Ephesians 3:14-21 (CEB)

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians

14 This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. 16 I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, 18 I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. 19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.

20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21 glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Rooted

If you would, pull out a pen and find a blank space on your bulletin.  We are going to do an art project this morning.  I would like you to draw a tree.  I want to give you 30 seconds to draw a tree.  Now show your tree to someone around you.  I want to ask, did anyone draw roots on their tree?  Most of the time, for some reason, we don’t draw the roots on the tree.  I guess it’s because they aren’t normally visible to us – we don’t really think about the roots.  But I would say, we are forgetting the most important part.  The roots are vital to the life of the tree.  Aren’t they?

We used to live in a neighborhood in Russellville with all these towering pine trees.  And a few years ago, the remnants of a hurricane blew up from Texas, and we had a day of sustained winds and rain.  It just kept blowing and raining.  And pine trees started toppling over right and left – trees that looked perfectly healthy fell right over!  And when their roots came up, you could see that the roots were really small compared to how tall these big towering trees were – their roots were not deep enough or strong enough or wide enough to sustain a heavy storm.

The root system is designed to anchor and support the tree.  It is also designed to absorb food and minerals that the tree needs to grow. The roots are really important.

Today as we celebrate and remember the heritage of Bell’s Chapel United Methodist Church I ask you to remember the roots this church has put down in this community. And I also want you to think about the state of your own spiritual roots.  Today I ask you to praise God for your spiritual roots.  But I also ask you to think about this – how can we individually and as a church continue to develop these roots, so that we can survive any storms that come our way.

This scripture from Ephesians is absolutely beautiful.  But there is also a challenge within this scripture that I will offer.  And so before I continue, I want you to hear the words again.  So just close your eyes and listen and soak in this prayer that Paul offers for his friends in the church at Ephesus.

.This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. 16 I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, 18 I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. 19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.

20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21 glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.

Paul prays that the fledgling church in a far away land of Ephesus would grow strong roots in love, and that together with all believers, they would begin to grasp how wide and long, how high and deep the love of Christ for them is.

When I think of spiritual roots, I think of the ways that people first begin to develop their faith.  I think about my husband as a child – little Ed Kelley.  He didn’t go to church as a kid, but he lived close to a church.  And a lady invited him to Vacation Bible school.  It didn’t work out so well, because he was asked to go home before the first day ended.  I’m not sure what he did to get kicked of vacation Bible school in just an hour or two – he won’t tell me, but maybe something rooted that day.  At least the lady asked him to go.  She stopped by his house, and she walked him across the street.  Even though he was a wild man – maybe that was the first time he had heard about the width and length, height and breadth of Christ’s love for him.

I have a friend who didn’t go to church as a child, but she was asked to go to a Methodist Church as a youth and to play her clarinet in the church’s band.  It was through that invitation that she came to know the width and length, height and breadth of Christ’s love for her.

My parents drug me to the Episcopal Church every Sunday.  And even though we were the only kids at the church, and we never had vacation Bible school or Sunday school, I can remember experiencing the width and length, height and breadth of Christ’s love for us when the priest broke the bread each week and told us the story – that the bread was Jesus’s broken body and the wine was his blood.  Even though I didn’t understand this mysterious thing, I began to understand this unbelievable love God has for us.  I began to learn that Jesus loved us so much that he died for us even though we were still sinners.

For many of us our spiritual roots began to form in a church – around other believers who loved us with the love of Jesus – who taught us and supported us – and who also challenged us to love God and others in deeper ways.  My friends, this body of Christ, Bell’s Chapel United Methodist Church, is in the business of telling people about this life-changing and unbelievable love of Jesus, and the church has been about this business for 140 years.  Arkansas had only been a state for 41 years when this church started.  So, this church has been a core part of this community from its very beginning.  Many of your ancestors may have built the first church or been the first preachers or the first ones in the church to hear about the love of Jesus Christ and the saving grace to be found in the Gospel message.

I wonder how many people have professed their faith in Christ at this place?  I wonder how many weddings have been celebrated?  I wonder how many of the saints of the church have been celebrated?  I wonder how many potluck meals have been eaten at this church?  How many lives have been transformed by something that happened in this body of Christ?  I wonder how many of the hungry have been fed, and the sick and imprisoned visited, and the oppressed ministered to.  I can’t even imagine the immeasurable impact of this one small church that follows hard after Jesus – and works to grow strong roots in Jesus Christ.

The roots are really important.  But there’s another important element to growing a strong, healthy faith – the soil.  I promise you after those pine trees were uprooted in the Arkansas hurricane, they didn’t survive long.  The soil that our lives must be rooted in is Christ Jesus our Lord.  While the roots are vital, all is lost without the soil.  If the soil contains no moisture or nutrients, the roots will be helpless and unable to support the life of the tree.  Without soil the tree will die.  We have to make sure we are sinking our roots into a healthy place – God calls us to be rooted into the soil that is the agape love of Jesus.  The kind of love that a mother has for a child – a sacrificial love and an endless love.  We are offered the chance to sink our roots into this love of God and just soak it up – to receive it – to take in this free grace.  When we absorb this kind of love, our hearts and lives become filled with the fullness of God.

It’s a beautiful life living with God — but a life rooted in faith is not all rainbows and butterflies.  And here’s the challenging part of this scripture.  Paul wrote this while he was in prison.  We just spent two months reading the book of Acts and studying all the things that the Apostle Paul went through in his life – he faced imprisonment, beatings, shipwrecks, and snakes, and stoning before he was martyred by crucifixion.  This life of love in Christ is not a life without pain and sorrows.  Through it all, though, the Apostle Paul, persevered.  He never gave up and remained rooted in the love of Christ.  He remained focused on his mission to tell all the world about this agape love of Christ that totally changed his life.  But the thing is — it is precisely because we face the storms in our lives that we need deep roots.  It is being rooted and grounded in the love of God that allows us to even stand when we are devastated by the storms in our lives.

I suppose things have changed a lot since 1877.  Women don’t wear bonnets to church or ride horses to get here.  The world is a totally different place now.  And the church is different, too.  The church as a whole is facing some tough times.  The days are gone when everyone in the community went to church every Sunday.  Church attendance is declining.  Our church populations are aging.  We can envision that if we don’t experience a movement of the Holy Spirit this could be the end for the church as we know it.  Some young people think church is about as archaic as the year 1877.  The church as a whole is facing a storm these days.  And so, maybe it is time for followers of Jesus to pray for renewal – to pray that God’s Spirit would be poured out in some crazy ways so that the church would live and not die.  Maybe it is time that we become open to some new things – not just so that the church survives, but so that all the people out there who have no idea that God loves them find out.  Maybe it is time that we become willing to do whatever it takes for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to become rooted in the love of Jesus.

Today I ask you to praise God for your spiritual roots.  But I also ask you to think about how we can continue to grow these roots – how can we individually and as a church seek out a deeper relationship with the one who came to save us,

so that we can survive the storms we face –

and so that we can reach new generations with the transforming love of Christ.

No matter how much the world has changed, God still wants all of his children to draw near and to worship him.

No matter how much the world changes:

God is still alive.

Jesus stills came to save us.

And the Holy Spirit is still being poured out in this place, on our lives and at this time.  How will we respond?

Today, I ask that the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon each person in this room, so that we would be empowered for God’s work in the world.

I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith.  I pray that you will have strong roots in love.  I pray that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth.   I ask God that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.

Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.