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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible- Ephesians
Fill 'Er Up! 

EPHESIANS SERIES      Ephesians 3:14-20 (Also can be used on Pentecost.)

A contemporary praise song we often sing at the 11:00 contemporary worship is “come and fill me up.”  It is one of those songs you can gnaw on, bellowing out the refrain with your eyes closed, not knowing the lyrics of the stanza, but when the refrain comes, you lean back with your eyes closed and sing with gusto:  “Come and fill me up.”  You realize that the words are a prayer to God that God’s Presence would come and enter and fill us up.

Today I would like to read a Bible passage from Ephesians. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul is almost rhapsodic as he describes God’s love and Spirit.  Paul is not a young man anymore, but there is a maturity and fullness to him that you don’t find in his earlier letters. The Apostle Paul is at the end of his life, not the beginning.   At this particular moment, he is sitting in prison, a mature man, a mature Christian, and he writes with a seasoning and saltiness, with a depth of understanding.

Ephesians 3:14-20 states.  “For this reason, I bow my knee before the Father for whom every family in heaven and on earth are named, that according to the riches of his glory, God may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and depth of the love of Christ.  May you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God, who by the power within us is able to do far more abundantly that we ask or see, to him be the glory in the church and to Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

What does the phrase, “fill ‘er up” mean to you?  Fill ‘er up.  Right away, you may think of gasoline tanks and right away I think of Jackson, Minnesota, when I was a boy of twelve years old.  When I was twelve, I got my first real job that paid me a pay check, and that first paycheck gave me enough money to buy my first work clothes, a brown suit, which said, MOBIL OIL COMPANY on one lapel, and on the other lapel, “Eddie.”  I went to work as a gas station attendant for my father who was the Mobile Oil Company dealer in Jackson.  As I recall, my first day of work was a Saturday morning, and with great fear and trepidation, I went out to the gas pumps, and in my squeaky voice, I spoke to the person seated in the car.  “Sir, would you like to have it filled up?” He nodded affirmatively, “Fill ‘er up.”  Then, for the next six years, I spent time at the gas station, filling up car after car after car, rain or shine, sleet or snow. There were no clickers on the pump handles in those days, and you just stood there by the rear of the car or truck, filling it up.  Nowadays, it is a bit disappointing when I go into gas stations and I see the words, “self service.”  Sometimes, I would rather be closer to Oregon where they manage gas stations in the old way and the young service man greets you as you sit in your car and he says:  “Can I fill it up?”  That’s what I think of as I think of the phrase, “fill ‘er up.”

Or, I think of Rogenteen’s Drug Store in my hometown.  I used to go down to Rogenteen’s Drug Store after I earned my money at the gas station because Mr. Rogenteen, the druggist, made the best chocolate milkshakes in the whole world. When he would bring that milk shake, I would always say:  “Mr. Rogenteen, make sure you fill ‘er up.”  He would bring that huge glass, and there would be chocolate milk shake dripping down the sides because he knew how to really “fill ‘er up.”

In my Eugene, Oregon days, we would occasionally go out to this place to eat on the corner of Thirty-ninth and Willamette. The restaurant was the equivalent of the Royal Fork in town, and it is a smorgasbord where you could chow down all you could eat.  In Eugene, I remember standing in the smorgasbord line, with the University football team in front of me, and these men were gigantic eaters.  I remember hearing those university football players say to one another, “Let’s really fill ‘er up,” and there would be huge, high mounds of food on each of their plates.

When I think of the phrase, “fill ‘er up,” I think of those kinds of images.  When we approach Pentecost, we hear the story that God will fill us with the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost commemorates and remembers the day when the Power and Spirit of God came into the first Christian people and filled them up as never before.  At Pentecost, they were first “filled with the fullness of God,” to use the Apostle Paul’s phrase. 

I would like to give you a brief history of God’s people being “filled up with the Spirit.” It all began in the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament, they began looking forward to the coming of the Lord, to the great day of the Lord, as it was called.  The prophet Joel, in the Old Testament, dreamed his dreams and envisioned his visions of that great day when the Spirit of God would come down into the people as never before.  There would be an outpouring of the Spirit as never before.  God would fill people’s lives with the Spirit as never filled before.  … And so the time came for Jesus to be born, and God thought to himself, “Fill ‘em up.  Fill up Jesus, my Son, with the Spirit.”  Jesus was then filled with the fullness of God’s Spirit like no other human being before him. Consequently, Jesus loved; Jesus loved with a quality of love that no man or woman had before or after him.  His love was for rich and poor, Pharisees and finks, good people and bad people. Jesus knew the height, the depth, the length and the breadth of love for all people.  Jesus loved like no one else in the world because God said, “fill ‘em up,” and Jesus was filled with the fullness of the Spirit like no other person before or after. … Because Jesus was more full of love than any other person before or after, consequently Jesus had more power than any other person before or after because you may have discovered that the greatest power in the world is the power of love. Therefore Jesus, being the most loving person the world had ever seen, was the most powerful person the world had ever seen. … Further, the gospel of John tells us that Jesus was full, full of grace and truth.  When Jesus fed the 5,000, the people ate until they were full and the twelve baskets left over were full of food.  Jesus’ inner space was filled with God’s love, unlike the Pharisees, whose outer shell tried to project an image of love, but there was no fullness of God in their inner space.  Jesus then promised at the end of his life, “When I die and am raised from the dead and go to the Father, I promise that my Inner Spirit, this Holy Spirit, will come and fill you up.”

Well, Pentecost morning arrived, and Jesus said to God the Father:  “God, would you fill them up, down there?” God pulled out his hose and stuck it into the church, and God filled up the church with his Spirit.  The people were filled with God’s goodness and God’s love that meant that they were also filled with God’s power. They were filled with Christ’s Spirit so much, that they began to comprehend the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s love for them; and comprehending this love was real power. Their religion was not longer conformity to moral law.  Their religion no longer was a conformity to religious habits.  It was no longer a commitment to religious commandments of don’t do this or don’t do that. Now, in those first disciples, there was real power.  There was power because Jesus said to God, “God, fill ‘em up” and those first disciples were filled.

This morning as I walked into the sanctuary, I saw the helium tanks to fill the balloons so they would fly, and somebody shouted:  “Fill ‘em up!  Fill up those balloons!”  Balloons can’t fly without the right stuff in them and neither can Christians be full and fly without the right stuff in them.

The classical Greek word for full is “pleroma” and this Greek word refers to boats whose cargo hulls were filled.  We hear that Jesus was full of grace and truth with the implication that we are to be full as well. We see images of cargo spaces within us that are to be filled to their fullest level.

So I ask, in today’s world, “What does it mean to be full, to be filled with the fullness of God?”

It seems to me that we are in a time of human history when life is not so full.  In spite of all the protestations to the contrary, life does to seem to be as full as it could be.  This has happened for many reasons, all of which add up to a point of view. Let me explain.  For many, life is not so full because of the rat race that we all feel we are in, where time seems to be in short supply, and we are running and working and being busy. We are too busy running the time-consuming rat race to experience the fullness of God or life.  Or, maybe it is due to the loss of quality of human relationships, where husband and wives are both working such long hours that they don’t have much quality time for each other any more and many children don’t realize that a house is to be a home. Nobody is at home anymore, so the quality of love and time for our children is lessening by all statistical measurements.  Family life is not as full as it used to be because there is little time to be family. Or, maybe it is because our jobs are no longer as satisfying as they used to be.  In the old days, it seemed that more people loved their jobs, found meaning in their work, and knew their company would support them through thick and thin. Today companies dissolve and people just aren’t committed to the work place and the company doesn’t seem committed to the workers.  Or, maybe it is because kids are having more problems today where kids are growing up in a sick society where sex, drugs and love are cheap and easy, and our kids get sucked into a whirlwind that replaces loving togetherness at home.  It is tough being a teenager today, much tougher than when I grew up.  Or maybe it is because the church does not seem to be so full and vibrant but has continued its downslide to become ever more boring, dull and unexciting, and so many or most sanctuaries in the land are no longer full but more than half empty.  Gallup polls are taken about our religious life and reveal people no longer experience the depth of faith that they did merely a generation ago.  And so if you add this all up, if you add up all the reasons, you start to realize that many people are not experiencing the fullness of life nor the fullness of God today.  Many people are running on half empty or a quarter empty and their emotional and spiritual tanks are almost empty. They would like to experience both the fullness of life and the fullness of God that the Apostle Paul talked about…because there is a lot of emptiness within. 

And so it seems to me, with people realizing that they are not experiencing either the fullness of life or the fullness of God, they try other gas stations in life, trying to “fill ‘er up.”  They go to the gas station of material possessions, and gather as many adult toys and homes and boats and travel as possible; and after life is all over, they still find themselves empty in their inner person. Or they pull into the gas station of busyness and busy themselves with soccer and football and baseball and every kind of little league sports  so as not to deny their children, only to realize that their children finally get bored with all these sports and begin dropping out by senior high school.  The parents finally wake up to it all, after the parents have driven their car thousands upon thousands of miles to these various games, and the kid quits these activities  all just about the time they get their driver’s license.

So what is this fullness of life and this fullness of God of which the Apostle Paul speaks?  Let us listen to this man who found both the fullness of life and the fullness of God. It is very simple.  To experience the fullness of life and the fullness of God is very simple, as are the most important things in life.

Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:  “To experience the fullness of God and the fullness of life is to have the Spirit of Christ live in your hearts.”  To have the Spirit of God living in your heart is to have his words, his feelings, his actions, his attitude, his Spirit living inside of you.  Not just to have ideas about love living inside of you but love, love itself.  Not just to have a philosophy about being a moral person inside of you but being a moral person.  Not just to have a theology about the Bible or God living inside of you but God living inside of you.  Not just to have the habits of church from childhood living inside of you, but to have Christ’s Spirit living in you.  You see, the Pharisees had all these other things:  the Pharisees had big ideas about love, a philosophy about being moral, a theology about God and the Bible, worship habits deeply engrained in them from birth, but the Pharisees missed the fullness of God and the fullness of life and the fullness of the Spirit.  The Pharisees lacked the one thing essential:  the fullness of God living inside of them.  They had the rules, the theology, the habits, but not the real thing. I like the Greek word, “menei,” that means “living” or “taking up residence” in you.  What fun it was to finally move into our house and now live in our house; how we love living in our house. How God loves living inside of your life; how God loves living in your body, called the temple, and God lives in you and me. It is so simple. It was too simple for the Pharisees who never got it. The Pharisees continued to replace love with ideas about love; they replaced God with a theology about God; they replaced inner prayers with teachings about prayer. You get the pattern.

Secondly, the Apostle Paul says, to be filled with the fullness of life and God is to be rooted and grounded in love.  That makes sense.  You can’t have any fullness of life or God without the foundation of love strongly below you and keeping the house of your life standing up.  We are called to be grounded in Christ’s love, not human love.  What is human love?  To love somebody more if they are pretty, nice, related, or intelligent. And what is God’s love?  God’s love is always for the imperfect, for sinners, for flawed people just like you and me and your kids and everybody around you including you.  We are all flawed at the core, and God’s love is to love somebody who is flawed, imperfect, a sinner at the core. Human love is to love someone who is lovely; agape love or God’s love loves someone who is not so lovely and perhaps even unlovely.  Now, that is love.

A fundamental problem is this:  we tend not to love ourselves.  I don’t really like myself.  I am not a good enough mother, a good enough father, a good enough person.  In my inner self, I often withhold love from myself or my spouse or my children or my parents because they don’t live up to my standards of what I expect of them, so I withhold my love from many of the most important people of my life.  That is human love. But God’s love?  God loved us while we were yet sinners, while we are imperfect, which means that God’s love forgives us. With God’s forgiveness, we are to forgive ourselves and each other. To be rooted in love means to be grounded in forgives.

It is most interesting to me what happens in the Pentecost story in the Gospel of John.  What happens in the Gospel of John when they are filled with the Holy Spirit, when Jesus says “fill ‘em up!”  What happens in the Gospel of John?  Do they speak in other languages, symbolic that the church is to go into the world?  No.  In the Gospel of John, on Pentecost, when the people are filled up with the Spirit, they are then given the power of forgiveness.  In the Gospel of John, when they are filled with God’s power, they are filled with the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an essential quality of love. In the Gospel of John, God “fills ‘em up” with forgives.

So the Apostle Paul, teaching us about the fullness of life and the fullness of God, teaches us to be rooted and grounded in love, in love and forgiveness.  It is pretty simple, and we can understand it.  You will never experience the fullness of life and the fullness of God without the love and forgiveness of Christ.

Then, looking carefully at the Bible passage from Ephesians for today, we discover that Paul has something more to say.  To be filled with the fullness of life and fullness of God is to begin to comprehend with all the saints what is the height and depth, length and breadth of the love of Christ.  How high, how deep, how long, how wide.  Go four directions as far as you can and that is how great the love of Christ is for us.  There is power when you get it!  There is delightfulness, when you finally get the punch line. There is an “inner aha!!!” when you finally comprehend how vast the eternal love of God is for you and me. God’s love does not end, and it is for all eternity.

And so you add all of this up, and you start to find that fullness, the fullness of life and the fullness of God, that we are all searching to find.  What we all want most out of life is to find life and God in its fullness. The Apostle Paul did, and the first Christians did, and so do we today.  In the midst of our real world, we do find the fullness of life and the fullness of God.

I loved my first job as a gas station attendant in Jackson, Minnesota.  I loved my brown uniform with the label “Mobile Oil Company” and the other label, “Eddie.”  I loved it when I came up to that open window and asked, “Fill ‘er up?”  And I loved it when God filled up Jesus with the Holy Spirit.  Then Jesus said to God when at the right hand of the Father, “God, fill ‘em up” and the Pentecostal church was filled up with God’s Spirit just  the way Jesus had been filled. Today, the Pentecostal Spirit continues to live, and Jesus up in heaven, looks at God the Father and looks at us here on earth, and says, “God, let’s fill them up.”  And then, we too are filled with the fullness of God.  Yes, we too are filled.

Maybe…just maybe that is one reason why we like to sing with gusto that contemporary praise song, “Come and fill me up.”  Amen.

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