Year B Trinity 5/Proper 11; Ephesians 2:11-22
11Therefore, remember that formerly you who
are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those
who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body
by the hands of men)-- 12remember that at that time you were separate
from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the
covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought
near through the blood of Christ.
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
On occasions I have asked people to draw a picture of a church. It was often a building with a spire or tower, stained glass windows. Yet the church is a collection of people. Of different ages, races, backgrounds, jobs, male and female. Refer to school visits re meaning of church. People of God, not a building.
Many people, including some Christians, do not have a high opinion of the church. They may say, 'Christ, yes; the church, no'. Some claim to love Jesus, desiring to follow him, yet have little time for the church. This low estimation of the church may be due to several reasons, including a lack of understanding of what the church truly is, as taught in the Bible. A misconception of the church, perhaps fostered by mistaken views of the church held by many. The individualistic nature of society is also influential. This may cause people to concentrate on their own faith whilst ignoring the part they are called to play on the local church, both in giving and receiving.
Some people claim to be Christians today and say that they do not need to go to church to be a Christian. This is true in the sense that you could continue being a Christian if you were marooned on a desert island. But it is not the best way to live out the Christian life. It is not the way that God intended it to be.
It is like someone claiming to be a good football player. You ask him what team he plays for and he says he doesn't play for a team ! Without a team you cannot fulfil a role or position. You can't be a defender because you haven't got anyone else to play in goal, midfield, or in attack. You haven't got anyone to congratulate you when you score a goal, to encourage you when you make a mistake, or to cover you when you go to another position... Yes, you can kick a ball around an empty park, yet it soon gets boring and you are unable to develop to your full potential.
Hebrews 10:24f : "And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another..."
The hymn writer, Frances Ridley Havergal said, "An avoidable absence from church is an infallible evidence of spiritual decay"
In the first part of our Epistle today, Ephesians 2:11-18, Paul reminds the Ephesians Christians of the basis of their trust in God. He refers to the way that Jesus has removed the sin that separates people from God. And the sin that separates people from one another.
Paul first of all addresses the divisions that were in the church, namely the one between Jews and Gentiles, people who were not Jews. The Jews thought that the Gentiles could not come to God, that they were excluded from God's plan of salvation. That they were far from God. The Jews considered Gentiles to be groomed for hell. But, in verse 13 Paul writes, "But now in Christ Jesus you, who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ."
Paul then addresses the barrier that is between God and man.
Sin, going our own way rather than God's way. He does this in verses 14-18. Verse 18 summarises what Jesus has done for us. "For through him ( Jesus ) we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access to the Father by one Spirit."
Therefore, there is no room for divisions within the church. There is room for everyone : men and women; young and old; black and white; all classes; single people and families; Anglican, Baptist and Methodist; People from Talke Pits and people who are not... and the list goes on. This does not mean that we all have to agree about everything. Politics, how much water to baptise in, etc. We should concentrate on what unites us, and agree to disagree about secondary issues. This is something that we do locally, as evidenced by the Unted Radio Stok service we have here on Thursday evening from 6.45 p.m.
We have just heard in our gospel reading ( Matthew 16:18 ) that the church was Jesus' invention, something that started on the day of Pentecost.
Today we might entitle the sermon "What is the church?"
From verse 19 onwards Paul uses three different pictures of the church.
1) The church is God's kingdom.
About four years ago newspapers carried a story about an elderly couple who had left this country to go on a holiday to Australia. They had liked it so much that they stayed there for six years. Even setting up their own little business. They were deported back to Britain. They had no rights to live their permanently, or to conduct a business there.
A kingdom is a place where a King rules, and where there are citizens that belong to that kingdom. There will also be aliens, or foreigners who do not belong there and who do not have the full rights of a citizen.
In verse 19 Paul writes "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people..."
We share the same King and that unites us. We are fellow citizens with God's people. That brings blessings and responsibilities. We live in Great Britain. That brings a number of blessings. Of freedom of worship. Comparative material prosperity and safety. The responsibilities include paying taxes, and obeying the law. Now, we may not relish these things but we know they are best for the wellbeing of society and, therefore ourselves and our loved ones.
God wants the best for you and me. For Talke, Butt Lane, Staffordshire, Great Britain, the world. Through Jesus this involves the blessings of having access to God by the Holy Spirit, verse 18. We have access to God, knowing him as our best friend, letting him be number one in our lives. This will result in a cost. Of following his ways, and giving to God in time and money.
Earlier I compared the Christian life to a football team. Each of us playing in a different position, rejoicing together, encouraging, supporting, and helping one another. Everyone contributing to the team, with no room for spectators.
Responsibility is our response to God's ability.It has been said that there are five possible attitudes to our responsibilities :- to shirk them; to shelve them, hoping that some time or other we may fulfil them; to shoulder them, perhaps wearing ourselves out bearing the full weight; to shed them after having made an attempt to fulfil them; or to share them. If we do this it will be easiest for everyone and fulfil the provision of God who gifts every Christian with at least one gift for the building up the God's people (4:12).
The church is God's kingdom.
2) The church is the family of God.
Just over fifty years ago children were told that their parents were dead and sent to Australia. The truth was that many of the children were given up because it was difficult for their families to make ends meet and the children were promised a better life in Australia. But these children grew up, discovered the truth, and, a number of years ago, were reunited with their brothers, sisters, and even parents. One woman ran into the arms of her sister who she had not seen for fifty years. There was a link because they shared the same parents, even though they spoke slightly differently, had a different nationality, and culture.
Verse 19 says that we are "members of God's household." We share the same Heavenly Father and that unites us and alters our relationship. It unites us with people who are very different from us. This can make things difficult at times. Someone once wrote :-
To dwell above with Saints we love-
Ah yes ! That will be glory.
To live below with saints we know,
Well, that's another story.
Family life can be difficult with many stresses and strains. Being part of a church family does not make us immune to such problems. But it does give us a fundamental bond. We have the same Father. And each of us has God the Holy Spirit living within us to unite us with God's love. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit
We, the local church, are related to our brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere, the universal church. This brings joys and duties. The joy of sharing our faith with others. The encouragement that, wherever we are in the world there will be other believers there. The duty to share with fellow believers, especially with those who are less well off than ourselves. Especially those who are thirsty, hungry, naked, imprisoned, sick, or being persecuted.
The church is God's kingdom.
The church is the family of God.
3) The church is a holy temple.
You may say, 'Surely this disagrees with what you said earlier about the church being people and not a building'. Well, Paul uses the temple as a picture of what God's people are called to be. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Perhaps many of the people who first read this letter had seen the splendour of the temple in Jerusalem. The temple there had massive foundations upon which it was built. The foundation of the church is the apostles and prophets, verse 20. For us today this means the teaching of the early church that we find in the Bible. That is why it is vital that we have a correct understanding and application of the Bible, so that it affects the way that we live. As individuals and as a church. So we are secure in our Christian life because we are grounded in the Bible.
The temple in Jerusalem was secure because of it's foundations, buried underground, unseen. Our Bible knowledge may not be there for everyone to see, we do not need a Certificate in theology to show off. But it should be there, unseen most of the time, supporting us as we live for God.
Jesus is described as the "chief cornerstone", verse 20. The cornerstone of a building was part of the foundations keeping it steady. A cornerstone has been found from the temple at Jerusalem that was over 38 feet long. It also kept the two walls in line that met at it. Perhaps this symbolised the Jews and Gentiles who meet through and in Jesus Christ. "In him the whole building is joined together". We are to be united through Jesus.
We are to grow. Paul writes of the temple rising, being built up. We are to grow, spiritually and numerically. How does this happen ? In partnership with the Holy Spirit..... God lives in His people by His Spirit. He changes people by His Spirit. But we have to co-operate. This does not excuse us from working hard for him. For it is only when the whole church works hard together that there will be radical growth. Like a football team, working together.
During my second year at Oak Hill College we had a good football team. We won every match we played that year. We had some talented players that year but so did the teams that we played against. What set us apart was that we combined that with teamwork, hard work, discipline as a team and as individuals, and fellowship. We came from different backgrounds, we had ex-teachers and a cook. We came from different countries, England, Wales, Ireland, Burundi, America, and Yorkshire. The age of the team varied from twenty to forty plus. We were different but united by our love and service for Jesus.
Some time ago the public service union UNISON ran a television advert. It was a cartoon featuring a lovely, lumbering white bear, sitting on a path. An ant, carrying a leaf comes to the bear and says 'Excuse me'. But the bear doesn't hear the quiet, squeaky voice.
The ant returns with a friend. They both squeak 'Excuse me'. The bear tilts his head to one side, but doesn't hear what is being said, or who is saying it. The ants go away and come back with ten thousand friends.
They all rear up on their back legs and the noise is deafening : 'Get out of the way !' The bear gets up and runs away. The ants go their way. And Johnny Morris' voice says 'UNISON, because there are some things you cannot do by yourself.'
We cannot 'do' Christianity on our own. God calls every Christian to be one of his people, to relate to one another, to love and minister to one another, and to minister together to the world. The church is an integral part of the gospel. Jesus invented it. The reformer John Calvin said, 'There is no salvation outside the church'. If we are going to live out and spread the gospel we need to be wholeheartedly committed to the church, here in Talke, the Lichfield Diocese, the Church of England, and in the world.