I pray that out of God’s glorious riches God may strengthen you with power through God’s 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 the one who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Have you ever felt God's love so close to you that you can practically touch it? Do you remember what that feels like? Maybe it's the Evangelical in me, but there have been times in my life when I felt so wrapped up in God's love that I could see nothing else. I remember a summer in college working at a camp where I spent most of the time on kitchen duty. I was less than enthused about washing dishes all summer long, but the afternoons I spent in the orchards with my Bible were some of the best moments of my life. God felt so near and so real. And I don’t have to look that far back to remember. Last week, I was driving from the gym at sunset and the sky was filled with colors. I was thinking about this passage and what I might preach. But that night in the car, I wasn't thinking about exegetical strategies or what the role of the preacher is. That night, I was just me. I was just me, driving to a Walmart to get Ben and Jerry's ice cream and my eyes welled with tears marveling at how big God's love is for me. It's so vast that even a glimpse of it is overwhelming. I drove home that night filled to the brim. I can’t quite explain it. I don’t know what the difference was between that night and any other night.
Perhaps your experience of the vastness of God’s love feels like a distant memory. Perhaps the last few months, or perhaps even years, have been so hard, so exhausting, so disappointing, that you no longer remember the way back to the one who restores your soul.
I wish that I had a word today that would fix everything. I have felt so helpless these recently—am I complicit? Am I hurting instead of helping? Am I just not understanding? Am I doing what is right by those I care about? The problems on this campus and this country and this world are too complicated and secretive and everchanging for me to comprehend. I want to fix it all. But that is not my job. No, my job is to proclaim the word of God for the people of God, and today it is a text so beautiful it makes me want to cry. Every time I read it, I am overwhelmed. This is the word of the Lord!
We began this week with Psalm 139 in which the psalmist describes his futile attempts to escape God’s presence—on the wings of the dawn, the highest heavens, and the darkness of Sheol. God is in all of it. And while Paul has no time for beautiful poetry, I think his message is the same. God’s love is wider and longer and higher and deeper than we can ever go. The love of Christ Jesus is wider than our admissions policies, higher than our ambitions, longer than our institutional memories, and deeper than our pain and shame. There is nowhere we can go to be beyond the reach of God’s love. There is nowhere this institution, this community, this church can go beyond the redemptive, healing, life-changing love of Christ.
We're in the middle of Lent and despite the blooming trees on our campus, it feels like the Lentiest-Lent there ever was. It has been a hard season for nearly everyone I know. In my three years of seminary, I moved away from the community that knew and loved me, we had a history-altering election, and both of my grandfathers and a beloved aunt died. My world has been rocked so many times. As my class nears graduation, I can’t help but look around at the ashes of community life at Columbia. It feels like a fire has burned down all the trust and friendship and love and respect that once was and we are all left the in wreckage trying to figure out what happened. We’re standing in the ashes saying, “God, what can you do with this mess?” I think God is standing right beside us saying, “My beloved. Don’t you know what I can do with ashes?”
…more than all we ask and imagine. Really God? Don’t you realize how much we’re asking for here? Don’t you know how tired and angry and hurt and confused and overwhelmed and defeated we all feel right now? You’re saying you can do more than we can even imagine? Because God, I don’t know if you know this, but we’ve spent the last three years being taught to be pretty damn imaginative. That’s the whole deal around here. We have so much that we can imagine. God, can good come out of this mess? I confess, my faith feels too small. What a bold and daring thing it is to believe that God says “yes! I can do all that you ask and more.”
I do not know how to fix the problems of this campus or this world. I do not know what the way forward is or how we will get there. But this I know—the love of God surpasses even the knowledge we have come to Columbia to receive. I cannot fix things, but along with Paul, the church in Ephesus, and the 2,000 years’ worth of Christians since, I can pray for you.
I can pray that you will be so deeply rooted and established in love, that you cannot be shaken. I can pray that the love of God would be your rock, your foundation, your rest, and your refreshment. I can pray that you would know how desperately and completely God loves you. Not because of what you have achieved or done or believed, but because God knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are loved because God created you exactly how God wanted to—your talents and ideas, your sexuality and passion, your skin and the shape of your body. Yes, I pray that you would know whose you are. And I can pray that the love of Christ would so thoroughly saturate your being that you would have the power and the courage to love your neighbor and your enemy, even when that is the same person.
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians ends not with them, but with God. To God be the glory. Yes, that is my final prayer for this community today. That we may know why we are here. It is not just to teach or learn or work—it is to give God the glory in all that we do. But to do that we, we must return to our roots, dug deep into the ground of God’s love. To do that, we must have time to rest. Wayne Muller once said, “once people feel nourished and refreshed, they cannot help but be kind; just so, the world aches for the generosity of a well-rested people.” Columbia, as we go into Spring Break, may you find rest in God’s love. May you grasp, even for a moment, how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God in Christ Jesus. To God be the Glory in the church, in the Seminary, throughout all generations. Forever and ever. Amen.