Sermon at St Mary Hadlow –Trinity 8 – A Christian Foundation to Holy Living
Ephesians 3 vv 14 – End Paul prays for the spiritual maturity of the Ephesian Christians.
John 6 vv 1 – 21 Jesus feeds 5000 and walks on the water
Introduction. Paul prays for his Church – both the Apostle Paul prays for the Church at Ephesus and our Vicar Paul White prays for the Church of St Mary Hadlow. The Apostle had a strong concern for the churches he founded, of which that at Ephesus was but one and Vicar Paul has a strong concern for the Church of St Mary Hadlow, for which he has responsibility, albeit he did not found it over 1000 years ago. Today’s epistle reading lays a foundation for practical Christian living that is as relevant to the Church today as it was 2000 years ago.
Two weeks ago Geoff Marsh and I went to one of my former parishes to attend their café church in Addington Village Hall, to experience just one of the many ways that the Church of England is seeking to provide Christian worship and teaching in a format that appeals to people to today. The café church was in an informal setting, with groups of about 5 to 8 people sitting around tables. The scripture reading was from Acts Chapter 19, the account of the riot in the amphitheatre of Ephesus where some people were decidedly angry at the effect that Christian belief and life were having on their business. The basis theme of the service was anger. We had a very direct sermon from the Reader, Pete Wilson, on the theme of anger. This is but one of the practical points in Ephesians Chapter 3 to 6 on practical living, arising out of our relationship with Christ through the Spirit. In the next few weeks we shall have a variety of readings, from both Old and New Testaments, but including one further reading from Ephesians, with in it Paul’s injunction, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”
I merely give this one aspect of the outworking of the theological foundation of today’s reading, without, I hope, pre-empting too much of what will be included in the sermon in two weeks time. All I want to do today is to show that there is a very practical outworking of today’s epistle reading, so I will just touch on this again a little later. For now let us turn to the substance of today’s reading. If you wish to follow it in the Church Bibles you will find the passage on p 206 of the New Testament. – the last half of Ephesians chapter 3, v14 onwards from page 206.
Paul prays to the Father. Paul prays for his Church, a small but significant number of Christians in the great trading city of Ephesus on the West coast of what is now Turkey, having a population of some ¼ million people. Our reading begins “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (3 v 14, 15).
The reason that causes Paul to pray is given in the previous chapter, that Jew and Gentile are now one in Christ; there is this wonderful unity because of what Jesus has done for us all. It is difficult for us in an almost entirely Gentile Church to appreciate what this new unity meant, that brought gentiles not just into the blessings of the Jewish faith but both groups into an even greater blessing in Christ. Some years ago I invited the world cup footballer, George Cohen of the victorious 1966 team, to read a lesson at a sportsmen’s service in Leigh. He said to the congregation, “You may wonder why someone with a Jewish name like Cohen is reading a lesson in a Christian service. Actually I am a lifelong member of the Anglican Church.”
Paul’s prayer is to God the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. We are used to the concept of the unity and strength of a human family, albeit it doesn’t always work out in the ideal way. Paul sees the new family of the Church, both Jew and Gentile, as headed by God the Father, the creator of the world, the universe, heaven and earth. His prayer is to this universal father, the role model for every human father.
Paul kneels to pray. This may seem a rather mundane statement in a church in which the concept of kneeling for prayer is common, albeit these days we often sit. However a Jew would normally stand for prayer and only in a case of deep emotion or earnestness would a Jew kneel to pray. Solomon knelt at the dedication of the temple (I Kings 8 v 54), Stephen at the time of his martyrdom (Acts 7 v 60), Peter at the deathbed of Dorcas ((Acts 9 v 40), Paul at the time of his farewells to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20 v 36 see also 21 v 5), and the Lord Jesus at his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22 v 41). We may take it then that Paul’s prayer here for the Ephesian Church is a deep, passionate prayer. How deep and passionate are our prayers?
The substance of Paul’s prayer. What then causes the Apostle Paul to be so passionate about his prayer? What is the substance of his prayer? He prays “that according to the riches of his glory, God the Father may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith (3 v 16)”. This is at the heart of the Christian life; it is the foundation from which everything else should flow.
Personal application. In what has become known as Jesus’ ‘high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus prays that his disciples may have eternal life and then goes on to say, “This is eternal life that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (17 v 3)”. Last weekend Julia and I were looking after two of our grandchildren, Pippa and Jonathan. Jonathan, aged 7, said to me, “Granddad do you know Roald Dhal?” and without great thought I replied, “Yes.” I thought later, “I don’t know Roald Dahl. I know that he wrote ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, which I read to the children some years ago, but really I know very little about him. I have certainly never met him.’ Has anyone here met him? You would have to be over 24 years of age to have met him because he died in 1990. Did you know that he was born in Wales of Norwegian parents and was a Hurricane pilot during the 2nd World War? There is a lot of difference between knowing about someone and knowing them, having met the person. It is possible to have a degree in theology and know a great deal about Jesus but not be a Christian, not to have entered into a personal living experience of Jesus through the Spirit. It is possible to sing in a church choir enjoying the music or come to church as an ordinary member of the congregation because you sense that there is something worthwhile in church but you are not sure quite what, but not to know Jesus. Being present during this act of worship may be gradually drawing you to Jesus. He invites you to come to him, open your heart to him and to enter into eternal life or, to put it in the words of Paul’s prayer, “that according to the riches of his glory, God the Father may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”
Paul’s prayer is a passionate prayer for something that we should all be passionate about. In the next chapter, in the reading for two week’s time, Paul warns about the danger of anger. We should be passionate, about relieving and overcoming injustice and poverty in the world, passionate about the blessings of the Christian faith. There is a danger that in a multifaith culture, religion is relegated to a matter of personal opinion and preference but not to be brought into the daily life of politics, of work, of community life, of education. If our energy is channelled into a positive passion for the Christian Gospel in this way then it is less likely to be channelled into an unholy response of anger that actually damages our personality. May the prayers of both the Apostle Paul and Vicar Paul result in the renewal of our Church life. I conclude my sermon with a prayer from the main structure of Common Worship Morning Prayer.
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you,
now and forever. Amen