Welcome to Bethel! Today we will continue our series on “Why Church” by reflecting on Ephesians 2:11-22, To Belong and Experience God’s Spirit. We all need a place to belong, a place where we are accepted for who we are. Family in one place where we experience this, but the church is also a family where we find belonging and acceptance, at least in a healthy church. There are so many barriers in our culture that separate us from others, therefore Jesus came, to bring people together, to join people from every nation and background into one people under him, shaped by him through the gift of the Holy Spirit
To Belong and Experience God’s Spirit - Ephesians 2:11-22
November 14, 2021
How many of you have ever felt like you don’t belong, or that you were seen as being less than everyone else? We loved living in Quebec for 12 years, but I will admit that there were times when I felt as if I didn’t really belong there because my French was so poor. At times, because my family isn’t old-stock Quebecois, it felt like we were less acceptable. There were times when we lived in the USA where our kids felt something similar. Growing up in a church where my family often saw things differently from the more prominent families in the church, there were many times where we didn’t feel like we really belonged. Sometimes new followers of Jesus will admit that they don’t always feel comfortable in church because they’re still new to the faith, of because they come from a different background or social status than most of the church.
That’s what Paul’s getting at here in his letter to the church in Ephesus. It’s a church filled with mostly Gentiles; non-Jewish people. This is likely a circular letter, meant to be passed on and read in the other churches in the area as well, as Paul’s goal in this letter is to help the churches understand better what God’s doing, to give them insight into God’s purposes, and to give them a bigger picture of who God is and what Jesus has done and is doing in their lives. In the verses just before our passage, Paul explains that we’re made alive in Jesus; that through grace we’ve been saved from our sin through the cross of Jesus and have been reconciled, made right with God again. Paul’s writing about relationships: our relationship with ourselves as we embraced sin-filled lives, our relationship with God that’s made right through Jesus, and now our relationships with others, especially within the church.
Now Paul moves on to the relationships found in the church between the Jews and Gentiles. Paul is talking straight to the Gentiles in these verses, reminding them of who they used in the eyes of the Jews, who they were before they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Paul tells them to remember that formerly, before their conversions, they were Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by Jews. Jews, being circumcised, mocked all non-Jews by calling them the “uncircumcised.” There was a huge social and spiritual wall between them.
The Gentiles don’t belong; they’re less than the Jews, God didn’t choose them, God chose Israel as his people and the Jews always reminded the Gentiles about it. Paul’s calling the Gentiles to remember their story, to remember who they were. Now Paul gives a huge “but,” “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Jesus is drawing the Gentiles close, showing that he sees them, hears their cries, cares about them. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.” We see the welcoming nature of Jesus in these verses; a desire to bring all his people together. Paul’s using powerful language here, calling Jesus our peace. The Romans were proud of the peace they had brought into the world, an enforced peace at the point of the sword, using torture if needed and harsh punishments, including crucifixion. Jesus brings peace through the cross and sacrifice rather than the sword. Jesus brings peace between God and humanity, and between Jews and Gentiles.
Paul uses the dividing wall of hostility as an example of what this peace looks like. Logos offers a number of possibilities to what Paul’s referring to here, “The wall that separated the inner and outer courts of the temple and prevented Jews and Gentiles from worshiping together. Inscriptions in Greek and Latin warned that Gentiles who disregarded the barrier would suffer the pain of death. Paul could also be talking about the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple. This curtain was rent at the death of Jesus (Mark 15:38) and is representative of the separation of all humanity from God. A third way of understanding this wall of hostility is the “fence” consisting of detailed commandments and oral interpretations erected around the law by its interpreters to ensure its faithful observation. In reality, the fenced-in law generated hostility between Jews and Gentiles and further divided them, as well as furthering the enmity between God and humanity.” In all these cases, the wall is about separation, about dividing people instead of bringing people together. This helps us understand then why Paul talks about the law being set aside in the flesh of Jesus through his life and death as Israel’s laws were given to them to make them different from the nations around them, to separate them from the Gentiles.
Brian Peterson writes, “By Jesus’ death on the cross, the old cultural markers of worth and status, of being “in” or “out,” have been abolished. Sin’s power to divide the world has come to its end in Christ.” In the Old Testament, the Law divided the Jews from the Gentiles and then at the coming of Jesus, Jesus’ sacrifice bridges that gap and makes the two groups one. What are some of the dividing walls around today? Politics has become a huge wall that separates people from each other. I know of families where differences in who they voted for became more important than the fact that they’re family. Vaccines and masks are huge dividers between people today, creating anger and frustration, yet we sometimes forget that Jesus brings people together. We need to see the person first, especially if they are fellow followers of Jesus, it’s time to take the anger down.
Paul now uses some powerful images to show the people what church looks like to Jesus. He begins with the image of citizenship, that the Gentiles are no longer foreigners and strangers, but with the Jews, they are citizens in God’s kingdom and Jesus is their king. I’m proud of being a Canadian. It has nothing to do with who is in power in Ottawa, it has to do with the values I believe Canada stands for. Air Cadets and the Naval Reserve taught me that Canada stands alongside the oppressed, that we fight for justice around the world, we stand for what is right and fight against what is evil. It’s idealistic, I’ll admit, but I still hold to these values as being Canadian and when I travel, I wear a Canadian flag proudly. Being a citizen of heaven is like that. I believe in the values that Jesus calls us to live out, to be salt and light, to care deeply about justice, show mercy, and to walk humbly with God while standing alongside the oppressed, the broken, the struggling, and the hurt as the hands and feet of Jesus to give the world a glimpse of what Jesus’ kingdom is like.
Paul goes even deeper, he tells the Gentiles that they are members of God’s family, that they are also children of God alongside the Jewish people, that God so loves them that he sent his son Jesus to die for them too. God is our father and we are sisters and brothers to each other now, all adopted into the family of God where Jesus is our older brother who protects us and stands up for us. I love this image, especially since I have two adopted sisters and a brother who was never formally adopted, but was with us his entire life and became part of our family, a third brother to me. My family now is a mixture of kids from different mothers and fathers all brought together in our household in a glorious, often chaotic mess, but we’re family, we belong together. Family, the one place you can always go and they can’t kick you out, is a saying I heard a while ago and fits what Paul is talking about here.
Paul then moves to the image of the church as a building where the Holy Spirit lives with Jesus as the foundation, the cornerstone on which all the other stones find its place. If you take out stones, the building gets weaker, if you take enough out, the building will fall. The building needs every brick. It’s the same in church. You belong, no matter how young or old you are, you are needed because you are part of the family of God, because you belong to Jesus, because we need you because each of you bring your experience and knowledge of life is different from mine and everyone else’s. Each of you can help us to know Jesus better. This is why I love youth and children’s ministry, because I always get a deeper knowledge of Jesus when I hear them talk about Jesus. This is why Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, to help you know you belong, to remind you that you have a place and role in our church, that you are important just because.
So why church? Because Jesus has designed church as the one place where we experience belonging to him, joined together by the Holy Spirit.