“Now That’s a Prayer” — Throwback Thursday, Ephesians

Ephesians 3:14-21

In the 2003 movie, Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey plays TV reporter Bruce Nolan. Bruce takes over for God while God (played by Morgan Freeman) enjoys a vacation. Bruce fails in his omnipotent role. Worst of all, he damages his relationship with Grace, his sweet fiancé (played by Jennifer Aniston).

Just when Bruce gets his faith act together, he kneels down in the middle of a highway and gets hit by a truck. He finds himself in “heaven” with God. God wants one thing from Bruce—a real prayer. Bruce’s first effort is filled with clichés and boilerplate lines. God presses Bruce for what Bruce really wants. Bruce says, “Grace.”

“Grace,” God replies. “You want her back?” “No,” Bruce says. “I want her to be happy, no matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now, through Your eyes.” God is the one who smiles. “Now THAT’S a prayer.”

In Ephesians three, verses fourteen to twenty-one, Paul prays for his readers. He starts with the riches of God’s glory and asks that they “may be filled with all the fullness of God.” That’s a pretty good prayer. Paul finishes with the best benediction in the Bible. “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, for ever and ever. Amen.

Now, THAT’S a prayer! God’s abundance is astonishing! That’s the main thought today, so let’s hear it again. God’s abundance is astonishing!

Abundance is not the world’s way. The world’s way is scarcity. In scarcity there is power. I can control you by withholding or dispensing something. If there is enough for all, I lose my power over you. Paul’s prayer subverts our political and economic and emotional assumptions about life.

I love the pointed description of our culture offered by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. We live. Williams says, in “a prosperous culture in love with the fantasy of absolute individual security and protection against anything that might frustrate the projects of the solitary self.” In other words, we live in a culture that celebrates selfishness and idolizes individual privilege.

Scarcity sustains privilege. Privilege manages and distributes scarce resources to the advantage of the privileged. Then the privileged experience material abundance, use it to ignore the needs of others, and do everything possible to defend that privilege.

It’s no accident that at times of economic uncertainty, organizations like the Ku Klux Klan reappear in force. Whenever white male privilege is threatened, hate groups become popular again. Living from God’s abundance is a form of countercultural resistance. If God is the provider, then humans can’t control us.

God’s abundance is astonishing! God is the Owner. God does not transfer ownership to us. There is a delegation of authority, not a transfer of title. It all belongs to God. We are created to be stewards of God’s abundance.

Good stewardship makes us truly and fully human. Good stewardship equips us to be what God has created us to be. In the course of this study, we have been reminded that God’s gifts always come with a vocation. So stewardship is how we respond to our call to follow Jesus with our whole lives.

We think we can rely on our own resources. But that’s such a narrow life, such a finite resource, such a shallow well. Jesus leads us to an enlarged and abundant world. God offers far MORE than we can ask for and imagine—not less. God calls us to use our gifts for the power of love, not the love of power.

God’s abundance is astonishing!

Why does Paul pray for his readers? He knows they are discouraged because he’s in jail. Paul’s fate (execution) seemed like a certainty (which it was). How could his readers be anything but discouraged? They are sinking into a scarcity mindset.

Paul reminds them of their vocation. The church speaks the variegated wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities. The rulers and authorities don’t respond well. But it’s all part of God’s plan. So we can speak for God “in boldness and confidence through faith” in the Messiah.

Paul expects his readers to suffer for being Jesus followers. He does not pray for them to be protected from such threats. He prays for them to see beyond the suffering, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” He prays for them not to be spared but rather strengthened. He invites them to ask and dream big.

Paul invites us to ask and to dream big. Even though God can and will do more than we can ask for or imagine, that shouldn’t keep us from either asking or imagining. Often, we fail to make changes because we simply cannot believe that such a thing could ever happen. My experience is that big things are often resting right under the surface if we have enough patience and trust to see them.

God’s abundance is astonishing!

For example, I didn’t whip up the idea of a child care center or the notion that we could have walking paths and a labyrinth and a retreat center or the idea that we should support mental health issues. Those things were sitting here waiting to be noticed. What is sitting there, waiting to be noticed in your life? What is it that is more than you could ask for or imagine that God wants to do for you, in you, through you by the power of the Holy Spirit?

God’s abundance is astonishing! Next week we will celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit God gives to the church for our mission in and for the life of the world.

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