Ephesians 3:14 – 21
When I served a church in Woodstock, NY, I learned about an expression, “Holy Shamoley!” from a church member. His name is Knud Hansen, a wonderful human-being, a very faithful servant of God. Along with his wife, Gladys, they were pillars of the church. They were also known as “Grandpa and Grandma of Youth Group.” He is very wise and has a profound knowledge about Christian history, but he told me one day that he did not know how to withdraw money from ATM, because Gladys was taking care of “those matters.” Now, you can imagine what kind of person he is. One of his expressions is “Holy Shamoley!” Another one is “Holy Macro.” These are expressions of wonder of awe. They are what you say when you experience something so wonderful that you can’t even begin to find words to express it. So you say, “Holy Shamoley!” It’s what the Israelite said when Moses led them out of their bondage in Egypt. And that’s the same thing the people of Galilee expressed when they witnessed the healing and miraculous ministries of Jesus. They said, “Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world” – which is really just a fancy theological way of saying, “Holy Shamoley!”
Friends, one of God’s most beautiful ways of leading us deeper and deeper into relationship with Him/Her is through the Holy Shamoley experience!
Trouble is, we’ve gotten away from religious experiences. The advent of scientific rationalism has blessed us in many ways through discoveries and advances that help us stay healthy and live longer. But scientific rationalism has its limitations, too. By its very nature, it does not take seriously enough the importance of mystery and wonder and awe. Often we are led to believe that life can be reduced to mere facts, that there is no holy shamoley. Everything is just a chemical reaction of one kind or another. And so we find ourselves standing on an afternoon looking up at a breathtakingly beautiful rainbow, and we understand the science behind it, but we miss the meaning behind the science. That rainbow is a sign from God. Remember? In Genesis? It was made for us!
Annie Dillard, in her Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim At Tinker’s Creek, says we need to polish up on our ability to perceive the ways God’s love comes to us every day. She compares God in nature with a magician trying to please his audience, revealing one spectacle after another – now you see it, now you don’t. God gives us a beautiful golden sunrise, but then changes the color to purple, and then hides it all with a cloud that makes beams of light streak our way as the birds begin to sing. No moment in life is ever the same! God is constantly transforming it, re-drawing the canvas, trying to bring a smile to our faces. So Spring gives way to Summer, and Summer turns to Autumn, and then everything dies with the cold of Winter…and then…SURPRISE!!….new life! Holy Shamoley! Isn’t God wonderful?
So the Bible invites us to experience holy shamoliness – to see the beauty and wonder of God in the world all around us, and in people, too. Life is full of this, you know! All around us and into our lives every day streams a constant procession of people and experiences that bring us the love of this God who created us and loves us beyond measure. And the reason God provides us these signs is so that we will BELIEVE in Him/Her.
Now the Bible is not talking here about believing in the existence of God. The Bible treats that as a given. Neither is the Bible speaking about believing in a particular brand of theology. No, believing in God means simply this: coming to know without a doubt how fully and completely God loves you and the world, and how fully and completely God is committed to transforming our world and its people into a family that is more wonderful, and beautiful and full of life than we can even imagine!!
This is what it means to believe IN God! This is how Apostle Paul puts it in Ephesians 3. Of all the prayers that he could pray for us, this is the prayer he offers: “…I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how WIDE and LONG and HIGH and DEEP is the love of Christ, and to know this love that is beyond comprehension…” Here, Paul is praying that we will discover in Christ a living love so amazing that we will be left with nothing to say but,“Holy Shamoley!”
So how can you experience this love of God? First, Paul says to anchor your faith in love. You’ve got to make a commitment to love as the highest expression of faith. It is the number one thing that Christians are called to do. You know, Jesus said so. The new commandment he gave us is that we should love one another as He loved us. And in First Corinthians 13, God says, when you bring it all down to the basics, this Christianity business boils down to three human responses – faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these, God says, is…what? LOVE!
You see, faith without love produces suicide bombers, and people who think it’s okay to judge and exclude others. They oppress, even kill others in the name of their religion. Faith, without love, is a very harmful thing.
And hope without love produces people who are certain of going to heaven someday to the extent that they don’t live responsibly in this world. The very same people who walk down the aisle to accept Christ sometimes go out and discriminate other people, even quoting Scripture as they do.
Very sad! It is also a very harmful thing. A hope for heaven, without love on earth, is meaningless!
But faith and hope anchored in love is powerful and life-changing! Our faith begins and ends in love. So anchor your faith there and learn how to practice the art of Christian love!
I don’t know about you, but I’m much better at loving people who love me than I am at loving people who don’t. And I find it much easier to love those for whom I sense a degree of understanding and pity than those who don’t deserve my understanding and pity.
Last week, Barry Seeman introduced me a book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillibrand. As I read about Louis Zamperini’s incredible journey from a person of anger and hate created by horrible experiences at a Japanese concentration camp to a person of faith who is filled with love and hope and compassion, I said to myself, “Holy Shamoley!” In his later years, he visited to Japan to say “I forgive you” face to face to the soldiers who tortured him years ago.
This story reminds me of anther story that I was so impressed by. It is a true story about a Korean pastor whose name was Rev. Yang Won Son. During the Korean War, a North Korean soldier killed Rev. Son’s three sons. After the war was over, Rev. Son found out that the North Korean solider who killed his own sons were in a prisoner camp. To make a long story short, Rev. Son adopted the North Korean soldier as his NEW son… in order to save his life. Holy Shamoley! Can you believe that? I know (that) Christian love is ALWAYS stretching itself further, but is this really possible?
We should learn to risk extending our love to people and places beyond where we’re able to love now. As we do, we’ll discover the holy shamoley power of God! And so will the people we love!
Now the next thing Apostle Paul teaches is that we need to learn to know God’s love – to see it and experience it every day. Experiencing love is the fuel that drives our love! So Annie Dillard tells us to appreciate the love of God found in nature every day. Look for the love of God in people, too. And our church would say, look for the love of God in the Bible. It is the world’s greatest love story! And when you immerse yourself in it and read about lost people found, enslaved people set free, broken people made whole, rejected people accepted, fallen people redeemed, you can’t help but say, “Holy Shamoley!”
And then one last thing. According to Paul in Ephesians 3, the standard of Christian love is God’s own love. He prays that we may be filled to the full measure of all the fullness of God.
Who taught you how to love? Your parents? Teachers? Pastors? Sunday School teachers? Friends? Well, all those are good, but limited by sinful humanity. So perhaps one of the most basic steps in Christian discipleship is to forget about what the world has taught you about love, and to ask God to teach us anew. This is what happens on page after page of the Bible – Jesus forgives – Jesus heals – Jesus reconciles – Jesus redeems – Jesus feeds – Jesus lifts. And as the people of His day experienced that love, they said, “Holy Shamoley, we’ve never seen anything like this before!” And they came to believe in Him.
I hope you will believe in Him, too – that you will know without a doubt how fully and completely God loves you and the world and is committed to transforming this broken planet and all its people into a family more wonderful, and beautiful and full of life than anything we can imagine!
My prayer is that each day this week, God will come to you in love.
And that you will then go and bring that same love to others – that they may BELIEVE in God!!