Text: Ephesians 3:14-19
Theme Verse: “And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.”(Ephesians 3:17)
How deep and wide is love? Most of us have claimed some measure of love. We know ‘ all the feels’ and we’ ve intellectually come to grips with what love means. Love in its purest form, however, can be quite elusive. At HACC, we feel that love is God’ s most essential building block to a full life in this world. Jesus demonstrated a love-on-the-spot connection to any and every one. Such a welcome was unheard of and often not palatable to many in religious establishments. How could one truly be loved as they are with no strings attached? Jesus displayed such love repeatedly. We strive to build our church on a love like that.
anthem : 'I Have Felt the Hand of God' (C.Courtney) - Chancel Choir; Kelly Ford, director
reader : Keenan Barnard
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
closing music : 'Your Love Is Enough' (J.Foreman) - Isaac Herbert, The Rising Band music leader
So no one told you life was going to be this way. Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, you’re love life’s DOA. It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear. Well, it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year. But… I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour. I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before. I’ll be there for you, cause you’re there for me too. Many of you in the house will recognize this song as the theme song to one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, “Friends.” It’s such a catchy song. It wasn’t the original theme when the Friends pilot was first produced. R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” was the first offering. It had the right sound but the Executive Producers were looking for some different lyrics. One of them, being a fan of the band, “The Rembrandts” reached out to them about helping them craft a song for the show. Thus, “I’ll Be There for You” – forever known as the Friend’s theme song – was born. Those same producers wanted so much to be a part of the song that they were – they are responsible for what may have been your favorite part of the song. In fact, let’s see if any of you can do that part this morning. When I stop, you fill in what happens in the song next: “So no one told you life was gonna be this way…” [claps]. 
Given that it’s Mother’s Day, I couldn’t help but offer a rebuttal to that first line of the song: “So no one told you life was going to be this way.” What about “Momma said there’d be days like this!”? Well, the Rembrandts note that very line in the lesser known second verse of the song. And many of our mother’s did warn us that some days would be tougher than others, that life wasn’t always fair, but she’d be there for us at the end of those days just like she was on the good ones. Happy Mother’s Day to our moms in the house today. We celebrate you and the many in our lives who have mothered us along the way. I recognize this is a day of mixed emotion for many. Just know that whether your mother is now part of the resurrection or your relationship is fractured or less than ideal or your mother is your best friend or you, as a mother, know the pain of loss or separation from your child – we hold all of that with you in a spirit of hope, healing, gratitude, forgiveness, and most certainly love. Whatever has brought you through our doors today to experience life with us in this hour, we’re glad you’re here and we honor whatever space you need to hold those things in this sanctuary today. What is church, after all, if not a place where we can be vulnerable before a God who calls us, “Beloved child.”
This will be our focus today as we launch a new sermon series called, “A Just Be Conspiracy.” Conspiracy sounds so shady. I hesitated to claim that word and associate it with this series which is a series grounded in the core values of our congregation. Do I really want those things associated? Even the interwebs suggest that the conspiracy is a derogatory word. Allow me to also say that you may not want to Google “Conspiracy” at all. It will lead you right into the hands of conspiracy theorists and can get you lost in the fascination of the whole thing. Time Magazine actually named the top ten conspiracy theories of all time. Among them were the JFK Assassination, Area 51 and the Aliens, the Faked Moon landing, and of course the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory which suggests that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and the other members of the Beatles covered it up, well, even until this day. They were said to find someone who looked like Paul, had the same mannerisms and charm as Paul, and had the same musical gifts as Paul. The theory suggests that, out of guilt however, that the band started releasing hidden messages in their music, interviews, and art that he had died. The famous Abbey Road cover picture, for example, is representative of a funeral procession for Paul. John wore all white, like a clergyman. Ringo, the mourner, dressed in black. George donned jeans, like a gravedigger. Paul wore no shoes (he didn’t need them, because he was dead) and walked out of step with the others. Hmmm.
Conspiracy. Everyone’s got a theory it seems. The word gives us pause for suspicion. It makes us jumpy or, at minimum, look over our shoulder. We wonder, “What’s happening behind closed doors?” But upon taking a deeper look, we just might find that conspiracy can mean something beautiful. The root meaning of “conspire” in Latin is “to breathe together.” I like that image. It speaks to a common heartbeat – a unified hope. That’s why I used the word in this series title. And what are we breathing together? Well, that’s the Just Be part. Almost seven years ago to the day, a Vision Team of your peers put forth three values that were to define who we are as a community of faith… and they just rolled off the tongue: “Be loved, Believe, Become.” This is what we would conspire to live – these are the values that we would breathe together in and through this place that we believed would best help us live like Jesus. The tag line: “Just Be” became associated with the ‘three B’s”. “Just Do It” was already taken and sounded very demanding. Just Be held more space for us to breathe and be reminded that most often, “Being still and knowing God is God and we are not” is as important as anything else. Just Be. It’s a Just Be Conspiracy.
Be loved starts us off today. Our church said, “You know what? There’s so much hate and judgment and cover up and hypocrisy and bullying and social media life-filtering going on out there that our church needed to represent the very best of God’s welcome to any and every one.” If God is love as we find it said throughout scripture – especially in John’s words, then first and foremost, that’s what we need to be about as a family of faith. Jesus did this so well. He did it so well that it shocked everyone of his day. The people he associated with, the welcome he extended to people of all kinds, the people who could easily say, “I don’t remember everything he said but I sure remember how he made me feel…”. He was so good at that. And it frustrated many people around him. He was criticized for who he hung out with as much as he was criticized by anything else; sinners and tax collectors and lepers and cheats and adulterers and the ritually unclean. Can you imagine such a church? You are what you eat and you are who you associate with, after all… and to that Jesus said, “Precisely”. But Jesus listened to them, cared for them, stood up for them, healed them, laughed with them, fed them, welcomed them. He didn’t ask for resumes nor did he want a filtered view of one’s life. It was raw and vulnerable and open. That was love. And the leaders of this church said, “We want our church to be a place where everyone can be loved. Not loved if you get it all together. Not loved if you quit sinning. Not loved if you vote the right way. Not loved if…” No. Be loved. Period. A colleague paraphrased St. Augustine this week who said, “If when reading scripture you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, you have not yet understood scripture…. [For] if love is the only measure, the only measure of love is love without measure.“ Be loved. Easier said than done.
Most churches I know pretty much sets out to share this kind of love. Most of the time they talk about it as being friendly. “We’re a friendly church” they’ll say. Being known as a friendly church is certainly better than being known as a grumpy church of course. But friendly is a surface thing. Love without measure is much harder. Mostly because being friendly is impersonal. Being loving is quite personal.
There’s a mom whose oldest son was not an easy child. In fact, the pregnancy wasn’t easy, the delivery wasn’t easy either. From the day he was born through his childhood, just incredibly hard to handle. School days were finally upon them. First week of kindergarten, the mom got a note from the teacher about how hard it was to deal with her son. He was sent home from school time and time again – through third and fourth grade still having lots of problems. The boy was mean and angry with his parents – just flat out refused to cooperate. One night, the father came home after a late-night meeting. The house was dark. He popped into the kitchen and found some tea in the fridge. He poured himself a glass and just caught his breath for a moment. Not many quiet moments in the day you know? Pulling his tie off and putting his suit coat over his arm, he headed down the hallway toward his bedroom. He was quiet assuming his wife was asleep. As he passed his son’s room, he noticed a little night light glow. He stopped, went inside, and found his wife sitting on the floor next to their son’s bed. The boy was fast asleep. His wife was just gently caressing her son’s hair. The man took a knee beside his wife and whispered to her, “What are you doing?” She continued to run her fingers through the boy’s hair and she said, “I’m loving him in the dark, because he won’t let me love him in the light.”
This is the love God has for us. God is whispering to you and me in the darkest parts of our souls; those places we don’t want anyone else to see and whispers, “Even there, I love you.” That’s personal. And our church says, “Even there, you will be loved.” Now this is hard to do, right? Did I already say that? It needs to be said. It’s hard. I mess it up. You probably mess it up too. We prone to conditional love. We disguise it with the notion of “tough love” and those sorts of things. And I get that circumstances call for different actions – I’m not talking about abusive situations enabling situations and all of that. I know it’s complicated. But… I am talking about a radical love. Jesus was so loving and welcoming that people criticized him saying, “He’s soft on sin.” “He breaks all the rules and cultural norms.” “He breaks the commands of scripture.” Whew… that’s some radical stuff. But I think we’d find Jesus just as radical today when it comes to love. He’d invite to your house party all the people you don’t want to be in your home. He’d associate with the people whose political practices rubbed you the wrong way and others whose life choices, well, are “Just not biblical.” I think Jesus would just annoy the heck out of us in this way. And if that wasn’t annoying enough, I bet Jesus didn’t color within the lines either. I bet he just enjoyed coloring. My five-year-old son will bring me some paper he’s colored with more joy than his heart can hold. I’ll hold it up and my first thought is “Goo!” It’s just a scribbled, jumbled, mess of a page… but when I see his joy it makes it just the most beautiful piece of art I’ve ever beheld. Our church wants people to feel like that.
The Apostle Paul writes to Christians in Ephesus with a similar hope. The world was sort of wrecked in all the ways we know our world to be wrecked now – the names and times are different – but so much of the human experience is the same. When Eugene Peterson talks about Paul and this letter, he describes him as a surgeon, skillfully setting a compound fracture, “setting” this [love of God] in our bones so that they might knit together and heal. There is hardly a bone in our bodies that has escaped injury, hardly a relationship in city or job, school or church, family or country, that isn’t out of joint or limping in pain. There is much work to be done. And so Paul goes to work showing how this love of Christ is not only work that is done in and for us, but that we are also participants in this most urgent work. If we can’t say, “You will be loved here” than where will people experience the love of God?
Paul then writes this beautiful prayer that you’ve heard read this morning. It’s a prayer of somebody who has skin in the game – who’s invested in that community being all they can be. Love prays for others to flourish. He says, “I’m praying for you; that you might be rooted and grounded in love.” That’s more than saying, “I hope you find a friendly church” or “I hope you are a friendly church.” It’s gritty. It messy. It takes hard work to root anything. To be grounded means it’s not casual or flippant. We don’t want this foundation of love to be blown around like a cheap patio umbrella that’s duct taped to the sidewalk (and yes, I’ve seen that done). Roots are deep. That’s what makes them strong. That’s the kind of love we’re after. And Paul says to the Ephesians – “That kind of love? It’s the best! That’s why I want you to know every bit of that love you can possible explore and soak up in your life with Christ. I want you to know the height, depth, length… the fullness of the love of Christ.” I believe my momma showed me that kind of love. You can build anything on top of that kind of foundation. When you enter the life of Harvard Avenue Christian Church, we want you to know that love… and we believe if you can truly receive that love, know that love, believe it is authentic and genuine, then you can build on top of that foundation the life God longs for you like a proud mother whose bottom lip quivers at your graduation, recounting all you’ve been through and all your future now holds. I want to say “You are loved!” a thousand different ways in hopes that one might speak directly to your heart this morning, your need, your doubt, your concern of being judged, your skepticism but I trust that you being here today is sign enough that you wonder if such a love is possible… and maybe… just maybe you’ll let a little of that immeasurable love feed your hurting soul this morning.
A few weeks ago, I worshiped on Sunday morning at Lee’s Summit Christian Church nestled in the burbs of Kansas City. My dad served as pastor there for more than a decade and was being honored with the title of Minister Emeritus. Dad’s not one for the attention so I’ll not dwell on that distinguished designation but it’s always deeply powerful to feel humbling pride for your parents. The service that day was led by the children of the congregation. It was beautiful and messy and cute and profound. It was also the morning the church installed Kelley Porter as their Director of Children’s Ministries. There were prayers and affirmations and covenants and all the stuff that go along with those things. There came a moment when Kelley was given the mike to say a few words to the congregation. Through teary eyes she shared how much the church had meant to her – she grew up there herself – a product of the love known and sown there through the years. She called out the children who were mostly sitting all in one place as they were leading the service that day. I remember her saying, “Kids – you are my favorite!” as her voice broke up a little. But it was what happened next that stuck with me the most. With desire to appreciate and recognize her family who have supported her studies and time and formation in preparation for this new role she asked, “Would my family please stand?” And without missing a beat, as if it had been rehearsed, all the children of the church; four full rows of children; dozens of kids — rose to their feet. “Would my family please stand?” and there they were. There was no question in their minds who her family was.
Now was that coincidence or a misunderstanding or a miscue? I think it was a conspiracy. It was a ‘breathing together’ experience that just was. It was love. I know Kelley was overwhelmed in that moment – and so was I. There wasn’t any question to those kids – they were her family. That’s what it means to be loved. That’s my heart and the heart of this church for you today. That you might simply be loved in this place; that if I asked my family to stand, you wouldn’t hesitate to stand because you would just know – this is who we are; we’re family. That’s what the Rembrandt’s were getting at when the bridge to that Friend’s theme says, “No one could ever know me, no one could ever see me. Seems like you’re the only one who knows what it’s like to be me. Someone to face the day with, make it through all the rest with, someone I’ll always laugh with, even at my worst, I’m best with you.” I think that’s the song Paul was singing to the church at Ephesus – may you know the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ. That’s what it means to be loved. That’s what we are breathing together. My invitation to you today from God, from our church family? Just be loved…
* * * * *
 As shared in the “Introduction to Ephesians” in The Message by Eugene Peterson. Navpress. Colorado Springs, CO. 2002.