July 25th 2021 homily on Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:5-13 by Pastor Galen
An Abundance of Food
I grew up in south-central Pennsylvania, and the culture there places a high value on having large quantities of food. Some cultures around the world place a high value on the quality of the food, or the way the food is presented, but generally speaking in Pennsylvania Dutch culture, people are generally impressed when there’s a lot of food.
In fact, I think that having a lot of food is one of the primary love languages in south-central PA! You know someone loves you when they invite you to their house or take you out to a smorgasbord and there’s a ton of food. This is also generally how food is evaluated at weddings, or buffets, or holiday meals. People will gush “there was so much food!” or “there were so many different options!” And one of the highest compliments you can pay a cook in south-central PA is to say “I am stuffed!”
I can only imagine that the same was true for many of the people listening to Jesus teach that day on the hillside near the sea of Galilee. Many people in Jesus’s day lived day-to-day, often not knowing where their next meal would come from, they often lived in fear that they would not have enough food for the next day.
And so Jesus’s multiplication of food would have been especially impressive to them – not only because it was miraculous, but because of the sheer volume of food that was produced. John tells us that they started with only 5 loves and two fish from a little boy’s lunch, and in the end 5,000 people ate and were filled, and there were twelve huge baskets full of food left over – much more than they had when they began! This was an abundant amount of food – more food than anywhere there that day had ever seen in their entire lifetime.
Jesus feeding 5,000 people on a hillside in Galilee, then, was not just a miraculous display of God’s power – it was a tangible expression of Christ’s lavish and exceedingly abundant love for all people.
Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians
In Ephesians chapter 3, Paul shares with the Christians at Ephesus (by way of letter), how he has been praying for them. Paul has been asking that God would strengthen the Ephesian Christ’s “inner being with power through his Spirit,” and that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith, as they are being rooted and grounded in love. (Eph. 3:16-17).
And then Paul tells the Ephesians that he prays to God continually that they would “have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19).
It’s interesting here that Paul doesn’t launch into a philosophical discussion of the four types of love in the Greek cultural context, and why Jesus’s love for the Ephesians is different from the romantic love that they might experience for their spouses, or the brotherly love they might have for their friends. Instead, Paul wants the Ephesians to know the sheer volume of God’s abundant love for them.
Paul wants them to know just how deep and how wide and how high God’s love is for them. As that old song says, it’s so high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it. Oh the wonderful, vast, and abundant love of Jesus!
Now why exactly is Paul so concerned that the Ephesian Christians know and experience the vast quantity of God’s love for them?
Jesus Vs. Artemis
Well, as we’ve been talking about the past few weeks, Paul knows that for so many years the Ephesians had been deprived of the knowledge of God’s love for them. They had been starving for God’s love and affection! And even now that they’ve accepted Jesus as their Savior, often-times they were looked at as second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God – because they were Gentiles – not originally part of the Israelite nation, the people historically known as God’s chosen people.
Not only that, but the Ephesians used to worship idols. Specifically the Greek goddess Artemis, whose temple was located in Ephesus. But Artemis was a deity much more to be feared and appeased than a god who was ever thought to love them. Artemis was especially feared by pregnant women, as deaths during pregnancy and childbirth were generally attributed to Artemis. The Ephesians worshiped Artemis to get on her good side, and to try to ensure the health and safety of their wives and sisters and mothers in childbirth. They didn’t worship Artemis out of response to any sort of love that she had for them, but rather they worshiped her out of fear and obligation.
And so Paul has been shepherding the Ephesian Christians to know and understand the love of God expressed through Jesus Christ. In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul addressed the idea of chosenness, telling the Ephesians that they were in fact included in God’s chosen people, that God had indeed chosen each and every one of us “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). In chapter 2, Paul paints a beautiful picture of the Gentile Christians, who had formerly been excluded from worshiping God in the temple in Jerusalem, but now together with the Jewish Christians, Christ has built us into a holy temple – a dwelling place for God. Paul says that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but…members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
And now here in chapter 3, Paul focuses on the love of Jesus, and how much he longs for the Ephesian Christians and for all of us today to know that we are deeply and abundantly loved by God. He wants us to know the vastness and the sheer magnitude of God’s love expressed in tangible form through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Someone once said, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much.’ Then He stretched out His arms and died.” That’s the abundant love of God that Paul wanted each and everyone one of us to know and experience.
God Loves Us – And Likes Us
Now sometimes we may think to ourselves, well of course God loves us! God has to love us! God loves everybody!
In thinking this way, we depersonalize God’s love, we make it so abstract and amorphous that it becomes almost meaningless.
But the reality is that God not only loves us, but God also likes us! God delights in us! Psalm 147:11 says, “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” And Zephaniah 3:17 says, “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
I love that image of God rejoicing over us with singing! While we’re here in church singing songs of praise to God, God is singing over us! When we’re at home alone in our room and praying to God, God is delighting in us. Whether we’re at work or school or at the store, or interacting with our neighbors – and we put our hope in God’s unfailing love – God delights in us.
One Christian comedian said, “I’d never heard anyone say that God likes me. I knew God loved me – I mean of course God loves me, God is love, I mean that’s sort of what God does! But I’d never heard that God likes me!” The idea that God likes us – delights in us – rejoices over us – that’s an amazing thought.
For a people such as the Ephesians who had been deprived of the knowledge of God’s love for so long, Paul’s greatest desire was that they would be filled to overflowing with the knowledge of God’s vast and abundant love – and delight in us.
Sleeping with Bread
There’s a story that comes to us from the time of World War 2, when thousands of children were orphaned and experienced starvation. Many of the children were rescued and placed in refugee camps. But, even though they now had plenty of food and were well cared for, many of the children could not fall asleep at night. They were afraid of waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing the workers did seemed to reassure them.
Finally someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a loaf of bread to hold at night. Holding their bread throughout the night, the children could finally sleep in peace, because all through the night the bread served as a reminder to the child that, ‘Today I ate, and tomorrow I will eat again.’”
To Know The Love Of Christ
Friends, the reality is that so many people in our world today – and often many of us as well – have been deprived of love, and are starving to know God’s love and affection. Maybe you’ve heard about God’s love through Christ, but you think that God could never love you because of who we are or what you’ve done. If that’s you, my prayer for you today is that you would know and experience the deep and abundant love of Christ – just how high and deep and wide it truly is!
This is one reason why we come together in worship each week – because we all need to be reminded of God’s love for us. This is why we learn and sing songs about God’s love, and why we memorize and study Scripture – so that we have something to hold onto when we experience the tests and trials of this life. This is why we participate together in times of prayer and fellowship as a congregation, why we take meals to those who are sick or to those who have experienced loss. It’s why we tend not just to the spiritual, but also to the physical needs of those in our church community – so that we can all know and be reminded of God’s love for us.
This is why also why our Food Pantry exists – not just to fill stomachs – but even moreso to demonstrate God’s abundant love in a practical, tangible way.
As we look at the world around us, it’s not hard to see that many people in our world today are starving for love. We see the lengths to which so many people go to gain attention, or companionship, or affirmation. And when people do find something that looks like love – whether it’s genuine or not – we see the lengths to which they go to hold on to it.
Like the 5,000 hungry people on the hillside near the sea of Galilee, like the Ephesian Christians, and like the orphans who had been deprived of food, our world is desperately in need of tangible reminders of God’s love for them.
Some people may never set foot in the doors of our church. But like Paul, we can pray for our friends and family members and neighbors and coworkers and classmates to know and experience the love of Christ – to know just how vast and high it is. To know that Jesus loves them so much that he stretched out his arms and died for them.
Maybe we can’t feed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish, but we can give an orphan a loaf of bread. We can ask God for opportunities to share God’s love with those around us in practical ways. Food is always a good place to start! Whether your culture values abundance, or quality, or presentation, I think in many ways the gesture of giving food to someone transcends culture. Maybe you can buy a coworker a cup of coffee and ask them how they’re doing. Maybe you can take the new neighbors a plate of cookies, or visit someone who is homebound. Perhaps you can share your snacks at school, or buy a meal for someone who is homeless. Whatever it is, whatever we have to offer, know that Jesus can multiply it to show his abundant love and affection.
God’s love for us is so high we can’t get over it, so low we can’t get under it, so wide we can’t get around it. We’ve experienced God’s love today, and we’ll experience God’s love again tomorrow. Amen.