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 – 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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he 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. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
I love reading the letters of the Apostles, not least for the scope they have for the imagination…what on earth was going on behind the scenes? Scholars can help us answer such questions, but we can also look to our own experience.
We’ve all been part of a group of some sort in our lives. We know how easy it is to rub each other up the wrong way.
But the early Church really had some issues to contend with; somehow the Gentiles had to unite with the Jews, once proudly separated from each other by strict rules and laws, never mind language and culture, they now had to be family.
It sounds so simple doesn’t it? “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the Saints and also members of the household of God…” I wonder if it really felt like that, either to the Gentiles or the Jews. The rest of the letter implies that the Gentiles needed some reminding about their new life in Christ and their responsibilities within it. Was it easier to offer advice to the Gentiles on how to tow the line than it was to listen to them and be truly inclusive?
Have we become a church defined by ‘the way we do things here’? Pioneer ministers and Church Related Community Workers have built up a wealth of experience working with those ‘outside’ the Church and know that the phrase ‘You are welcome here’ is often made up of hollow words. Simply stating it is not enough.
What humility, faith and courage it must have taken in the early Church, to come together and to grow. In order to be the Jesus shaped Church we are called to be, we must be prepared to acknowledge and celebrate God’s work outside the Church. Do we too have the humility, faith and courage to listen and learn, and be changed by what we hear?
God of Grace, let me seek you in the other, different and strange, but full of you. Give me the humility to set down my culture, to weed out that which isn’t Christ shaped, and to listen and learn more of you. Give me the faith to trust in your guidance, to believe that you call me by name, and to seek ways to serve you. Give me the courage to adventure into new territory, to challenge others to join me, and to act on what I learn. Amen
Liz Kam is the Church Related Community Worker at Levenshulme Inspire