9/9/2018 - Wild Wonder Fueled By Love - Ephesians 3:14-21

Wild Wonder Fueled By Love

Ephesians 3:14-21

Emmanuel Baptist Church, Rev. Kathy Donley

September 9, 2018

Kaitlin Curtice is a citizen of the Potawatomi Citizen Band Nation. The Potawatomi people originally lived in the Great Lakes region, until they were forcibly removed to what is now eastern Kansas.  Kaitlin is  Native American and Christian, and she often has to defend that dual identity.  To some white Christians, she is too Native.  Some Native people question how she can embrace the religion of the colonizers, the oppressors.  She certainly recognizes that the Bible was used to control and manipulate, to support the goals of greed and Christian empire which led to great suffering and trauma for her people.  But she also says that the true way of Jesus, the way of prayer and nonviolence, is a path that indigenous people have been following for a long time.  I heard Kaitlin speak this summer.  One thing she said that stuck with me was this “Christianity was meant to be a display of wild wonder fueled by love.” 

She imagines the people of God, living our day-to-day lives, finding glory in the ordinary, drawing on the power of the deep, deep love of Jesus.  She says that history often repeats itself, but it doesn’t have to.  We can imagine a better path.  And if we can imagine it, then we can start to live it.

This idea comes out in a slightly different way in the letter to the Ephesians.  We do not know much about the original recipients of this letter, but it seems that they include a number of Gentiles who have recently been welcomed into  the Christian faith.  (Ephesians 2:11-13)  We could say that this letter is an attempt to help them understand how to live into that role, how to imagine themselves as God’s own people.  

In the verses that we read, two in particular stand out for me. 

Verses 18-19 say,   “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Bible scholar Pheme Perkins says “Ephesians is not concerned with knowledge in terms of human minds stretched to their limits in apprehending the creator or with cosmological speculation but with the experience of the love of Christ …” [1]

Her idea then, is that we cannot comprehend the dimensions of this love apart from experience.  We don’t know this love intellectually.  We know it experientially.  We begin to comprehend this love when we receive it or when we share it or when we allow it to be the fuel that sustains our lives. 

I suspect we can also experience it vicariously, that is through the stories of other people.  So let me invite you to open your imagination as wide as you can and enter into some of the height and length and depth and breadth of this love.

Imagine this love as the power that deliberately nurtures children as individuals and cares for the elderly with dignity and respect.  It strives for  healthy relationships with people of all ages. It is the compassion of a friend keeping vigil at a hospital or hospice bed so that a loved one will not die alone. This love tutors other people’s children and makes sure the food pantry is stocked for hungry strangers and visits those in prison.  It is the daily fidelity to marriage vows and other significant commitments which turn out to be both more difficult and more joyful than anticipated.  It is also the passion of an activist with a protest sign or in handcuffs who refuses to let injustice and suffering become normal.  It is found in the bonds between the most unlikely people, and between humans and animals, and, I believe, in the bonds between some animals as well.  This love is the boldness that welcomes the stranger, champions the underdog, embraces the refugee, and summons the courage to change minds, hearts and behaviors. 

Do you remember Yusra Mardini?  She was a swimmer from Syria on the Refugee Team at the Olympics in 2016.  Until the war in Syria, she swam in her hometown of Damascus with the support of the Syrian Olympic Committee. When the war came, she kept training, even when bombs destroyed the roofs over her swimming pools.  Finally, at 18 years old, she fled with her sister Sarah, travelling through Lebanon and Turkey before trying for Greece. 

They set off in a boat meant for 6 people, but carrying 20.  Thirty minutes out on the Aegean Sea, the motor began to fail. Yusra, her sister Sarah, and two others jumped into the sea and swam, pulling the boat in open water, eventually reaching Greece.  They were the only ones on board who knew how to swim.  The other two swimmers eventually gave up, exhausted.  Yusra said,  “I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm. It was three and half hours in cold water. Your body is almost like … done. I don’t know if I can describe that.”[2]

Can we try to imagine what Yusra and Sarah did?  We might call it strength, grit, determination, endurance, stubbornness.  Or we might call it love  -- love of self, love of neighbor, love of life in all its fullness.  A power that tapped reserves of strength Yusra and Sarah did not even know they possessed.  Imagine with me the incomprehensible love of Christ which is like that.

Remember earlier this summer when a soccer team and their coach were trapped in a cave in Thailand?  I told you then that I could not watch that story because of my claustrophobia.  But now that they are safely out, I went  back to learn more.

Nine days after being trapped, the boys were located by a British diving team.  Only one boy spoke English, limiting their communication.  The next day, seven Thai Navy Seals, including a doctor, made the 6 hour journey to the boys, bringing supplies.  Four of them, including the doctor, stayed with them underground for the rest of their time in the cave.  They were the very last to exit.

The international rescue effort involved more than 10,000 people, including over 100 divers, representatives from about 100 governmental agencies, 900 police officers and 2,000 soldiers, and required ten police helicopters, seven police ambulances, more than 700 diving cylinders, and the pumping of more than a billion liters of water out of the caves.[3]

The soccer team was trapped about 2 ½ miles from the entrance, at the end of what one diver called an underground obstacle course of rocky chambers, half-flooded canals and fully submerged sections.  One of those fully submerged sections was 350 meters, which is longer than a football field, and the water was so muddy, he said it was like “swimming in coffee.”[4]   There were extremely narrow passages; the smallest was 15” x 28”. 

On the way out of the cave they spent at least 3 hours submerged in water, with one rescue diver accompanying each boy, but that was not the entire journey.  For the last part, hundreds of volunteers stood along the treacherous path.  Each boy was sedated in a stretcher, so these volunteers slid and/or carried him, passing him from one volunteer to the next, until they reached the entrance which was about an hour away.

The dimensions of Christ’s love are beyond my comprehension.  So is the scope of the international cooperation that saved the lives of 13 people, and received the sacrifice of one diver who died early on.  If we had the right instruments, the height, width, breadth and depth of Christ’s love might somehow be measured in the persistence of the original searchers and the skill of divers and the narrowness of passages and the courage of the soccer team and the frustration of language barriers and the thickness of the muddy water and the weeks spent underground and the dedication of those who pumped out water and attempted to drill through the mountain and the fervor of so many all over the world who were praying for them. 

The professional divers advised the Thai governor on rescue options.  He asked about the likelihood that this plan would succeed. One American military diver said that he expected that they would save 60-70 percent of the boys.  In other words, he predicted that 3 or 4 or 5 boys might die.[5]  What a terrible responsibility to make this decision.  And yet, this love was not paralyzed by fear.  This love took deliberate, coordinated, strategic action.

And great was the joy when the team and their coach and all their rescuers made it out alive.  Some might have called it “a wild wonder fueled by love.”

It is hard to measure this immeasurable love of Christ for lots of reasons, one of which is of course that it is invisible.  We cannot see the internal process behind the love.  We only believe that it is there because of the caring, sharing, and trusting, that we witness.  And so I’d like to imagine one more dimension of this love, which is maybe closer to that internal process. 

I’m thinking of a man named Desmond Doss.  He was a Seventh Day Adventist Christian from Virginia.  He took the commandment “thou shalt not kill” very seriously, believing that even in combat, killing was against the will of God.  World War II was happening and Doss wanted to serve his country, so he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps as a noncombatant.  Because of his conscientious objector status boot camp was difficult.   He was threatened and harassed. Many of the other recruits threw shoes at him while he prayed, and they tried to have him transferred out of their unit.  His commanding officers also thought he was a liability.  They tried unsuccessfully to have him court-martialed. 

He was assigned to an infantry rifle company.  They marched into machine gun fire in Guam and the Philippines and Okinawa, and he never carried a weapon.  In late April 1945, 26-year-old Doss and his battalion were repeatedly trying to capture an escarpment, which they called Hacksaw Ridge.  They had secured the top of the cliff, when suddenly enemy forces rushed them.  Officers ordered an immediate retreat.  Soldiers rushed to climb back down the steep cliff.  Less than one-third of them made it.  The rest lay wounded, scattered across enemy soil, abandoned or left for dead.  Doss disobeyed orders and charged back to rescue as many as he could.  Over the span of several hours, Doss treated the injured and, one by one, dragged them to the edge of the cliff and lowered them to safety in a rope sling.  After each successful delivery, he reportedly prayed, “Dear God, let me get just one more man.”  By nightfall, he had rescued 75 soldiers, including many of those who had labelled him a coward.  When the war was over, the captain who had wanted Doss out of his unit said, "He was one of the bravest persons alive, and then to have him end up saving my life was the irony of the whole thing,"  Doss was awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the Medal of Honor, all without ever harming another human being.[6]

This section of Ephesians begins with a prayer that God will grant “strength in your inner being with power through the Spirit.”  Private Doss had that kind of inner strength which enabled him to live out his convictions with honor and courage and integrity.  He could imagine a way of life in which Christians did not kill.  And what he imagined, he lived out.

Our worship theme for the month invites us to “Imagine the People of God”.  It shouldn’t require much effort to believe that we are those people.  We know that is our calling; that’s why we’re here.  It is beyond our comprehension to grasp the full depth and weight and power of Christ’s love, but let’s imagine any way.  Imagine what would happen if we spent our lifetimes in the awareness of the extravagance of Christ’s love.  What if we entered every situation, grounded in that love, confident in our inner beings of the presence of God’s Spirit, filled with the fullness of God?   I think, if we tried to do that, we might come to know a wild wonder fueled by love.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Pheme Perkins, New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XI, (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2000), p. 415-416.

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/yusra-mardini-rio-2016-olympics-womens-swimming-the-syrian-refugee-competing-in-the-olympics-who-a7173546.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tham_Luang_cave_rescue

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3NB9-x8itY

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3NB9-x8itY

[6] https://www.army.mil/article/183328/pfc_desmond_doss_the_unlikely_hero_behind_hacksaw_ridge