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09.02.18 God’s Love and Ours Ephesians 3.5-6, 14-20 Sermon Summary

by on September 12, 2018

Today we look at how God overcomes a universal and destructive human tendency through a universal divine attribute. This is the final installment of the Hymns of Faith (Presbyterian Church) series. For three months we’ve explored mostly well-known hymns in order to gain a deeper experience and appreciation of their biblical roots and theology.

You can search recent sermons which covered such topics as:

  • Greatness of God’s faithfulness (June 10)
  • The solidity of Christ as our Foundation (July 1)
  • Joy of worshiping the Creator (July 22)
  • Assurance of God’s ongoing work in our lives (August 5)
  • How every moment is sacred in God’s hands (August 12)
  • What it means to be saved by the Spirit (August 19)
  • How God sustains our souls (August 26)

It is a universal human tendency to fear limits. In recent decades the business world has referred to this as the “scarcity mentality,” or “zero-sum thinking.” It is the perception that there is only so much to go around, and if one person has some, it means others have less.

This is a destructive attitude because it breeds hoarding, facilitates exploitation, and causes generalized fear and anxiety.

Are there limits? Of course there are. But there are far fewer limits than we fear. The only way to discover true limits is by challenging the notion of scarcity. Business writers offer the contrast of an “abundance mentality.” In words from the church world, we’re talking about belief.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to faith not fear, to abundance not scarcity mentality. Jesus challenges the universal human tendency to fear limits, and he does so based on the divine attribute of creativity.

The Letter to the Ephesian Churches teaches this. There is no question God chose the Jews. That choice created an apparent limit. It seemed there was no way it could change. Over time this limit was reinforced by tradition, ritual, institutions, and perpetual antagonisms.

But then comes Jesus, a faithful Jew and an inclusive prophet. It took some decades, but eventually the tradition, ritual, institutions and antagonisms were re-read and interpreted differently. The discovery was that God HAD chosen some out of necessity, because God has in actuality chosen ALL.

Why does God choose all? Because all are beloved. Why are all beloved? Because all are created.

God’s greatness has always been recognized in creation. Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” In Christ God’s greatness was further recognized in salvation. This is what Ephesians saw, and what is demonstrated in today’s hymns.

In “How Great Thou Art”, the first two verses are dedicated to creation. “When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made . . . then sings my soul, how great Thou art!” Then verse three moves us beyond meditation on creation to comment also on God’s love. “When I think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, to take away my sin . . . then sings my soul, how great Thou art!” God’s love is demonstrated by the gift of Christ and evokes bewildered praise.

Finally, verse four projects this perspective into the future and throughout the cosmos with the image of Christ’s return. “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, I shall bow in humble adoration, and there proclaim, my God how great Thou art!”

This hymn like the Ephesians passage, challenges our limited thinking, our scarcity mentality. The greatness of God’s grace exceeds the limits set by sin. Non-Jews are included in the promise. The Great Creator of all is the Great Savior of all.

What do we do with passages of scripture that forecast damnation? See the postscript below.

“There is a wideness in God’s mercy,” our second hymn says, “like the wideness of the sea.” Across religious traditions, sea and sky are metaphors of infinity. God’s mercy is infinitely wide. It goes on to say that, “There is a kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty.” What means more to the pardoned than mercy? What is more than freedom? The answer is solidarity.

God’s salvation is more than a simple rescue operation. God actually came to us in Christ and remains with us in Spirit. “There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven,” because heaven has come to earth in Christ.

The hymn concludes rightly that, “the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind.” The natural mind imposes limits. It creates the scarcity mentality. It even tries to limit God—to the Jews, to the Christians, and to the Bible. But in Christ, Ephesians says, God’s election expands beyond Jews, beyond the limits of our mind. This is why the author prays for our “inner being” to comprehend that which surpasses knowledge, namely the love of Christ—the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love.

“Then sings my SOUL,” the other hymn agrees, because the mind lacks the capacity. Ephesians makes this prayer because as we grow in God’s love, we grow in our love for others, and we overcome the scarcity mentality.

The final hymn urges us: “If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s word, and our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord.” May we grow ever more in God’s love and fulfill Jesus’ command to love God . . . and our neighbors.


So what about those passages of scripture that forecast damnation for some? Does this contradict the greatness of God revealed by God’s salvation of all?

Such passages undeniably exist in both the newer and older testaments. Even so, not every passage to which one might point actually refers to eternal damnation. But some certainly do. How do we understand their presence in the Bible?

Some such passages may arise from a limited historical perspective. They were written before the revelation in Christ or before that revelation was fully understood.

Or it may be that those authors simply didn’t get it. They preferred to remain in the scarcity mentality despite the revelation in Christ. Never forget that the Bible was written by humans.

Many passages of damnation are actually rhetorical admonitions to ethical behavior. Most of Jesus’ words on the topic fall into this category. He really isn’t talking about the afterlife, but this life.

Could these passages damning some to eternal hell be true? I suppose. If God wants to create the world good and humans in the divine image and not save them all, who are we to protest?

But which God is greater? The god one who created all but could only save some? Or the one who manages to save all?


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