Decorating the sanctuary for Christmas 2017.
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” ~Ephesians 3:16-17
This month during worship we will be focusing on excerpts from the book of Ephesians. It’s a beautiful letter that was written to a group of believers in the early church. The first part of the letter is jam-packed with good theology, and the second half with exhortations on how to live out a life of faith. This prayer comes as a transition between the two. Here Paul is praying for his church. He prays that they will be strengthened in their inner being – from the inside out – by the power of God’s Spirit. This is not a matter of becoming stronger in themselves, but by having Christ dwell in their hearts.
Having Christ dwell in our hearts is akin to having a new person move into your household. If they’re just visiting, it is all rather easy; you simply offer hospitality and try to practice good manners. But if someone moves in to stay, everything changes. (Trust me, we know that at our house. This infant is here to stay and EVERYTHING has changed!) At first you might try to hold on to your familiar patterns and routines, and the new member may work hard to accommodate you and stay out of the way. But eventually they make their mark. Conversations change. Relationships shift and realign. Household duties increase and responsibilities shift. So it is when Christ moves in to our hearts. This isn’t merely the tweaking of old patterns; everything changes.
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message captures this sense: “that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in.”
Writer Anne Lamott tells of her profound experience of Christ indwelling in her in her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. She was unmarried, pregnant, and decided to have an abortion. She coped with the pain in her usual way, by smoking dope and getting drunk. When she started hemorrhaging a week later, she sobered up fast.
It was that night she became aware of someone in the room with her. She writes, “The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there – of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus.” What she felt was (believe it or not) appalled. In her circle of family and friends, nobody was a Christian. They were worldly, sophisticated, and in need of no one but themselves. But Jesus remained in the corner, “watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.”
She had been going to church for some Sundays, drawn in to a funky little church mostly by the music. The next Sunday she went back. She could not escape the feelings. “It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.”
When she got home to her houseboat, she opened the door, hung her head and said to Jesus, “F – it: I quit.” She actually said this out loud: “All right. You can come in.”
Christ overwhelmed Anne with such grace and love that it was as if she threw open the doors of her heart and said “Come on in and live here, Jesus. Dwell within me. Take up permanent residence and let me learn how everything changes with you here.” That’s powerful. That’s life-changing.
I pray that each of you be strengthened this day in your inner being. May Christ dwell richly in your hearts through faith. And may your heart’s doors fling wide open to welcome in the One who overwhelms us with love.
In God’s grip of hope,
St. Mark is a Reconciling in Christ Congregation.
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