It’s a little over a week to an auspicious day on our personal family calendar. It was on August 5, 1994, after an anxious nine-month wait (yeah, funny isn’t it?), that my wife and I drove to Chicago O’Hare Airport to pick up an orphan named Kim Myung Hoon, a nine-month-old with bright eyes and a ready smile, and as if by magic turned him into our son Rhys, who is now a young adult and somewhat embarrassed to be the center of such attention. Gotcha Day. Every August 5, it’s Gotcha Day. It’s not a birthday, but then sort of; it’s a rebirth day, a day of becoming a family. That little life from halfway around the planet changed our lives in an instant. He filled a gap we didn’t even know we had. That moment turned us upside down or right side up with a simple smile and a reach from the hands that held him on that long flight from South Korea to our hands. To our hearts.
An odd moment in the process was when we met with the judge to formalize the adoption. The legalese was stunning, to say the least. One phrase stood out in my mind over all the others. Whereas—it’s always whereas for the legal profession—“whereas over time they learned to love him” . . . I almost said, excuse me, but no. No there was no over time thing here. It was an instant. In the terminal at O’Hare Airport, standing at the gate (yes, you used to be able to go clear to the gate in those days, watch the plane land, wait anxiously for all the passengers to disembark and then set eyes on the child who will be, who was your child), in an instant he was mine. He was ours; we were his. Family. Just like that. We didn’t need to learn to love. We needed to learn to live with him, and we’re still doing that frankly, because he changes all the time. We needed to learn how to express that love and how to respond to that love. But the love itself was a gift, a moment of grace that came from somewhere, someone else.
“For this reason,” Paul writes. Okay, one little aside here, I’ll say it again – there is some considerable debate about whether this letter was written by Paul or not. We do know that not all the texts in the New Testament that carry Paul’s name were actually written by Paul. We know that plagiarism as a concept didn’t exist at the time of the writing of the documents of the Bible. We also know that it was a common practice to attribute a letter or a sermon to someone famous in order to get more people to read it. No one would have considered that odd in those days. So, one of the questions that biblical scholarship needs to help answer for us is whether the documents we have were actually written by the people whose names are on them. It is important for us to know from a historical point of view. It is good to know how the Bible came to be as we have it. It is important for us to understand that the words that we value so much came about through a community process, that the Spirit inspired a wide range of folks over a long period of time. We need to understand that the words we read are a part of a lived experience, not some abstract truth that we were handed from above. The historical critical process is one of the tools the church can use to examine our foundational documents. So, you need to know, and I need to be honest enough to admit, that there is some debate as to whether Paul wrote these words or not. And to be honest, I’m not sure.
On the other hand, I’m not sure it matters all that much. If we view the Bible as a community project anyway, then who actually put pen to paper (or some ancient world equivalent) doesn’t really matter. I have no doubt that if Paul didn’t write this letter, then he certainly influenced it. Those are his words and his thoughts that appear throughout these verses. I am happy to use the shorthand and talk about what Paul said.
“For this reason,” Paul writes. What’s the reason? Well, he spends the first part of the letter explaining the reason. It is because of the immeasurable grace of God. Because in that grace, all are welcome; all are included. All. And for Paul, all means all. Some of the rest of them had to struggle with all. Surely not gentiles, they said; surely not pagans, surely not enemies, surely not those whose lives are just way too different from ours, who don’t speak our language, who don’t dress like we do, think like we do, work like we do. Not all, surely. No, says Paul, all means all. And for this reason, I fall to my knees in awe of God.
And, he says, I pray. For more. More of this grace freely offered. More of the love that staggers the imagination. Give us more. Give us strength. That’s first on his list. Strength in the inner being. Strong hearts, strong souls. He wants us strong at the core of our being. Knowing that we are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he wants us strong where it counts. We pray for bad things to go away or not come to us. Paul prays that we have the strength to stand when the bad things come. He prays that we might have power.
That power comes from the Spirit. It comes from the Christ who dwells in us. Because we are in process. As you are being rooted and grounded in love. We receive the capacity to love by grace. It is a gift. Boom. Instant. Like a new life awaiting you in an airport terminal. But it takes time to learn to live that life of love. It takes effort. It takes moving forward and falling back. It takes success and failure to learn to live a life of love. We have to rock the vehicle, back and forth in order to break free of the rut we find ourselves in from time to time. We are being rooted and grounded in love. Being rooted. We’re not done. As soon as we think we are done, as soon as we think we’ve got it, we’ve lost it. Hold on to the Christ who dwells within.
So, we can know. That’s why we contemplate Christ. That’s why we study his life, listen to his words, weep at his example, rejoice at his blessing – so that we can know. Know what? Know what is unknowable. Know what is beyond knowing. The breadth and width and height and depth. Um . . . of what? Of him. Of his love. Paul wants us to know that which surpasses knowledge. If your head isn’t spinning yet, then go back and read it again. Paul prays that we are to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. And this knowing of the unknowable, or maybe better, this knowing that we didn’t come to on our own but that was given to us like a child in an airport allows us to be filled up.
That’s what happened that first Gotcha Day all those years ago. I was filled up. We were filled up with love and joy and happiness, but also with concerns and worries and needs to be met. We were filled with that which keeps us going, which pushes us to go further, to go deeper. It’s a commitment, certainly. A new way of living, of being, of loving. Paul calls it being filled with all the fullness of God – blessing and possibility and suffering and hurt too. God doesn’t call us to an easy life, but a full life, a deep life – a life that struggles with how to love but driven by the certainty that loving is a better way to live. Even if we don’t always know how, it is going to work out.
But that’s okay. Not knowing is okay. Because there is one who knows. And our vision is limited, so we’ll trust in the one who sees more and can work what seem like miracles every day – far more than all we ask or imagine, because we don’t know how to ask or imagine. We’ll just love. Together. That’s the other important secret of this passage. All the yous are plural. We do this better together, this learning to love thing, this living in hope thing, this being filled with all the fullness thing. We do it, we know it, we experience it better together. All y’all. Us all. Now that’s worthy of a doxology, right, Paul? “Now to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Amen.