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Deep and Wide

 

Today’s blog contains the sermon manuscript for the message preached July 26, 2015 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, Richmond, VA.    The sermon is titled:  “Deep and Wide

Unfortunately, the sermon video was absent audio, so those interesting in this message will have to read the note below.

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Deep and Wide – Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

 

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, forever and ever! Amen.

 

Paul wanted his readers to know the vast depths and amazing width of God’s love.   He wanted them to know that God is bigger and better than anything they could ever possibly imagine.

 

Each time I have read the passage it has reminded me of the song I learned when I was a youngster in children’s church. Maybe some of you have sung it also.

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

Evidently the Ephesians found themselves mired with a picture of God which was not that compelling – a picture of God that did not look like the revelation seen in Christ Jesus. So Paul writes a prayer for the church at Ephesus. He says:

 

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.

 

Can you hear that song I spoke about?

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

British Bible translator J.B. Phillips once published a book titled Your God is Too Small. In it he wrote: “The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs.”[i]

 

Paul would agree with Phillips’ observation. His central purposes in writing this letter was to convince it’s readers that God is bigger and better than they could imagine.

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

In chapter one, Paul offers a beautiful doxology of praise in which he gushes about God’s goodness. He writes that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Among these blessings, Paul says that that we…

 

… are “chosen us in Christ.” … are “destined for adoption as God’s children.”

… have been redeemed “through his blood”

… have received “forgiveness for our sins.”

… have received the “lavishes the riches of his grace” … have in Christ “obtained an inheritance.”

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

In chapter two Paul continues to speaks in glowing terms about how God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ creates a new humanity in which there are no walls of division or barriers of separation. He says that Jesus has become the cornerstone of a new community in which humanity is united under God in Christ.

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

Today’s passage continues to emphasize the depth and width of God’s love. It seems as though the Ephesians might have been dealing with some small, inadequate, insufficient pictures of God. I wonder if any of us might been struggling with a picture of God that is too small to meets the needs of our lived. Maybe our God is too small.

 

Maybe our God is… …too distant

…too angry

…too puny

…too legalistic

…too inadequate

…too limited, domesticated, boxed in and tied down

… too boring, predictive, and uninteresting.

…too miserly with His grace, too stingy with His love

 

Maybe some of us have a god who is too small. If so, Paul wants our view of God to be transformed and changed. He wants to overturn our picture of God and replace it with one that is “rooted and established in love.” Listen again to what he says.

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.

 

Paul writes to influence a change in our perceptions about God. He wants our view of God to be set by the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.   He is saying that if we want to know what God is like, we should look toward Jesus. If we want a God big enough to withstand the challenges of our lives, we need to look at Jesus.

 

We don’t need the Bette Middler God. Do you remember her hit song from several years back? It was an ode to a disinterested god. She sang: “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.”

 

Oh, no, that’s not right! The God revealed in Jesus Christ is neither distant nor inactive. God is Immanuel – “God with us as one of us.” God is present with us in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” He’s says: God is exactly like me because “I am one with my Father.” So what is this God like if He is like Jesus?

 

Jesus said: “I am the light of the world!” When darkness invades our lives, God is with us to be the light that leads us. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life.” We darkness, despair, and death comes knocking at our door, Jesus is right there to remind us that we have not been deserted by the Divine. The Father is with us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Jesus said: “I am the bread of life.” God is nourishment, resources, and strength. God is not watching from far away, looking to see what we will do next. God does not leave us to fend for ourselves. The God revealed in Jesus Christ declares: “I am the bread of life for hunger of your existence.”

 

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

We all know that our culture is going through some times of immense transition. Some of it we judge as bad. Some of it we judge as good. For the most it, the jury is still out. But be the change good or bad, the reality is that it feels like everything is moving under our feet. It’s hard to get and maintain our bearings.

 

Technology is changing at a rapid pace. I remember when get the news nightly on one of three channels. The local news was on at 6PM and the national news at 6:30PM. Now the news comes 24/7 via our cable and internet connections. We use to have to walk across the street or drive across town to see our neighbors, friends, and family. Now we can stay connected constantly via email, Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging.

 

We use to gather information by visiting a local library. Now most of us carry devices which connects us accumulated knowledge of the human race. And what do most people do with these devices? They watch videos of cats.

 

We are connected to the whole of humanity, yet we haven’t figure out how to make peace with our enemies, or how to experience deeper relationships with our friends.

 

Our God is too small. We need a bigger and better picture of God to lead us through the maze of information technology.

 

The economy seems to be constantly in flux. One day the report sound promising; the next it seems so frightening. The stock market is up. If you can afford to invest, you probably feel pretty good. Yet quality employment opportunities seem stagnant and if are one of those struggling simply to make ends meet, you probably aren’t feeling so great.

 

Our God is too small. We need a bigger picture of God that can show us how to thrive individually, be more generous to the needy, and stand for justice with those denied equal opportunities.

 

Our culture seems more diverse than ever – and its causing more conflict than ever. A white supremacist enters a black church in South Carolina and shoots nine worshippers to death. A radical Muslim terrorist visits a recruiting office in Tennessee and sends five Marines to an early grave.
Our God is too small. We need a bigger and better picture of God, one that can bring us together in unity and community, with Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone for what Paul called a brand new humanity.

 

Our personal lives are also experiencing that feeling that life is shifting us our feet. We are dealing with sickness, sorrow, stress, and strains. We face immense challenges at work and then when we arrive at home.   Our spirituality has become stagnant and stale. Every day we are reminded that everything is impermanent and all of our lives are temporary.

 

A distant god can’t do anything about the emptiness we feel.

 

A angry, punitive god cannot bring comfort at those times when we know that we have faltered and failed.

 

A small god cannot give strength when our energy is low and our resources non-existent.

 

J.B. Phillips was correct: “The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs.”[ii]

 

I am grateful that Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is applicable to my life and yours. Paul prays that we might know the grand and glorious grace of God. He prays that we will know the depth and width of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

This fountain of God’s love is not merely some feel good, warm and funny, meaningless, namby-pamby kind of emotion. That picture of god runs out quickly. The God revealed in Jesus Christ (the only one true God) shares a LOVE that is BIGGER and BETTER than anything we could ever imagine. You can feel it in Paul’s writing. He seems astonished and amazed at the picture of God he sees in Jesus Christ.

 

This depth and breadth of this love includes everyone. It radiates with a redeeming grace that fills every dark corner of our hearts.   It fills the entire universe with bright hope.

 

Thank God that Paul does not reduce all this to a religious formula of does and don’ts. He doesn’t list stuff that needs we need to accomplished before God will accept or include us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ does not give us a checklist or prescribe self-improvement projects. Paul prays that we will know the vastness of God’s all “encompassing love” which is what keeps us safe in God’s grace embrace.

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

So we are invited today to see the God revealed in Jesus Christ. We are invited to see in Jesus God of amazing love and magnificent grace. To see all this we need to look toward Jesus and see him on the cross.

 

What do we see at the cross? Not an angry God demanding vengeance for wrongs committed by broken people. Oh, no! What we see at the cross is a loving God who stands in our place. We see in Jesus one who accepts wrath of our brokenness, failures, and sins. He accepts all of that – and all of us – into himself so that we might find redemption through his sacrificial life and love. And what is necessary for us to experience the overwhelming reality of this love? How do we…

 

…grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, to know this love that surpasses knowledge

 

We express faith. Paul was praying that his readers might have faith – the kind of faith that stretches our perspectives about God – stretching that view of God…

 

…beyond the limitations of our humanity

…beyond the limitations of our cultural conditioning

…beyond the limitations of our religious sensibilities

 

Paul is praying that we will see God will looking more and more like Jesus Christ because any other views of God is too small and inadequate.

 

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

Deep and Wide, Deep and Wide,

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!

 

 

[i] J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small, NY: Macmillan Company, 1960, p. v

[ii] Ibid

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