A sermon preached at the Antioch Christian Church, Vienna, VA from Ephesians 3:14-21
Surrender—it’s a word that’s defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as verb that means to give control or use of (something) to someone else.
And I have to tell you that it’s not one of my favorite words.
Oh, I love verbs that are the opposite of surrender. I like verbs that ask a lot less change of me. Verbs like defend, hold, keep and continue.
Because isn’t it pleasant and peaceful when things stay the same?
Isn’t it pleasant when we can take our cues from the warm and fuzzy feelings of routine? It is!
But is this the way of Jesus? Does following Jesus mean that everything stays the same?
When I was 17, I signed up for my first long-term mission trip through my church’s denomination. Once accepted into the program for high school students, I received my assignment in the mail: I’d serve in children’s ministry in Charleston, SC for six weeks.
While my first thought was: “Wow, a summer serving God and working with children in a town close to the beach—what could be better than this?”
The reality I met on the first day was much harsher.
Charleston was 7 hours away from my hometown of Chattanooga, TN. I would not be close driving distance to family and friends if I got homesick. So goodbye familiar.
Our team was big—over 50 students serving with Charleston Outreach —so we’d be crammed into 2 bedroom apartments with only one bathroom. So goodbye privacy.
The hours—we’d be working from 6:30 am in the morning till sometimes 8 pm at night sometimes without breaks in between. So goodbye sleep.
And, there was little time for the beach either.
The first weeks of the summer, I cried every day in the closet to either my mother or grandmother begging them to send care packages (sad, but true!). But I quickly learned that a re-adjustment in attitude was needed if I was going to experience God’s gifts for me from the summer.
And it all started with the word surrender.
I would have to surrender to the fact that the cereal that my housemates bought was not the kind my mother bought at home and I liked.
I would have to surrender how often I could wear clean clothes— because we only got to the laundry mat every 10 days or so.
I would have to surrender to my teammate’s preferences and ideas about how we would lead our Vacation Bible Schools each morning. Sometimes, we wouldn’t sing the songs or do the crafts I wanted to do.
Telling you all about this now sounds a little bit petty now but at the time, it was a big deal. Little things are a big deal, aren’t they?
But, my team was together in common purpose after all: to share the love of Jesus to all those we met. We all believed Jesus brought us together. And like Jesus we regularly reminded ourselves: “Not my will by thy be done.”
If you’ve ever had an experience of discomfort with something you feel God has called you to do like I did that summer (and in many other situations since), then you’ll understand exactly the spirit of the epistle lesson before us this morning. The writer of the book of Ephesians offers a glimpse into his prayer life for the church in Ephesus.
And it also begins with the concept of surrender.
Beginning in Ephesians 3 verse 14 what we hear is a break from the theological teaching found earlier in the book. And instead we hear a corporate prayer offered on behalf of the congregation.
It’s a prayer much like the pastoral prayer we heard offered this congregation every Sunday.
It’s a prayer of that speaks to the identity of why the congregation exists.
It begins with this visual: “I bow my knees before the Father.”
And what an extraordinary beginning this was to the prayer.
Though it sounds normal to us—when we think prayer, we think kneeling– such wasn’t to the congregation who first heard it.
For the first century readers the custom of prayer as a physical bowed act was not normal. For example, if we go back to Jesus’ encounters with the religious folks in the gospels, we will notice that men and women in Jesus’ time all prayed standing up.
So begin with these words, “I bow my knees before the Father” was a huge teachable moment.
Though God is not concerned with the outward appearance, the Ephesian writer was saying how we carry ourselves outwardly has a lot to do with what we expect on the inside.
So he says boldly, “I bow my knees before the Father.”
Or in other words: start here—God is God and you are not.
And the prayer begins with beautiful words about the real heart of the journey of faith.
Or, more specifically what you and I are asked to do on this journey.
It’s hard to get through the rest of this prayer—as it reads like one long run-on sentence depending on the translation you are using, but let me boil it down for you.
Surrender your life to Jesus. It’s simple but oh so profound!
And the writer gives us this description of what the surrender will look like when it occurs.
First, Christ will strengthen and dwell in hearts. And second, the Christ will root and ground the congregation in love.
For to know Christ is to know love, to be love and to share love.
Love, love, love. As simple as it is, it all goes back to love in this text.
But I tell you, it’s not the kind of love that we somehow will up or make ourselves have. No, it’s the literal living and abiding presence of Jesus in us that this text says the Christian life is all about.
For none of us can have our hearts rooted and ground in love if it does not come from Jesus first.
God asks us to surrender our will, our desires for our life, and our best laid plans to the work that Jesus longs to do in us. It’s not just churchy talk, it’s the truth!
I’m sure you’ll notice throughout the text the frequency of the word “you” and “your.” We know from grammar class, that these are singular words. But when we go back to the original Greek, what we realize is that “you” comes from the plural. It’s more like in English “we.”
Or for any southerners you could just insert “y’all” or for notherners “you guys.” And you’ll be at the right spot.
“I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that [we] may be strengthened.”
Or in other words—this is exhortation in prayer for the entire gathered community. No one is off the hook.
One of my favorite heroes of the Christian faith that I’ve loved since childhood is Corrie Ten Boom.
If you are unfamiliar with Corrie’s story—she’s a woman from Holland who reached young adulthood during the Second World War. Corrie, along with her father and sister Bestie hid Jews in their home to keep them from arrest and death at the hands of the Nazis. They did so out of a strong sense of a faith calling.
Corrie knew that to be a follower of Jesus meant always to stand up for those mistreated or in danger. Always.
All went well until the day when it was discovered what Corrie and her family were doing. The German solders stormed Corrie, Bestie and their father’s house arrested them, and sent them to a concentration camp. Though Mr. ten Boom did not survive in the camps. Corrie and Bestie braved the test well until an illness took Bestie’s life only days before Corrie was released.
There was no dearer person in Corrie’s life than her sister Bestie and you can imagine how devastating the loss was to her. But as Corrie emerged from prison she knew that God gave her a story to tell and share with any who would listen.
In 1947, in Munich, Germany Corrie found herself in a church sharing a testimony that God forgives and that she’d forgiven those that had brought harm on her and her sister’s life.
It was here that she met face to face with Jesus’ calling of surrender—to a person rooted and grounded in love.
She was standing at the door shaking hands with people as they left the church when she saw him. She saw the man who was one of the guards who supervised and tortured her and Bestie at the camps.
And before she even had time to escape her horrid memories, the former guard spoke to her: “Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein [you gave tonight]! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
Corrie knew she’d just preached on forgiveness and that this man was a beloved child of God as much as she was, deserving of love. What on earth would she say next?
But before she could muster a word, the guard went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ [putting his hand out]—’will you forgive me?’
Corrie knew that if she truly believed that her life belonged to Jesus, there would be only one reply she could give—
Corrie said this is what happened to her next: “And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”
This, my friends is what surrendering to Jesus’ presence in our lives is all about. Loving the unlovable. Forgiving the unforgiveable. Abiding in grace with those who persecute us.
And what’s the result when we do surrender?
We only need to keep reading in our text a little bit longer to know.
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine, to him to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Do you hear this?
For when you and I surrender to God—as this prayer hopes we will—then we are going to live into a life that is beyond what we can imagine.
I’ll tell you that I never imagined when I was 17 on my first mission trip that one day God would call me to pastor and opportunities to travel the world and preach the gospel—but Jesus did.
I’ll tell you that I bet Corrie ten Boom never imagined that God’s love would call her to hid persecuted persons in her home, go to prison for her decisions and then share a powerful word of forgiveness with the world through books and speaking—but Jesus did.
And, I’ll tell you that when God led your founders to birth a congregation called Antioch Christian Church many years ago that they would have never imagined the ministry of love that God would be calling it to in just a time as this in 2015—but Jesus did.
When we surrender our lives, to Jesus, my friends and Christ truly abides in our hearts, we’re always on the move.
Our lives are always going to be led to places where Christ can strength us and challenge us to BE the GOOD NEWS to those who need to hear it.
So may we start this morning with one word: surrender.