1/20/2019 4:01:19 PM
The Perfect Combination - January 20, 2019
Pastor Eric Schroeder
Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
We all know what it’s like to look for the perfect combination. Every time we have to make a big purchase, we search for the perfect combination of quality and value, right? We don’t want to have to spend hard-earned money on something that won’t work or won’t last. But it isn’t just things; it’s people, too. If you are looking for a doctor, you don’t want to have to choose either a skilled physician or a caring individual. Ideally, you can find the perfect combination of know-how and a good bedside manner. Same thing with a college professor. There are some teachers out there who have brilliant minds, but struggle with communication. Ideally, you learn the most when a teacher has the perfect combination of great understanding and the ability to make the subject matter understandable—isn’t that what teaching is supposed to be?
I can remember a seminary professor telling our class once that when it comes to pastors, what every church wants is a pastor who is 30 years old and has 25 years of experience... Of course, it only takes a moment to realize that such a perfect combination doesn’t exist. It is impossible…
What about your God, though? Of course we don’t get to choose who or what God is, because he has always been, and he doesn’t change. And it’s not like there are any other gods to choose from, because only one true God exists. The good news is that this God—our God—is the perfect combination of exactly what we need. As we read the first paragraph again, see if you can notice the combination of attributes that make him so worthy of our prayers and praise.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Many people in our world, and throughout history, have offered complaints about God or even doubted his existence, because they can’t see the perfect combination. They see the natural disasters and the atrocious crimes against humanity that have occurred, or go through their own great personal disappointment, and their only conclusion is that God can’t be both powerful and loving. In their minds, he has to be one or the other. Either God is powerful and he must not care enough to use it, or he does love people but can’t intervene in a meaningful and powerful way. It’s a sad but tempting way to look at God if we base our impressions of him based entirely on our worldly experience.
But our reading today fits the entire theme of Epiphany, as God reveals both his might and his heart in the person of Jesus Christ. Think about the setting of our gospel reading. Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding feast where tragedy strikes. No, no one dies or anything, but there is the potential for a big embarrassment when the hosts run out of wine. It’s possible that they bought all they could afford, and it just wasn’t enough; or it could be that they simply didn’t plan for the number of guests that showed up. Either way, the party was about to be shut down if something didn’t happen soon.
Thankfully, Jesus is there. And in the first of his miraculous works, he shows the perfect combination of loving concern for people and a power that defies the laws of chemistry. He turns water into wine, and the celebration goes on. Certainly not a life or death situation, but definitely a power and love situation.
St. Paul’s prayer is that all of us would know God through this same Jesus. He prays that the Ephesian Christians, and all of us, would be strengthened in our faith by God’s power… to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. Paul prays that we would know God the way he wants to be known, not through the eyes of our earthly experience, but through the eyes of faith, with the confidence that God is both willing and able to save us, not just from temporary problems, but for all eternity.
Throughout the season of Epiphany, we’ll want to keep that in mind. We’ll want to remember that the purpose of every miracle, though each one definitely has a temporary benefit, is to reveal our eternal Savior to us. Each miracle shows a glimpse of God’s power to do what we can’t, as well as his loving concern for people experiencing the consequences of living in a sinful world. The danger for naturally selfish people like us is that each miracle may leave us wishing for Jesus to act in a similar way in our own lives: to provide what we run out of, to heal our illnesses in an instant, to overcome some obstacle or challenge we face in life. But Paul reminds us to trust that God always does what is truly best for us, even if it might not be exactly what we picture as the best use of his infinite power.
That’s what real love is—to give a person what is best, instead of what they want. Think about the way our world most often thinks about love. Think about the way we most often think about love. We love the people who love us, or the people we want to love us. We love the things that make us happy, that fulfill our desires, that bring us pleasure and immediate satisfaction. So much of the time, our love is only about us.
But God’s love is different. It’s bigger and better than ours, so much so that Paul says it’s the kind of love that surpasses knowledge. We’ve never seen anything like it, because it is love for selfish, undeserving, rebellious sinners like us that led a Father to give up his One and Only Son. It’s the same love that led Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to enter a fallen world and embark on a road of rejection, and pain, and suffering, and ultimately a shameful death. It’s the same love that prayed for the forgiveness of those who were nailing him to a cross and made sure that his mother Mary would be taken care of after he was gone. It’s the same love that led him to take on himself your sin, your guilt, your shame, and your punishment as he gave his perfect life for you and me, and a whole world full of sinners. It’s an unlimited love, the likes of which this world had never quite seen before.
Yes, every miracle of Jesus is impressive, as Jesus overpowers the limits of science, and medicine, and nature, and even demons. Every miracle of Jesus shows his concern for people oppressed by the world’s hardships. But nowhere do we see the perfect combination of power and love better than at the tomb that Jesus left empty. There we see his victory over death, and we are assured that his sacrifice was judged to be worthy. St. Paul writes to the Romans that Jesus was raised to life for our justification, so that God would credit his righteousness to our account and delight in us the way that he delights in his perfect Son. His resurrection means your sins are forever buried, and now your life is enveloped in God’s perfect power and his perfect love, from the moment his Spirit brought you to faith until…. Until when?
Paul answers that question in the final verses…20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Because God’s limitless power and unconditional love are at work in us, we mortals get to look forward with certainty to something that doesn’t exist in our world—eternity. A life without end, that nothing in this world can take away, that not even death can stand in the way of.
What does this mean? As we see this man performing powerful works, let each one be a reminder that he is who he says he is. He is a thirty-year old man with an eternity of experience in perfect power and perfect love. And now every time we pray, we can be sure that for Jesus’ sake, what he experienced for us in his suffering and death is what guarantees us that God will always use his power in a way that leads us closer to him and his loving embrace. Our Savior is the perfect combination: God and man, teacher and miracle worker, perfect power and perfect love. He is Lord of our lives, and he is worthy of our praise, both now and forever. Amen.