Ephesians 2:11-22 – Included

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

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. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (New International Version)

There is perhaps no better explanation in the entire New Testament about what the Church truly is than here in today’s lesson.

The redemptive events of Jesus – especially the crucifixion of Christ – has completely changed everything. The cross is the mid-point of history, the fulcrum in which all things in heaven and on earth hinge.

The cross has totally transformed our status from being:

  • in Adam (fallen and separated from God) to being in Christ (now lifted and in union with God)
  • in the flesh (driven by our immoral and unethical impulses) to being in the Spirit (now driven by moral and ethical desires)
  • a Jew or a Gentile (defined by race, ethnicity, etc.) to being one people of God, a new egalitarian society, the community of the redeemed, the Church.

We were once far from God. Now we are brought near through the blood of Christ.

We are included, not excluded; graced and loved, not shamed and shunned.

And our status isn’t based on physical circumcision but on circumcision of the heart, that is, by faith.

There was a time when we were estranged from God, as if we were migrants from another country, or aliens from another world. We were strangers with no visible hope in anything or anyone.

But now, because of Christ’s cross, we have become near to God, gained an inheritance in Christ, and are seated in the heavens as royalty. Everything has mercifully changed. All is incredibly different – a good different.

Jesus Christ himself is our peace. He is the superglue who has bonded us to God and to one another as the one people of God. Because of this gracious union, there is no more anger and malice toward each other. There is, instead, peace.

The Lord Jesus has torn down the walls of separation between people, stripped the armor off of those who used it to keep a distance, and obliterated all obstacles to genuine relational connection – including the obstacle of the Law.

By his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Christ Jesus fulfilled all the demands of the Law. Therefore, the Law of Moses is no longer needed. Those who love one another and carry one another’s burdens are the ones who fulfill the Law of Christ.

The reason for abolishing all the laws and layers of separation is so that Christ could create one new people from the disparate groups – thus making peace through the cross.

Just as two people come together in marriage and create an entirely new relationship – one new person from the two – so Christ has joined Jew and Gentile together and formed an entirely new society of unity and one-ness.

We are, then, on equal footing with one another. One group is no longer privileged over another. There is no such thing as an underprivileged people-group in God’s new society.

The Church is to be the one place on earth where all are privileged, all are included, and none are left behind.

There is reconciliation. The situation isn’t of people simply not fighting with each other, not at one another’s throats and sitting with a grumpy affect and arms folded. Quite the opposite. It is a restored relationship, harmonious interactions, and working together in loving fellowship.

Christianity is distinct from all other religions and all other ethical systems because everything is based, tethered, and moored in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. In Christianity, enmity, hate, and rage aren’t managed; they’re put to death – nailed to the cross and done away with.

Unfettered access to God, through Christ and the Spirit, means that we have an open channel to receiving the faith, hope, and love needed to address the darkness of this world and those still stuck in chaos, disconnection, and shame.

Christ himself is the cornerstone to the superstructure of peace and love which has been erected – the very things we have longed for throughout our personal lives and throughout history.

Jesus is the King who brought radical amnesty and hospitality to the entire country by making us all fellow citizens, enjoying all the rights and privileges thereof.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son who welcomed us into God’s family, embracing our adoption and making us full-blooded brothers and sisters, and giving us a prominent place at the Table.

All of these things about Christians and the Church aren’t ideals; they’re reality.

Anytime we are spiteful, ignorant, prejudiced, or unkind, we are not living in reality – we’re living in an old evil world that isn’t ours.

Therefore, we are called to fully live into God’s new society – a community of equals – loving and leading like Jesus, living into his words and ways, embracing our new status as children of God, offering radical mercy and grace because that’s exactly what our Lord did for us.

Creator God, who made us different from one another in myriad ways, yet all made in your image: Fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom so that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Ephesians 4:7-16 – Be Mature

Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. As the Scriptures say,

“When he went up
    to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
    and gave gifts to people.”

When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so he would fill the whole universe.

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so his people would learn to serve, and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Contemporary English Version)

The Body of Christ, without love as its skeletal structure, would be as ridiculous and silly as a boneless chicken ranch. 

The Apostle Paul, a concerned spiritual father, was encouraging the Church toward maturity, to act as adults in the faith and not like immature children.

Just as the physical body begins small, then grows and matures over time, so the spiritual body (the church) is to focus on incremental slow growth across the years so that it realizes maturity. And the consummate evidence of that spiritual development is strong bonds of love.

Ten days after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, the Day of Pentecost occurred. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers and the church became a full-fledged phenomenon, growing and expanding. (Acts 2:1-47)

The gracious gifts of the Spirit are given to each and every Christian so that growth and strength will come to the Body of Christ through love. Each spiritual gift might be different from person to person, but every one of them is meant to be used in love for the benefit of the entire church.

Without any bones or skeleton, the church will be weak and ineffective. It might look like a church but will not be able to do anything in the world. 

For spiritual maturity to happen, it is necessary for every single Christian in the church to discover their spiritual gift, and then, use it in love to build up the entire Body. This is the God-ordained means of realizing a healthy functioning church. 

It may appear that you and I, as believers in and followers of Jesus, have the luxury of pursuing other interests rather than providing loving and gifted service to Christ’s Church. After all, church attendance, Christian mission and service are all voluntary, right? A volunteer can choose to sit out, right?

Uh-hem (clearing of throat). Wrong. That sort of thinking is based in the goofy notion that the Church is a voluntary society which we choose to become a part of, or not. It isn’t. The Body of Christ, the Church, the people for whom Christ died, was chosen by God – and not the other way around.

Before we chose God, God chose us. We can no more choose to decline Christian mission and service anymore than a physical heart or bodily organ can decide it needs to go do something else – as if they could simply leave the Body or just stop doing what they’re doing without consequence.

No, my friends, for the Body to function, it must work in concert, paying attention to the unique parts which keep it alive and thriving, while at the same time, maintaining the overall health of all the Bodily systems.

Bottom line: We need one another. Going off and continually doing my own thing or picking up my marbles and going home because I’m mad or frustrated, is what children do. When adults act like children, we rightly discern they are immature and need to grow up.

So, instead of lacking self-awareness or being pouty about my blog post, focus on the following questions:

What is your passion and desire for Christ’s church? 

What issues stir you emotionally? 

What group of people do you feel most attracted to reach? 

What area of Christian mission or church ministry would you most like to influence? 

Are there people whom you notice that others seem to ignore? 

Will you step out in faith and learn how God has wired you for ministry? 

Will you speak and serve in the name of Jesus through the enablement of the Spirit?

Loving God, I ask you to give me a heart of faith to trust the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in my life. I ask for a heart that desires the gifts of the Spirit for the common good of all persons. I ask you to help me be open to the gifts of the Spirit in others. I ask for jealousy of others’ gifts to be quieted in me. I pray that my gifts would build up the church. Most of all, I ask for the gift of love. Use me for the strengthening of Christ’s church, and for a positive influence in the world. Amen.

Acts 2:1-21 – The Day of Pentecost

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
    Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Common English Bible)

The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since the Spirit is given, the main responsibility of Christians is to receive. 

Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving. The Christian life is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in our own strength. The function of faith is to receive what grace offers. 

We are saved and sanctified by grace alone through faith. God lives in and through us by means of the Spirit. The miraculous and the supernatural cannot, obviously, be done by any human person.  It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to be a certain way and to do certain things. The result? Tiredness. Discouragement. Imbalance. Lots of giving. Little receiving.

Christianity is not chiefly about giving but receiving. The Christian life is about putting oneself in a position to receive through prayer and humility. In Christianity, the opposite of receiving is not giving – it’s pride. 

Maybe this kind of talk makes you uncomfortable. I’m not talking about being passive or lazy. I’m highlighting the need of receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit. Then, the Spirit to work in and through us. 

Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit! (John 14:12-14)

The question then becomes: Will we let God be God? Will we allow the Spirit to do work in us?

The Spirit is elsewhere described in Holy Scripture as a gentle presence, an encourager, counselor, and comforter. Yet, not here at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like a violent wind and an unusual fire.

The Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not some gentleman caller entering politely when invited. Instead, the Spirit appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes a big ruckus. There’s nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit is electric, bombastic, and volcanic, causing a huge scene and upheaving the status quo.

Because of Pentecost, Christians are marked and defined by God’s Spirit living within them and being full of the Spirit. God wants to pour out the Spirit on all kinds of people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy.” 

The prophet Joel and the Apostle Peter do not intend the word “prophecy” to mean predicting the future. Rather, they are referring to inspired speech coming from a heart overflowing with the Spirit. 

Just as an inebriated person says and does things they would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage come as a result of God within them.

Thus, we must cast off the unholy spirits of inebriation and receive the Holy Spirit of God.

Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost mosaic by Anna Wyner

God sobered-up the little band of Christ followers from learners to practitioners, sending them into the world with a mission.

Being on a mission from God is not really about ability; it’s about being filled and sent. 

First time parents may read and learn all they can about parenting before their child is born. Yet, when that little bundle comes into the world, and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out, you feel inadequate for the task. Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you pray and learn on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything. 

God sends us into the world to make disciples. And we may feel very inadequate for the task. However, this has more to do with receiving the Spirit. The Spirit comes looking to turn our lives upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ. 

Pentecost means that the Spirit came to shake things up and accomplish among God’s people what they could never do on their own.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

The Church in the New Testament was not a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership.  The community of the redeemed, the Church, is actually more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit. 

Maybe we don’t need to be saved in the sense that we have already called on the name of the Lord concerning forgiveness in Christ. Yet, maybe we need to call on the name of the Lord to be delivered from our misguided attempts to see the Christian life as a pleasant affair.

Perhaps we need deliverance from disordered priorities and misguided loves. We may need to be saved from ourselves so that we are open to the Holy Spirit with palms up receiving from God whatever it is the Spirit wants to do in and through us, rather than telling God how we think things ought to go. 

Prayer, then, is more about receiving the Spirit and God’s purposes for us rather than giving God an earful and expecting the Lord to bless our plans.

Pentecost is the launching pad of the church’s mission – it was explosive because the Spirit is a kind of wild man who fills people up to overflowing so that what comes out of them is inspired speech and missional actions.

If a language barrier cannot stop the Spirit from operating, then how much more can God transform us and use us in the lives of those around us?

Joel’s prophecy, quoted by Peter, is only partially fulfilled. Events have been set in motion by Pentecost for the complete fulfillment of God’s justice. So, there’s some urgency for people to fill their vacuous souls with the grace freely offered to them in Christ.

The outpouring of the Spirit is a sign: The end is near. And the generous giving of the Spirit is inclusive – there is room for all kinds of people. Through the Spirit, God saves all who call on the name of the Lord.

Today is not just another day on the calendar. It is the Day of Pentecost! 

Just as marriages occasionally need a spark and a fire and a fresh wind, so we need the Holy Spirit to breathe on us, comfort us, and inspire us.

May we be filled with the Spirit as we anticipate what our God will do now, and in the years to come.

Spirit of the living God, through the reading and proclamation of the Word, may you refresh our spirits, reshape our desires, recreate our hearts, and reform our ways so that we will shine with your enduring glory, through Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord. Amen. 

Revelation 1:9-20 – I Am Fully Alive

Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa, Canada

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (New International Version)

“Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’”

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Easter Sunday may have come and gone, but the church remains in the season called “Eastertide,” which extends forty days until celebrating Christ’s ascension to heaven. This means that Easter is not just a one day affair; it is a joyous time of focusing on new life and exulting in the resurrected Lord. 

The Apostle John had a vision of the resurrected Jesus in his glory. Although John was quivering in his sandals, the Lord assured him that he need not be afraid. Christ is not dead but living.

Jesus is alive! Since Christ is risen, God’s people are united with him in his resurrection. That means the church is alive. Yes, the church is a-l-i-v-e, alive! 

The term “dead church” gets bantered around quite a bit these days. But that is really an oxymoron; a genuine Christ redeemed Body of believers cannot possibly be dead; they are alive! 

If a church is dead, it is not a church. It could be a country club, a benevolent organization, and even a moral institution, but a church is not a church if it is dead because Jesus is alive, and his Body is anything but dead.

Christians have life in Jesus Christ. We are alive forevermore because Jesus will never again die. So, then, we are to live as vigorous and vibrant believers. 

What things will you do differently since you know you cannot die? 

How will the knowledge of your eternal alive-ness impact you today and every day? 

The truth is: We have been raised with Christ to new life; we cannot die because death no longer has mastery over us. We can now live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11, NIV)

“The glory of God is a person fully alive, and the life of a person is the vision of God.”

St. Irenaeus (130-202, C.E.)

Humanity’s alive-ness is what most fully displays the glory of God on this earth. Christ living within the believer is a powerful and potent manifestation of God’s goodness.

Whereas we may think that great miracles are the best sign of God’s presence and power in the world, the truth is that being full alive, and living into the new life we possess, is a bright light which shows the way of transformation to a fallen planet in the vice grip of sin, death, and hell.

God’s generosity, wisdom, and love are supremely viewed with the changed life of an individual. Living life to the full in this post-resurrection era, influences how we treat one another because we nobly honor our fellow humanity as people bearing the divine image of God.

We, therefore, in our alive-ness, seek to understand one another because we know that each person around us is worth understanding. Our being fully alive moves us to cultivate a virtuous life, knowing that a life well-lived is the best witness to God’s glory.

Believers raised with Christ are filled with joy, realizing that living is in itself a great good. We hope to carry this joy into the world and bear witness to the beauty of each human life.

O God, as people fully alive, make us bold in love, courageous in hope, and whole in faith. May the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon the Church everywhere, today and always, through Christ our risen Lord. Amen.