Rooted and Grounded in God’s Expansive Love

Speaker:  Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata

Bible passage:  Ephesians 3:16-19

Summary:  When I hear the Apostle Paul’s call to be rooted and grounded in love, I think of California redwoods, whose roots are deep vertically and also wide horizontally, connecting with other redwoods.  In my experience, God’s love has expanded deeper and wider through:  experiencing diversity, growing in intimacy with God (including receiving God’s forgiveness and grace), and being touched by grief and suffering.  As we experience God’s expansive love, we will expand our capacity to love other people.   

How many of you have ever seen a tumbleweed? OK. How many of you have driven on a highway trying to dodge tumbleweeds blowing across the road? How many of you have had one get stuck under your car?

I spent many of my years living out west, in California, Arizona, and Texas, where tumbleweeds are plentiful and part of the landscape.

Tumbleweeds begin as a type of thistle bush, and as they get old, their roots weaken, they dry up, and they detach from the ground. And once they detach, they blow anywhere and everywhere that the wind takes them.

I’ve seen stories on the news of a mass of tumbleweeds that blow up against a house to the point of almost burying the house, and trapping the owners inside. They have to call 911 to get the tumbleweeds removed!

Tumbleweeds are the opposite of what the apostle Paul is talking about here in this passage from chapter 3 of his letter to the Ephesian church. Here he’s talking about being rooted and grounded,

or as The Message says “having feet firmly planted, not being uprooted and blowing around at the whims of the wind.”

And specifically what Paul is talking about here being rooted and grounded and firmly planted in love, whose source is God.

In verse 17, there are three key verbs that describe being firmly planted in God’s love:

First, the word “dwell”. That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, Paul says. To dwell is to inhabit, settle down. And the verb tense here signifies a permanent habitation, not a short visit where you’re just passing through.

Second, there’s the word “rooted”, sinking roots, and the verb tense here suggests not a temporary condition but something that is continuous and ongoing.

Third is the verb “grounded” which reminds us of laying a strong foundation, like the first thing a construction team does when they’re building a house.

When I think of these words, dwell, rooted, and grounded, I think of the biggest and strongest trees I’ve ever seen, which are redwoods.

Has anyone ever been out to California to see the redwoods? They’re amazing, aren’t they? We marvel at how tall and how wide they are. They have even carved out a hole in the trunk of one redwood that you can drive through in your car.

But as impressive as redwoods are above the ground, in what we can visibly see, they are just as impressive below the surface, in what we cannot see, their root system.

Roots of redwoods are deep, they can extend as far as 13 feet below the ground. This allows them to tap into underground water sources, to nourish them even in the driest conditions.

But not only are redwood roots deep, they are wide—they extend horizontally as well as vertically, across as well as down. By doing this, they support one another, become interconnected in an underground network with other redwoods.

And they share resources like water and nutrients and other information with one another, and in the process they contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of the forest ecosystem. What a great example of the power of collaboration!

The apostle Paul, after praying that Christ may dwell in the hearts of the Ephesian church, and praying that they may be rooted and grounded in God’s love, goes on to describe just how expansive God’s love is.

You can hear the excitement in his words as he prays that they will be able to comprehend just how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is, and prays that they will know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge—

In other words, it’s a love that is not only up here in the mind, but down here in the heart, and everywhere in between and below!

Or as The Message puts it, that they will be able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!

As I thought of this description of God’s love, I thought of something kind of random—I thought of the Library of Congress in downtown DC.

How many of you have been to the Library of Congress? I’ll admit, it wasn’t very high up on my bucket list, but when my buddies were visiting DC a couple of years ago, one of them wanted to go there, so we all went to see it.

I thought it was going to be just a good-sized library full of books on dusty shelves. I figured we’d be in and out of there in about 30 minutes, but boy, was I wrong.

Talk about expansive—the Library of Congress is so much more than what we think of we imagine a library.

It’s the largest library in the world and is the main research location of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. It has millions of books, and also films, videos, audio recordings, photographs, maps, and more.

It is huge inside, deep and wide—it is actually three buildings with many different floors.

I found an article called “16 fascinating historical artifacts stored in the Library of Congress”. Here are some of them:

Amelia Earhart’s palm print, a precursor to the Monopoly board game called “The Office Boy”, a lock of Walt Whitman’s hair, the contents of Abe Lincoln’s pockets on the day he was assassinated, Thomas Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream recipe, and the first book published in America, which is a copy of the Psalms.

Oh, and there’s a series of photographs taken of the solar eclipse in 1878.

God’s love is expansive like the Library of Congress—it’s deep and wide, high and low. It’s like the song we sang earlier–

The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell, it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.”

Or if we could fill the ocean with ink, and the skies were made of parchment paper, and every cornstalk was a pen, to write about the love of God on that parchment with all those pens would drain the ocean completely dry of ink.

One way I envision the depth and width of God’s love is by seeing the deep as our vertical relationship with God, and the wide as being God’s love shared between us humans. Like those roots of a redwood that go high and wide, or like a cross.

And it seems to me that the apostle Paul could have imagined it that way as well.

Paul had an expansive view of God’s love and of the church. He didn’t start out that way, but an amazing conversion experience on the road to Damascus that turned his heart toward God and burst open the boxes he had put God in.

And he went from being a zealous Jew who persecuted Christians, to being as he called himself “an apostle to the Gentiles”.

Not only did his vision of God’s love expand to people outside of the Jewish faith, but it also expanded across gender lines, as he affirmed the gifts of women in leading churches that he had started.

I know that Paul gets a bad rap among some Christians, due to some things he said in Ephesians and other letters about women. Pastor Caleb is going to set us straight on Paul when he preaches on Ephesians 5 in a couple of weeks!

I really think that Paul’s views and his example regarding women were radical for his time, given women’s roles and men’s attitudes towards women in his day.

He equipped and empowered several women to serve as leaders in churches, like Priscilla in Ephesus, Lydia in Philippi, and Phoebe near Corinth.

In some ways, Paul was more inclusive than we give him credit for. And the reality of our time now is that Christians too often like to be exclusive when we should be inclusive.

There’s another hymn that talks about this, it’s called There’s a wideness in God’s mercy. One verse says:

But we make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own, and we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own. Unfortunately that’s an indictment on many Christians and churches today.

So many people are longing to experience God’s grace and mercy, and compassionate love in their lives and through other people, but instead they hear of a God who is judgmental, condemning, angry, and out to get them.

I love this quote by author and pastor Brian Zahnd about God’s true nature:

If you sense that God is good, God is beauty, God is love, and most of all, that God is like Jesus, stick with these instincts and your theology will not go far astray from the truth.

So how can the roots of God’s love grow and expand deeper and wider in our lives? Let me share a few ideas based on my own experience:

First, it has grown through opening myself up to understanding God in new ways. Some authors who have helped me grow in recent years are Brian Zahnd, Henri Nouwen, Rachel Held Evans, Rich Villodas, and Skye Jethani, to name a few.

Also, the last book club book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes shed new insights on reading scripture from the worldview of the authors of the Bible as well as from the worldviews of different cultures in today’s world.

Along with this, being part of a church community that has racial, cultural and socio-economic diversity has opened my eyes and challenged me to expand my view of the world and also learn to love people different from myself.

If people like me only rub shoulders with other white Americans, my view of the world and the church is so narrow and could easily lead me to embrace things like Christian Nationalism.

Also, I have grown deeper and wider through experiencing God personally in new ways in my one-one relationship with God—

for example, learning a more contemplative way of being with God through silence and solitude has helped me pray in new ways which has helped me sink deeper roots and increased my intimacy and trust with God.

Related to this, another way I have grown in love is through learning to be honest with God about my brokenness, my sin and shortcomings, with the confidence of receiving God’s forgiveness and grace.

One of my favorite promises of God is 1 John is chapter 1, vs. 9: If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Third, I have found that the God’s love grows deeper and wider through experiences of suffering and grief. Who here remembers that old Peter, Paul, and Mary song- Weave Me the Sunshine?

The chorus is “weave me, weave me the sunshine out of the pouring rain, weave me the hope of a new tomorrow, shine on me again.”

And the first verse is “they say that the tree of loving…shine on me again…it grows on where? “the banks of the river of suffering”. The sunshine is the love that grows out of the rain and storms in our lives.

There’s so much truth to this, if we allow ourselves to face the suffering and grief in our life and in those around us.

As a pastor, I’ve officiated at both weddings and funerals. Weddings are definitely joyful times where so much love is shared as people celebrate two lives coming together as one flesh.

Funerals can be tougher, as people are grieving the loss of a loved one. They’re hurting and suffering.

But at the same time, in my experience, funerals can be a time when God’s love grows deeper and wider as people grieve together, experience God’s comfort and hope, and remember the impact the person had on their lives.

So these are just a few ways that the roots of God’s love has grown and expanded deeper and wider in my own life experience

Through new understandings and deeper intimacy with God, experiences with diversity, allowing myself to receive God’s forgiveness and grace, and experiences of grief and suffering.

In the sermon response time, I’d love to hear how your own experiences have produced deeper roots. How have the roots of God’s love grown and expanded deeper and wider in your life?

I’m convinced that those who experience God’s expansive will expand their capacity to love others. Growing the vertical leads to growing the horizontal, and that produces a strong and healthy and vibrant root system in our lives.

So friends let’s be redwoods, not tumbleweeds. Instead of allowing ourselves to drift aimlessly as the wind takes us, let us seek to be rooted and grounded in God’s love, knowing the deep and wide love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

Because as the apostle Paul says at the end of our scripture, this is what leads to living rich and full lives, full in the fullness of God. And I can’t think of a better way to live our lives. Can you?