Filed under: Sermons | Tags: community, early church, Ephesians, gentile, jewish, welcome
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Have you ever heard a news report that cites some poll or another and wondered who on earth these people are who are supposedly representative of the nation?
I know I have. But this week, I got to be one of those people! It took the polling company at least six times to actually get in touch with me, but then I patiently answered their questions while trying to get the baby dressed for bed. Or maybe the caller was the one who was really being patient, as I asked for the question again, or tried to remember if 5 or 1 was supposed to be mean strongly agree.
I came away from the experience with a clearer sense of what I actually felt. There’s a commitment that comes with saying aloud what you’re thinking that brought me some clarity.
We could use that clarity as we enter our exploration of Ephesians this morning. So, I have a little poll for you. You’re welcome to write down your answers, or just think of them in your head.
On a scale of 1 to 5, in which 1 is strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree, what is your reaction to these statements:
-I am comfortable in this congregation.
-I belong in this community.
-I am a good person who tries to do what is right.
-My life experience and expectations about the world are similar to those of others in this congregation.
-The way I live my life has an impact on my place in this congregation.
-If people knew everything about me, I might not be welcome here anymore.
Our reading from Ephesians calls listeners to remember who they are and how they got into the community. What are you discovering about your place in this community? On what is your security here founded?
When we read the Bible it’s really important to remember the context of what we’re reading. The context is like the backdrop, the stuff everyone who’s writing assumes we know and experience- stuff about the way the world works, how people interact, and the struggles we face. Context is everything taken for granted as the way things are. The context of all of the New Testament is the struggle within the community of God’s people. There is tension between Jewish people and the Jewish people who worship Jesus as the messiah. There is tension between the Jewish people who worship Jesus as the messiah and the Gentile, or non-Jewish people who worship Jesus as the messiah. There is tension between the first disciples of Jesus, and their followers, who are Jewish and think people who worship Jesus should also be Jewish, and the later disciples of Jesus, like Paul and his followers, some of whom, like Paul, are Jewish, and others of whom are not Jewish, and think people who worship Jesus don’t have to be Jewish.
The code word for Jewishness in the New Testament letters is circumcision. Talking about circumcision gets a few giggles from confirmation youth and confused eyebrow raising from adults. When you read or hear about circumcision in the New Testament, treat it as a code, or symbol, for all the laws and rituals that are part of Jewish people being Jewish. For the Jewish people of this time, and for generations upon generations before, Jewish identity- being the chosen people of God- was lived out by following God’s laws, rituals, and regulations. Circumcision, rituals of cleanliness, and even things like the Ten Commandments, are all part of what makes a Jewish person a Jewish person, part of God’s chosen community.
Jesus comes into the world, fulfilling the Jewish hope of a messiah from God. For the people who recognize Jesus as savior, especially as more and more people who were never a part of the Jewish group, the chosen people of God, come to recognize Jesus as being sent from God, the big debate becomes who belongs in Jesus’ community. For whom did Jesus come to save? Just the Jewish people who had been waiting for him? Or for everyone? Or for everyone who decided to join the Jewish community so they could be a part of Jesus’ community?
Ephesians is written by Paul’s followers, to these people who are trying to figure out what it means to follow Christ. Paul’s on the side of Jesus being for everyone. Paul’s Jewish, he’s part of the in-group of God’s chosen people, but he doesn’t think that’s important anymore. Paul’s a Pharisee, he’s been really good at following God’s law, but he doesn’t think that’s important anymore.
Now that Jesus has come, the only thing that matters, your only entrance into the community is Jesus himself. Now, everyone is welcome.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what group you’re a part of, or what you’ve done, nothing about the individual matters, it is Jesus alone who makes you a part of the community.
Ephesians opens by talking to the new Christians- remember who you are and how you got into the community. It was Jesus! Not you!
You had no claim on God, no right to a place in the kingdom of God- but Jesus came and found you and brought you in and found you a home.
The image we get in Ephesians is that of a building. You might imagine a school, a big building that is divided into littler rooms, keeping groups separated. In the past, one group was loved and favored and known, and the other was not. But now, Jesus has come in. He’s carrying a big sledge hammer and he goes after those walls. Plaster is flying, walls are crumbling, and finally, there is no more division. All are together, everyone is united.
Those walls are the law. Jesus destroys God’s law. Circumcision, ritual, ten commandments- all of it is destroyed, ended, abolished. The law was put in place so that people would know who they were. The Jewish people lived a different kind of life so that they would remember they belonged to God, and so that their neighbors would know the Jewish people were the chosen ones of God. The law was about showing you were a part of the right group.
Jesus makes you a part of his group, whether or not there’s anything right about you at all.
In Jesus, no one can say, “I belong more than you because I live in this right way” or “you don’t have a place because you haven’t followed this rule.” Where the law leads to pride and self-righteousness, Jesus leads us to humility.
“Remember.” Ephesians calls us to remember our place. Remember your place. Jesus has given you a place among the beloved and claimed saints. Jesus has made you his for life. It’s not something you did. You didn’t earn it, and you can’t lose it. Only Jesus’ faithfulness to you matters, and he has already proven that in his death on the cross and resurrection to life.
Remember that your place is secure. You don’t have to live in fear.
Remember that your place is dependent on Jesus. Live in humility rather than self-righteousness.
Jesus breaks down the dividing walls. Think of all the barriers and divisions in our world today. From crossing the aisle to crossing the tracks, bridging the gap- how is Jesus calling you to be a part of pulling those walls down?
Jesus is at work here at Cross, to build us together spiritually, so that we might be part of the great household of God. Jesus is breaking down walls in order to fit more people. Jesus is the reason there is room here for you. It’s not what you’ve done or haven’t done, it’s not whether or not you have the right opinion or stand on the right side of an issue, it’s not your family history or your current status.
As Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross, he pushed away any power you have in making yourself welcome or unwelcome in God’s community. Jesus went down into hell to destroy death’s power to separate us. Jesus rose so that our identity as the people of God would last from now through eternity.
This is a place of welcome for all of God’s people?
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment