Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every 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 Lord’s holy people, 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.
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.
Every time my mother comes to Virginia she makes the trip in a fully-loaded vehicle. She brings food, toys for the children, clothes, anything that she thinks that might make our life a little bit better. Sometimes she also brings items from my youth that she would like to get out of her house. These are usually things that are still nice enough that she doesn’t want to throw out, but also things that I haven’t really seen as necessary in my life since moving out of their home. So she brings these items to me, and they usually find their way to the local thrift store or garbage dump.
However, the item that my mother brought this time is not going to either of those places. This item will stay with me for a long time. My mother brought with her my childhood yo-yo.
So I know my way around “the yo.” I mastered a few tricks in my younger days and I think that I can still do many of them today. I can put the yo-yo to sleep; I can walk the dog; I can do dog bites man; I can do around the world. I was never able to master the cat’s cradle, but now that I have been reunited with my yo-yo, it is a possibility.
My family is here today because we are having a child dedication for my little girl, Hadley. And today’s scripture probably isn’t one that we might think of as a scripture for this particular kind of event, but with a little creativity, it is perhaps the most powerful passage that I could have chosen for this morning. And I didn’t even have to choose it. Thanks, Revised Common Lectionary! Let’s look at the scripture to see why.
As I have mentioned before, the book of Ephesians was actually written as a letter to the church in Ephesus. Many scholars question just who wrote this letter, whether it was the Paul we read about in the book of Acts, a disciple of Paul’s, or perhaps just someone else named Paul (it wasn’t an uncommon name in those days, either). For our purposes today I want to assume that it was the Apostle Paul, the guy that we read about in Acts, the former persecutor of the church, the man who met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.
The Apostle Paul is said to have helped to start the church in Ephesus on what we commonly call his third missionary journey. Paul stayed in Ephesus, giving leadership to that young church, for a period of about three years. And this church was so important to Paul that when he left, he put his young protégé in charge of the ministry of that congregation. If you read the book of 1 Timothy, Paul is writing to Timothy while Timothy is in Ephesus.
So Paul helped to birth this congregation, he helped to nurture this congregation through its infancy, and Paul made sure that the church was taken care of into its young adult life. And what we see in this passage is Paul’s prayer for this congregation that he has been so intimately involved in the life of.
So what is it that Paul is praying for his young congregation? The first thing is that Paul is praying for strength and power. And this isn’t physical strength, the ability to bend steel or tear phone books. This is the kind of strength that can only be provided by the Holy Spirit. This is the kind of strength that helps us endure the difficult times. This is the strength that we need to get through the loss of a loved one, financial burdens, and the challenges that we all know too well. These things that can break us can only be overcome with the strength and power we can access through the Holy Spirit.
Paul prays for the indwelling of Christ for the Ephesians. As I mentioned, Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus. But this wasn’t a casual greeting and then the two of them went on their merry way. This experience changed Paul. He went from a person who was persecuting the church to a member of the persecuted church. He went from an antagonist of the faith to a defender of the faith. The meeting with the risen Jesus changed Jesus because it wasn’t a “Hey, what’s up?” in passing. From this moment on, Paul had an on-going relationship with Jesus. And Paul often referred to that on-going relationship as the indwelling of Christ.
If we look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians we find that in chapter 2, verse 20, Paul even goes so far as to say that he no longer lives, but it is Christ who lives within him. Everything that Paul does is to be a manifestation of this indwelling of Jesus. This is something that he prays for the church of Ephesus.
Finally, Paul prays that the Ephesians will be rooted and established in love. Roots serve several purposes. The roots of a plant stretch deep into the ground. These roots are used to draw up moisture and nutrients, the moisture and nutrients that every plant needs to live, grow, and prosper. If that water is contaminated or the nutrients impure, that impurity will be drawn into the plant and poison it. The three main nutrients that plants need to grow are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Replace those three nutrients with arsenic, strychnine, and round-up and I bet that neither that plant nor anybody that ate it would be doing any too well.
But roots not only pull these essential nutrients into the plant, they also provide stability. Over the last few weeks we have all seen the effects of trees that were not rooted in solid soil. Large trees can be knocked over with a good burst of wind. Roots provide the essential nutrients for a plant, and they provide stability.
To be rooted and established in love means that you draw your essential nutrients from love. The things that will make and keep you healthy, growing, and flowering are faith, hope, and love. And the greatest is love.
This is Paul’s prayer for this young church that he has helped to birth, nurture, and care for. He prays for strength and power, for the indwelling of Christ, and for them to be rooted and grounded in love.
In the book of Revelation we find John’s vision and the message that John is given for seven different churches. There is a pattern to the messages that John is to deliver. He talks about the good things that the church is doing and then mentions an area where they could use some growth.
The first church that is listed in Revelation 2 is the church in Ephesus. John writes that this church is hard working, faithful, and that they have a low tolerance for wickedness. He especially commends them for their perseverance. They have persevered hardship. So it is clear that Paul’s prayer for strength and power for the Ephesians has been answered.
But…the bad news. In verse four, John writes, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”
It was Paul’s prayer that they would be rooted and grounded in love. But unfortunately, this aspect of Paul’s prayer was not answered. The tree that is the church of Ephesus has been knocked over because they have been malnourished and their roots have been pulled up. They have forsaken the love that they were to be rooted and grounded in.
As we dedicate my little girl today, I realize that she will one day be developing her own personality, own habits, and making her own choices. I am in no hurry to see her get to this, but I know that it will happen. And just as Paul had his prayer for his young congregation, I too pray these things for my young daughter. I pray for her to have strength and power, the kind that comes from the Holy Spirit, to help her endure the difficult times of life. Because as much as we would like to avoid these things, we all know that they are inevitable. That’s my little girl, and I don’t want to see her heart broken, either by boys or missed opportunities. But these things will happen, so I pray for her to be strong.
I pray for her to have the indwelling spirit of Christ, that relation with him and the desire to live her life by his teachings. To have Jesus within her to the point that it spills out and Jesus is made known through her. And I pray that she is rooted and established in love, that she draw her essential nutrients, her very life, from love for God and love for neighbor.
But because she is human, and because of who her parents are, I know that she will not always make the decisions that Sonya and I would prefer to have her make. Like the church in Ephesus, she will likely not always live up to our ideal dream for her. She has free will, and she will likely be strong-willed.
I think we are all kind of like a yo-yo. We want to go every-which way we can. We seek to stray from God’s hand, and God does indeed allow us to wander. What good is a yo-yo that is squeezed firmly in your hand? It isn’t performing the task that it was created to do. But though God allows us to fall away from him, God keeps pulling us back, gently tugging at our strings, trying to get us to return to him.
There are other forces involved, gravity, twisted strings, and temptations. But God keeps drawing us back to him.
Like a yo-yo, God doesn’t jerk us back abruptly. If you try to snatch a yo-yo back forcefully, it will not wind back up the string. It will simply shoot off in another direction. This drawing back takes time, it takes patience, it takes love. It takes the hand of a gentle master to draw us back in.
My prayer for my daughter today is the same prayer that I have for each of you, and it is the same prayer that Paul had for the church in Ephesus. I pray that you will have the strength and power that can only come from the Holy Spirit to help us all through the difficult times. I pray that you will experience the inner dwelling of Jesus and that you cannot contain him and therefore live for him. And I pray that you will be rooted and grounded in love, drawing the essential nutrients and staying firmly planted in the love of God revealed to us through Jesus Christ. And know that when we fail, God is drawing us back, back to that safe place, held in the hand of our Lord.