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Some of you might know a Grandmother, or an aunt, who just delights in giving things. If they have you for a meal, the food seems never ending. It seems that their greatest fear in life is running out of something. We used to say in our family, they make enough to feed the Russian army. And they aren’t happy unless they can send a week’s worth of food home with you when you leave. Every time you visit them, they try to give you things, knickknacks, dishes, they just aren’t happy unless they can give you something to take with you when you leave.
God is like that. He delights in being able to give us good things. But unlike a grandmother or an aunt, he never runs out of good things to give us. Because he is the almighty and all loving God he is able, and often does, give us more than we ask of him, more than we could even imagine.
We heard John tell us about Jesus’ first miracle. He, his mother and his disciples had been invited to a wedding in Cana in Galilee. It would seem that the family of the bride or groom, or both we either family, or close friends. Unlike our wedding celebrations today, the celebrations back then could last for days, even a whole week. Before the celebration was over, the wine ran out. After Mary alerts Jesus to the embarrassing situation their host was facing, Jesus provides wine in a miraculous way. But did you catch that Jesus provided more than anyone could have asked or imagined?
The jars that Jesus asked to be filled with water held 20-30 gallons each, and there were six of them. They filled them to the brim. Jesus turned 120 to 180 gallons of water into wine. That was a lot of wine! And the master of the banquet points out that Jesus didn’t make ripple. The wine Jesus made was good wine, the kind you would serve your guests first. Jesus delighted in giving this bride and groom and their families more than even Mary could have asked or imagined he would.
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and for all believers, all saints, of all time is that they and we would realize this about God. He delights in giving us more than we ask, more than we can even imagine.
You know this from experience. You pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God would give you daily bread. But how does he answer that prayer! He has given you a lot more than daily bread. He has given you steak and cake, a lot more than just bread. He has given you refrigerators and freezers and pantries full of food. You have plenty of food for weeks, a lot more than you could possibly eat in one day. God delights in giving you more than you ask.
But the focus of what Paul is talking about here is not food, or clothing, or anything material. His focus is on spiritual things like faith and love.
It’s easy for us, sinful humans that we are, to wonder if God really does love us. As we look around at all the terrible things we see happening in the world, we wonder about God and his love. When something bad happens to us directly we are quick to wonder if God really loves us. We are quick to think, “If God really does love me, why is this happening to me?” Paul may have struggled with that question himself as he was writing to the Ephesians from prison. After all, he had been put in prison simply because he was doing what God had told him to do. How is that loving?
Yet, from prison, Paul prays, I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is. He has no doubt that God still loves him, even while he is suffering because he is serving God. He highlights a problem we have when we doubt God’s love for us. The problem is that we are focused on just a tiny spot in the whole picture of God’s love for us. We want to say to God, “unless you do this one thing for me you must not love me.” But God’s love is not focused on just one thing in our lives. His love for us reaches all the way back to eternity, and it reaches all the way forward to the end of our earthly lives and beyond. His love encompasses all of history. It takes into consideration not just our life, but the lives of all people, and especially of all the saints, or all believers of all time. Paul’s prayer is that, even though we can’t fully comprehend how great his love is as long as we are in our sinful human state, because the love of Christ surpasses knowledge– his prayer is that we would comprehend it more and more as we continue to grow in our faith and knowledge of God.
How do we grow in our faith and knowledge of God so that we can more fully comprehend how great his love is for us? Paul prays that God would strengthen us with power through his Spirit. The Spirit that he prays would strengthen us works through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. So, we grow in our faith and knowledge and comprehend God’s love for us more and more as we read and study the Bible at home, as we hear the word and receive the sacrament together with our fellow believers in worship. We grow in our faith and knowledge and comprehend God’s love for us more and more as we hear over and over again, ( and we need to hear it over and over again because our sinful nature finds all kinds of reasons to doubt), that there is no greater love that anyone can show than to give up their lives for others. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He gave up his perfect life in heaven to come down to earth and give up his physical life for us. And he did it while we were sinners, even though we don’t deserve it, even though we didn’t love him, and still often doubt his love for us. We comprehend the greatness of God’s love for us more and more as we are reminded again and again of what he has done to save us.
As great as God’s love is for us, if it’s just a feeling, if it’s only words, if it’s not connected to power and action, it doesn’t do us much good. That’s why Paul reminds us that not only does his love for us surpass knowledge, but his power does too. He reminds us that God can certainly do whatever we ask of him. Nothing is impossible for God. But, Paul says, our minds are so limited that we can’t even imagine the things that God is able to do for us.
Think of some of the things he has done – He spoke light into existence, even before he created the sun, moon and stars. He created all that exists out of nothing, and he did it in six days. He could have done it in six seconds if he wanted to. He divided the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites. He knocked down the walls of Jericho. He caused the sun to stand still for Joshua. He protected the three men in the furnace and so that not a hair was singed, and they didn’t even smell like smoke. He raised Jesus from the dead. He enabled the apostles to speak in languages they had never studied. And each day, as people hear the gospel of Jesus and are baptized, he causes the light of faith to shine in their formerly dark hearts and gives them a second birth, a spiritual birth. That’s both his greatest, and often most overlooked miracle of all.
Both God’s love for us and his power surpass our knowledge. We can’t fully grasp how much he loves us, nor can we even imagine all he can do for us. Since that’s the case, ask away. There isn’t anything you ask of him that he can’t do. There isn’t anything good that you ask of him that he doesn’t want to give you. So, our sinful nature says, “ok, how about lots of money? How about healing from sickness, a long life, world peace?”
Remember what John says, this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. Did you catch it? According to his will, remembering that not only are his love and power infinite, but so is his wisdom and knowledge. His thoughts are always higher than our thoughts. He sees the whole picture and knows how granting our request will affect our life and our faith. So, in love, he will not do anything that he knows would be bad for us, especially that would be bad for our faith. The will of God is always best.
Even more than a generous grandmother or aunt, God delights in giving us good things, giving us more than we ask and certainly more than we deserve. He proved the extent of his love for us by sending his one and only son to this earth to save us. As we consider the heavens and the complexity of our bodies, we marvel at his great wisdom and power. We realize that we can’t even imagine all that he is able to do for us. As a result, we join Paul in saying, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.