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  Rev. Dr. Cornelius Plantinga
© Calvin College 2001

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Pictures from the March 4, 2001 Anniversary Worship Service

The Hymn
"Oh God, We Kneel Before Your Throne"

 

Stainglass windowPrayer of Illumination
Guide us, O God, by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light. Send out your light and your truth, O God, and let them lead us, through Jesus Christ, your Son, in whom we pray. Amen.

 

According to the Riches of his Glory
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Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Brothers and sisters, we have just heard words as magnificent as anything in Scripture. We've heard a prayer so rich, so dynamic, so alive with the Spirit of God that none of us can take its full measure. You know, all Scripture is inspired, but some Scripture is electric. It's electric and you hardly dare to touch it.

Click to view a larger imageThe prayer shows us the huge U-shaped flow of traffic between God and the people of God. God pours out grace and glory among people who put it to work and then give the harvest right back to God. So the prayer begins: "I bow my knees before the Father," the first of the Holy Trinity, the one from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth has gotten its identity as children of God. This is the family of angels and humans, of saints and martyrs, of people living and dead—the whole family of God. When we pray we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses. Our prayers are always family prayers. In fact, I can think of excellent reasons to believe that this very hour, while we sing and celebrate, we are surrounded by Gerrit Boer and Foppe Ten Hoor; by Geerhardus Vos and Louis Berkhof; by Harry Jellema and John Bratt; by Brant Lanser and Jylene Baas and Catherine Van Opynen. I know that some of them might be too busy to attend, but we sort of expect them today, because this celebration is for all the saints.

Paul starts with God the Father, and asks for God's Spirit to unleash his power, and for God's Son to plant his love. Power, love, Christ, Spirit—these gifts and persons must come down so that some of their glory may go back up to God in the great family exchange of giving and taking and giving back. Give, O God, from the riches of your glory, says Paul, so that we may have Christ in us, and strength in us. Give us the strength, O God, so that we may become warriors against the spirits of darkness, and agents of all the good works that You have created us to do—all the works of justice, the works of forgiveness, the works of conspicuous kindness that send glory right back to God.

Chapter 6 tells us that we need this strengthening because our battle isn't against flesh and blood, but against the powers, the powers of this present darkness. The Holy Spirit isn't the only Spirit around, as Robert Roberts says. There are also the spirits of pride and cruelty. There are spirits of deceit and confusion. Thereís the spirit of hypocrisy that Jesus hated so much. There are spirits of sexism and racism and hatred of homosexual persons—evil spirits that can haunt great Christian institutions and corrupt them.

The Holy Spirit is at war with evil spirits, and so we need God's gift to discern the spirits, to disentangle the spirits. We need to know whoís who and whatís what in the great competition of world spirits.

Let me say that all this discerning is very hard to do. We have to hate what's evil and cling to what's good, but sometimes good and evil twine around each other so that it's hard to tell where the one leaves off and the other begins. According to Scripture, the devil himself is a master of disguise, and likes to masquerade as an angel of light.

This is one reason why we need powerful education in Calvin College and in Calvin Theological Seminary. We want the knowledge, skills, and virtues that will serve God's kingdom of light, but that means we have to learn the difference between darkness and light, and struggle to find our way through the shadows that lie between them.

Click to view a larger imageTo succeed we'll need the riches of God's glory. We'll need some of the glory to enlighten us, and then to strengthen us to do God's work in the world. And so Paul bows his knees before the heavenly Father and prays that God will send strength and love, so that believers will be able to comprehend the great things of God—what is the breadth and length and height and depth. Paul prays that believers will know the love of Christ, the ultimate source of every self-giving impulse that has ever blessed the church and the world. The love of Christ. Paulís not talking about giving a hug or sharing a feeling. These little loves won't take anybody to a cross. To go to a cross for somebody, your love would have to be fierce. Paul is talking about the love of Jesus Christ! To go to a cross you would have to be terrifying in the strength of your passion for sinners. "God so loved the world that he sent his only Son"—thatís not just a Bible verse. Thatís a cry from the depths. Thatís almost a battle-cry.

Paul prays to God the Father to send the power and the Spirit and the love of Christ, so that by the power at work within them believers may join hands and join forces to battle for good in the world. Then all the glory of the battle, and all the glory of good works of justice and compassion, all the glory of billions of saints and martyrs fastened by faith to Jesus Christ—all this glory with names and faces and histories in it—all this glory may go back to God. The glory of God is like the Son of God, coming down to do the great works of redemption. There is terrible struggling and fighting and dying, but then there is the astonishing power of resurrection and ascension that sends the incarnate Christ, wounds and all, back to the one who sent him.

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