William F. Schnell
July 26, 2009
Woody Allen used to joke that he had been thrown out of college for cheating on a metaphysical exam. He confessed that he had looked into the soul of the fellow sitting next to him. Today the joke is on us. There are peephole cameras that can catch a celebrity sports announcer undressing in her hotel room, an internet that allows the whole world to watch her doing it, a Global Positioning Satellite that enables your boss to know where you and your company car are at any given moment, an X-ray machine that can see through your suitcase and, the final indignity, something called Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging that enables others to read your mind.
Well, in a rudimentary way for now at least. This machine, under controlled conditions, can tell from a brain scan which of two images you are looking at, whether you are thinking of a face or an animal and which finger you are thinking of moving. All of a sudden it is conceivable that a machine could one day be designed to read our minds in a more refined and telling way. There might even be a remote machine the size of an Ipod that would allow you to sit in the congregation and read my mind.
The thought is mortifying for a fellow like me who has a spiritual public persona which may not be a true reflection of my inner being at the moment. Indeed I have a million illustrations flooding through my mind right now, none of which I have the slightest intention of sharing with you. But if you had this little gizmo, you could read my mind and know what I was thinking on the inside. Further, if you had the deluxe model, you might even discover some things going on inside of me that escaped my conscious attention altogether.
When I was a student chaplain at Grant Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, my supervisor was a seasoned Chaplain named Herman Knodt. He always used to ask me how I was feeling. I would tell him what I was thinking at the moment, and he would respond, "I didnít ask you what you were thinking but how you were feeling." And he would keep prodding until I said something like, "I am feeling annoyed because you keep asking me that." And he would say, "Excellent, now we are getting somewhere."
Hermann taught me that we are feeling things virtually all the time. Feelings are never right or wrong, the just are. They may be based upon wrong understandings, but the best way to clarify the wrong understandings is to first become clear about our feelings. Maybe we feel that somebody has slighted us in some way. We can get the dirty dog back, or we can tell that person that they have bruised our feelings and discover that maybe we misread a statement or situation entirely.
Getting in touch with our inner feelings is useful stuff after you get past the annoying part. Hermann Knodt was a genius when it came to helping people get in touch with inner feelings. It was as if he had a super-deluxe mind-reading I-pod which could reach deep into the inner workings of a person that even the person in question was not aware of most of the time. It begins to make you wonder just how deep your inner being really is.
The title of our message is: "Empowering Your Inner Being." It is the third in a series of four sermons from Paulís letter to the Ephesians, which was really an encyclical letter addressed to Christians in general throughout the region of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital. The first message, entitled "Chosen," was about how Gentiles (or non-Jews) could be included among the Chosen People of God through Christ. While this was great news for Gentiles, it did create a little tension with some of the original Jewish coverts to Christianity who preferred to keep this distinction for themselves.
Paul sought to defuse that tension by showing how dying to such ego claims was a small price to pay for the surpassing peace it achieved not only between us, but between us and the Father of us all. The title of that message was, "Dying for Peace." It was a message about cross bearing (dying to self), but also a message about resurrection to something new and better (peace with God and others). Now that Paul has explained how God in Christ has taken the two (Jew and Gentile) and made them one (Christian), he offers a prayer for this new, expanded, inclusive family of faith.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Verses 14-17). Paul is talking about God "Empowering Your Inner Being." The Greek word translated here as "power" is dynamis, from which we get the word "dynamite." Paul is talking about serious power here.
I think most of us are fascinated by displays of human power. I must confess to a certain fascination with pugilism, whether inside the boxing ring or inside the octagon. I know some of you are not going to get that, any more than I get beauty pageants. But believe me, both of these activities are displays of physical power in their own way. The other day I think I was putting Nancy to sleep with a monologue about who would have prevailed in a boxing match between Muhammad Ali in his prime and Mike Tyson in his prime (recognizing that both might have fallen to the likes of Jack Dempsey).
Ultimately we will never know because Mike Tyson is, among other things, hopelessly out of shape and over the hill; and Muhammad Ali is so debilitated with Parkinsonís disease that he can no longer speak--a disease with clear links to multiple head traumas by the way. Physical power fades just as surely as does physical beauty. Some of us may defy the odds for a time, but ultimately our physical attributes go the way of all flesh.
Paul alluded to that in the text which is quoted at the top of our bulletin. He said, Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day. Just because the outer person is wasting away does not mean that the inner person is doing likewise. Quite the contrary he continues, For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (II Corinthians 4:16-17). Paul is not diminishing the tough times we have to go through as light and momentary. But for a person of faith, those tough times can achieve an eternal glory that is not worth the comparison.
In the past, I have offered devotions at residential facilities for those suffering with Alzheimerís disease. You might wonder what point there is preaching to a bunch of people who have no conception of what you are saying (which hopefully is not the case here). But I would preach to them anyway, just like I will talk with comatose patients in the hospital because who knows what is going on inside that person at that moment. But I one thing I do know from personal experience is this: when I stop preaching and the piano begins playing at that Alzheimerís facility, some of those folks steeped in the faith will begin singing. The sacred songs come up from somewhere inside them. They may not be able to carry on a conversation, but they can sing a testimony of faith.
Sometimes when an Arlyn Hettinger or a Lynn Potter from our church choir became non-responsive prior to their passing from this world, a few of their fellow choir members would sit by their bedsides and sing the beloved hymns of faith they have known and loved. On the outside things looked pretty discouraging, but maybe on the inside their light and momentary troubles had already ended and the sacred singing was carrying them aloft to an eternal glory that far outweighed them all.
There are some things I am discovering that I can no longer do that I used to do. I can no longer hoe weeds all day in the hot sun. I can no longer read from my Bible with the small print without glasses (although a memorial gift will change that soon). I can no longer be sure where I parked my car unless I first register its location in my distracted mind. I am always discovering new things I used to do that I can no longer do. But there are other things I am discovering I can do that I used to not be able to do.
When a friendís wife unexpectedly died three weeks after her retirement as an educator, I knew what to do for that fellow in the days and weeks and months it is taking him to enter back into the life God created him to have and that his late wife desired him to have. I donít think that is a capacity that I am going to lose over time like I expect to lose muscle mass or eyesight or short-term memory. I think that is a powerful God-given grace.
How powerful? Well, sometimes it surprises me to hear it from folks like that widower when, on multiple occasions, their eyes well up as they try to find the right words to say "thank you." I always feel a little awkward at moments like that, knowing how little I actually do. But it is not really about what we do, it is about Godís power at work within us. This is a spiritual gift that can actually grow and develop with the advancing years when attention is paid to empowering the interior life with the opportunities, strength and light of understanding God continually provides.
For this Paul prays as our text continues. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgeóthat you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Verses 17-19). Being rooted and established in love is the key to empowering your inner being. It is the key to being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. It is the key to having Godís power at work within us.
Our Workcampers did not go to Clare, Michigan to make a killing in the construction trades. What do they know about the construction business? When was the last time they picked up a hammer or saw or paintbrush or calk gun? How much could they accomplish when half of them came down with the flu? But they went in love to help meet a need where God had sent them. And Godís power was at work within them and they accomplished great things.
How do we know? Because a local news channel went to cover their work and the impact it had upon one needy family. We can only play the sound right now, but I can give you the website where you can watch the video that goes with the sound and you will see and hear several familiar faces from The Church in Aurora (play recording). That last interviewee was my son, Jim Bob. I guess Godís power isnít just at work within pastors, but within anyone who is rooted and established in love.
That also means that anyone so rooted and established can be empowered on the inside in ways that will not fade or fail with the advancing years like physical strength or outward beauty. This past week I got a call from my second cousin once removed, Nolan Yoder, who is a member of the Aurora Mennonite Church. He is getting on in years, but still looks for ways to remain rooted and established in love. He is looking for a wheelchair accessible van to help transport a local Aurora man to the Cleveland Clinic to visit his wife who is a patient there. Isnít that a loving thing to do? Nolan is a loving and humble manóa man who will always know the deep and abiding respect of his family, church family and community.
Maybe you can help Nolan in this loving act by helping him locate a wheelchair accessible van. Maybe you can support our Workcampers in their loving acts by contributing to their fundraisers in the year ahead. Maybe you can yoke yourself with one of the myriad ministries of The Church in Aurora that will keep you rooted and established in love so that Godís power can work in youóempowering your inner being.
I conclude with the words Paul uses to conclude our text: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen (Verses 20-21).