St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Trinity
October 6, 2019
“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.”
ST. PAUL is praying for us. This great and famous saint and early missionary makes an astounding request of God for our sakes, and I believe he is praying this still. He tells the Church at Ephesus, and the church at Chico by extension – for I don’t believe any epistle was meant only for one local church – that he is kneeling in prayer, with humility and awe before the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Then he includes us into God’s holy family, with God as our Father, the father of all fathers and mothers and children.
Then Paul prays that this mighty God might lift a veil that has hidden something from us, and that veil is inside of us. We have spiritual eyes to see, but we don’t see, our spirit’s eyelids closed to the wonder of it all. Let them open, he prays. Open to what? Limitless riches, God’s full glory and His favor toward us. Paul has seen it. He prays that, if we can open our hearts’ and minds’ eyes to the fulness of it, supernatural power will simply flood our innermost being with the divinity of our God and the dynamic, explosive power of His presence inside of us.
Is that enough already? Are you filled so soon? Paul is still praying for you. What now?
As you walk in this faith, always knowing God’s wonderful power unfolding, opening out, revealing, sanctifying you: the very life of Christ might be released in the depths of you and a fathomless seedbed, your resting place and source of life and power, will, in you, become the source of your strength and the foundation of your life.
Can I hear an Amen yet?
Paul prays on.
Once you get there, you shall – he prays – discover something that all holy people come to know by experience: the full magnitude of an astonishing love, the love of Messiah Jesus in all of its dimensions.
Paul speaks of four, not just three such dimensions: the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. This exceeds our understanding of the known universe. Are we talking size here, or something very different?
Cosmologists and astronomers have calculated what they now believe is the size of the universe, both seen and unseen. It’s pretty big. It is roughly spherical in shape, they say. They tape out its diameter at 28.5 gigaparsecs, or 93 billion light-years across. By their calculations, everything that exists within it is 13.8 billion years old, and its weight, if you could find a scale large enough, tips at 1.5 kg with 53 zeros trailing after.
Now, if you’re paying close attention, you just heard something kind of weird. The universe is far larger than it would take for all that stuff to get from its center, the supposed site of the Big Bang, to the outer edges at full light speed: nearly 50 billion lightyears radius traveled in 13.8 billion years – it means that something went faster than light. 3 times faster. How about that bang?
It’s a good thing that scientists work in pencil, or chalk, or whiteboard markers. I think they have to do more work on this. If something went faster than the fastest thing known, then something else is at work here. That something else is the explosive, dynamic power of God that St. Paul prays will unleash itself in you this Sunday morning. Even science can’t keep a lid on this.
Four dimensions. Ok, let’s try and parse it out.
One Bible translation has the dimensions illustrated as follows. The first dimension would be the deep intimacy of Jesus’ love. How is that? He knows you better than you do yourself. And He loves you enough to know even more, and still love you. You can’t hide from this love, and despite your embarrassment, He is loving you in every nook and cranny, so get over it. He’s going to love you and nothing is hidden from Him.
Dimension 2 is how far-reaching His love is. There is no creature untouched by it. Every being, every planet and star, every element, black hole and nebula in all this vastness is brought into being by Him and for Him, and will know its destiny by Him. His arms are truly wide. And no one can escape. His love gets you, every time. Jonah tried to run farther than God could catch him. That didn’t work.
His love is forever enduring, #3. The universe, at current estimate, came into existence just under 14 billion years ago. You can’t imagine that length of time – it’s beyond our minds’ capabilities. But 100 years is a long lifetime. Times 100 livetimes = 10,000 years. Times 100 is 1 million. Times 100 just 100 million. Times 100 is 10 billion. It’s half again that long a time. Now, the Lord of time and space says that, to Him, that’s nothing, an instant, a flash. He is without beginning, as well as without end. And from eternity He has loved you, and will always love you. As much as fills every sky on every planet everywhere, He loves you.
And dimension #4, His love is inclusive. This, I believe, sets us apart from Islam and many religious systems that pick and choose capriciously the elect, the chosen, the lucky ones, and leaves the refuse out of their god’s reckoning. Be sure that there are going to be damned souls—there can be no doubt of that—but why? They choose it. People reject God, God rejects no one. He loves all, but freedom allows that some do not love Him. He continues to pursue them and reveals it all to them, again and again, until they truly know what they are rejecting. Then, because He still loves them, He lets them go. This love is muscular, resilient, undaunted, humble, and inclusive. None are prejudged. All have it given to them. Not all will take it.
That’s four dimensions. Intimate, far-reaching, enduring and inclusive. Those will work as one interpretation of the four dimensions. In any case, Christ’s love is endless beyond measure, it transcends and exceeds our understanding.
I once debated a Calvinist whose view of God’s sovereign will was that every effort of God must yield a positive outcome, else God loses and is reduced in sovereignty by the loss. Thus, the cross only saves the chosen, and has no grace for sinners. I argued that Almighty God creates a mountain meadow with myriads of colorful flowers emerging after the snowmelt, and no eye will see it and no creature ever appreciate that particular beauty, in countless replications, all over the world. But He does it for splendor, out of His reckless creative ability, wastefully spending His grace on things that will not yield up anything, and yet He does it. Why not give a gnat’s chance to some poor beggar who’s down on his luck and might choose or not choose to be saved? What does God lose by being generous? His love is fantastically extravagant. It pours into you and into me until we are filled to overflowing with the fulness of God.
That’s St. Paul’s prayer for you today, anyway. And it is mine.
And so that we never think any Greek sentence ends in a period, St. Paul keeps going, addressing Christ, “who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Taking that apart, see another expanding prayer as Paul assures us that our Lord is able. Not just able, but able to do exceedingly abundantly above, more than all we could ever ask or even think of wishing or asking Him. If we ever think our God is tired of our requests, weary of hearing them, day and night, and simply worn down by our incessant queries – forget it. He is able and even willing to do so much more than your wildest dreams.
But will He?
That is the question, and He is a wise God, not a genie in a lamp. Timing is everything, and most of our wishes wouldn’t be the best thing for us, so His ability is not measured by how many of our prayers are answered in the affirmative, like a limit of three wishes. His ability is unmeasurable, as is His wisdom. It is to this wonderful Being that glory in the church should redound to His Name for all generations to the end of the world.
God works within the world and by its natural systems, most of the time. What we call Nature is really the universe acting exactly as it was designed by a vastly powerful and intelligent creator. Once in a while He will step through the fabric of Nature and bring about what we will call a Miracle. It’s all miracles, every day, the sun rising, our heartbeats, the thousand physical systems that make up human life. But one day, Jesus walked by the town of Nain and saw a funeral procession…
A mother cried. Her only son was dead, and his father had died some time earlier. She was destitute – no family, no livelihood, no hope at all. It’s not an uncommon story. The Messiah could have felt pain for her, and even shown her truth enough to lead her to eternal life. This day it was His wisdom to break through and show some of that four-dimensional love. He walked straight toward the funeral and held up a hand.
What is your deepest sorrow, your most painful grief, the bitterest pill you’ve had to swallow? I can’t guarantee any solution to it – I’m not such a charlatan. But I know this is true, and St. Paul will back me up: God does love you vastly, deeply, intimately, forever, and He cares. Ask Him again. Know the love of Christ, how strong it is, how enduring. Ask again. Leave it with Him to size it up, choose His moment, change the circumstances, change you. Let Him in. Ask for the veil to be removed. Open your inner eyes.
What wonders await all those who want Him! We open our eyes and are simply dazzled. Now let us break the bread and take Him at His word, and partake of His Body and His Blood.