In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One of the funniest websites I have ever come across is with one that has a “book-a-minute” section in which many classic literary works are sarcastically summarized. Here are a few of my favorites:
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—
Gatsby: “Daisy, I made all this money for you, because I love you.”
Daisy: “I cannot reciprocate, because I represent the American Dream.”
Gatsby: “Now I must die, because I also represent the American Dream.”
Nick: “I hate New Yorkers.”
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—
Mr. Darcy: “Nothing is good enough for me.”
Lizzy: “I could never marry that proud man.”
They change their minds.
J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye—
Holden Caulfield: “Angst, angst, angst, swear, curse, swear, crazy crazy angst, swear, curse, society stinks, and I’m a stupid jerk.”
The “book-a-minute” summary of this sermon is this: The love of Christ surpasses knowledge. The love of Christ surpasses knowledge.
In today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians we are assured that we are loved: “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” (3:1-19a).
Paul is praying a paradoxical prayer, that the Ephesians could know a love that is beyond their ability to know, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
In his lucid commentary on this letter the Anglican scholar Arthur Skevington Wood puts it this way:
“The apostle is simply telling us that the love of Christ… is too large to be confined by any geometrical measurements. It is wide enough to reach the whole world and beyond. It is long enough to stretch from eternity to eternity. It is high enough to raise both Gentiles and Jews to heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It is deep enough to rescue people from sin’s degradation and even from the grip of Satan himself.”
Jesus loves the whole world collectively and the whole world individually. On a rooftop Jesus told a Pharisee named Nicodemus of his love for the world collectively: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). In his Letter to the Galatians Paul reveals his experience of the love of Christ for him individually: “I live by faith in the Son of God,* who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
When I was four years old I attended a week-longVacationBibleSchool. I remember the flannel graph pictures of Jesus and the big cardboard bricks that we could build things with and of course the snacks. And I learned several songs that week. One song was about how Christ loves the world collectively:
“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
If you watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics inLondonlast week you caught a glimpse of all the little children of the world. Christ loves all of them—from Angola to Zambia, Bangladesh to Vietnam, Albania to the Ukraine, Australia to Venezuela, and yes, the Unites States too—all the little children of the world.
A second song I learned atVacationBibleSchoolwas this one:
“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong; they are weak but He is strong
Yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so.”
Arguably the most influential theologian of the twentieth century was the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth. His magnum opus was the thirteen-volume Church Dogmatics, which has over six million words. Toward the end of his life a reporter asked him if he could summarize Church Dogmatics. Barth smiled and replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
The love of Christ surpasses knowledge. Jesus loves the world collectively and individually… and that includes you.
But in our lives there are things that tend to blur the reality of Christ’s love for us. One of these things is loneliness.
My wife and I went to the Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert here in Charlottesvillea few weeks ago. It was surreal for me, having loved their songs my whole life. They closed their concert with their classic opening track from their debut 1969 self-titled album, the song Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. Stephen Stills wrote it about the singer-songwriter Judy Collins who indeed has gorgeous blue eyes. They had been together for a couple years but she had fallen in love with someone else and was on the brink of leaving him. Stills wrote this song out of that desperate place. At one point he sings: “Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud, ‘I am lonely.’”
This cry of loneliness is something every one of us has felt at one time or another. Loneliness is a universal hurt, as Paul McCartney sings in Eleanor Rigby:
“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”
Lonely people come from everywhere. Sometimes people are lonely because they differ from everyone else. In many social groups and institutions from school to work to civic organizations there are often lonely people who feel isolated, feel like outsiders, like they are not “in the club.” This is the case from nurseries to retirement communities. Single people are often lonely, as are married people who feel disconnected from their spouse.
The good news of the gospel is that Christ loves the lonely. In the final verse of Matthew’s account of the gospel Jesus assures the disciples, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20).
The love of Christ surpasses loneliness.
Another thing that tends to blur the reality of the love of Christ for us is depression.
The most recent edition of The New Yorker includes a lengthy article by David Remnick about Bruce Springsteen. (By the way, Dave Zahl has an excellent blog on the Mockingbird website about this article). Remnick describes Springsteen’s struggles with depression, related to deep issues with his father.
“[Bruce’s father] Doug is described with adjectives like ‘taciturn’ and ‘disappointed.’ In fact, he seems to have been bipolar, and he was capable of terrible rages, often aimed at his son. Doctors prescribed drugs for his illness, but he didn’t always take them… Bruce was deeply affected by his father’s paralyzing depressions, and worried that he would not escape the thread of mental instability that ran through his family. That fear, he says, is why he never did drugs… The past, though, is anything but past. ‘My parents’ struggles, it’s the subject of my life,’ Springsteen told me. ‘It’s the thing that eats at me and always will. My life took a very different course, but my life is an anomaly. Those wounds stay with you.’”
This makes the final verse of Springsteen’s song, Born to Run (1975)—about wanting to leave town on a motorcycle with his girlfriend—even more poignant:
“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody’s out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide
Together Wendy we can live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul
Oh someday girl I don’t know when
We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”
The good news of the gospel is that Christ loves the depressed.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Keep your head up!” Sometimes that’s helpful, but for the depressed it is often not—if they could keep their head up, they would. The Bible assures us that the Lord is the “the one who lifts up (your) head” (Psalm 3:3). And as he preached the Sermon on theMountJesusproclaimed, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Some experience this lifting up of their head, this being comforted episodically, but in the long run it will be anything but episodic, it will be permanent.
The love of Christ surpasses depression.
Another thing that tends to blur the reality of the love of Christ for us is addiction.
Addiction of course can take many forms: alcohol, drugs, television, food, gambling, hoarding, sex, compulsive spending, etc. Most addicts are simply trying to find a way to take the edge off the internal or external pain in their life.
Michael Roe of the band, The 77’s, wrote a song about addiction in which, citing from the First Letter of John he sings:
“Well, I feel like I have to feel something good all of the time
With most of life I cannot deal, but a good feeling I can feel
Even though it may not be real
And if a person, place or thing can deliver, I will quiver with delight
But will it last me for all my life or just one more lonely night
The lust, the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life
Drain the life right out of me.”
Even though such addictions are self-destructive and damaging to the addicts—and often cause collateral damage to families and friends as well—addicts tend to persist in their addiction, often with intense feelings of guilt and self-loathing.
The good news of the gospel is that Christ loves addicts.
In the booklet Grace in Addiction, published by Mockingbird Ministries, it states:
“(God) meets people in their weakness, not their strength. He is a God who saves people from themselves. Rescue is the thrust of the Bible and the heart of the Christian Gospel. Sadly, this simple catch-22—that the only way you can find God is if you desperately need Him—stands in direct opposition to the widespread, even dominant notion in today’s churches that spiritual life finds its origin in decision-making/virtuous intention/choosing God. There is some talk in churches of God as redeemer, but there is also an enormous amount of talk of God as teacher, friend, inspiration, coach, etc. In AA there is only one thing: God is who you need to save you” (p. 10-11).
Some people recover from their addictions; others do not. But either way, the love of Christ surpasses addiction.
What if someone struggles with loneliness or depression or addiction all the way to the grave? This happens for a lot of people, including many Christians.
The good news of the gospel is that the love of Christ surpasses even death, that as Paul wrote to the Romans: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
In his final book, All is Grace, Brennan Manning, a brilliant Christian writer whose health is failing, describes the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge this way:
“My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be… Some have labeled my message one of ‘cheap grace.’ In my younger days, their accusations were a gauntlet thrown down, a challenge. But I’m an old man now and I don’t care… Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough” (p. 192 and 194).
“Jesus is enough” because in His death on the cross Jesus bore your loneliness, your depression, your addictions, and yes, your death. On the cross the lust, the flesh, the eyes, the pride of your life—and of everyone’s life—literally drained the life right out of Him. On the cross Jesus died for all the little children of the world—red and yellow, black and white, lonely or depressed, addicted or dying—all the little children of the world, including you.
Yes, loneliness, depression, addiction, and death are very real, but the love of Christ is even more real, and the love of Christ surpasses all of it.
A beautiful picture of this is in the final scene of C. S. Lewis’ classic children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia. At the end of The Last Battle Aslan, the mighty and gracious lion, greets the children Edmund and Lucy in heaven:
“Aslan turned to them and said: ‘You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.’
Lucy said, ‘We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.’
‘No fear of that,’ said Aslan. ‘Have you not guessed?’
Their hearts leapt, and a wild hope rose within them.
‘There was a real railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.’
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
So I hope you can be encouraged today because the good news of the gospel is that the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge.
And it surpasses things that tend to blur the reality of His love—loneliness, depression, addiction, and even death.
The love of Christ is broader and longer and higher and deeper than you will ever be able to comprehend, a love that stretches from “eternity to eternity,” a love that assures us all that one day we will indeed “get to that place where we really wanna go and we’ll walk in the sun.”
I’ll close with one more reference to the Crosby, Stills and Nash concert… they opened the show with “Carry On,” the first track of their 1970 album, Déjà vu. In beautiful harmony David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash sang as if their life depended on it: “Carry on. Love is coming. Love is coming to us all” 🙂
- Ephesians 3:18