Strengthened in your Inner Being

A Sermon by Revd Dr Sam Wells

Readings for this service: Ephesians 3

Anne would be the last person to want me to waste time today talking about her. She wasn’t an argumentative person, but she had a way of speaking that gave you the impression that she’d pronounced the last word on the subject. If I’d taken her advice about what to say today she’d have told me, ‘Look, there’ll be a lot of people there who’ve never heard of me, let alone remember me. Do what you’re there to do talk about God.’

And as ever, Anne would be right. So today I’m not going to talk about Anne’s intelligence, her faith, her kindness, her humility, her prayerfulness, or her sparkly-eyed sense of humour. I’m going to reflect with you on this passage from Ephesians and what it tells us about God.

Look first at what it tells us about God the Father. It speaks of the riches of his glory. There’s something inexpressibly mysterious and awesome there. Ponder the words, ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.’ Anne was very interested in radical theology. She’d have known the famous words of Mary Daly, ‘Where God is a male, the male is God.’ But what Anne would have seen in these words is a reversal of our conventional understanding about sex and gender. We see God the Father as utterly giving, constantly pouring out, totally sacrificial. And so we define fatherhood and family life from or heavenly Father, not vice versa.

Look second at what it tells us about God the Son.  It says the love of Christ surpasses knowledge. Anne took knowledge seriously. Books and authors were her profession. But she knew that Christ surpasses knowledge. It says Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. You know the feeling when you’ve had a hot chocolate after a long blustery walk, and your heart is warmed, even if the rest of you hasn’t yet got there. That’s what it felt like to be with Anne. That’s what Anne was in this community for decades. The warm heart in a blustery world.

Look third at what this passage tells us about God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit strengthens us in our inner being with power. It roots us and grounds us in love. That just about sums Anne up. She was strong in her inner being. She was rooted and grounded in love. She was the very definition of a Christian. She was full of the Holy Spirit. In Anne God the Holy Spirit accomplished abundantly far more than all we could ask or imagine. By the power at work within Anne, there was glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to many generations.

And that is the mystery that Anne never comprehended, but that we can comprehend today, those who knew and loved her and those who only heard tell of her. The mystery is this. By talking about Anne we are talking about God. Ephesians says, ‘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, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’ That is the wonder God gave us in the gift of Anne. God is like the sun: look too hard and the truth will blind you. So instead we need to look at what God has made. And God made Anne, that through knowing her we might have the power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, and be filled with all the fullness of God.

There was a Romanian pastor in a concentration camp who was so radiant with the sacrificial, overflowing, neverending love of God, that people said to him, ‘This Jesus you talk about: what was he like?’ The pastor replied, in deep humility, ‘He was like me.’ Anne would never say such a thing, so we today say it for her. Anne, this Jesus you talked about. We know what he was like. He was like you.