Paul’s Prayer for the Church
There are a lot of celebrations going on this weekend. Graduation parties. Mother’s Day brunches. Confirmation receptions. Events such as these give people an opportunity to visit with each other, and enjoy each other’s company. These are pleasant social gatherings, usually.
Ever had someone you don’t like very much show up at one of these gatherings? It’s awkward. Our enjoyment is taken down a notch. Our peace is disturbed.
Sunday Morning worship is also a celebration, and in a way it is a congenial social gathering. Certainly the Passing of the Peace helps to create that type of mood here, I think you would agree. At some churches people pass the peace by staying in the pew and shaking hands with the people around them. Not here. We get out into the aisle, we walk around and try to greet as many people as we can. With so much energy in the room, it’s the high point of worship. Skipping this part of the worship service would be disturbing.
The Letter to the Ephesians is written while Paul is in prison for disturbing the peace. Paul is guilty of this crime. He is not the victim of a false accusation. Paul did indeed travel all over the Roman Empire sharing news that disturbed quiet, orderly communities.
Think of Paul’s peace-disturbing news this way-- Paul is inviting your worst enemy to Sunday Morning worship. Paul is forcing their company on you. Paul expects you to pass the peace of Christ to this person
We thought of church as a pleasant, congenial space where we feel accepted and valued. We are having fun and enjoying ourselves, and then Paul comes along and ruins it for us. He is making us face a part of our life-- a conflict, a betrayal, a rejection-- and he is challenging us to set the peace of Christ to work in that situation.
What if, horror of horrors, Paul is making us face the fact that we are our own worst enemy?
Paul’s prayer for the church is that we would know the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love. But along with that love comes the awareness of the breadth, length, height, and depth of humanity’s lack of love.
Paul writes from experience. He knows the breadth, length, height, and depth of human depravity. He is in prison awaiting execution. He has been put in this predicament by his enemies. And yet even with a death sentence hanging over him, he can still write beautiful and moving letters to the Church that are so full of hope. Paul has experienced the fullness of divine love and that love sustains him through the worst that people can do to him. Nothing can disturb the peace he has found in Christ.
This is Paul’s prayer for the church. He wants every member of the church to have the same peace-sustaining experience that he enjoys and then he wants them to share that experience with those inside and outside of the church.
Will God answer Paul’s prayer? I’d say the chances are good. Consider the news from this week. Martha Mullen, a member of a United Methodist church in Richmond, VA felt motivated to put her faith in action. She found a cemetery 30 miles North of her home that was willing to bury one of the Boston bombers. It took some effort to coordinate with Muslim religious leaders, the bomber’s family, the funeral home, and the police, but she persevered.
Martha has received a lot of criticism for getting involved in this situation and helping out the bomber’s family. She takes comfort in knowing that she acted in accordance with her faith. Jesus said we are to love our enemies and Martha believes in Jesus. The peace of Christ bears her up even as critics tear her down.
You are somewhere enjoying yourself and then an enemy appears. I suggest praying like Paul in that moment. “God help me to know the breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love.” See if you can sense the love of Christ reaching out to that person even though your love does not, cannot, will not. Sometimes I imagine my enemies in a bubble of divine love. That usually helps to restore my peace of mind . . . somewhat.
I haven’t tried it when the enemy upsetting me is me. When I’m forced to confront the fact that I am my own worst enemy. Maybe the next time that happens I can imagine encasing that aspect of myself in a bubble of divine love, and see how that makes me feel, see if I feel more at peace.
I’d love to hear what helps you in such moments.