Ephesians 3:14-21 (MSG)
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit-not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength- 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you'll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20 God can do anything, you know-far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. 21 Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!
A number of years ago in another appointment, I invited the pastor who was being appointed to the church by the Bishop and cabinet to preach. It was a couple of months before the official move was to take place but wanted to create an atmosphere of positive change and transition. The new pastor was African American. The congregation was mostly white.
On the morning that he was to preach, I greeted him in the parking lot in order to guide him into the church and my office. As I stepped into the office suite, I paused to introduce the new pastor to the church secretary and her husband who happened to be church members. Instead of extending a hand of welcome and fellowship, the husband and wife turned their backs to him and refused to acknowledge his presence.
Paul experienced these kinds of barriers as he attempted to take the Gospel message to the Gentiles. So many barriers remain in place to this day. As the ancient philosopher, Cicero, once said:
There is no more certain sign of arrogance, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance than to stand apart from those who think differently from us.
We build walls and put up fences. The barriers of separation, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance remain to this day and God weeps.
I find it helpful to note that Paul, as he confronts these kinds of difficult situations, prays. Some might consider the Ephesians text as a teaching text but it is really more of a prayer, possibly written while Paul is in a Roman Prison waiting for his own execution. Paul is asking for two gifts in his prayer, inward strength and a Christ like heart.
Paul is not only asking for these gifts for himself but for those he has worked with in and around Thessalonica. Paul believes that inward strength and a Christ-like heart is about love and mercy, it is knowing God in your heart and allowing that strength and heart to be mirrored in your life. As Thomas Merton once wrote:
True Christianity is growth in the life of the Spirit, a deepening of the new life, a continuous rebirth in which the exterior and the superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snake skin and the mysterious, invisible self o the Spirit becomes more present and more active. The true Christian rebirth is a renewed transformation, a "Passover" in which a person is progressively liberated from selfishness and not only grows in love but in some sense becomes love. The perfection of the new birth is reached where there is no more selfishness, there is only love.
Think about it.
Thomas Merton, Naomi Burton Stone, and Brother Patrick Hart, Rebirth and the New Christian Man in Christianity (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Books, 1974), 199.