“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17).
This past summer Cinnamon and I had a chance spend a week in the magnificent Yellowstone National Park. We had such a wonderful time hiking and exploring the very first National Park, that shortly after our trip, we began thinking about paying a visit to the rest of our nation’s national parks. That was until we recently discovered that there are actually 397 national parks (so, we’ll just wait and see).
However, one park that we do plan on making it to is the Redwood Forest National Park in California. I have always been captivated by the beauty of the majestic Redwoods. Some of them are so large that cars can drive through them and dances can be held on their stumps.
Currently, the world’s largest tree is a Redwood located somewhere in the park and has been measured at 379 feet and 4 inches tall. Just to give you an idea of how large this is. It is almost twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty!
One of the fascinating facts about these giant trees is that they possess a very shallow root system. Their roots practically lay on top of the ground. When you consider the height and weight of these giants, it is truly amazing that these trees are able to stand at all (especially in high winds and storms).
However, what keeps these massive trees stable is their proximity to one another. As the tree grows, its roots reach out in all different directions and eventually get tangled up with roots from other surrounding Redwoods.
The roots then grow together, intertwining with one another, creating a stabilizing root bed that helps each tree to stand. In other words, a lone Redwood tree growing by itself won’t very last long, but a forest full of Redwoods can last for thousands of years.
In today’s epistle lesson, St. Paul uses the imagery of a tree being planted in the ground in order to encourage the Christians in Ephesus to always be “rooted and grounded in love.” Although Paul was probably not specifically referring to a Redwood tree, the same principle applies.
When a tree puts its roots into the ground, it is able to take in nutrients and water, and the tree grows and has life. In the same way, when we are grounded and rooted in love, our souls are nourished by God and we are given new life. In addition, like a forest full of trees, our faith can be strengthened when we are surrounded by others.
After all, to be rooted and grounded in love is not only about being in relationship with God, but also with others. The more our roots are entangled with the roots of others who have faith, the stronger we will become.
An academic journal called “The Journal of Happiness Studies” publishes articles that identify what makes human life flourish. When researchers look at what distinguishes quite happy people from less happy people, one factor consistently separates these two groups.
It is not how much money they have; it is not their health, security, attractiveness, IQ, or career. According to the journal, what distinguishes consistently happier people from less happy people is the presence of deep, meaningful relationships.
Social researcher Robert Putnam puts it this way, “The single most common finding from a half-century’s research on life satisfaction, not only from the U.S. but around the word, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one’s relationships.”
Paul was keenly aware of the importance and value of our relationships with others. In today’s epistle, when he encourages the Ephesians to be rooted and grounded in love, he is encouraging them not only to be filled and nourished with God’s love, but also to share that love by establishing meaningful, deep relationships.
Like the great Redwood trees of California, Paul knew, without intertwining our roots with others in the community of faith, we would not be able to stand, especially when facing hardships and difficulties.
So, God established the forest, which we call the church. And when we sink our roots into the local body and become intertwined with one another, like the great Redwoods, we too, are strengthened and able to stand.
As we know, the church is not simply a building, institution, or denomination organized around certain beliefs and structures. The church is the gathering of God’s people who place their faith in Christ. It is a people rooted and grounded in love, who serve God, and the world in His name.
As the Anglican priest and author Ernest William Southcott once said, “The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people—strengthened by preaching and sacrament—go out of the church door into the world to be the church. We don’t go to church; we are the church.”
Paul goes on to say in today’s epistle, that to be rooted and grounded in love is to comprehend all the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love. In other words, our faith is much stronger when we realize that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.
Although we say that we worship at St. Thomas’, that we are Episcopalians, and that we are a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion; we are first and foremost followers of Jesus Christ. And in a mystical sense, we all belong to one universal church.
Paul wanted the early church, and us today, to remember that we can not stand alone. Instead, we are part of something much larger and–if we allow it to–the love of Christ working within us can reach beyond our wildest imaginations.
Today, may we be rooted and grounded in God’s love. May we, like the giant Redwoods in California, always be intertwined with one another. May we be a church who sees the forest through the trees by seeing ourselves as a small, but vital part of a much larger community of faith. And may we remember that through God’s power working in us, we can do infinitely more than we can ask or ever imagine.
Sermon “Rooted and Grounded in Love”