Two elderly Southern men sat in the front pew of church listening to a fiery preacher. When this preacher condemned the sin of stealing, they cried out at the tops of their lungs, “AMEN, BROTHER!” When the preacher condemned the sin of lust, they yelled again, “PREACH IT, REVEREND!” But when the preacher condemned the sin of gossip, the two got very quiet. One turned to the other and said, “He’s quit preaching and now he’s meddling’.”
That’s where we are in Ephesians. Paul has moved from preaching to meddling.
Do you remember Paul’s overall theme in Ephesians? God pulls it all together in Jesus. In that process, God pulls all people together in Jesus. We are the one people of the one God. That is today’s focus, so I’ll repeat it. We are the one people of the one God.
Jesus the Messiah is the focus, the sign and the means of this unity. The cross of Jesus overcomes all human dividing walls of hostility. We should not be surprised at this. After all, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”
How does this connect to last week’s words about justification by faith? The Holy Spirit makes us members of the one body of the Messiah. The Spirit empowers us to trust the one God in life and in death. This gift is for any and every person, regardless of background.
God is one and desires a single family. God’s love always unites. This is not the mere tolerance of our secular age. We settle for tolerance when we refuse to embrace one another in love. Tolerance is self-defense intended to minimize combat. We can do better. We are the one people of the one God.
So we invite, welcome and include newcomers in our church family. We invite, welcome and include newcomers in our church family because that’s what it means to follow Jesus. All are invited, welcomed and included. If all are not invited, welcomed and included, then Jesus is not our Lord.
That’s why you find these words on the tables in our Community Room:
As Christ’s church, we value the richness of God’s creation and offer a radical welcome to all people, appreciating our common humanity and our differences. We are a church that does not view diversity as a barrier to unity. We recognize and will challenge dynamics of power and privilege that create barriers to participation and equity in this church and society – for women, people of color, minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, people who are marginalized or living in poverty, and the LGBTQ community.
We are the one people of the one God. When we say “all are welcome” we mean “all.” Inviting, welcoming and including are not limited to people we know and like. Inviting, welcoming and including are not limited to people like us. Inviting, welcoming and including aren’t just for the sanctuary and then forgotten in the Community Room. Inviting, welcoming and including don’t require everyone to be just fine all the time. God loves us as we are and calls us to love one another the same way. We are the one people of the one God.
God overcomes our human divisions. That begins in our baptism. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ” Paul writes in Galatians three, verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight, “have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
God is rescuing all of Creation from sin, death and the devil. Those forces disrupt, divide and destroy God’s good Creation. God’s love always brings together. The Church is a sign, instrument and foretaste of that love. We are the one people of the one God.
In the Messiah, we are made whole together, and we are made holy together. This is temple language. Paul uses the image of the Jerusalem temple to illustrate this reality. So we need to discuss the nature of the Jerusalem temple for Christians. “Do you not know,” Paul writes in First Corinthians three, verse sixteen, “that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Paul echoes those words in Ephesians two. We are one body through the cross. We are no longer strangers but rather members together of the household of God. We are God’s temple, the dwelling place of God in the world.
For Christians there’s no connection between ancient, biblical Israel and modern, political Israel. There is no place for the prayers and blessings of American Christian pastors at government sites in Israel. The alliance between fundamentalist American Christians and ultra-orthodox Jews is cynical in both directions.
The Christians involved want the Jerusalem temple rebuilt because they believe this will bring about the Second Coming of Christ. They believe the Second Coming requires the destruction of that very same temple. They want to build it up to tear it down.
The Jews involved care nothing about that fundamentalist Christian vision. They wish to restore the Temple to its greatness during the time of King Solomon. They are happy to take Christian money and political influence to accomplish their goals.
Christians have no stake in rebuilding a temple in Jerusalem. The New Testament clearly and strongly asserts that the need for such a temple is past. The church filled with the Holy Spirit is now the “holy temple in the Lord.” In Christ we are built together into God’s dwelling-place. We are the one people of the one God.
As God’s new temple, we welcome men, women, people of color, minority ethnic groups, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, people who are marginalized or living in poverty, and the LGBTQ community. We’ve moved from preaching to meddling, thank God! Next week we will talk about how this good news moves into the world and confronts the powers of this world. Let us pray…
Pastor Lowell Hennigs