Ephesians 2:11-22 Click to read it.

I have what you might call a ‘pet hate’; a ‘minor irritation’; ‘something and nothing’. You might not see a problem with it and wonder why I even bother thinking about it let alone have a moan or rant about it.
My ‘pet hate’ is this: It’s when I have to provide personal details, say when I am in hospital, and the question ~ What is your religion? ~ is asked. I answer, ‘Christian’, and then there is the follow up question, ‘No, what church?’ ~ Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, etc, etc. Why is that? Part of the answer is pragmatic. In terms of the type of spiritual care that is required. But I believe another reason is the very human instinct ~ to pigeon-hole people.

We spend such a lot of time concentrating on the things that separate. Paul reflects this:

“You Gentiles by birth-called “the uncircumcised” by the Jews, who call themselves the circumcised (which refers to what men do to their bodies)-remember what you were in the past. At that time you were apart from Christ. You were foreigners and did not belong to God’s chosen people. You had no part in the covenants, which were based on God’s promises to his people, and you lived in this world without hope and without God.” verses 11-12.

The question here is one that is as old as time: ‘Who’s in and who’s out? Who belongs and who doesn’t?’
Paul established the church in Ephesus (Acts 18 & 19). This was through engaging with the Jewish community in the synagogue. And it was out of this that the church grew. From the start, the church was a mix of Jews and Gentiles. Something that would have been so unheard of before. But all was not peace and harmony. There were tensions between the different groups. Maybe they were still holding on to old assumptions, old prejudices. And Paul is reminding them of a simple truth. They are neither Jewish or gentile Christians. They are simply ‘Christian’:

“For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.” Verse 14.

How often do we make that mistake nowadays? How often do we judge fellow Christians simply because of their denomination ~ catholic, protestant, Methodist and so on. When we start feeling superior to other Christians because they belong to a particular church, then are moving so far away from where Jesus wants us to be.
And Paul reminds us that we are who we are as Christians not because of a particular denomination or church but because of Jesus:

“By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God.
So Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all—to you Gentiles, who were far away from God, and to the Jews, who were near to him.
It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father.”  verses 16-18.

And that’s why I don’t like having to say CofE when responding to the question. I don’t need to know if you belong to a different denomination. Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, Free Church, all are welcome. I don’t judge a fellow Christian by those standards and I hope nobody judges me in the same way.
Instead of looking at the differences we should celebrate the things that unite. And Paul gives us this good news:

“So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God.
You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself.” verses 19-20

It’s the things that unite that make us strong. And we all have the one thing that unites ~ Jesus.
That’s what I love about Jesus. He accepts me as I am, he loves me despite my failings, and he welcomes me into His family. We’re not strangers to God, we’re not foreigners, we are citizens of God’s kingdom all of us. When God looks at me. He doesn’t see Roland, vicar in the Church of England, he sees Roland, a human being, who isn’t perfect but who is loved and welcomed into His kingdom. That is exactly how he views all of us here this morning. And the reason for this is Jesus. It is his death on the cross that has made this possible. There is nothing I can do to make God love me more and there is nothing I can do to make God love me less. The only reason I can say this is Jesus. I’m proud to be part of the Church of England, I’m proud of being and Anglican Priest, but really all that counts for nothing when it comes to God. The only reason I can say that I am loved by God and am welcomed into His kingdom, is Jesus. And this is important for all of us to realise and live that truth.

“He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord.
In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit.” verses 21-22

Do we want our church to grow? Do we want to be welcoming new families week by week? Do we want to deepen our love and care for each other? Then we need to deepen our relationship with Jesus. Paul tells us that he is the one that holds everything together. He is the foundation and he is the one who brings lasting growth.
Paul urged the Ephesians to put aside their prejudices and place their trust in Jesus. He says the same to all Christian communities and he says the same to us. Think on that. All together: Thousands of different churches, denominations, traditions, but all united, all one because of Jesus. That is the strength that He gives us. Let us live that Good News.

 

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