Hymn # 352 Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me
Call to Worship
L. Praise God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
P. May we be strengthened in our inner beings with power from the Holy Spirit.
L. May Christ dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are rooted and grounded in love.
P. May we be filled with the fullness of God.
We bow before you, O God, for you are the parent from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. We pray that, according to the riches of your glory, you will grant that we may be strengthened in our inner beings with power through the Spirit, that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. In his name. Amen.
Children's Sermon Ephesians 3:14-21
Gather a variety of greeting cards with little poems that wish people well. Ask the children if they have ever received a card from somebody. Remind them that the person who sent the card was thinking about them and wished them well. Tell them that the Scripture lesson is like a card from Paul to the Christians in Ephesus - Paul was thinking of them and wanted to share Christ's love. Paul's card might be a get-well card for their hearts. The message in Paul's card might sound like this: May Christ live in your hearts through your faith, like a tree rooted and planted in love. Or it might say: God's love for you is so great - it's higher and wider and deeper and longer than you could ever imagine. Have the children describe what the drawing on the front of that card would look like. Give the children each a card that says God loves you on it and ask them if they'll decorate that card and send it to someone they think might want to be reminded of God's love. In that way they can be an apostle to someone else, just like Paul.
Hymn # 55 Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
We seem to be more concerned these days about unsightly hair removal than we are about unsightly habit removal. We can''t afford to let the spa mentality of the culture to creep into the church.
It's something Charlotte Davis is good at. She's an expert massage therapist, trained in the rare arts of Hawaiian Loma Loma, Hot Oiled Rocks and Deep Tissue Work. This one-woman spa lays hands on and unties the knots, layer by layer, in the backs, shoulders, legs and forearms of doctors, clergy, teachers, fisher folk, sheriff's deputies, clam diggers, crab pickers and cab drivers.
Davis is part of an exploding trend. Spas and massage therapy are a growing phenomenon, reaching out and grasping the torqued tendons and tense tissue of people everywhere, even on the remote and rural edges of the United States. In 1989, there were 30 day-spas in the United States. Now there are 1,600.
Spas are popping up like meadow daisies in springtime. Small-time talent like Davis and big-time spa operators like Avon are planting operations guaranteed to help our nation relax, feel pampered and get what the Eagles called "that peaceful, easy feeling" that glows down to the bone. Demand for quick-shot pampering has led to the creation of full-service emporiums offering leisurely Salt Glow Body Treatments, Seaweed Wraps, Mud Masks, all manner of waxing in places too delicate to mention, eyelash and eyebrow tinting, manicures, pedicures, sculptured nail overlays, massage, reflexology and - ear candling.
It's hard to think that the apostle Paul would be interested in ear candling or any other tension tamer. He's writing this letter to the Ephesians from prison. Seaweed wraps not available. The question we put to the apostle is whether it is biblically defensible to describe the church as a sort of spa for sinners. There is a long tradition of allegorical interpretations which see the church as a hospital for the spiritually sick or a harbor for the storm-tossed soul. But the church as a spa where Christians can name it and claim it and seize the pampering and prosperity we call the American dream?
Don't think so.
One might try to make a case for spa Christianity. It goes this way: People who go to spas don't go there to work, but to be worked upon. And if by a spiritual spa experience, one means a willingness to let the Holy Spirit massage one's spiritual muscles, pounding, chopping and kneading until the deep tissue is touched, torqued and twisted, then okay. Perhaps there a point there. But it's not in our text.
Instead, Paul prays that the Ephesians will be "strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit" (v. 16). He also speaks of being "rooted and grounded" in love (v. 17). He refers to a "power at work within us" (v. 20). This is the language not of the spa but of the health club. Paul sees believers not as those who need to be worked upon, but as those who need to do the work. Elsewhere, he says "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Paul has no time for spa-la-la Christianity; he rightly understands that Christian character emerges with a workout, not a handout.
Unfortunately, too many Christians are more interested in unsightly hair removal than unsightly habit removal. We have misused the benediction of our text to support a theology of material prosperity: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (3:20-21). Yet, God's power is at work within us to challenge us to change, not to increase our comfort. Can you imagine believers who go the extra mile, turn the other chee k, forgive those who sin against them and love their enemies? Can you fathom the training, the discipline, the exercise, the pain to produce believers that are strong and muscular? If you can, then you understand that we are called to a love life not a lux life.
The health club craze notwithstanding, our culture of instant gratification does not provide a model on which to understand the ecology of spiritual growth. Susan Faludi, social critic and Third Wave feminist, is not blind to the shallowness of the postmodern culture: "How many more Starbucks and Banana Republics can we build?" she asks. "The commercial world we live in is very seductive. There was much more powerful dissent, social critique and challenge with the rise of industrialism, when it was pretty clear who the bad guys were. This is a much more subtle, slippery dynamic. A lot of people see it as great: 'I've got my SUV and my cell phone. If there's something wrong in my life, I can treat it with Prozac or Viagra.'"
You want your ears candled and your face matted and mudded? You want to sip your Starbucks coffee, slip on your Age Defiance nylons and dab some Oil of Olay age-defying cream on your face? Fine. Nothing wrong with that. But leave that mentality at the church door, because when we come into God's presence in worship or in the world, God has something else in mind. It begins with deep knee bends (v. 14) and moves to "strengthening," to "indwelling" and then to the "fullness of God" - a natural progression of spiritual growth that peaks with one's complete knowledge and experience of God.
We go to the spa to feel and look younger. We go to the Spirit to feel and look older. God is not so much interested in age defiance as he is in age reliance. The age-reliance products God offers are prayer, inner spiritual strength, power, and - most important - deep-tissue love.
Granted, the country club spalike atmosphere of the church might be very comfortable, and we're loathe to invite others in because they might dirty our spa water.
But Paul reminds us that while strength and power buff up the body of Christ, ultimately the benefit is to go out from us to others.
When this happens, the promise of the Pauline benediction is actualized: glory to God through the church beyond what we can ask or think!
Sources: Tamela M. Edwards, "A day at the spa," Time, October 18, 1999, 84-85. Susan Faludi, "Party 2000," Rolling Stone, December 30, 1999-January 6, 2000, 72. Caroline E. Mayer, "For a Generation in Denial, a Fountain of Youth Products With an Ageless Appeal Feed Boomer Vanity," The Washington Post, May 6, 1999, A1.
Hymn #242 O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
Alternative Sermon Idea
The Far More Church
When we are "strengthened with power," and experience the "fullness of God," we become what Paul describes as the Far More Church: "far more than we can ask, far more than we can imagine."
The apostle suggests that in such a case, only our imagination limits our opportunities. What would your Far More Church look like?
• Far More giving to missions?
• Far More evangelism?
• Far More hospitality? • Far More love for our neighbors?
• Far More youth in Christian education?
• Far More families staying together? Combine this emphasis with the Far Less Church, the mirror image of the Far More Church:
• Far Less bickering?
• Far Less wavering and doubting?
• Far Less negativity?
• Far Less unfriendliness?
• Far Less rigidness? Use the apostle's benediction to articulate a vision for your church.
There is debate among critical scholars concerning whether the letter to the Ephesians was written specifically to the church in Ephesus, or was a "circular epistle," purportedly written from a prison cell, distributed to churches throughout Asia Minor. Scholars also question whether the letter was written by Paul or by a disciple of Paul who had Paul's letters before him - but since the question of authorship imposes no impact on the content of the passage, Pauline authorship should be assumed.
While there may be debate about its authorship and exact epistolary form, there is no debating the letter's poetic power in proclaiming God's intention to re-create and reconcile the entire creation. Paul does not want any person in the church to "lose heart" over his suffering (3:13). He invites the reader to begin to comprehend the vastness of God's perspective (v. 18). The author's concern is for those in the church to maintain their faith and to maintain the vitality of their community, even as imprisonment becomes a reality and persecution becomes a distinct possibility. In this passage in Ephesians, Paul encourages the reader to begin to fathom the reality that something larger than meets the eye is unfolding.
The passage in 3:14-21 is a prayer. Verses 14-15 serve as an introductory "call to prayer." Verses 16-19 form the main body of the prayer and include three petitions. Verses 20-21 contain the closing ascription. The universality of God's love sets the tone of the prayer and is immediately evident: "Every family in heaven and on earth" takes its name from the Creator. The issue of the relationship between Jew and Gentile is central to this and many other letters - however, no longer should Jews or Gentiles struggle over who is included in the kingdom, for it is not, according to Paul, their struggle. There is more going on than a kind of sibling rivalry about who gets the parent's affection. God, "the Father," is the one who names every family of the earth, and so all must bow the knee before God. It is no longer an "us vs. them" but an all-inclusive "we." Furthermore, those who are included as part of the family of God are not even limited to humanity - heavenly beings are included as well. Hence, Paul begins the prayer reminding his readers that issues of inclusion, imprisonment and even suffering are relatively inconsequential compared to the universal and timeless perspective of God.
The prayer, as mentioned, has three petitions, all concerned with protecting the community (vv. 16-19). However, unlike the Johannine epistles, the mood of Ephesians is triumphant and upbeat and does not decline into a suspicious and sectarian view. The first petition is directed to God. The second calls upon Christ. The third is focused on the members of the church.
First, Paul prays that God will strengthen the "inner being" of the believer with power through the Spirit (v. 16). The concept of "inner being" is not new to Ephesians, for Paul has used this language before. In Romans, "the inmost self" describes the highest part of human nature that "delight[s] in the law" (7:22). Likewise, in the Corinthian letters, Paul writes that it is the "inner nature" that is renewed "day by day," allowing the believer to see things "which cannot be seen" (2 Corinthians 4:16,18). Here, in Ephesians, Paul urges the believer to have faith in this higher vision and deeper perspective; those who have such faith do not need to be afraid.
Second, the apostle prays that Christ will dwell, through faith, in the believers' hearts (v. 17). Paul uses agricultural and, some would add, architectural images ("rooted" and "grounded") to describe how the power of the gospel takes hold within a person. Certainly the historical Jesus used similar images in his parables. Both Jesus and Paul seek to drive home the connection that a faith which is firmly rooted or grounded will not be blown or swept away by the wind of imprisonment or the tide of tribulation. Yet, the believer is not merely a passive recipient of the rooting and the grounding. The one who would be so grounded must accept and believe this reality. Hence, through faith, the believer allows for the tilling and the seeding to occur and the foundation to be dug.
Third, he prays that the believer "comprehend" the full richness of God and the love of Christ, even though the love of Christ "surpasses knowledge" (vv. 18-19). Comprehension in this context speaks of the new orientation of the believer that allows her or him to know the truth and believe it even if the full details of the truth are not fully knowable, or the evidence of the current situation suggests something contrary.
There is no contradiction here between comprehension and knowledge. For one can comprehend the reality that the sun rises without precise scientific knowledge of why or how it rises. So, too, with faith; one can comprehend one's experience of grace, even if the knowledge of the hows and whys are beyond understanding. All that matters to the author is this: When the inner mind and heart are so opened, the perspective of the believer is enlarged, and one can be caught up in, and catch a vision of the grand unfolding of God's Spirit moving throughout all of creation.
The prayer concludes with an ascription of praise to God. Even though Paul has invited the reader into an expansive and universal view of God's purposes, he is quick to point out that God is far grander than anything a human can imagine or ask for. Hence, the believer stands before the Almighty in awe, not in fear; in praise, not complaint; in wonder, not in cynicism; in faith, not in futility.
This passage is an awesome description of God's grand design. It places all the issues of church and society within a divine context. Moreover, this prayer in Ephesians sets all the puny concerns of human beings in the light of God's redemptive plan and inclusive intention to reconcile all created order.
Christians are familiar with "The Rapture." But how about "Wrapture" with a "W"? A day spa in British Columbia promises to take you "Beyond Wrapture" with the enticing words:
"Drift into a far-off world of relaxation with luxurious aromatherapy treatments totally unique to Beyond Wrapture Urban Day Spa and Retreat. We have created 'Heaven on Earth' right here in Kelowna, B.C. We have all the extra touches you might like to indulge yourself with:
• Aromatherapy Body Wraps, Hot Olive Oil Massages, Salt Gowns & Creamy Mud Wraps
• European Facials and Dermatological Hydro Pak Scalp Treatments
• Ancient Art of Reflexology and Ear Candling
"Yes, at Beyond Wrapture Day Spa you can choose a delightful adventure in decadence while soothing sea salts gently sensationalize your skin or you can choose to feel your life's stresses gently drift away while you treat yourself to our incredible muscle lengthening massage! Whatever choice you make, we guarantee that our luxurious treatments will leave you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to welcome your world!" -Beyond Wrapture Urban Day Spa and Retreat Web site, www.kel-biz.com/beyond wrapture/.
There are masseuses with tables erected in malls, aromatherapy at the county fair-grounds, fully equipped suburban spa-mobiles that race to your home to soothe your jangled nerves and Jacuzzis for rent that come by trailer to your summer evening barbecue.
In California, Blue Shield actually pays 25 percent of certain spa bills if prescribed by a physician. It's a forward-thinking health insurance company that foresees the long-term benefits of stress reduction.
Pampering is even pushing its way into whole new arenas. High-tech corporations see the need and hire on-site massage therapists to knead away the stresses of the day. Better hotels have day spas on site or they lose business. These days, 25 percent of spa goers are men - which makes spas a great place to meet women, as long as your face isn't wrapped in seaweed. And there are day spas whose primary clientele are kids. Pampering is no longer a luxury, it seems - it's a necessity. -Tamela M. Edwards, "A day at the spa," Time, October 18, 1999, 84-85.
Even monkeys don't have it so bad.
Canada's federal government has spent nearly $1 million to move its 500-member monkey colony into ultramodern homes furnished with hammocks, toys and natural trees.
The group housing units, especially designed to meet the monkeys' social needs, are also equipped with simulated sunlight and special junglelike carpeting where they can forage for nuts, raisins and other monkey goodies.
The Health Canada monkey colony was at the center of a long-running controversy that began in the summer of 1998 when animal rights activists accused the government of cruelty because the animals were kept in small cages rather than in social housing where they are able to move around and interact.
The macaque monkeys, offspring of an original brood brought to Canada from the Philippines nearly 30 years ago, are kept for biomedical and behavioral experiments.
The Health Canada monkeys have been used for research into AIDS and herpes, to screen polio vaccines and to investigate the effects of ingesting chemicals from caffeine to PCBs. -Chris Cobb, "Million-dollar monkey house," Ottawa Citizen, cited in www.OttawaCitzenOnline.com/national
Here's an incomplete list of services provided by a day spa in New Hampshire that lists itself as a member of the American Society for Esthetic Medicine:
• High-potency hydrators
• Anti-aging facials
• Green enzyme treatments
• Anti-acne management
• Glycolic skin rejuvenation
• Paraffin masques
• Body polishes
• Peppermint body buff
• Detox body wraps
• Full-body sea-based treatment -See http://visagedayspa.com
The question preoccupying many luxury concierges these days is this: Where is the line between serving a guest and encouraging insanity? I explored that topic one day over lunch in New York with two concierges I'll call Xander and Robert, who work, respectively, at a glamorous midtown hotel and an old-line uptown hotel ....
"I've watered down what I consider strange these days," Robert admitted, after hearing that guests at other hotels were requesting cases of Evian to use as hair rinse. This was old news at his place, while at Xander's hotel they'd moved on to a specific type of dark German beer for the same purpose .... Members of hotel staffs can't say no, get fired if they gossip about guests and make huge tips if they do as they're told, so they're perfect enablers. The concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel was asked to acquire parts for a guest's AK-47; a former Houston concierge once cleaned out the apartment of a guest's longtime mistress, then waited around to give her an envelope full of what he assumed was kiss-off cash ....
"Sometimes I feel pity for these people who have a lot of money," says [another concierge named] Giorgio. "Because they don't live well." -Mimi Swartz, "The Rich ARE Different Now," Talk, December 1999-January 2000, 130-132.
Never has the promise of eternal youth been more plentiful - or more profitable.
Despite the lack of any scientific consensus that the products actually work, the number of products that claim to defy time has tripled in the past five years, according to Tom Vierhile, general manager of Marketing Intelligence Service, which tracks sales of packaged goods. Last year, the company reported the launch of 69 age-defying product lines, compared with 18 starts in 1993.
"Anything with the words 'age defying' sells," said Paula Begoun, author of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me. -Caroline E. Mayer, "For a Generation in Denial, a Fountain of Youth Products With an Ageless Appeal Feed Boomer Vanity," The Washington Post, May 6, 1999, A1.
The fanciest day spas have become experiences, somewhere between theater and sin. Thick, swaddling robes, mineral water and wine, gourmet buffets, fresh flowers and piped-in music are typical features. In Las Vegas, Canyon Ranch has opened a 61,000-square foot day spa - the largest in the country - at the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino. Soak and get an underwater massage in a private pool filled with flowers, or stay dry and pick one of the 18 other options, like the Balinese or Indian oil rubs. For the piéce de résistance, visitors soon will be able to steam and swathe themselves in mud in a room where fiber-optic cable replicates the night sky. A soft rain from the fake night dome washes them clean. -Tamala M. Edwards, "A Day at the Spa," Time, October 18, 1999, 85.
Hatred and bitterness are emotions that [Curtis] Mayfield would never permit in his music, and he never permitted them in his life, even after his accident. "I think, overall, I'm dealing with it pretty good," he said in 1992 of his paralysis [caused by a lighting scaffold that struck him during a performance]. "But you can't help but wake up every once in a while with a tear in your eye."
Family, friends and fans of his music pulled him through. And faith. "I've never gone to God for my paralysis," he said. "One thing I know is, God is a very busy God, and he may not come when you want him, but he's right on time." -Anthony DeCurtis, "The Soul of Soul," Rolling Stone, February 3, 2000, 53.
Too many children are living in conditions that are anything but the spalike amenities most Americans enjoy. Here's the story of one such child.
Scharlton "Buster" Ashley, the 10-year-old boy missing since Christmas 1999, was found alive and well January 25, 2000.
"For a month, the runaway hid in an abandoned house and lived in a disabled truck in the Ridgecrest area," said Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
"He survived by eating oranges and water," Pasha said.
Buster was wearing the same clothes he had on Christmas Day when he ran away from his grandmother's house after being punished for stealing.
His grandmother took Buster and his 9-year-old sister, Dominique, into her small house in August after their mother, who is her daughter, had been evicted and could not care for them.
Deputies said Buster slipped out a bathroom window at his grandmother's house after being punished for stealing a battery. It was not the first time he ran away, but this was the longest time he had been gone.
Buster told deputies he stayed away because he was afraid of what people would think of him. Buster told deputies he did not talk to anybody while he was gone and did not know his face was on television or his story was in the newspaper. He gathered oranges in a bag from trees in the neighborhood and for the past four days had lived in a truck with four flat tires. -Based on a story by Leanora Minai, "Boy Found," St. Petersburg Times, January 25, 2000.
When I graduated from high school, I was able to finance an education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Many others aren't so lucky; they can't afford to attend college ....
So why not capture an entire college curriculum via video? Take, say, a college calculus course, which might consist of 30 hours of lectures by a professor; 20 hours of recitations by students; 1,000 questions asked by students; followed by exams. At MIT this course would cost $25,000 a year, but using a computer, it would run about $200 a year per course.
It's time to create a universal knowledge database on video - a cyber-library made available to everybody. It could feature not just calculus courses taught by leading mathematicians, but Warren Buffet on investing, Scott Turow on writing, Steven Spielberg on directing, John Williams on how to compose, Isaac Stern on how to play the violin and Michael Jordan on how to play basketball and - all Nobel laureates on the subject that won them recognition; all Pulitzer Prize winners on their books.
To help make this dream a reality, I'm going to fund a nonprofit organization that establishes video recording studios to capture the coursework, sets up servers to make it available for download and hires an administration to make sure the curriculum is properly designed and that students are tested and certified if they want to be.
I've got a business to run, so why am I spending my time and money on this effort? Because I think the most important issue facing the country today is people left behind by our prosperity. The Web can't eliminate the underclass, but it can help improve the lives of the disadvantaged. -Michael Saylor, The Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2000..
-B. David Hostetter, Prayers for the Seasons of God's People, Year B (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 155
O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High
I've Got Peace Like a River
He is Able
In the Lord Alone