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Ephesians 3:14-21

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 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, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

CCI: The Love of God is deep enough and wide enough to receive all our questions and carry us through them as we pray for one another.

I love the children’s song we sang this morning during the Children’s time. It is not just the idea of the depth and width of God’s care for us, but it is fountain of God’s love. Who does not like watching a fountain, and it does not matter if it is big or small, watching a fountain can calm a spirit, encourage a weary one, surprise a little one and comfort a grieving person. I have watched a desktop fountain for minutes at a time and seen people wait expectantly for old faithful to erupt. The Fireworks and Fountains show at Longwood Gardens sells out for every performance. We love fountains.

The passage we just read from Ephesians 3 is the closing of the first part of the Letter to the church of Ephesus. A few weeks ago we talked about the city of Ephesus. It was one of the largest cities in the Empire. It was wealthy and influential and proud of the Temple of Diana and treasury. Paul had spent 2 years in the city and dearly loved the believers there. But now, they  had begun to stray. There was adultery and idolatry that had crept into the church. Division had entered the church and class wars were ongoing. Laziness and anger and theft were becoming hallmarks of his beloved community. Greed and drunkenness and disrespect were rampant. But before he addressed that, He wanted them to understand their true identity, their identity in Christ. He reminded them that they had been redeemed in Jesus. That in Love they had been adopted as God’s beloved children. He assured them that they had been sealed with God’s Holy Spirit who identified them as God’s possession, a member of the family of God. Despite their sin, he reminded them of their resurrection with Christ and the peace we have with God.

All of this he did before he addressed their sin. Paul wanted them to know their true identity. And everything he said to the Ephesians, he says to us. This is who we are, God’s precious and beloved children whom he has ransomed, freed and sealed.

Now, as he moves into the corrections, he shares his prayer for the believers. “I pray that out of the glorious riches of God that you may be strengthened with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 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, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

This is Deep and Wide! When I read this passage, I think about the Hubble ultra deep field image taken of a so called dark part of the sky. The original image was taken 23 years ago focused on 2.5 millionths of the sky. The most recent deep field focuses on 1/13millionth of the sky. Every spot of light in this picture is a galaxy. It is estimated that there are 10,000 galaxies in that image. It boggles the mind to think of how many stars that might be.

In thinking about “how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is” I imagine the God who knows the galaxies and calls the stars forth by name is also the God who loves me and you beyond our deepest thoughts and the deepest fields of space and time.

This same God who knows and the stars beyond number, because of his great love for us, became a human being. Philippians 2 says, “he made himself nothing – taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, God humbled himself.” It is because he loved us. It is because God’s precious creation was destroying itself and God longed to show us a new way: A new way to live – a new way to love – a new way to relate to one another – and a new way to die, this is why Jesus was born.

And today, God continues to call us to God’s love and grace. It is an invitation to receive God’s gift of life and love that is deeper and higher and wider and longer than even the universe seen through the Ultra Deep view images. Paul tells us that we understand his love when we join hands with all the saints. When we cross boundaries and join hands with Christians we have not met before; When we join hands with people who are different then we will begin to understand how high and how deep and how wide and how long is the love of God.

But, if God, who created the universe seen and unseen, loves us in this way, why do we still find chemical attacks and violent reprisals and famines and homeless veterans, and bereft parents as children die from overdoses? If God loves us.

This week I encountered this question in a difficult way. A fellow Pastor gave index cards to the congregation and invited people to put a question in the box. On Sunday, they were drawn from the box and answered on the spot.

This is one of the questions he drew out of the box. — “Did God have a plan for giving me autism?”

If it is God’s great desire that we know how high and deep and wide and long is the Father’s love, “Did God have a plan for giving me autism?” I began wondering, how would I answer that question? I can answer the question of war and death by looking at the effect of sin in the world. But “Did God have a plan for giving me autism?”

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that those who see the world differently, as people with autism do, understand God in a way that is far deeper and beautiful than I do. I don’t know if God had a plan, but I do know that my responsibility is to learn to walk with you and show you unconditional love. I don’t know what God’s plan is, but I know that the person with autism is created in the image of God and thus is a gift to me and the world, if we will open our hearts to those people.

And that is true for every person who is differently abled. The diversity of our families, communities and world reveal the boundless wonder of our God. It is this diversity of ability, of sexuality, of race, of age and of gender that completes God’s image in our world. It is as we join hands with all God’s children that we will discover the ultra deep field of God’s love.

This passage is a prayer for a congregation that has strayed from the teaching Paul had given them. Often we don’t know how to pray for the people who are closest to us. We may pray for their health, we may pray for wisdom for them, we may pray that they will get out of debt or find happiness in their marriages. But how do we pray for those we love deeply, especially when our hearts are broken? When questions linger and when reason seems so far away?

Can I make a gentle suggestion?  What if we were to pray this prayer of Paul’s for the people we love. What if we were to join in prayer with Paul that the people we love might join hands with all the saints to grasp how deep and how high and how long and how wide the love of God is, and that the people you love may come to know the love of God that is beyond knowledge.  What if that became our prayer?  I will guarantee that if you offer this prayer for those you love, you will be changed as you are swept into the wonder of Paul’s Ultra deep field image of the love of God.

I want to invite you to prayerfully identify 6 people that you are going to pray for over the next week.  But these are not just any 6 people.  I am going to be selfish and ask that you pray this prayer for me, I want to be on all your lists because I desperately need your prayers.  Second, select 2 people from your family who you love passionately for whom you will offer this prayer.  Now you have three names.  Next, select someone from your church who has meant a lot to you, it may be a Sunday School teacher, a choir director, a leader, or a good friend.  Now you have 4 names.  For the 5th name, I want you to identify a neighbor or a family member who does not know Jesus.  And, finally, I challenge you to make the last name on your list the name of someone who has hurt you deeply.  Each day this week, offer this prayer: “Father, Out of your glorious riches, strengthen ______ with power through your Spirit in his/her inner being, so that Christ may dwell in his/her heart through faith. And I pray that _____ may be rooted and established in love that he/she may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge— I pray that _____ may be filled to the measure of all your fullness, O God*.  AMEN.