In the early 1800s, there was a young man named George Mueller who lived in Germany. George grew up as a rather rebellious kid who caused his parents constant concern. George went to college where he was well known for making fun of Christians. One day, a friend invited him to a Bible study, and he reluctantly went. Much to his surprise, he actually enjoyed it and was amazed when he saw people who actually knew and loved God. This was a nightly Bible study, and he showed up each evening that week. Within a few days, he knelt at his bed and asked Jesus to forgive his sins. There was a pretty incredible transformation in George– he replaced his former habits with things like reading the Bible, going to church, and sharing the story of God’s love for people.
George felt a call to be a missionary, but his father was incredibly disappointed. He withdrew his support of George’s college education. So George prayed. Within the hour, George received a note from a professor offering him a paid tutoring job. George graduated and headed off to England to serve as a missionary. At that time, there were an incredible number of orphans, so he decided to do something about it. He opened up an orphanage that cared for the children and he loved them with the love of Jesus.
He ministered to what was considered at that time the lowest class of society. George spent a great deal of time in prayer asking the Lord to provide for the needs of the children. And God provided. He raised money to start 117 Christian schools throughout England that educated over 120,000 children. His orphanage served over 10,000 children over his lifetime.
There is a famous story from one day early in George’s ministry. “The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat,” the housemother of the orphanage informed George. He asked her to take the 300 children into the dining room and have them sit at the tables. He thanked God for the food and waited. George knew God would provide food for the children as he always did. Within minutes, a baker knocked on the door. “Mr. Mueller,” he said, “last night I could not sleep. Somehow I knew that you would need bread this morning. I got up and baked three batches for you. I will bring it in.”
Soon, there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. The milk would spoil by the time the wheel was fixed. He asked George if he could use some free milk. George smiled as the milkman brought in ten large cans of milk. It was just enough for the 300 thirsty children.
George was an unlikely Christian. But aren’t we all unlikely Christians, who have somehow encountered God’s love? We can trust that God will provide for his children because he loves us. Our reading from 1 Kings and John tell stories of how God miraculously provided food.
Bread was one of the basic essentials of life. If you had bread, you could survive. It was the symbol of God’s provision. When Jesus was at the Last Supper, he took bread and broke it and said this is my body, given for you. It became a symbol of God’s love, of the sacrifice of Jesus which once and for all demonstrated to the world how much God loves all people.
As often as you eat it, do this in remembrance of me. We often take that line that Jesus spoke and apply it to the celebration of Communion where we reenact the Last Supper. But Jesus didn’t only mean remember me when you come to Communion. He meant remember me every time you eat, because the very food you eat is a reminder of my love for you.
That love is the love that led Jesus to the cross. Through his death we have access to God’s grace and forgiveness. Because of this love, we have hope that when we die, we will spend eternity in heaven with God. All we need to do is believe! God’s love is something that is so big, so powerful that it is hard to grasp. In our text from Ephesians we see that Paul prays that we might have the power to comprehend how wide, and high, and deep, and long God’s love for us is (Ephesians 3:18). It takes the very power of God to understand his love and what that means for us as a people.
Paul says that the church is meant to be a place where God’s love is known. When people walk through our doors, they should meet with God’s all consuming, never-ending, reckless love. We can experience this love through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and through the welcome that we extend to one another.
In our text from Ephesians, we get an insight into Paul’s prayer life. Paul was the epitome of someone who labored for Christ. He planted some 20 churches while going on four major missionary journeys. He preached countless times and witnessed thousands of people come to faith. He faithfully stewarded these churches, providing correction and guidance when necessary. Like I mentioned last week, the church at Ephesus was pretty healthy, but Paul wanted them to grow deeper in their understanding of God’s love.
His prayer is twofold: he prays that they will be strengthened in the Spirit and have power, and he prays that Christ will dwell in their hearts. These two things, power from the Spirit and Christ in us are at the center of Christian maturity, and Paul says they are a result of being rooted and grounded in love. Christ and faith in Christ is the first block of our foundation, but receiving God’s love is what keeps us on that foundation.
Paul writes that we should be rooted in God’s love. The word rooted is a gardening term. What does it mean for a plant to have good roots?
The root system provides nutrients for the plant. They absorb minerals and nutrients, but they also provide stability. There are some plants that have poor root systems, and they produce poor fruit and they easily topple in storms. Here in West Virginia, it is common after a spring thunderstorm or winter snowstorm to go out and find trees blocking the road. They often look like this:
Different trees and plants have different types of roots. The silver maple tree has one of the most impressive root systems. There is a popular picture of a silver maple that did not get washed away during a major flood.
While the waters washed away the soil, this root system went deep and strong and the tree remained in place. Paul wanted the Christians at Ephesus to have their faith deeply rooted in God’s love.
When we face difficult times, tragedies, sorrow, we don’t need empty words of comfort. We need God’s love. We need to know that despite the raging storms that might surround us, God is there. He is with us. He cares. He loves.
Having strong roots in God’s love also sustains us to produce good fruit. We are called to walk through life being different from the world. Christians should be known by producing the fruits of the spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control. No matter how hard we try on our own, we cannot simple muster up these fruits, we cannot force them. They are naturally produced when we are rooted in God’s love for us.
Accepting love can be an incredibly difficult thing at times. When we are hurt by a friendship, a parent, a romantic relationship, it does something to our heart. It kind of tarnishes our perception and thus our ability to receive love. When our relationships are cruel or seem to demand an impossible perfection, it is quite natural to use these broken perceptions of love and to apply them to how we view God’s love for us.
I’ve done this myself– I am quite a perfectionist naturally. Throughout my education, relationships, and even in my preaching, I expect to be perfect. But perfect, isn’t really possible. I did a great deal of soul searching, trying to discover where this compulsion to be perfect came from, and I discovered that I thought that I was able to earn love based on what I did. This is an incredibly easy thing to do because many people will reward achievement and ridicule failure.
But we can’t apply this view of love to God. God’s love is never dependent upon how I perform, because God knows I’ll never be perfect. God’s love isn’t even dependent on whether or not I sin. God’s love is still there. Now when I sin, his love corrects and calls me to repent, but the deep love of God never leaves. God knew full well that we weren’t perfect– that’s why he sent Jesus to live the perfect life and be the perfect sacrifice so that we could have access to God’s love.
Relationship with God means living with Christ in us, with the full benefits of being God’s children. If we believe in Jesus and show up to church, but we don’t seek to be deeply rooted in God’s love, it’s like living our lives at half-throttle.
Once there was a backhoe operator on a construction site who surprised one day by the owner of the company. Being relatively new to his job, the operator was exercising care in his manipulation of the machine. Suddenly the motor, which had been set at half-throttle, roared to life. The startled operator looked behind him to discover that the owner was holding the lever wide open. Shouting above the engine noise, the owner explained to the puzzled operator, ?This is the way I want to hear my equipment run.’ The owner knew the potential of his equipment, and he wanted the full benefit. The same is true with God concerning His children.
Being deeply rooted in God’s love and accepting our identity as God’s children revolutionizes our lives. It enables us to love our neighbors. It gives us patience with difficult people. It helps us live free from the sins that hold us back. It restores our relationships and helps us have the ability to be our best.
When we open our hearts and receive God’s love, it necessarily changes us. The rules aren’t what change us. The showing up to church isn’t what changes us. It’s the relationship with God and the abiding in his love that changes our lives. The relationship changes the very disposition of our hearts and then and only then can we begin to fulfill the command to love God and our neighbor. We are enabled to walk in holiness not through striving and human perfection, but through divine action. Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus that given to us. May we be rooted in God’s love, may we have the Holy Spirit’s power to understand the love, and may we have the courage to abide in God’s love.
One of the great keys to staying in love with God is to come to this Table of Grace and receive the elements of Communion. In this we commune not only with each other, but with God himself. He meets us at this altar and we receive his love. Not through our worthiness but through our faith in Christ’s worthiness. Come expecting an encounter with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
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