted bread heavenward with blessing, and the loaves went out multiplied. These hands raised the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ’s Communion, and its wine became a sacrament. These hands that blessed many were pierced by nails and drenched in His own blood. Blessing poured out of Jesus as naturally as wisdom, grace, forgiveness, and love. Everyone who saw Jesus was susceptible to the blessing, and coming under it, they loved Him.
Saul never saw Him. The crucifixion was over when he strode the streets of Jerusalem. He came to train under the greatest rabbi of his day, to be the avenger of Judaism, to catch, judge and execute Christians. He remarked at their spirit. What was it about these people? to follow a false Messiah and yet control their emotions, retain zeal for him, at the point of death, even forgive Saul as he killed them? What was it Stephen saw as he died? How did James take beheading so bravely?
Then Saul saw the light. It is Saul, St. Paul, who gives us a blessing today. Forgiven his extermination of Christians, this zealous Apostle laid himself open to all that Christ would give him. Thus, he received the full fruits of God’s will and intent for all His creatures, which from the beginning were designed to be filled with grace.
It’s my favorite blessing in the Bible. Let’s hear it again. St. Paul says,
“I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
What a blessing! St. Paul wishes a real experience of God for us. Paul worships God the Father, who creates heaven and earth by naming them. All things come from this Father; we are therefore His family. This is no alien Being. Every creature bears His mark, and by nature is God’s own—all mankind, the animals, the plants, the worlds. Now Paul asks for our sakes, that God would grant from His riches, the substance of this blessing, in wonderful gifts.
The first gift is power from the One Whom Jesus named Comforter. The might of His Spirit in the inner man is abundant power from God’s Third Person taking residence inside of us. When God lives in you, every ability, all wisdom, and divine graces live in your spirit. Nothing is impossible. God’s Spirit wants to be there; you were made for Him. It’s the mark of the Christian Covenant—no other covenant, true or false, bears this feature. God in you, strengthens you.
By the indwelling Spirit, we come to know and believe what follows.
Paul then prays for Christ to be in our hearts by faith, so that we might be rooted and grounded in love. We hear children pray for Jesus to come into their hearts. Asking the Lord Jesus into your heart sounds symbolic, a child’s simplification, but is He there? You might say, “I love Christ,” as an act of faith. But have you simply said, “Jesus, please come into my heart?” God’s Spirit in your spirit strengthens you, His Son in your heart informs you and empowers you to love as He loves, and you enter into God’s intended life for you. By faith we come, believing that Jesus is God the Son, and knowing this is true, we ask, “Jesus, enter my heart.” And then it happens: LOVE. Not some cotton candy fluffy empty infatuation, or lustful passion, or sentimental sophistry: this is strong stuff, and you are rooted and grounded in it, a powerful love that establishes and feeds you. What kind of love is this? It has empowered martyrs and missionaries, crossed continents and oceans, and died with blessing on the lips of millions. Rooted and grounded, we are unmoved by lesser loves. This is the love that transforms us. God is this Love.
We begin to comprehend, as others before us have, the fullest extent of God’s vast empire, His purpose in creation, His reason for sending His Son, our future, His past, the breadth, length, depth and height—an infinite God wishes us limited creatures to appreciate a little of who He is. So, He shares with us the Trinity, One God in Three Persons, undivided yet not confused with one another. Think on that for a few years. Then go on to a God eternal without beginning, yet not alone, for the Father, Son and Spirit have always been. Then He speaks, and Light explodes upon the darkness. And so on. You will never get to the end of it, but you’ll never want to.
Paul prays that we might know the love of Christ, a love that passes all normal experience. What love is it that leaves heaven’s peace and, for the love of His Father and of us, is born as one of us, lives among us, is misjudged, rejected, hated, arrested, falsely charged and convicted, whipped, pierced, spat on, and finally has His great heart burst in His chest. All for love of us. It is finished, His great cry from the cross booms in triumph as the quest for us, for our redemption, is reached in His dying breath. Such love surpasses our imaginings. How can this be love? Find that out and you will love Him too.
Finally, Paul prays that we might be filled, overflowing with God’s fullness, like the Psalmist’s cup that runneth over. We are small, God is infinite: we can’t hold much of Him or His grace or wisdom or love. But Paul would have us grow, and be able to hold more, and then more.
Is all of this possible? God’s Spirit within us, Christ in our hearts, comprehending vastness, the Messiah’s love shown by dying in our place, and God’s infinity filling us? No. It isn’t possible. Not by trying as hard as you can. But Paul adds this: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory…” It isn’t our achievement. At the end of the day, either God has done it or we have forbidden Him. It’s so easy to tell God No. He won’t knock that down. We forbid Him every day. Try saying Yes just once, Yes to this entire prayer, this Blessing St. Paul means us to have from God above. Everything he mentions Paul experienced himself, and gave to others and saw them transformed.
The world was changed forever by these few brave men and women. If only a few brave men and women were to receive in like measure the entirety of this Blessing in our day, what could they accomplish? Paul gave up a life of privilege and honor in Judea, preferring to be an outcast from his own race for the riches he found in Christ. “Indeed, I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Phil 3:7-11 His knowledge of God was as good as any person of his time, but he knew it was imperfect. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away… Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1 Cor 13:9-12
May I pray this blessing over you, this day, that St. Paul wanted you to have, and he knew this was God’s own desire upon you, first and last? I will restate it, so it might get in, where the words got stuck in other readings. Receive this, the Blessing of St. Paul, and your bishop…
May God, the Father of all, from His own glorious treasure, give you His Spirit inwardly to strengthen you, and may Christ live in your heart that by faith in Him, you will be established unmovable, and might understand the vastness in all its dimensions, and experience from inside and outside Christ’s love, wiser than knowledge, so you might be full of God’s ever-expanding fullness. And while you can’t achieve any of these, He is able to do all this in you and more than you ever could ask or even imagine. Say Yes. Amen.