The family gathered, abiding in grace

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)

Sunday has arrived for the faithful women who are in Beirut until Monday, and this Sunday found us where we should be: in worship with the church.

We spent this Lord’s Day in the National Evangelical Church of Beirut worshiping with their English-speaking congregation, known as the international church. This church site is where the very first school for girls was opened by Protestant missionaries in the 1830s, and was also the original site of the Near East School of Theology. The church was destroyed in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, and has since been rebuilt. The original bell tower still stands scarred by bullets and mortar explosions, and the rebuilt church is faced with a stone veneer made from the original stone walls of the church. It has seen much since it was first built over 150 years ago!

Our own Rev. Kate Kotfila had been invited to preach to this amazing gathering of God’s people and had been given the text at the top of the blog from Ephesians. And she opened with this moment of, Now I bow my knees before the Father…

“We are in Paul’s very prayer closet!” she proclaimed. His prayers are not puny or predictable, but instead are powerful and universal.

Rev. Robert Hamd and his wife Joyce in the front row this morning with worshipers in the international church gathering.

Rev. Robert Hamd and his wife Joyce in the front row this morning with worshipers in the international church gathering.

From whom every family on earth is named… He is praying for all of us, the whole family on earth. And this is the family that was gathered in this small hall on a Sunday morning in Beirut. Lebanese. Kenyan. American. Black. White. Man. Woman. University professor. Hotel worker. Embassy staff. Church staff. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters and brothers. All of us as the family of God.

By the power of his spirit we are strengthened and filled with the fullness of God. And in God’s economy, we find that strength and joy in the places where that cross is laid before us, the hard places, the places others would not go.

And how can this happen? Because the love of God is poured into us as from a never-emptying pitcher into the vessels of our hearts. This love in turn is what turns suffering into endurance – and not distress! – and endurance forms character, and character produces that hope which does not disappoint.

In a part of the world where suffering has become the normal and it is easier to turn and walk away - or run - here stands the church, a church that knows and experiences what Eugene Peterson describes as the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Oh yes! Even in two short days in tiny glimpses, we know this to be true.

Louise Westfall, Marilyn Borst, Patti Gatzke, Kate Kotfila, Julie Burgess and Meryle Gaston gather together in front of the clocktower on Parliament Square, Beirut.

Louise Westfall, Marilyn Borst, Patti Gatzke, Kate Kotfila, Julie Burgess and Meryle Gaston gather together in front of the clocktower on Parliament Square, Beirut.

And with power and conviction, Kate closed with this: “Do you worry? If you can worry, you can meditate. If you choose to meditate, meditate on this and soon you will memorize it and it will be a part of your being.”

Meditate on and memorize this: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

And this was worship with the body of Christ at the international church in Beirut, Lebanon, this Sunday morning. And we passed the peace, one to another. And there was coffee. And there was cake. And there was a family gathered, all generations, as it was in the beginning and ever shall be.

And we closed in song:

The Lord lift you up
The Lord take your hand
The Lord lead you forth
and cause you to stand
Secure in God’s word
Seeking God’s face
Surrounded by love
Abiding in grace.

To God be the glory in his church, his family, and in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Julie Burgess