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Everybody Welcome

Ephesians 2.11-22
17 October 2010
Introduction

We are currently considering the subject of welcome in our Sunday


morning sermons

o partly this is practical – we are like a retail outlet


o partly this is missional – we are called to grow and so the ‘back door’
needs to be closed
o partly this is theological – we need constantly to keep before us what we
are called to be

Today, in the final sermon in the series, we are thinking about the church
and its place in God’s plans for the world.

o What is the church?


(Most people think that it’s a building!)
o Does it matter whether or not people join?
(Most people regard it as a lifestyle choice)
o What is the purpose of the church?
(Most people view it as a club for religious people)

Now mention the word church and you’re likely to receive a not entirely
enthusiastic reception. Here are some reactions…..

Vox Pops
Ephesians is one of Paul’s letters in which he talks a lot about the church
and read alongside other of his letters like Colossians it gives us a rather
different perspective on Paul from the one many of us have grown up with.
Paul is far less individualistic and far more community focussed than we
have maybe allowed for as, being good Protestants, we have tended to read
Paul through the eyes of Martin Luther whose favourite books were
Romans and Galatians.

Three paragraphs form 2.11-22. Lets work through them.


I. God’s PLAN vv.11,12
11: Therefore, 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) - 12:remember 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.

The first part of Ephesians, as with most of Paul’s letters, concerns


people’s thinking. Get that right and the proper behaviour will follow!

Paul has been bombarding the Christians at Ephesus with truth concerning
the blessings that were theirs through faith in Jesus Christ (c.f. 1.1-13; 2.1-
10). In 2.11-22 the bombardment continues, though now from a new
angle, that of the enormous privilege that it is for non-Jews, Gentiles, to
belong to God’s people. Remember that the first Christians were Jewish,
but as the message spread to places such as Ephesus many non-Jews came
to believe.

Quite why Paul introduces this subject at this particular point I am not
sure. Maybe the Gentile Christians were forgetting about the roots of their
faith or maybe they were simply in need of some encouragement? After
all, the church at this stage was very small, the forces opposed to it were
very big and it had no obvious resources to draw upon.

Paul, then, highlights several ways in which the non-Jews amongst the
readers of his letter had been at a spiritual disadvantage before coming to
faith in Christ

o they were separate from Christ


o they were excluded from citizenship
o they were foreigners to the covenant of promise
o they were without hope
o they were without God (a – theists in the sense of not knowing the true
God)
What Paul is saying, in a nutshell, is that non-Jews who have come to faith
have been given a mighty privilege, that is, they have become a part of
something much bigger and much older and much more significant than
they perhaps imagined. The church, in a sense, began with God’s call to
Abram many thousand years ago and has been growing ever since.

c.f. the tributary of a river

Several observations are worth making at this point

o Firstly, God has a plan

c.f. Gillette and Hicks = big hats and no cattle (Mark Lawrenson)

o Secondly, God’s people have a history

Which means that if you are not a Christian you should maybe factor into
your thinking about the church not just what you see when you pass by an
old building that has been turned into a carpet warehouse or a set of flats –
that is a dying institution – but what has come before, what is going on all
around and what is yet going to be.

It seems to me that people today are searching for a sense of something


solid, of rootedness in a particular community, of – dare I say it – a social
network – and that, in way, is what the church is. Though it is, of course, a
community with God in the centre.

It also means that if you are a Christian then we should stop apologising
the way we so often do about the church. Yes, of course we need to be
constantly seeking to improve the way we do church so as to continue to
be relevant etc. But, at the same time, we must not think that just because
we have a tatty building or the members are all elderly or we haven’t got
the latest gizmos we are somehow failing or any less important in God’s
eyes. It might be an awful lot nicer or cooler in Starbucks, but they
haven’t been in business 2000 + years.

MX5 illustration - pedigree


II. God’s PURPOSE vv.13-18
13:But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near
through the blood of Christ. 14:For he himself is our peace, who has made the two
one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15:by 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, 16:and in this one body to
reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their
hostility. 17:He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to
those who were near. 18:For through him we both have access to the Father by one
Spirit.

Christians, then, take their place within a much larger story. But how do
we enter the story? We enter it, says Paul, through faith in Jesus Christ.
That is the point made in this second paragraph.

In particular, we enter it through the blood of Christ (v.13). What does


that mean? It means that central to our relationship with God – remember
that the story is ultimately about Him and not us - is the death of Jesus, for
it is only through the death of Jesus that the problem of sin – all that stands
between us and God – has been done away. In other words, it cost Christ
His life to bring us back to God and to inaugurate what we call the new
covenant or testament by which all people can relate to God in a way not
possible under the old covenant important as that was. It is because Jesus
is so central in bringing about this change that Paul can speak of Him as
‘…himself…’ being ‘….our peace’ (v.14) Notice, by the way, that this
new way of relating to God is for all people, both non-Jews and Jews(v.16)
There is more to the peace that Paul describes, however, than that peace
between God and human beings, important as that is. Besides the vertical
axis there is also the horizontal. Christ’s death, says Paul, has destroyed
the ‘barrier’ or ‘dividing wall’ between Jew and Gentile. What was that
wall? The way of life described in the Old Testament. This was good in
itself, after all Paul has just spoken of the privilege of being a member of
God’s people, Israel. However, the Old Testament era was only a
temporary stage in God’s dealings with humanity, a resting place and not
the final destination. As Paul says in v.16, God’s ultimate intention – and
as Paul will argue elsewhere, this intention can be traced right back to
Abram – was to bring all people together, that is create one ‘new man’
If you are still with me, several things worth noting at this point

o Firstly, we are all living in a decisive new era

That is why the church practices not circumcision, but baptism

The important thing about the new era – the New Testament – is that it is
one in which God is seeking to bring all people together. And not just Jew
and Gentile as highlighted by this passage, but slave and free, black and
white, male and female as Paul expands upon elsewhere (Colossians 3?,
Galatians 3)

That is why it is some important that we ensure that EVERYBODY is


welcome

o Secondly, we are all placed on an even footing

We all have to come the same way, by the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.
It is the cross that underscores the radical nature of the church.

You see it is easy to talk about unity, the brotherhood of man, but far less
easy in practice to achieve it. However, those who have been to the cross,
aware of their own need of God’s forgiveness and conscious of His love
for others, will find it far easier to love the difficult and the despised and
the downtrodden.

It is so easy to say, ‘Why should I bother with them’ or to think ‘They’re


not as good as me’ etc. The cross puts quickly puts and end to such talk.

This applies as much to visitors and it does fellow Christians.

o Thirdly, we are all invited and not compelled

Christ preached peace… This is a song and not an order


III. God’s PEOPLE vv.19,21
19:Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with
God's people and members of God's household, 20:built on the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 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.

These closing verses compliment the opening ones as Paul again returns to
the theme of the church and what it means to belong to it.

In vv.11,12, Paul had essentially been looking back and had highlighted
some of the privileges that were now enjoyed by non-Jews who, through
faith in Christ, had been written into the story of God’s people. Now, in
vv.19-21, he brings his treatment up to date by emphasising some of the
privileges of the new era in so doing, he gives us a wonderful description
of what the church is.

o God’s kingdom – Jesus is Lord


o God’s household – God is our Father
o God’s foundation – the foundation is Christ
o God’s building – we are connected to one another
o God’s temple – we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit
Some points to think about in conclusion

o Firstly, history

As per previously
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago—
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

o Secondly, unity

Christ as foundation

c.f. Ephesians 4.3f

o Thirdly, experience

Everybody welcome

What really matters about church is…

Knowledge of God as Father

Presence of the Holy Spirit as God’s intimate presence e.g. healing service