First Congregational Church, Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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More Than All We Can Ask or Imagine
October 15, 2000
Ephesians 3:14-21           The Rev. Carol DiBiasio-Snyder

Introduction to the Scripture:

Most scholars dont think that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, the earliest manuscripts leave out the phrase addressing it to the church at Ephesus. Some theorize that this letter is a collection of many of Pauls teachings used for general circulation among the Christian churches in the first century.

In any case, our reading for today ends the first half of the letter and draws to a close a series of theological teachings before the writer moves on to more practical matters. Whether it was Paul or not, I cant help picturing the moment this particular paragraph was written. The author has been writing with depth and exuberance about Gods salvation made available to us in Jesus the Christ. I can see him hunched over at his writing desk, the flame from his oil lamp casting shadows on the wall as he comes to his conclusion. These words have a sense to them that the writer has gotten quite carried away and passionate about these wonderful ideas.

Like the dramatic closing movement of a symphony, the author bursts forth with excitement about Gods astounding love and work in the person of Jesus. I can see him overcome with joy, writing faster and faster, hardly stopping to dip his pen in the ink he is so driven to share this good news. Let us now listen to what this writer was so anxious to tell us.
          Ephesians 3:14-21

          Now to God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

          If someone had asked me how I thought this congregation would respond to my mothers decline and death, I would have said that I was sure people would be kind, compassionate and understanding. I would imagine that people would be sympathetic and gracious. And I was right. . . sort of.

          What I mean is, you have been all those things, and you have been so much more. Your kind cards that arrived day after day with love and prayers sealed in them, your comforting hugs, the flowers, the plants and the many generous memorial gifts that honor my mother have overwhelmed me with a grace and love I had not imagined. Your willingness to let me be human and take the time and space I need to grieve and your patience in listening to just one more story about my mom, have touched both Ralph and me deeply.

          Your embrace of my broken heart has surely been more than all I could ask or imagine.

          Five years ago, I had a dream come true. As part of our Sabbatical, Ralph and I searched and found some of my fathers relatives in southern Italy. I got a 10 year old address from my uncle and aunt in Cleveland and I sent a letter (translated into Italian by Serafina Vitale). And I waited. It took more than a month for my letter to arrive in that tiny southern hill town, but my dads cousins wrote back a warm and welcoming letter that arrived just before we left on our trip. A final phone call by Serafina completed the arrangements and we wondered and worried about just what situation we might find ourselves in when we arrived.

          We need not have worried. Angela and Lina threw their arms wide and opened heart and home to us, strangers, yet famiglia from across the ocean that had separated all of us for so long. They fed us the biggest meal I have ever eaten (and I have eaten some grand feasts!) and they showed us off around town like we were visiting royalty.

          They took us to meet my grandmothers sisters. Growing up we visited grandma most Sundays and she lived with us when I was in high school. One of grandmas sisters, Tomasina, Angela and Linas mother, was ill and in the hospital. I will carry with me forever the moment when we stepped off the elevator and there waiting for us was Tomasina, huge smile spread across her face and in that face I saw my grandma and in her arms I felt the strength and love that I had felt so many times from grandma. We simply held each other for a long time and she kept patting my cheek and I saw a remarkable twinkle in her eye.

          This experience was surely more than all I could ask for imagine.

          In January of 1981 this church was busy preparing to respond to the arrival of a Vietnamese boat people family fleeing for safety to this country. Before the month was over, the Le family had arrived, before all the preparations could be completed.

          But the church rose to the occasion. Ann Marshall, chair of the Board of Benevolence, housed the young family for a week until they could move into an apartment made available by a church member. Taking on coordination of the many needs of the family, she became their Mother Ann. The Les attended English classes at Fox Valley Technical College. Hung and Hai were encouraged by Don Sullivan to apply for part-time jobs at Triangle Manufacturing Company. After Hung and Hai were hired, Jon Laehn helped them find acceptance among the other workers and supported them in their work efforts. The Les were eager to learn and had goals for their family, according to Ann. Through their own hard work and the efforts of many members of the congregation, the young family began their successful resettlement in the United States.

          In the summer of 1981 the Le family, with the exception of Hai, moved to Florida with their uncle, who had located jobs and housing for them there. Hai remained in Oshkosh to study, with the intention of eventually attending the university here. Mary Fallon assisted Hai in his studies and encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer. Hai completed his education with a degree from the University of Minnesota. For a time, Hai lived in New York where he met and married Hanh and eventually joined his family in Florida.

          Surely the Le Family experienced more than all they could ask or imagine. But so did all the church members involved in helping them. In 1997 the Le family came back to visit their friends here in Oshkosh at this church, clutched in their hands a generous check for the church for almost $1,000.00 to say thanks. Surely this amazing gift was more than any of us could ask or imagine.

          In 1983, when our church began the partnership to start Casa Cara, our residential home for the chronically mentally ill, we made an initial investment over $30,000 that many thought we might never see again. Over the years, Casa Cara or House of Caring has continued to provide safe and affordable housing for those are often forgotten. Now, through the payback of original money, and the generosity of some church members our church has actually received more money than it invested. Surely God is able to do far more than all we can ask for imagine.

          Last year, when our church began a capital funds campaign of $500,000, not everyone was convinced we could reach the goal. However, through the hard work of the New Millennium Committee and the generosity of this congregation, we have exceeded this goal! We also now have the delightful task of deciding how to distribute the $50,000 benevolence portion of the money raised. Surely God is able to do far more than all we can ask or imagine.

          Have I repeated the phrase from verse 20 of our reading for today title of this sermon and the theme for stewardship time this year -- enough that I can be like the Exclusive Company guy and incite you to "Say it with me?!" More than all we can ask or imagine.

          God is always doing that. Giving us more than all we can ask or imagine. God has been doing it for a long time. Just ask Sarah and Abraham, centenarians rocking their newborn baby. Ask the wedding guests sipping the excellent wine at the wedding in Cana. Ask one of the 5,000 who was there when Jesus blessed 5 loaves and 2 fish on that Galilean hillside where it then took 12 baskets to gather up the left overs. Or ask Mary and Joseph, or Paul, or anyone of a hundred other biblical folks who experienced and knew that God is able to do far more than all we can ask for imagine.

          Sure we all have times of great doubt, times we cry out to God in pain and agony and wonder if there is any God at all. Yes, we struggle to understand that if God is able to do far more than all we can ask or imagine, why doesnt God act more clearly and quickly in our lives, in the lives of those we love and in our broken world. And yet, and yet, if we are willing to see it and receive it, time after time, God does do more than all we are able to ask or imagine.

          As we enter this stewardship season that calls us to connect our spirituality and our giving, I am reminded that Jesus spoke about money with alarming frequency. He knew our material goods and our attitudes about them carried a great deal of meaning. Today, as I think about our scriptures ringing affirmation of Gods goodness and power, I can see that one reason I give money to Gods work is out of my deep gratitude for God doing far more than I could ask or imagine.

          Ive also been thinking of the ripple effect my giving has. I give out of my gratitude for God doing far more than I can ask or imagine so that the churchs ministry can reach out to those in need so that they experience God doing far more than they can ask for imagine and perhaps that prompts action from them towards others in which even more people experience Gods goodness and power. This reminds me of when I was a kid, I was fascinated by the idea of eternal connections illustrated by holding a hand mirror in just the right position to the mirror on the bathroom wall so that my reflection would be repeated over and over as one mirror repeated the reflection in the other in an infinite line of little Carols. Now aside from the obvious ego boost, this gave me an example, a glimpse into the idea of eternal connections. Our gratitude moves us to give and then others receive and their gratitude moves them to give and that recipient is moved to give and on and on. Its part of a long chain in which your money grows in meaning and effectiveness.

          So in this stewardship season, as you consider your giving to Gods work through this church, ponder how God has blessed you and think about how you can then be a blessing to others. Open your heart and mind to see and feel where Gods grace has been more than you could ask or imagine. Seek God seriously in prayer to know what you are called to give. But I feel I must warn you: it just might be more than you would have imagined! Amen.

Rev. Nancy A. Taylor - Pastor - Contact FCC OR Contact Staff
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