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Good morning! I wanted to start this morning by asking you a question. How many of you like to know how a book or movie ends before you even get to the end? Have you ever flipped to the back of a mystery thriller or a romance novel to find out what happens in the end after reading the first two chapters? Or maybe you are one of those who hates it when someone discloses the ending of a movie before you watch it? Well, I don’t like it when people tell me the ending of a movie before I watch it but I confess that I sometimes flip to the end of a book to see how it ends. Sometimes, if the ending is too depressing, I may not want to read it. J
What about our lives? Have you ever wondered what the ending will be like? I don’t mean the actual way you are going to die, although I’m sure many of us have wondered about that before. What I mean is how is your life going to end? What kind of life would you have lived? Would you die with any regrets or would you have lived a full and fulfilling life? Last week, we had our women’s (or rather our 我们)retreat and our theme was “Living Our Best Lives”. We had a really fun and meaningful time and I just wanted to thank you all for your prayers and support. One of the reflection exercises that I invited the participants to do was to write their eulogy. I asked them:
1) Who are the significant people at your funeral?
2) How are people describing your life?
3) How are people describing you?
4) What do they remember you for?
5) What impact have you left on them?
The reason I did this exercise with them was because one of the best ways to have clarity about our present and future choices and actions is to picture the end. What kind of life would you have wanted to live? What kind of impact or legacy do you want to leave behind? This is an important question because it determines how we live our lives now.
In the same vein, how you ever wondered what the end is going to be like? I mean in the big picture, what kind of ending is God envisioning for our world, for our universe? How will that story end? Will good triumph over evil? Or will evil reign supreme? Is good going to win out afterall? What is the ending that God promises us?
Well, Jesus promised his followers three things. First, our lives will not be easy. Second, we will never be alone. Third, in the end, all will be well. In the end, all will be well. But all is not well NOW…right? So how does God make things right? How will God make all things well? The word in the Bible for putting this right is ‘judgement’. Unfortunately, the word ‘judgement’ conjures up all kinds of negative images. We think of hell, fire, condemnation and punishment. But in biblical times, good judges did more than condemn or punish. They worked to set things right, to restore balance, harmony and well-being. Their justice was restorative, not just punitive. The final goal of judgement was to curtail or convert all that was evil so that good would be free to run wild. That is the goal of true justice. To restore balance, harmony and well-being so that good will be free to run wild.
Unfortunately, it’s true that we don’t often see this kind of justice taking place right now, so some of us lose hope and get disheartened. Some of us wonder if God cares or if God is able to make things right? I understand that feeling. Some of us lose faith in a just and loving God when we see the evil around us. We wonder if at final judgement, good will eventually win out? McLaren says, “Final judgement, or final restoration, means that God’s universe arcs toward universal repentance, universal reconciliation, universal purification, universal “putting wrong things right”.
So how is God making wrong things right? Is it already happening? Well, yes. If you have ever felt God’s purifying fire at work in your life, then you know the Spirit of God is already in the process of making wrong things right. Not just in our personal lives but in our universe. Fire is often depicted as an instrument of torture but it is far better understood as an instrument of purification. Let’s look at how Paul describes this purifying fire in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NLT)
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28 (NIV)
24 Then the end will come, when he (Christ) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
“Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value.” God’s purifying fire can’t consume “gold, silver and precious stones” because in so doing, God would be destroying something good. So God’s purifying fire is at work to only destroy what is hypocritical, selfish, evil, unjust and keep whatever is of value. Fire is meant to purify so that what is of value is uncovered. And what does Paul say about the end? The end will come. Everything bad and evil, including death will be destroyed. And God will be all in all.
So if we flip our books to read the ending, that is our answer.
Ultimately, God will be all in all and all will be well.
So what does that mean for us? Does that bring you some kind of peace and comfort? I hope so. But what do we do in the meantime? Do we just sit back and wait for the ending? Is there a role for us to play? How do we contribute to this amazing ending? Interestingly, one of our lectionary passages for today connects really well with this chapter by McLaren. And I wanted us to spend some time looking at this together.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NET Bible)
Prayer for Strengthened Love
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. 16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Is this passage familiar to you? This is actually one of my favourite prayers in the Bible and I thought I was quite familiar with it. But as I was reading and reflecting on this passage over the past week, I came across an idea that I wasn’t aware of before. I used to think the main crux of this prayer was for us to KNOW and comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love so that we may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Amen. J But no, it doesn’t just stop there. The crux of this prayer actually lies in verse 20. “Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think…”
This was a prayer for us to KNOW and DO. It is not just about God doing or accomplishing things apart from us. It is about God working within us to do far beyond all that we ask or think. It’s not just God doing. It’s us doing the doing as well. So the main crux of this prayer is for us to come to the place where the power of God within us is helping us do things that exceed our imagination. That’s the point. How many of us are at this place already? Maybe for some of us a little bit, maybe for some of us not at all. So how can we come to that place where the power of God within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think?
If you look carefully, you will see that this prayer is a sequence of progression. First, Paul prays that we will be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner person, that we will be rooted and grounded in love, so that we will comprehend the height and depth of Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that we will be filled up to all the fullness of God. So that ultimately, God’s power at work within us can accomplish far more than we ask or think. We KNOW and DO.
I was thinking what example I could use to help us really understand this. And I was reminded that the sequence of progression in this prayer is like electricity. In order to use electricity, the electricity must first be flowing. And in order to use electricity, you must plug into the electricity. You can know all kinds of things about electricity and how it works. You can even teach about electricity but if you are not plugged in, there is no power flowing through. Then, after you are plugged in, you must turn on the appliance. Even if the electricity is flowing, nothing is accomplished if the appliance is not turned on. Electricity is like the power of God’s Spirit. It is there and available to each of us. When you are plugged in, the power of God flows through you. Then, you need to take the step and put things into action. You need to KNOW and DO.
Now this power that we are talking about is not just any power. There are a number of Greek words that are translated into the word “power” in the English Bible. In Greek, there is a clear difference between kratos (krat’-os), energeia (en-erg’-i-ah), ischus (is-khoos’), dunamis…but in English, these words are often just translated as “power” or “strength”.
The word power in Ephesians 3 is dunamis and dunamis is the ultimate word for power! Dunamis means miraculous power, the power to achieve through applying God’s inherent abilities. It is power through God’s ability. This word is used 120 times in the NT. It is the ultimate power that comes from God. That is the power Paul is talking about when he prays for the Ephesians and that is the power I am praying for you today.
So what’s the ending that we can look forward to? Will good triumph over evil? Will God make all things right? Well, we know that in the end:
God will be all in all and all will be well.
In the meantime, what kind of life do you want to live? What will the end of your life be like? Can you picture the end in order to make the right choices now? I encourage you to plug into the power of the Spirit of God, to know the height and depth of Christ’s love, to be filled up to the fullness of God, to experience what it’s like to be empowered to do amazing things. That is the point. We are given agape and dunamis so that through God’s power working within us, we will accomplish far beyond what we ask or imagine.
Allow me to close by praying for you using the words of this prayer:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father and Mother, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. 16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power (dunamis) through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love (agape), 18 you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love (agape) of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
20 Now to her who by the power (dunamis) that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 21 to her be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.