Ephesians 1:15-23 is part of a letter that is written as a prayer for a faith community. The writer has heard of the stories of what this faith community is doing: the things that Jesus expected of his followers. They are feeding the hungry, clothing and sheltering people, offering hospitality, welcoming people across boundaries. The fact that this faith community is doing those things might seem like a bit of a miracle. These are the things we are called to do and be as followers of the Christ but it is sometimes hard to live up to the expectations.
But the writer of this letter recognizes how challenging it can be to be a faithful follower and offers a prayer of thanks for the people and community that is living out the gospel of love. The writer gives thanks for the actions that make love real in the world.
Then the writer prays for the community by inviting wisdom and experience of the risen Christ to become a part of their lives. We can do all sorts of good things in the world but it is easy to lose sight of why we do them. Sometimes we do good things out of a sense of guilt or shame about the good things we have in our lives. Sometimes we do good things to feel better about ourselves. Sometimes we do good things out of a sense of duty. There’s nothing wrong with this per say—good things are still getting done in the world but the goodness isn’t sustainable. The goodness is about us and our needs—not about God’s work through us. It’s easy to get burnt out thinking that we have to care for everyone and contribute to every cause that catches our attention. When we work from this place it is easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. It is easy to lose hope. The writer is encouraging the congregation to focus on God as experienced in Jesus so that they will be able to sustain the good work that they are doing and go on to do even more amazing things.
If I were offering a similar prayer for the congregation I serve it might go something like this:
I give thanks for all the amazing people who are a part of this faith community: I give thanks for people who visit and care for people in their homes, in hospital, people who offer a compassionate ministry for people in difficult times, I give thanks for people who offer ministry to children and youth through teaching and leading, I give thanks for people who help us to worship through music and reading, people who are able to step in and lead when I am not here, who offer tech support in worship and to the office staff. I give thanks to people who provide hospitality in this building by sharing food and nourishment, by greeting and welcoming. I give thanks for people who broaden our ministry beyond these doors by keeping the Mission and Service fund in front of us, by supporting ministries like the Food Bank, Soup Haven, Habitat for Humanity. I give thanks for people who continually maintain the building: upgrading and upkeeping both in and out. I give thanks for people who have chosen to serve in leadership roles. I give thanks for people who continually pray for each other, for the work of the congregation and for the world. I give thanks for each of you and all the various ways you live out your ministry. I give thanks for the ministry of this congregation.
I pray that each of you will be open to the spirit of God in your lives and in this congregation. I pray that you will experience God at work in your life—transforming and sustaining you for the work of love. May this experience of God bring you hope in your life and for the world. As we work and pray, love and cry together I pray that our ability to be the people of God in this community will grow. I pray that we will be able to fully understand what it is that God needs us to do and be in this community and that we will grow into that calling so that our ministry is not just a few good things that allow us to feel good but ministry that is deeply rooted in the life of Christ and life changing for us and the people we serve.
I pray that we will live in hope and that despair and fear will not overtake us or control us. I pray that the power of God will sustain and nurture us in difficult times. I pray that we place our faith is in God and in the way of Jesus so that we have the ability to dream and imagine with God’s eyes.