The following is an adaptation of a sermon I gave at Garden Park Church on August 18, 2013. We are currently in the middle of a series on Ephesians. Today’s text was Ephesians 2.
As we read Ephesians 2, Paul is confronting us with three lies that we have believed and counters it with three truths that the Gospel gives us.
Lie 1: The need for self-preservation
What we’ve been told is that looking out for number one should be a goal of ours. We can’t trust others to look out for us, so do whatever you need to make sure numero uno is cared for.
Lie 2: Survival of the fittest.
Perhaps we could call this lie ‘social evolution.’ It’s similar to number one but slightly different. In essence we’ve learned (incorrectly) that only the strong survive. We have phrases like, “Buck up.” or “Man up.” teaching us that we need to be strong in order to make it. We need to hurt others (and thus prove our strength) before they have a chance to hurt us.
Lie 3: Lines, Barriers, and Dividers
Martin Luther King Jr once wisely commented that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11 am. Sadly, not only is this true, but so are the dividing lines that we draw in the rest of our lives. We know whether or not we live on the ‘right side’ or the ‘wrong side’ of the tracks. We know if we have the ‘right’ clothes, the ‘right’ looks, the ‘right’ hairstyle, the ‘right’ friends, or the ‘right’ last name (hello Mennonite game!). We know whether we are in or out. Do we belong or do we watch from a distance. The world has taught us to divide ourselves into groups or classes and hang with ‘our people’.
Counter to this is the Gospel message that promotes being others centered, endless limits, and welcoming of everyone.
Truth 1: Gospel living requires us to be others centered.
In Jesus, we have the fullest message of what it means to move into the neighborhood. God himself becomes human, taking on our own limitations and becoming like us. In him we see what it means to be others centered. He gave up everything to be with us. Likewise, his people should do everything in their power to, like Paul says, “become all things to all people.”
Truth 2: Gospel living means living a life of no limits.
Paul makes abundantly clear in Ephesians 1, God’s boundless and endless love for us. Similar in Ephesians 2, Paul carries that message even further. While not condoning continued sin, Paul shows even further the endless riches in God’s grace, love, forgiveness, peace, hope, joy, and acceptance. We are to not only marvel in that, but extend that to those around us who are in need of God’s healing.
Truth 3: Gospel living means welcoming everyone.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t get to decide who comes into the church. We don’t set the limits, regulate entrance exams, or decide who we get to keep or kick out. Because of the work of Jesus, all have been brought near (Ephesians 2:14-18). We can’t keep the rich because they’d make better donations while ignoring the poor smelly homeless that also come. In the work of Jesus we see most clearly that God welcomes, invites, and accepts everyone. All who come are welcome and invited into the transforming work of Jesus.
As a response to this I also offered three ways that I think the church (universal) needs to embrace and embody these three truths.
1.) Make “Love God, Love others” not only a personal, but a corporate mantra.
We should be consumed by this in all we do.
2.) Build bridges, not walls.
People in the world are far too accustomed to being told whether they belong or not. They know where they fit. One of the strongest, most counter-cultural things the church can do is be a place of inclusion and love for everyone. The church should excel in bringing reconciliation and peace to all people.
3.) Be a welcome mat to experience God’s goodness.
God undoubtedly works outside of the church, but without the church there wouldn’t be anyone who could stand and proclaim, “That’s the Gospel at work folks!” The church should look to welcome others in to the inviting, engaging, and transforming work of Jesus.
What are your thoughts? How does this challenge or encourage you? Please enter the discussion below.