Therefor we are God’s masterpiece. God has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d]17 So Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[e]21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[f] into a dwelling place for God.
Last week Rev. Bradley introduced our latest Backyard Series going through Ephesians, called, backyard Bodybuilding. I have not yet had a chance to listen to that sermon, so forgive me if I repeat any of what she said by way of background, etc. But the crux of this series is how we strengthen our church body- how we can gain a better understanding of the why's and how's of church, and then learning not just our part in the body, but how we exercise our (meaning the church's) role in the world. And on the outset, this might seem pretty cut and dry. But the more I read and study Ephesians, the more I have come to believe that it is not a letter on how to structure the church, as much as it is a letter to help the church understand our role in the world and God's saving plan for humankind.
I know that's a mouthful. But we'll unpack it over the next several weeks. Just as in actual bodybuilding, we need to start slow, and we need to know what were doing as we step into our metaphorical gym.
Recently I started lifting weights, so I've been trying to pick up pointers from different people in the warehouse sized exercise facility I joined- but I realized very quickly that there are as many different work out "truths" as there are people in the gym. (That may also be true for churches, but we'll get there), Anyway, after seeing one particularly 'built' individual using a machine in a way that was completely the opposite of what I was doing on a regular basis, I had been lifting heavier weights on the first set, and as my muscles grew tired, took weight off the machine each set- but he was starting with very light weights and with each set, he would add weight, complete a number of repetitions, and repeat, until, in his case, he was lifting the whole stack. When I asked John Pepe about this 'new to me' method, he said "sure, that's called pyramiding- haven't you read up on this stuff?"
I wondered at that moment who John Pepe thought he had married those 38 years ago and in what universe I seemed remotely the type to look up anything about weightlifting or any kind of sports at all- but it did resonate that in order to know what I'm doing, and not injure myself or anyone else, I had better either get a trainer, or at least do some research. So it is with church- in order for us to exercise who we are in Christ, we need to first be knowledgable about the basics. Just as there are differnt parts of the body to focus on every time one goes to the gym, we have divided this series into 'body' parts as well.
This week we are core training, finding out what the center or core of our faith is about, so in Ephesians, chapter one Paul gives a basic greeting, a blessing, and then prays for the church, not just giving thanks for them and asking God to strengthen them, but he says something very important at the end of that prayer- he says that Christ is above all things, that all power and authority are through Christ, and all things are under his feet. This is the defining idea behind Christianity and of the church. Christ is the one who reigns on earth- we, the church are Christ's hands and feet. And it is Christ's teachings that we follow.
And then Paul moves into chapter two and talks about salvation. This is one of those areas where churches really differ-
Now, I realize that many of us have been taught that salvation means that we accept Jesus into our heart and believe it, and then we get to go to heaven. Others have been taught that salvation has nothing to do with you- you are chosen or what the church calls "elect" and only God knows who is saved. Still others believe that if one is truly saved there will be proof of that in things like speaking in tongues or other spiritual signs. Perhaps you my remember several weeks agoI mentioned that salvation to a first century jew meant living rich full life in community with one another. This is God's plan for saving humanity. Salvation is like shalom- where people live in harmony with one another and with all of creation. At it's core, Jewish law was designed to help people live out life in community, and if one fell out of line, the law provided a way to be restored to community. But what is salvation according to the letters of Paul? Remember that Paul, was a Jew. So the Jewish concept would of salvation would have been true for him as well, except he had an encounter with Christ that helped him redefine his concept of salvation to mean an awareness, or an awakening to God's saving plan for humankind. (repeat).
The word "you" is used a lot in the passage. In Greek estes- which, the closest word we have in English is the southern "y'all," or where I come from in North Jersey, "you's." But it is a plural "you." The salvation Paul speaks of is not an individual salvation where we say a special prayer by ourselves and all of a sudden we are in. This salvation is a salvation for humankind- for all who believe or are awakened to it. believing in this plan, and by living according to this plan, we are saved from ourselves, saved from living for ourselves, saved from excluding others. Salvation means we learn to love unconditionally, as God loves- everyone included, no walls.
In the first century there was a wall around the temple, and on it was a sign that warned Gentiles, or non Jews, to come no further. But Christ, says the author of Ephesians, has broken down that wall- in the words of NT Wright, "That has gone in Christ, because in him a new temple is constructed….Why? What’’s the point? Yes, say the scoffers, ethnic divisions are broken down, we know that, but why make such a fuss about it? The answer is that the church, thus united through the grace of God in the death of Jesus, is the sign to the principalities and powers that their time is up."
In other words, the church is to be the new model of social order in the world. God's saving plan for the world is the church.
If you are hearing this message for the first time it may seem completely overwhelming. This is not the way our society has come to view church. Right now the world looks at church as a charity organization- a place where people go to worship God, do some good works, and then go back to living in the real world. But, what if that were reversed? What if the church, if we were living out everything God designed for us to be, was the real world? Lets play it out in body building terms-
So right now, we might be seeing church the way I was doing my workout- we come here on Sunday and do the heavy lifting or worship, church work, studies, food pantry, but then when we leave here, and our muscles are tired, we lighten the weights- we go home to our respective lives, we go back to work, we integrate back into the world, making money, focusing on the powers that be and how we feel powerless to change them, 'tsk'-ing at high prices, and poverty, and corporate greed...
But Ephesians flips that on it's head. In Ephesians we live life pyramiding- we come to church to just warm up our muscles- we worship and study and do good works here in order to practice for the heavy lifting out there! The church is about more than being a bleeding heart charity organization- we serve as the leadership & example for what the world might look like. Now think about the words of Jesus- "the Kingdom or New Reign of God is at hand" And I know for old time die hard separation of church and state Baptists in the room that has some implications we ma not be comfortable with- I hear ya- take it up with Paul!
OK so as much as there are five more things I could talk about in this passage I want to touch on just one more- because it is the key to all of this. That you- y'all, and you's are all part of this plan. There is no one left out... and here's the part where we start talking about performance.
We have this big banner outside the front of the church that says "God loves you just the way you are no matter what." That's true. Period. End of sentence. Nothing can change that- ever. Ever. Got it?
Next sentence: We can become better humans than we are right now by working out on a daily basis- and by working out I mean, strengthening our core. It's a lot to absorb, that we are loved unconditionally- that in itself is like a pumping iron workout but accepting that we are loved the way we are is the key to unlocking every other spiritual gift. If we aim to grow into everything God has designed for us to be, we need to put time in- we need to study, we need to worship, we need to practice telling stories of our faith journey. Will it make God love us more or put us into a better position with God? No- there is nothing you can do to make God love you more than God does right now- but what it does do is help you become a better version of you- it helps you learn God's plan for you, it helps you help in the unfolding of God's salvation plan for the world.
And, sure, it sounds like, this is a lot of work. It is. No pain no gain- but honestly, while it may be easier to be a couch potto eating doritos and watching the game, working your spiritual muscles brings a fulfillment and a peace unlike any you will get from being a spectator.