July 29, 2012
Jesus Walking on the Water
I. Sally Brown teaches worship and preaching at Princeton Seminary. She recently wrote:
I remember as a child tiptoeing past the living room where my parents, faithful in morning devotions, were praying. Sometimes I heard them praying for my older brother and me. It can be faintly embarrassing to eavesdrop on prayer -- a little like listening in on someone's personal phone conversation. But prayer on our behalf can be a revelation -- about ourselves, and about God.
Hearing my parent's prayers, I learned that to them, the two of us were a sacred trust, worth praying for. The simple fact of their daily praying let me know they recognized their limits as parents. There was so much they could not do for us, so much from which they couldn't shield us. Their praying also told me what they believed about God. They believed they could entrust us to hands stronger than their own, a Love wiser than their own. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=7/29/2012&tab=3
A. Our son Jon has often told of listening to my parents praying when he visited them. Often it was after breakfast or supper, but occasionally he’d overhear them praying in the bedroom. He recalls listening for his name as they prayed for their grandchildren, and even for his children’s names in the prayers for their great grandchildren.
B. Have you ever overheard someone praying for you when they didn’t know you were listening? You might feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed. You may feel loved and honored. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed or inspired.
C. In Ephesians 3:14-21, we are eavesdropping on one of the greatest prayers in the New Testament, and it is for us! The Church is the focus of Ephesians. The word “church” occurs 9 times, but never as a reference to a specific congregation. Each time it is about the whole Church. Christ’s community of faith in all places and all times. I am astounded that the majesty and magnitude of this prayer is as much for us as it was for the Church in the first century.
II. By this time I hope you all know that I believe the most important thing I have done for you this year is to pray for you. Besides my public prayers, I know I have shared private moments of prayer with some of you as well. At the risk of bragging or having some of you think I am bragging, I’m going to let you peek in on some of my prayer rhythm this morning.
A. A few of you who are extra alert and remember details may recall that a few weeks ago I said we’d be looking at the life of King David through the summer. We did last Sunday, but I’m shifting gears to Ephesians for my last three Sundays with you. My first step in preparing each week’s sermon is to read the passages and pray about what God is saying to me. When I got to the passages about David for these three weeks, I discovered they were about the darkest days of David’s life: his adultery with Bathsheba and the fallout with his son Absalom. My prayer was something like this, “Look God, I don’t think I want to end my time with this church on such a downer. What should I do?” I don’t think I could actually say that God told me to look at the Ephesians passages in the lectionary, but that’s what I did. As I read them, I do believe the Holy Spirit was whispering to me, “This is what you need to leave with these people.” Of course, I had studied and preached on them before, but they were alive with what God has waiting for you with Pastor David.
B. When I’m cooling down after my morning workout on our patio, I pray facing the four directions of the compass. East is the Lord’s Prayer and offering God a new day and concerns for friends and family in that direction. South is the Prayer of St. Francis and concerns for people and the world south of me, including 1st Christian Church, Duncanville. When we are in Oklahoma, you’ll still get the prayer when facing south. West is the L’Arche Prayer and especially the troubled places on the other side of the world. North are the prayers I usually use in funerals, and I chat with God about our parents and others. After showering and dressing, I pray through 5 Psalms during breakfast. Every day, God prompts me to pray for something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. Every day, at least a couple of things inspires me to pray for you as individuals and as a congregation.
C. Those of you who have been in the Thursday Bible study group or who were in a prayer triad or who have been at Board or Elders’ meetings know how I try to pray the Scriptures as a way to let God direct and tune my prayers. Ephesians 3:14-21 sent my prayers for you soaring. As you anticipate your new pastor coming, I am praying for God to accomplish more with 1st Christian Church, Duncanville than you can imagine, and that you will have the power to grasp it all.
III. The prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 soars. It is art, hymn, poetry – not an essay to be analyzed. The danger of pulling it apart is destroying its beauty and power. So I want to read it again so we can just soak it in, so we can be carried by its lyric.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
A. As the risk of spoiling the experience, I do want to shine a light on the themes that are the facets of this jewel. I want to illuminate this prayer with how it is shaping my praying for you.
1. I have experienced the presence of Christ dwelling with you as we have worshipped, served, learned, grieved and rejoiced together. I am asking God to keep filling you with God’s complete presence so you’re bursting at the seams with God and Christ is oozing out all over.
2. I am praying that as far as you can see in every direction, Christ’s love stretches to the extremity of your reach and into the depth of your core.
3. I am praying that your faith and knowledge will grasp all that God has for you, to both understand it and to hold onto it.
4. I am praying for God’s power to be released among you so you have the strength of faith to appropriate the love of Christ with such magnetic force you will be inseparable from each other and irresistibly attract spiritually hungry and hurting people to Jesus.
5. I am praying that your accomplishments will be so abundant they will outstrip your wildest imagination. I am praying you will recognize and embrace God’s ambition for this congregation, so you are not content with too little but embrace God’s expansive future.
6. I am praying that the riches of God’s glory will shine through 1st Christian Church, Duncanville so anyone who worships with you, anyone you touch in ministry, anyone whom God brings across you path will say, “God is really among you!”
B. This prayer is packed with strength and power. I told the Thursday Bible study group this week about being overwhelmed with an awareness of God’s power when we visited Niagara Falls and took the tour in the tunnels behind the falls. As I stood just a couple of feet from the torrent of water, I had a great urge to fall face down on the floor and weep. I know this can all be explained by physics, but for me it was an epiphany of God’s power. This prayer is not about human force but spiritual strength. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ spiritual strength trumps all forms of human and natural power. In John 6:15-21, Jesus has just fed 5,000+ people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. His power is not limited by scope or scale.
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
1. The crowd wants to take Jesus by force and make him king. With stealth he withdraws alone to the mountain, evading the popular power of the crowd and the political power they want for him.
2. The public feeding of the 5,000 and the private walking across the sea to the disciples’ boat are not just demonstrations of his unlimited power over the natural order, they are spiritual epiphanies of his presence.
C. The prayer of Ephesians 3:14-21 is not a prayer for successful programs or for God’s blessing on your efforts. It is a prayer that seeks to submerge you in God’s spiritual strength. As you anticipate your new pastor coming, I am praying for God to accomplish more with 1st Christian Church, Duncanville than you can imagine, and that you will have the power to grasp it all.
IV. If the Lord’s Prayer is the simplicity of teaching us beginners how to start praying, the prayers of Ephesians are the pinnacle of mature prayer in the New Testament. They take us way beyond ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication – not that anything is wrong with ACTS, but it’s still a learning tool). In Ephesians we are invited to plunge our prayers into the Niagara River, not safely observing from behind a rail in a tunnel but abandoning ourselves to the torrent that will sweep us over the brink. Like the disciples in the storm, we do well to be terrified, but Jesus comes to us and says, “It is I. Do not be afraid! I’ll walk on even this water with you.”
A. I dare you to pray Ephesians 3:14-21 for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville.
1. For Pastor David, Sheila and Chris
2. For Pastors Glenn and Emily
3. For your Elders
4. For your Board and ministry leaders
5. For each other
6. For spiritually hungry and hurting people
B. I don’t want to you to stop praying for health, guidance, employment, harmonious relationships or any of our daily concerns. Rather, let the prayers of Scripture take us into unexplored frontiers of prayer.
1. Christ dwells – God fills
2. Know Christ’s Love
3. Faith and Knowledge
4. Strength and Power
5. Abundant Accomplishment
6. God’s Riches of Glory
C. As you anticipate your new pastor coming, I am praying for God to accomplish more with 1st Christian Church, Duncanville than you can imagine, and that you will have the power to grasp it all.
D. After praying the compass points Thursday, I sang “My Life Flows On” which seemed to pull my thoughts about this prayer together. We’ll sing it now (CH 619), and any who want to join the church will be welcomed.