July 25, 2021 “The Unknowable Love of Christ”
“The Unknowable Love of Christ”
“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.” ~ C. S. Lewis
“One who has been touched by grace will no longer look on those who stray as “those evil people” or “those poor people who need our help.”…. Grace teaches us that God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are.” ~ Phillips Brooks
“What makes a man’s 80 year old Irish uncle skip like a little boy? ‘Me Father is very fond of me!’” ~ John Ortberg Jr.
It was a man named Phillips Brooks who wrote, “One who has been touched by grace will no longer look on those who stray as “those evil people” or “those poor people who need our help.” Nor must we search for signs of “love-worthiness.” Grace teaches us that God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are.” If any one truth exists in this world that we need to be reminded of over and over, it is this: God loves because of who God is.
Our reading today from Ephesians is a prayer – a prayer in every sense of the word – and in this prayer, the writer of Ephesians encourages us to seek out this kind of love. (vs 18) And I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love—how wide, how long, how high, and how deep that love is. 19 Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. And no, this is not a contradiction in terms because even though we can never know the greatness of Christ’s love, we can know enough that it just might change everything. This is the crux of this prayer, I believe: that by believing that a love like this can even exist, we are changed, we are blessed, and we are able to do, as the prayer states, much, much more than we can ask or even think of. This is a prayer that needs to go on the refrigerator. This is a prayer that needs to be printed or embroidered and hung on the wall for all to see. I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love. Wow – just wow. There’s not a whole lot else to say here.
Now, I’ve got a notion that the idea of pairing up this prayer from Ephesians with John’s story about the feeding of the multitudes was a really good idea. You might remember that in our reading last week from Mark’s gospel, we skipped over his account of the loaves and fishes. Let’s face it, Mark’s version is kind of dry. It lacks detail; it lacks depth. After all, the story of Christ feeding the multitudes is told 6 different times throughout the 4 gospels, so we might as well pick a version that is good. But here’s the thing: no matter who tells it or how it is told, this story has always left me feeling like I’m missing something. So many of the miracles of Christ are feel-good stories: the woman at the well, the healing of the lepers, the blind man regaining his sight, the woman who had faith that if only she might touch his clothing she would be healed. All these and many more – they leave us with this wonderful sense of satisfaction. Jesus saw the suffering before him and he had compassion for them. Every time; all the time. I wish that I had that gift, that skill, and that kind of heart. The kind of heart that Louis CK describes where, “The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”
Rick Morley asks the question, “Would you follow Jesus even if he didn’t do cool stuff?” The answer, I have to believe, would be “yes.” God loves because of who God is and all the miraculous healings, or the total absence of them, wouldn’t change the greatness of the love of Christ one bit.
But coming back to John’s telling of Jesus feeding the multitudes, I have to say that I still have some issues. First of all, there is that little chit chat with Philip when Jesus asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” it was a trick question. Jesus knew what he was about to do, but poor Philip went into a panic counting heads and calculating costs, totally oblivious that Christ had asked him where will they get the food, not where will they get the money. Andrew speaks up and offers some barley loaves and a couple dried up fish that belonged to a young boy who was standing around and the rest of the story you all know well. My point is that this whole grand gesture was kind of unnecessary. These people weren’t starving. The Festival of Passover was only a few days away, so folks were celebrating. Jesus could have wandered through the crowd healing the sick and stood before them preaching the Good News of the Gospel. He could have done this and sent them on their way and they would have been happy. Things would have been just fine. But God loves because of who God is, so here’s a thought. After many months of not being comfortable inviting anyone to come share a meal and with restaurants closed I, for one, have a newfound appreciation for gathering together to break bread. The house gets cleaned, sidewalks swept, bathrooms scrubbed, and the food has to be perfect for our guests. Any awkwardness that might have been at the start is gone in a flash once the host and hostess lays out the spread. It’s wonderful, it’s magical, and it’s the perfect expression of love. Could it be that the greatness of the love of Christ was such that he simply saw this huge crowd of people and thought, “Let’s have a meal…together…right now.” Could it be as simple as that? I certainly hope so.
If you talk to the drivers of any Meals On Wheels program, they will tell you of the singular joy that comes from bringing food to others. A driver from a Food Bank in the town of Falkirk in the northern UK says he had arranged to meet a man in a car park. After he collected his food parcel, the man put it on the handlebars of his push lawnmower and used this to carry it home. Another talked of a Polish lady who after receiving her parcel, insisted that the driver come in the house to see her newborn kittens. She had no one else to share her happy news with! The phone messages at Food Banks are priceless as well. One said, “Thanks Mr. Foodbank Man. Just got my food away. Thanks again. I hope I didn’t hold you up.” My favorite went something like this: “Hello, just wanted to say thanks very much. This is Mark here. Just received delivery at my home and wanted to apologize. I must have gone round one side of the building when you were going round the other. Just to say thank you very much for the food. It was very much appreciated and helps us an awful lot. All the best!”
The Feeding of the Multitudes – it was a prayer to the people; an expression of love that could never be said with mere words. So, I’d like to go full circle and close with some thoughts on our prayer from Ephesians from a guy named Thomas Nelson. He writes, “You are never more like Jesus than when you pray for others. Pray for those you love; pray for those you don’t. Pray for this hurting world. Pray for the people that you encounter today even if you don’t know who they are. Pray that somehow they may know the love of Christ and feel the work of the Spirit in their lives. Pray for this hurting world. Present their case to the giver of Bread. And bring a grocery basket. God will give you plenty of blessing to take back to them.”
Amen & Shalom