This sermon should be a lesson to me in checking rotas as it never got preached! There may be other lessons to be learnt too:
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free;
Rolling as a mighty ocean,
In its fulness over me.
Twenty years ago today, we sang those words at our wedding! It was a favourite from our time at the church in Aberystwyth through which we met. There, together with a fine music group, there were enough Welsh voices to carry the tune with just enough bass to make it sound like the the ‘mighty ocean’ of the Irish Sea, crashing against the rocky outcrop that lies a few yards from the door of that church.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread his praise from shore to shore,
How he loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore.
There is a depth of passionate love for Christ in the words of that hymn which for me echo the passion in this hymn of praise that opens the Epistle to the Ephesians. The writer, probably St. Paul, was so caught up in his praise for God, experienced in and through Christ, that he wrote the whole of our reading this morning in one sentence of Greek! As we read and think on it today, let us as we do so give thanks for the work of Bible translators down the centuries, who have kept that incredibly uplifting emotion in the words, whilst making it just a little simpler to read and understand!
By my reckoning St Paul uses the phrase ‘In Christ’ (or its equivalents like ‘in him, or ‘in the One’) at least eight times in this one sentence of passage. He is reminding the Ephesian Christians and us that God, in and through Jesus Christ has chosen us to be His people: we are adopted, we are redeemed, our sins are forgiven. He makes known His plans for us and all creation, He offers us His inheritance and marks us as holy by the presence of His very self in the Holy Spirit.
As Christians we are not simply stating we believe in some historical facts about a man called Jesus, living in first century Palestine. Neither are we paying a membership fee towards some pressure group that requires us to believe in the fact of his virgin birth, or resurrection from the dead, in order to carry out its aims and objects. Instead we are responding to the fact that deep within us, we know there were no lengths, no costs that God would not bear, no amount of time used that God would not [willingly give], to express His love for us. THESE are the things that inspire us to love Him too. Being Christian is living and loving in the light of these actions of a loving God, in and through Christ Jesus.
St. Paul writes to the Ephesians that we are “destined for adoption.” He uses that phrase quite deliberately because it describes the intimate love of God the Father, who aches with love. He recognizes that His family is not complete. He already has children but there are others still missing out from experiencing the love and care not just of any family but His family. Adoption is about bringing together a disparate family of ages, genders, races and sexes, all bound together, all encompassed by His love.
When Graham and I got married, there was in a very real sense an ‘adoption’ by our individual families of a new member. Since that day, where one or other sets of parents have done something for their child by birth, they have done it for the both of us. When my mother became ill and then died 15 years ago, Graham’s parents were a tower of strength, good common sense, and practical support. My father as you have probably noticed, is there for all of us when the logistics of family life get too complicated, and enables to achieve more than we could without him. To them all, we respond not just with a sense of gratitude, but with a profound and deep love that goes far beyond a sense of repaying a debt for what has been done for us, and is instead a witness to this sense of belonging as one family by adoption, or in our case, marriage.
Adoption here[in this passage of Ephesians] is a belief that we are supposed to belong to God, [not just owe him something] and that God has claimed us as his own. Our way to God is through Christ’s death and resurrection. It sounds beyond belief, but it is really grace — we have been forgiven and brought back to God and this is what Paul means as he writes… using this phrase ‘in Christ.’
As adopted children ‘in Christ’, every experience is reframed, from our most bracing joys and cherished achievements to our besetting temptations, our most anguished regrets, and our most wounding losses. “In Christ” we are joined to the power and presence of God Himself and no longer have to make our way in the world alone without hope or meaning. “In Christ” we are knit to others who will cry over our dead with us even as they help us sing hymns of resurrection. At the same time, being “in Christ” is no sentimental togetherness. You’ve heard the expression ‘blood is thicker than water’ to describe family ties – Christ’s blood shed on the cross is eternally thicker, for through it, we are bound together with each other and with Him. But like all family relationships this means sticking with each other, supporting one another in love through the good and not so good alike.
I want to leave us this morning with two thoughts:
Firstly, think back on a hymn that has for you special memories. Look at the words. What was it about those words that made them so special to you? What expression of your faith in God do they encompass that is so important that you might want to share it with others, in a letter or other conversation, just as St Paul did with his hymn here in Ephesians?
Secondly, whatever stage of life we’re at, whatever our family circumstances, or any sense of loneliness that we might encounter, as we move into our future this day, let us remember that we are unified as a family ‘in Christ’ with those that not only here today, but who worship here day-by-day, week-by-week, year by year. As God has so freely given us such wealth in Christ, let us praise and glorify him for that, from the very depths of our being.
In the words of that favourite hymn of mine:
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Love of every love the best:
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
‘Tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
‘Tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee.