2021-07-25 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
Besides trying to crochet with a bent hook, or trying to change your car tire with a rounded off lug nut, the most character building activity you could ever experience is trying to dig out a tree stump. You know the kind that I mean. An old, gnarled, nasty stump that has roots that go down very deep and out very wide. I remember visiting an amazing place on Vancouver Island called Cathedral Grove. It is loaded with enormous Douglas Fir trees and stands of Red Cedars – some of which are over 27 feet in circumference! I remember looking at the roots of some of those trees that had fallen over, they didn’t go down particularly deep, but they did stretch out far and wide. In the rainy wet coast, the roots don’t have to dig down deep to get moisture like they do on the prairies. Our trees are tough as nails. They have to be! They’re not like those well watered, warm and humid sissy BC trees! Our noble little trees have to endure hard winters, hot summers, and drought! Their roots have to go deep to get water and nutrients. So when you have to cut them down and get rid of a prairie tree stump, it’s a real character-builder! It’s a pain in the you know where!
I have a lot of admiration for those old trees. They are survivors. They are weathered and beat up, yet they keep on going, despite harsh, unfavourable conditions. Their roots plunge down deep into the soil to hang on tight when the prairie wind blows strong. They are well rooted and well grounded. And from the sounds of it, you’d think that St. Paul may have had a bit of a green thumb the way he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. The Epistle lesson we heard read today talked much about the Christian faith in a growing or gardening way. In fact, this reading from God’s Word is a prayer from St. Paul for the Ephesians. And not just any kind of prayer. This one was a real knee bender! Normally, Christians stand to pray. But St. Paul says that he bowed his knees before our Heavenly Father to offer this prayer for the Christians in Ephesus: “He may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:16-19).
It’s a very intriguing prayer. It’s good to read this one over a few times to steep in the words of his prayer. Essentially what St. Paul is praying for is that our merciful Heavenly Father would strengthen His people with the power of the Holy Spirit right into their very core, right through the DNA of their genetic make up, directly into their very soul – all that Christ our crucified and risen Savior may dwell and live within them through faith. That they might have unity with God – the absolute most connected they can possibly be. This is such an interesting way of phrasing this prayer. It’s so much deeper than “God bless you” or “God’s peace be with you.” This prayer is essentially mysterious, that is mystical – that area of our Christian faith that goes beyond of faculty of logic and reason, that is more experiential than our emotions can convey. It is a mystical awareness that despite my horrible sins and shortfalls, God in His mercy still loves me, cares about me and even unites Himself to me. So "that you, being rooted and grounded in [this] love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Rooted and grounded – like a gnarled old nasty Saskatchewan tree stump with roots that go down deep and wide – in God’s love. What an image of connectedness. What an image of relationship. It’s as if God is the soil and our faith is the tree roots, so completely interconnected and attached, becoming one even. The theologians call this the “Mystical Union,” a deep and vast teaching about how God and His people are connected. How God abides in us and us in Him. It is a doctrine so deep that it could drown an elephant, yet at the same time shallow enough for a child to wade in it. It means that despite the storms of life, sin, catastrophes, and even death, we are inseparably connected to our Triune God in Christ. This is what St. Paul prays for. And he does so that the Christians may be aware of this connectedness to God that surpasses knowledge and fills us with the very fullness of God, strengthening us to withstand the storms of life.
This can be very tricky to grasp. It’s a very mystical thing – and the mind naturally hates mystery. It hates to be surpassed. It hates not being able to know the boundaries. It hates life outside the box. It hates the infinite because it is finite. It hates trying to figure out how God could become flesh and have a 9 month gestation inside a young virgin’s womb. It hates trying to figure out how Jesus can be both fully God and fully man at the same time! It hates trying to figure out how He could so easily walk on water, defying reality. Reason, logic and our mental ability are wonderful gifts from God. Yet they are fallen in this sinful world and they are not our highest spiritual faculty. To test this, just try to pray. When you stand quietly and try to focus on our Lord, the mind constantly bombards you with random thoughts to distract from prayer. It’s like we have “monkey-mind” with thoughts jumping from one thing to the next, non-stop. It shows us that we don’t primarily know God through our minds. We could say we know Him through our “hearts” but even that conjures up images of cupid and luvy-duvy emotions that also fall short when trying to grasp our connectedness to our Risen Savior that surpasses even death itself.
This mysterious, mystical union between the Triune God and His Christians is the very essence of our salvation. It is restored relationship and connectedness that surpasses all human knowledge and understanding. It is reconciliation, forgiveness, healing and life. It gives the fullness of God for those who believe. It is the very moment when our mind is quieted and there is deep Communion with our Lord. This happens in repentance, in turning from our sinful ways and seeking our Lord’s ways. This takes place when we are Baptized and brought into God’s Kingdom. This wonderful experience occurs when we meet with Him in the quietness of prayer. This fullness of God becomes ours when take and eat the body of Christ and take and drink the blood of Christ in Holy Communion. It is all encapsulated in this faithful image of a tree’s roots burrowing down deeper into the soil, grounded and strengthened in every way by the grace of God.
Finally, St. Paul ends his prayer with an amazing doxology, a prayer of praise and admiration. He says: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Such is the fullness of God. He is able to do more than we can imagine or even think to ask for! How comforting this is when life is spinning in a whirl-wind around us and we don’t know which way to turn or even what to pray! God is always at work within us, working out good for those who love Him. What tremendous joy this gives in a life of uncertainty and fleeting shallowness! Christ has made us aware that we are God’s people, united to Him in Holy faith. Then, the world with all of its cares and anxieties around us is silenced – along with different thoughts that normally soar around us like fast-flying birds – and we are still - it is there that we know that our Lord is God. Amen.