The Ever-Flowing Power of God
The Ever-Flowing Power of God
Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday * Ephesians 1:15-23 * Matthew 25:31-46
My work partner for the past few months is a man named Ted. He retired from the Post Office several years ago, but needed something to do, so he became a school bus driver. He is a remarkable man in many ways, including the fact that he is still a distance runner at the age of 70. He has also made a reputation for himself as a great knower of trivia. As we gather every work day before leaving to deliver school lunches, he often has something to share with the group. This practice began with his desire to get rid of an old lawn mower when he bought a new one, a mower that has been doing a good job cutting the grass around the church since early summer, especially places that the big mower can’t quite reach. Ted then moved on to informing us of what national day it was, such as national doughnut day, national don’t wear a bra day, etc. His pronouncements have served as a good source of humor and morale boosting, such as informing us that Lowe’s has plenty of toilet paper for sale in case the hoarders buy it all at the grocery stores.
This week in a Zoom meeting, someone mentioned that it would be helpful if we could learn some words in different languages, since many of our kids and parents speak Spanish, Arabic, or one of several dozen other languages represented in our district. Someone suggested that we all try using Rosetta Stone, at the district’s expense, the software company that provides language lessons. Someone else asked where the name “Rosetta Stone” comes from. Guess who had the answer? Ted! He was pleased to inform us that the Rosetta Stone was discovered by an officer in Napoleon’s army while stationed in Egypt. It looks like a big tablet with an inscription written in three different scripts: Egyptian hieroglyphics, a form of Egyptian in an alphabet closer to how we write, and in ancient Greek. At the time, nobody knew how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics, but the Stone served as the key to understanding them, as it contained the same message written in the three different writing systems. Since we knew how to read Greek, the hieroglyphics could finally be deciphered.
Ted’s presentations have come to be known, of course, as “Ted Talks.” Or as I call them, “Ted talks, and talks, and talks.” But in a good way. We miss them when he is not there. We certainly work with other people I wish who would talk less. We all need someone like Ted at times, someone who is a good teacher, is patient with all folks, and has a good sense of humor. Right now, when we don’t get to be near some people we would like to be with, it is good to be with someone who always finds a way to brighten things up, and sometimes even teaches us something. In a very whimsical way, Ted lifts us up and helps us better navigate this confusing time of the pandemic. Like everywhere else, our workplace is going through a time of great uncertainty and transition as we adapt to social distancing and distance learning.
Paul’s letters to his churches might be considered an early form of “Ted Talks”, but I can’t think of anything as catchy to call them. Maybe “Paul Pronouncements.” Sometimes Paul teaches, sometimes he encourages, sometimes he admonishes. He often serves as our Rosetta Stone, interpreting for us the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. He is particularly good at teaching us about what is often called the Cosmic Christ, or how Jesus fits into the “big picture” of all creation, that broad unfolding of God’s plan as related in Scripture, with Jesus now seated with God in Heaven, the Ruler of all things.
Our passage from Ephesians 1 is a prayer from Paul for the spiritual maturity of his church, and all who would read the letter, including us, beginning with some praise, as Paul often does:
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason, I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. (vv. 15-16)
By saints, he means all followers of Jesus, including us, and note that as usual he is speaking to the church as a group, not to an individual. The spiritual items worth commending here are faith in Jesus and love towards one another. When these are present, they are worth giving thanks to God for. These two things, faith and love, are still essential for God’s people. Even so, Paul prays for increased spiritual maturity:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (vv. 17-19)
Now just about any person is capable of learning earthly things, and knowing all sorts of trivia, but spiritual maturity only comes through the power of the Holy Spirit imparting spiritual wisdom and power to us. You might say the Spirit is our cosmic Rosetta Stone, revealing the Heavenly things that no earthly person can see or understand by their own ability. As we come to know God better, we are given a spirit of wisdom and revelation, for the glory of God is revealed to those who seek Him in the Spirit. In doing so, the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, enabling us to have hope in Christ. And what riches this brings: a place among God’s people and access to His power, as well as eternal life with Him. If you go back to the beginning of Ephesians 1, you will read that God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings, and chose us to be His people through Jesus before the foundation of the world, creating us to be holy and blameless before Him. The glory of His grace is lavishly poured out to us because of Jesus. The key word here is “power”, as all of this has been achieved through God’s “immeasurable greatness of power.” This comes to us through hearing and accepting the Good News of Jesus, as Paul says:
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation– having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (vv. 13-14)
This is why it is crucial that we share the Gospel with our world, for it is through hearing the Word of God that the lost and unbelieving can be introduced to the power of God. When the Gospel is proclaimed, the power of the Holy Spirit works on the hearts of those who hear it. For some, this means literally hearing the words from the Bible, for some it means seeing these words put into practice by God’s people, through acts of love and service. For us to understand Scripture, the ability to understand it must come from the Spirit. After He had risen from the grave but had not yet ascended into Heaven, Jesus told His disciples in Luke 24:
He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised.” (vv.45-49)
Luke tells us that at this time, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” This is now done by the Spirit. The “sending” Jesus refers to is the sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, but it did not stop there, as the Spirit has entered the hearts of those who have confessed Jesus as their Lord ever since. Once we have accepted the Gospel and have invited Jesus into our hearts, we must keep studying the Bible and praying, for the Spirit reveals more to us as we mature spiritually. Note that Paul prays for his people to grow spiritually, and that is something we should do too, praying for the maturity of God’s people, especially right now. The power of the Spirit helps us to grow in Christ, comforting and guiding us along this path of faith we are on.
Once he had ascended to Heaven, Jesus claimed His throne and now is the Ruler of all, from whom the immeasurable power of God continues to flow into our world. As Paul writes:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (vv. 20-23)
Today, Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday, is the day in which we formally celebrate the fact that Jesus is Lord, but we should also be thankful for it every day. Even during such a tough time as we are going through right now, Jesus is Lord of all, and will bring us to where He wants us to be, safely in His loving embrace. This power of God first made manifest in Jesus was then passed through the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus at Pentecost, and has continued to be passed on to His followers down to today, represented and displayed to the world by His church. As we fulfill the tasks He has given us, we share the power of God, His wondrous grace, with those we come into contact with. We play our part in God’s sharing of His power and purposes with the world He created, spreading the Good News of Jesus and serving as conduits of the Holy Spirit. Through this power we are able to do great things in Christ’s name, but with it comes serious responsibilities.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds us that when we serve those in need, we serve Him. We don’t keep the power of God to ourselves, we share it with all we meet. Jesus says:
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)
Those who fail to do this are sent into eternal torment, those who do it inherit eternal life. Certainly, we can share it with those who are well-off, too, but Jesus mentions here those who have physical needs. Surely, all people have spiritual needs that we can help, also, but serving those who are not as fortunate materially is a high priority for Jesus, as it should be for us. How do we serve Jesus by serving others? Does He somehow need those things we may provide? Or is a test of our faith? By serving others, are we not Jesus’ hands in our world, as our love for others reflects His love for us?
Now we know that we are saved through faith alone, but here Jesus is requiring action, too, which may suggest to some folks that what we do determines our salvation. But certainly that is not what Jesus is saying here, for this is a parable, and he is trying to get His listeners to hear His message and act appropriately; He probably didn’t mean these words to be taken as theological pronouncements . As James tells us, our faith should produce good works. The message here is that those who believe in Him must act accordingly and show their faith by serving others in love. By loving others through our actions, we show our love for Jesus. By serving others in love, we share the love of Jesus with them. By serving those in need, we serve Jesus, and honor His name. Some people will never read the Bible or listen to our words about Jesus, but they might learn about Jesus by witnessing the acts of service we do in His name, inspiring them to ask why we might do such things. Jesus doesn’t need the physical things we do, but in serving others we serve Him by sharing the love that He taught us to have for all people. In order to serve others, we need the Spirit to open our eyes and show us the needs of those around us, and around our our world. Jesus teaches us to share the power of God that spreads His love and grace into our world. As we love God because He first loved us, we show that love for Him by loving those in need.
It would be nice to have a Rosetta Stone: that key to deciphering all the little details. We may think that the Bible serves that role, but it really doesn’t, although it points us in the right direction. For some issues, we try to apply Biblical principles without having direct instructions for that issue. For now, we don’t need all of the answers, we just need enough to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and know what we must do to follow and serve Him. We can’t understand everything within this life, we see things through a mirror darkly, but we can tap into that power through the Holy Spirit, the power that flows from Jesus as He sits on His throne in Heaven, ruling over all. God’s power is beyond our reckoning, as it is beyond all other powers. We are not here to fully understand it, but to serve that power, by obeying God’s instructions for us, and by showing our faith in Jesus by serving others in His name.