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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible- Ephesians
Lavish Grace

Ephesians Series     Ephesians 1:6, 7, 18; 2:7; 3:8

From the book of Ephesians:  “God has blessed us from the riches of his grace which he has lavished on us in Christ Jesus” or  “to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in Christ Jesus” or “that God might show us the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness” or “I have been sent to preach to you the immeasurable riches of his grace in Christ Jesus” or “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us.”  If we add up all of these Bible verses from Ephesians into one sentence, the sentence may read:  “God has blessed us with the immeasurable riches of his grace which he freely lavished upon us in Christ Jesus.”

This past week, I have been thinking about the word, “lavish,” and I have been thinking about those times in my life in which I experienced the word, lavish.  I am thinking of those times that were excessive, exuberant, extravagant in luxury.

I am thinking about a trip to the Holy Land a number of years ago; when we went on a luxury cruise liner on the Mediterranean Sea.  It was something else.  They told us to bring a camera to the Buffet Magnifeek in order to photograph the luxurious splendor, and it was the most luxurious buffet I had ever seen. It was nothing like the buffets in the church basements of America.  At this Buffet Magnifeek, there were tables and tables and tables of food, surrounding the large ballroom. At this Buffet Magnifeek, on these never ending tables, there were lobsters at least two feet long.  There were wedding cakes, cakes layered up and up and up towards and almost touching the ceiling.  There were flowers and fruit and vegetables, stacked up taller and taller and taller, way up above my head.  I had never seen so much luxurious food assembled together in my life.  It was excessive, exotic, extravagant in luxury. In one word, this was lavish. 

Or when I think of the word, lavish, I think of the bathroom of King Louie the 14th.  After college, I borrowed money to travel to Europe with my friend.  What a trip! What do I most clearly remember from that trip so many years ago?  King Louie’s the 14th’s bathroom, especially his bathtub.  I had never seen a bathtub made of pure gold.  It was, shall we say, elegant, to say the least.  How did the king get to that bathtub?  By walking down a bronzed staircase, surrounded by circular marble surrounding the tub.  What was his living room like?  It was at least 150 long, with gigantic chandeliers every fifteen feet, hanging from the ceilings.  To the left were huge mirrors, at least thirty feet tall, lining the wall, giving the room its name, The Hall of Mirrors. To the right were windows looking out at the gardens.  You looked up at the ceiling and you saw the most colorful frescos, and as you looked at the floor there were parquet patterns of artistic wood throughout.  This Hall of Mirrors was exotic, lavish, rich, mind boggling in its luxury.

Or when I think of lavish, I think of the “fish feed” over at Norm and Laila Carlsen’s house a number of years ago.  Norm was and is a fisherman, not by trade, but by avocation, and his father and grandfather were professional fisherman.  And Laila?  She must be mentioned because she did all the work.  You have never seen such mounds of food in your whole life.  Imagine a high, rounded mound of crab, and then a high, rounded mount of crab, and then a high, rounded mound of shrimp, and then a high, rounded mound of geoduck.  The butter for the crab and the wine for the lips were flowing.  After the meal of all you could eat, I was so full and stuffed I couldn’t do anything but lie down on the floor, with my aching belly on the floor for relief.  It was a meal like I have never had before or since.  It was excessive, luxurious, in one word, lavish. 

The word, lavish is always associated with riches.  The word, lavish, is never associated with poverty.  You never say, “A person is lavishing in poverty.”  Instead you say, “A person is languishing in poverty.”  Or, you never associate the word, lavish, with criticism.  You never say, “You lavish a person with criticism.”  No, that is not the way you do it.  Instead you say, “You censure a person with criticism.”  Lavish is a positive word and is not associated with criticism.  Nor do you associate the word, lavish, with frugality.  My mother was an immigrant, as were her sisters.  They grew up dirt poor with Grandpa who sold chickens and eggs.  My mother and her sisters hated the frugality imposed on them by life, and when they grew up, they wanted to lavish themselves in riches, rich coats and rich homes and rich foods.  The word, lavish, is not associated with the word frugality. 

It is with these images that we approach the book of Ephesians and hear the words again and again:  the riches of God, the riches of Christ, the riches of grace, the riches of mercy, the riches of glory.  We hear the word, immeasurable; that is, there is no way to measure the riches of God’s grace.  We hear the word, unsearchable; that is, there is no way for the mind to comprehend or absorb intellectually the grace of God.

In the book of Ephesians, it is as if the Apostle Paul is swept off his feet with euphoria, exhilaration, elation.  More than any other epistle, the book of Ephesians pulsates with those feelings of euphoria.  The mood of this letter reminds me of a young man or woman who has fallen in love for the first time.  When you fall in love the first time, it is so good, so high, so beautiful, so euphoric; but when you fall in love the fourth time, it is ok but not so grand as the first experience.  Or if you have a first child by means of adoption or birth, there are those feelings of euphoria, elation, a thrill of a lifetime; but by the time you have had your fourth child, the event is still happy but not so elated as the first time. And so it is with the book of Ephesians.  The Apostle Paul has experienced and seen the riches of God’s grace, the riches of his mercy, the lavishness of God’s generosity, and the Apostle Paul is overwhelmed by it all, and he uses words like lavish, abundant, immeasurable. Throughout the whole book of Ephesians, like in no other book in the Bible, you experience the mood of Paul’s exhilaration 

This same lavishness of God is expressed in other places in the Bible.  Do you remember the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John?  Yes, the turning water into wine.  Do you remember how many jugs of water Jesus turned into wine? Six.  Yes, six.  Do you remember how big each jug of water into wine was?  30 gallons!!!  Six vats of wine, each holding thirty gallons, means that there was 180 gallons of wine for that wedding.  180 gallons.  Imagine your wedding with 180 gallons of wine.  That would have been a whole lot of extra wine. Excessive.  Extravagant. Exuberant.  In other words, lavish.

Do you remember the story of the feeding of the 5000?  Not including women and children who were there.  That’s a lot of people, 5000 people plus.  What did Jesus feed the five thousand plus with?  Yes, two loaves of bread and a few fish.  And when Jesus fed the 5000, did each person eat a little bite, just a morsel, a Norwegian “tad?”  No, each of those people ate until they were full, with stomachs protruding, stuffed.  And was there any food left over? Yes? One basket?  Two?  Three? Four? Five? Six? Seven? Eight? Nine? Ten? Eleven? Were there twelve baskets left over?  Yes, of course.  Twelve baskets left of food left over.  Jesus was excessive, extravagant, with plenty of food remaining.  In one word, lavish. 

Such is the nature of God.  Our God is lavish in his love, lavish in his mercy, lavish in his riches of goodness showered upon us every day.  God is not stingy or frugal.  You and I may be stingy and frugal, but in the Bible and the book of Ephesians, we hear of God’s lavish and generous grace to us. 

Let me illustrate the lavishness of God to us in all of creation. God has so richly blessed all of us in his creation, and we must be blind or numb or dumb not to experience the lavishness of God’s riches for all of us.  Would you please wiggle your fingers?  Then wiggle your toes.  (You are Lutheran; you can wiggle your toes and no one will see.)  Wiggle your elbows.  Then wiggle your knees.  Move the saliva in your mouth.  All of us are blessed with fingers, toes, elbows and knees that work, plus we all can spit.  We are alive. 

Use your imagination and let’s go picking peas from your own garden or the garden of your imagination.  You take a pea pod and open it.  Is there one pea inside that pod? Nooo! Only if the pea pod is sick.  A normal pea pod has a line of peas, perhaps six or seven or eight peas that you toss into your mouth.  …Or would you imagine picking grapes? You reach under that bush of grapes or blueberries or black berries, and you twiggle your fingers and the grapes or black berries fall gently into your bowl.  If there is only one grape on that vine, the vine is sick.  The very nature of grapes is to occur in clusters, so you pick a cluster of grapes.  …Or, if you lift up a leaf of a strawberry plant and look under it, you see lush, big ripe strawberries, ready to be eaten.  Not one, but several there, waiting to be picked. 

This whole creation is so luxurious, so lavish, so excessive in its generosity.  Why?  Because the creation reflects the luxuriousness of God, the lavishness of God, the excessive generosity of God.

And it is freely given.  The word, grace, means gift, and all of this is freely given.  What did you do to deserve to be born?   Grace is not earned.  Not deserved.  Freely and excessively given.

BUT, what boggles my mind, is that the Apostle Paul mentions none of this!  Not once!  Not once does he mention the creation.  He doesn’t talk about our fingers and toes or elbows or knees.  He doesn’t mention the generosity of the peapods, the lushness of grapes, the succulence of strawberries.  Paul mentions none of this when he talks about God’s extravagant grace. That’s what boggles my mind.  Instead, Paul is elated, exhilarated, euphoric because Paul has seen and personally experienced the lavishness of God’s love, the riches of God, the riches of Christ, the riches of mercy, the riches of forgiveness, all excessively given, abundantly given, all running over with love. 

Paul knows and has seen that God knows the numbers of hairs on my head, that he has fully forgiven me, that he knows my name, that he knows my existence, that he has plans for my life here on this earth and for all eternity.   Paul has been given this electrifying awareness, and he is dumbfounded by the beauty he has seen. He doesn’t even mention fingers and toes and elbows and knees and peas and grapes and strawberries.  He doesn’t even mention creation, because Paul has seen and experienced Christ who is the fullness of God’s grace.  Paul is exhilarated, not because he has seen the hand of God in creation; he is exhilarated because he has experienced the hand of God in Christ and is convinced that death itself has been conquered and that we will live eternally with God.

All of these gifts and riches and abundant generosity are freely given to us in Christ. Why be exhilarated with creation when you have seen God’s generosity in Christ?

I have been thinking about God’s lavish grace which is unsearchable, that our minds can’t get around it.  Our minds cannot fully grasp or even partially grasp the gracious love of God.  Let me illustrate.  Early this morning, as I was sitting in my chair looking out at Puget Sound and having devotions and prayer, I noticed the winds on the water.  The wind currents were blowing ever so slightly on an invisible diagonal line across the Sound.  On this side of the Sound, it was perfectly flat, with narry a ripple, and the color of the surface water was light blue. But about in the middle of the Sound, you could see a straight diagonal line and on the other side of the line, the water was a dark blue, with a wind ever blowing so lightly and moving on the water.  On this huge body of water, there were seven fishing boats, with some people sitting in the boats. Those people in the seven boats were the only signs of life.  BUT, underneath the waters of Puget Sound, I knew that there was life, LIFE ABUNDANTLY, so much life under the waters of Puget Sound I couldn’t even begin to fathom it.  Simply put a fish finder in your boat and you will see thousands upon thousands of salmon swimming beneath the water.  All the kelp beds and all the starfish and all the sea anemone, and all the life that our minds can not begin to imagine it.  And so it is with the grace of God.  The grace of God, by its very nature, is unsearchable.  Our minds cannot comprehend the grace of God anymore than our minds can comprehend all the life living beneath the water.  You have to look beneath the surface of life, and when you look beneath the surface of life, you begin to discover the lavish, rich grace of God that our minds cannot begin to comprehend. The luxurious grace of God is normally found beneath the surface.

Let me give you another example.  I have been reading a book about the human body and have discovered much.  Look at my skin covering my arm.  Here is plain ordinary skin covering my arms and body, and your arms and body.  But can you imagine what lies beneath my skin and yours?  Can your mind fathom it?  Imagine it?  Beneath my skin lies 60,000 miles of veins.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Beneath your skin lies 60,000 miles of veins.  That means you could string out your veins and cross the United States from sea to sea at least ten times, and then you could try to cram those spaghettied veins in beneath your skin.  Your mind can’t comprehend that.  My mind can’t comprehend 60,000 miles of veins in my body.  And so it is with the luxurious grace of God.  Our minds cannot comprehend what lies beneath the surface of life, but if you get beneath the surface of life, you just may discover the abundant, luxurious, grace of God for your life.

In conclusion, you don’t need to travel on a luxury liner to discover the grace of God, nor visit a excessively opulent castle in Europe or sit down to an exotic crab feed of all you can eat.  No, not at all.  All you have to do is wake up, open your eyes, take a breath, and look around you, and just maybe, your eyes will see the luxurious grace of God all around you and inside you and beneath life itself.

CHILDREN’S SERMON. This sermon is a favorite.  I went to the store and purchased a large bag of plastic lake/water toys plus a large 24” ball.  I then asked one child to come forward for the children’s sermon, having asked that child before the worship to help me with the children’s sermon.  I then gave the child the huge ball and started to place all the gifts I was lavishing on him/her and stuffing them in his/her arms.  As I was doing this I asked many questions:  Were you chosen today because you are the best kid in church and never get in trouble and are always perfectly obedient?  Were you chosen today because your parents or grandparents or family members are better than other people at church and that is why I chose you?  Were you chosen today because you promised always to be good and perfect and would obey God and parents in all circumstances?  The child always answered no.  I then asked the child another set of questions.  Would you trade your eyes for all the presents in your hands?  Would you trade your feet for all the presents in your hands?  Would you trade your tongue and ability to speak for all the presents.  The child always answered no.  The gifts of his God given body were always more valuable, much more valuable than the plastic presents I gave to him.  The last toy was a plastic pail that I placed over the child’s head so he couldn’t see but needed my help to get back to his pew.  I explained to the child that God has already placed his immeasurable gifts in our hands but most often we can’t seen them.  Finally, I taught the child that the most difficult aspect of God’s gifts is that the greatest pleasure is not keeping them for ourselves but giving them away, or sharing them.  This is often the hardest lesson to learn, to share God’s generous gifts with others.  The child can keep all the gifts for him or herself or can share them with other children.  I then walked the child back to his/her pew with a bucket over his/her head and his/her hands filled with presents, graciously given.  It has been my experience that the child gives these gifts to other children, that the parents who watch ,“get it,” and that the child who received these numerous gifts remembers this event for years and tells me about it decades later. For some reason, this children’s sermon touched more deeply than others and was remembered fondly by the chosen few.

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