James 1:17–27 (NRSV)
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
Hearing and Doing the Word
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
There are many thing going on in the world around us. Things that make us question the very fabric of our being. Many of us feel as if everything we have ever stood for is being ripped out from under us and we stand alone, we stand with no support, and no direction. We feel as if we must grasp ahold of what every is left of the life se have known and hold on tightly, we grasp because we are afraid. Why do we fear? Why are we afraid of our future? Why do we look at the world around us and not see the hand of God but only chaos?
Perspective. A few weeks ago I mentioned that perspective is a very important. The ability to look at things from a different point of view can bring a different understanding and maybe even deepen our faith. The past month of so I presented a different perspective on the interpretation of the letter to the Ephesians that many of us had not considered before. I did this because it is necessary at times to be challenged so that we can grow, some might consider that perspective a novelty or an action to raise the eyebrows. That is not the intention. It was necessary to show this perspective so that we might see more, understand more, and be able to take steps of faith beyond where we have been. Last week I wanted us to consider the emotions of a church divided and the base emotional reaction that we have when we think, perceive, or assume actions of other. What base reaction occurs? We prepare for a fight, we begin to choose sides and garner support against the perceived enemy, and we misunderstand or are blinded to the reality of what God is doing all around us.
This week we begin to look at the letter of James. Although scholars debate who wrote this letter, because I guess scholars just like to debate, the general consensus is that this letter was written by James the brother of Jesus. I want us to consider this just for a brief amount of time because James was not always the largest supporter of the activities of Jesus. In many cases he opposed the ministry of Jesus and deemed His actions as a threat to the family. James had a perspective about things, he had an assumption as to what reality was, and his conclusion was to oppose his brother. But something happened to this once hostel sibling, his perspective was changed. At one time James was known as James the judge, but we now know him as James the just. He was once geared up to battle his own brother but that changed and he became a servant of the very one he once opposed. Everything changed when he encountered the reality of what God was doing around him. He encountered the living Christ.
James experienced something that he could not really explain, he experienced something that caused him to reconsider everything he once knew, and because of this he started down a different path. James was always a devout individual, even when scripture depicts him in the worst light his devotion to God was never questioned. Yet after James saw the broken body of Jesus that was buried in a tomb restored to life, the course of his life was altered. He became an outspoken supporter of the ministry of the apostles to the point that he became the leader of what we now call the church of Jerusalem.
He speaks of generosity as being a perfect gift from God, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. I want us to consider this for a moment because many people will argue that there is a distinct difference between God revealed in the Old Testament and the New, yet James is saying that there is no variation or change. Remember this is a devout man of faith that at one time opposed his very own brother believing that Jesus was expressing something contrary to the truth, and he is now speaking in support. There is no variation or change in the Father of Light, God has not changed but what humanity sees does. Perspective is important, not because it changes God, but because it might allow us to see God more fully.
James then encourages the readers and listeners of this letter to understand something very important. “[Let] everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” Let us allow that to just percolate in our hearts and minds for a moment. Let everyone be quick to listen. The first thing about this statement is that to be quick to listen there is a requirement for another personality to be present, a person that is speaking. James is encouraging us to place a high value on relationships. That a true servant of God listens. To listen to the stories of another we affirm that of Christ in them, we are telling them that they are worthy of our attention and are valued as a human being.
The desire to be heard is powerful. It is a base desire of all humanity, it is one that is deeply rooted in our very genes, we are a species that thrives in community. Science is proving that our brains can not function to their highest potential unless there are other brains around us to communicate with. When people feel as if they are not being heard it devastates the individual and the community as a whole because it devalues their and our humanity. Those that are unheard are pushed off to the fringe of society, and when this continues it breeds anger and revolt. The media right now is filled with the protests of a segment of our population that feels that they have not been heard, that is the root of the Black lives matter campaign.
This idea of listening, of building a relationship with those around us goes beyond humanity. It also applies to listening to God, and recognizing His place in the community. The most recognizable aspect of our Friends tradition of faith is our practice of listening worship. From the very origin of our movement leaders and worshipers would meet together to simply listen in silence. James and our spiritual ancestors of the Friends tradition recognized the importance of allowing space to listen to God by observing the lifestyle that Jesus lived. He made it His custom to worship, and he would withdraw often to pray in isolated places, and then he would minister to the community. Listening is not a passive task but the most important aspect of a relationship with humanity and with the divine.
“Slow to speak,” is the second part of James’ advices to the followers of Jesus. When we look more deeply into the usage of the words that James penned this has deep meaning. On the surface we might say that we should allow some time to pass between listening and responding vocally, but that is not the full depth of what James is saying. To be slow to speak is to mind what we say and not mock, judge, speak falsely, or accuse. So when we speak we should make every effort to encourage a deepening relationship, our words should be considerate and uplifting, building up the community with love and grace which flows from the father of light.
Next is slow to anger. This anger is not the initial emotional response of being upset but refers to wrath or inciting deeds of anger. To be slow to anger means we should actively seek the opposite of wrath which is forgiveness and reconciliation if a relationship is strained.
So when James says, “Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” he is encouraging us to build relationships between humanity and God, encourage a deepening and more meaningful conversation that is focused on grace, forgiveness and reconciliation instead of condemnation. And if we are willing to listen and strive to encourage and reconcile relationships we should be moved to participate in that relationship through action.
James says be doers not just hearers. Again this is a reflection of the life of Jesus, he would move out of the isolated places of prayer and would enter into the community ministering to all of those in need. He would heal the sick of diverse illnesses, and he would listen to the words spoken to him. He would not just stand and preach but often he would allow the conversation to flow. Consider the woman at the well, he asked her for a drink of water, which immediately entered into a political debate over the validity of the heritage and faith of the people of Samaria. Jesus did not condemn the woman but was slow of speech, moving the conversation away from who is right to something deeper as he explained that a time will come that true worship will not be done on the mountain or in the temple. He then moved the conversation to grace.
James is telling us that God has not changed but our perception has, it has become cloudy and we need to step out of the clouds to see the truth. He is saying that we can be completely right and completely wrong at the same time if we are not actively participating in honoring and restoring the humanity of our community to a right relationship with God. James was a devout man of faith yet he realized that all his religious devotion was not helping anyone. Jesus does not call us to participate in ritual but in live. He is calling us to reflect the light of the Father to the world that is trapped in darkness. And to reflect that light we must listen to those around us, we must speak words of encouragement and restore their relationships with the community. This is true worship, the true religion. It is not about what we are getting out of the church services, or sermons, but listening to the voice of God and the voices of those around us. It is about being moved into action and living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter this most sacred time of our meeting for worship, the time where we listen to the voice of God, I pray that we will be quick to listen, and respond accordingly to what he has to say. Let us also consider how well we follow the advice of Jesus’ brother and be willing to help those that could use the encouraging word or deed.
Ephesians 4:25–5:2 (NRSV)
Rules for the New Life
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
As years progress and the courses of history move from one era into another, those that live during the transition often wonder about the future. During the transitions of time things seem to change faster than the community can adjust, cultures move and people slowly adjust. During these periods of adjustment many begin to look to the past with nostalgic lenses wishing that things would return to a simpler time period, yet we often forget that those yester years were not as simple as we remember. Others look to the future with longing that all the problems would just go away without realizing that we must walk the paths to the future through the trials. I continue to speak in this manner because focusing solely on the past or the future can leave us blind to the present, and the present is the most important time and place to be. But it is difficult to keep our presence of mind focused during transitional periods because there are so many pressures squeezing around us, pressures that make us feel as if everything we once knew no longer matters.
We are living in transitional times of history. We are witnessing the first stages of the next great awakening. Just over the horizons of time we will see something beyond our wildest dreams, something that will give us hope and passion. We are going to see God build his kingdom here. How do we get there is the greatest question. How do we move from this seemingly hopeless state we often feel ourselves living in and move into the construction zone of the kingdom? Friends the reality is that we are already there.
The first century Church at Ephesus experienced similar things that we are experiencing today. I know this because they are just as human as we are, I know this because every generation views the past with nostalgic lenses and the future with smoke and mirrors. I know this because I like the music of my youth and think the music of today is horrid, just as my parents thought and their parents before them. Yet the church in Ephesus was not held back by these thoughts but boldly proceeded into the future and saw the kingdom grow on earth as it is in Heaven.
The key is to focus on what matters. Paul opens this passage by saying, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” This is an amazing statement, because prior to this He had been speaking to the Jewish and the Gentiles attempting to reconcile the differences between them, going so far as saying that we all entered this world equal, none were born more righteous than anyone else, all were born uncircumcised until we were brought into the community of the faithful. This church in Ephesus was facing major struggles, the Jewish community had been living, working, and worshiping in this place for over 300 years and suddenly the culture was shifting and now after 300 years there were gentiles coming to faith. How were they to handle this change?
Paul says, “Put away the falsehood, stop playing games and justifying actions, and be real.” That is where we must begin. The number one complaint against the people outside of the formal church is that people are hypocrites or fake. The contemporary generation is even more sensitive to this than the previous generation. The generation that is moving into adulthood today are tired of people playing games, saying words that they have no intention of keeping and people acting contrary to what they say they believe. To them it is a total waste of time and energy to put on a façade, or to act. Why waste the energy to convince people of something everyone knows is a lie? Many of us here today look at this emerging generation with disdain because they do not respect or honor authority, we see this a rebellion, but this current generation is probably the most honest generation that America has ever seen.
Put away the falsehood and be real. This passage should deeply resonate with Friends because this is really the core of our faith. Honesty and integrity are one of the pillars of our faith that stretches across the entire spectrum of Quakerdom. People knew and respected the integrity of our culture to such a degree that the name Quaker represented truthfulness and quality. There is something important in that, there is something very important in authenticity 2000 years ago up to today.
Paul does not stop with authenticity though he goes on to say, “speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” We are members of one another. This is a profound statement. No matter how independent we think we are there is a deeply rooted need for community. We may perceive that we have made our own way, but we are members of one another. I know many of us do not like this thought, but I want us to consider it for a moment. I do not stand here alone. I stand here because of generations of ancestors that have gone before me. I stand here because someone took the time to talk to a young man and listen to all the questions. I stand here because a community saw a broken man and instead of judging the past they looked beneath the surface and saw something more. I stand because someone invested their life into mine because we are members of one another. I could stand and list off the names of those people that realized that they had a responsibility Leo, Earl, John, James, Leslie, Lois, Bob, Carol, David, Charles, Vicki, Cliff, Candice, Donna, Virl, Larry, and many more… common names, names of people that may not be considered great in anyone’s eyes but mine. They are the names of church members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends. We are all members of one another, members of the kingdom.
Those people that moved beyond, they looked beneath the surface and began to nurture within me something that no one else saw. They invested their lives and spoke the truth. They showed me the gospel not in word but in life. They fed me, clothed me, taught me, you might say they had to they were family, but you do not know which of them is the most important or why.
I say this because the kingdom of God is built on the lives of common people doing common things. The kingdom is built by each of us seeing into the very hearts of those around us and recognizing that spark of light within, and nourishing that light.
The only way to nourish the light is to be authentic. Just like everything else discipleship is a cyclical process. For us to encourage the light to grow within someone else we must feed it with the light living inside of us, showing them life. For many we look at this passage and we can easily be confused because it sounds contradictory. Paul says be angry and then a couple of verses later he says not to be angry. Because of this I looked up the words just to see if maybe they were different, thinking maybe there might be two types of anger that Paul is speaking about. But it is the same. Anger is anger. Wrath is wrath. Paul is saying be real. If you are angry, be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger. We can disagree on many things but we should never let that disagreement harm the relationship, if it is something that might we must do what we can to reconcile the friendship. If we neglect this process of reconciliation, if we allow the emotions of anger to dominate our lives and cause division within our community, we are allowing the unholy to reign in our lives.
The community, the Kingdom of God that is around and in us is the most important thing we should pursue. This is what Paul is telling the Ephesians. They were dividing, choosing sides and pointing fingers at others. They were neglecting their first love. This is seen in how they speak to one another and how they treat those around them. They were allowing disagreements to damage friendships and they were allowing friendships to die because they were unwilling to forgive. But there is more. Anger and Theft are mentioned directly. This concept of thieves is very interesting because it really is not what it appear.
The ancient world was a world that was dominated by classes of people. There were nobles, freemen, and slaves. If you think there is economic disparity today the ancient world was much worse. The nobles controlled everything. The concept of thieves that Paul is mentioning is actually speaking to the way freemen and slaves relate to the Nobles. If a nobleman considered your good or service not to their liking they could charge you with theft and you would be convicted. The church was beginning to grow and people were turning away from the religions of old, this was causing cultural rifts. Slaves were beginning to see themselves as equals in the eyes of the divine and were no longer easy to control, so the nobles were charging the early Christians with theft because they were stealing property and food. Paul actually has a bit of humor in this passage because he is saying you thieves work stop stealing and do your job. But do not just do it do it better than the others so that you will not be seen as a thief any longer. Work harder and use the fruit of your labor to help others. Freemen likewise use the wages you earn benefit the community. Again he is reminding those in the church of Ephesus that the community and the relationships within are of greater importance.
This humor is not all fun because he is also addressing another very real concern within the Greek and roman cultures. Within the culture was an idea that the intelligent and philosophical minded people could become benefactor. These sages would expect a free ride in life because they were passing on wisdom. So as people grew in knowledge they would begin to expect the church to pay their way. This joke just became a double edged sword especially to those who wielded influence over others. Paul is calling them thieves as well, because everyone should be laboring and helping others within the community. No one person is of greater importance we all have jobs to do and a responsibility to those in need. Pastors cannot demand payment beyond the means of the community and in the same sense the community cannot withhold from their leaders proper compensation for the services they provide to the community. Again a cycle, a cycle based on honoring the relationship of all within the community.
Right after Paul calls everyone a thief he then proceeds to focus in on how to speak to one another. The words we say should be simple, plain, and truthful but they should be spoken in a manner to encourage growth, grace, and a deepening of the kingdom. When we act we should be putting others before ourselves and when we speak our words should be filled with the same intent. We should be mindful of how our words will be heard and quick to recognize when we may have been misunderstood. If the words we used insight anger we should strive to reconcile the relationship. Easy right!
Paul pretty punches each of us right in the gut. He hits our individual liberty, he cause us thieves, and he tells us to work harder, to speak truth, but not incite anger. He basically tells us that what we think is not really all that important and the worst thing about it is he is right. Be imitators of God, live the love of Christ with others, make your life a fragrant offering to God. The first must become the last and the last the first, the greatest in the kingdom must become the servant of all. It cycles back to the beginning again be real and speak the truth to your neighbor because we are members of one another.
I speak of a new era emerging around us, I speak of transitional history, and how the kingdom of God is just on the horizon. I say this because I believe it to be true. The emerging generation wants truth, they want reality and they do not have time to waste of anything fake. They are crying out for the gospel, they are seeking the very thing we say we have so why are so many leaving the community? Friends this is not a testimony of how bad the culture and the world is around us but a testimony of how we have distorted the gospel in the past. But there is hope. Jesus did not come to save the righteous but the sinners, he came to heal the broken and the sick, to restore to life those that were caught in the grips of death. He came to give us life, life filled with the things that matter to Him. We are in the construction zone of the kingdom God is working all around us and He is calling us all to speak the truth to our neighbor, because those people outside of these walls are the very people He wants and we are not his people until we recognize them as our people. As we enter into this time of Open worship and Holy expectancy I want us to consider these words of Paul. Have we caused anger to control our lives, have we become thieves to our own community, have we neglected imitating God in how we interact with those around us? Are we willing to repent? Are we willing to look beyond the surface and nourish the light within other?
Ephesians 2:11–22 (NRSV)
One in Christ
11 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— 12 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 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. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Do you remember? This is a phrase that we often hear especially as we all get older. Do you remember when we used to…? There is an importance to remembering the past. It is important to recognize what has happened before and where we are now. The biggest problem with remembering is we rarely remember correctly. There is a big concern among many that people are rewriting history, writing out the truth so that it will confuse the present and the future. I am sure it is an issue, but too often we fail to remember that there is more to history than we fully know. We only get a brief glimpse through a window and beyond that window the rest of the world. Remember?
We want to remember the greatness of our past, we want to remember the beauty of our heroes, the magnificence of our nations, but all of that is history skewed through ideology and in some cases idolatry. I love my country but it has done some terrible things. I have many heroes, people that have encouraged me to try harder and to seek more, but I have to admit that even George Fox was kind of a jerk sometimes. I would like to think I was a pretty good kid, but if I am honest I was a far from being a saint and really I am not much better today. I am human prone to error, my heroes are and were human and they too are prone to error, and my nation is a nation of humans that can get caught up in the emotions of a situation and overreact and cause great harm. Remember.
Paul wrote this letter to the early church in Ephesus. He wrote them calling them to remember. For centuries we assumed that the church in Ephesus was dominated by Gentile believers but as we learn more about the various histories of the people in that region we are finding out that this letter was largely written to the Jewish community that had called this city in Asia Minor home for over 300 years. It is important to know this because that context gives us greater understanding to what is being said throughout the rest of the letter. Paul calls these people to remember.
“[R]ember 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.” You might want to stop me right there and say that I am wrong in saying that this book was largely written to the Jewish community because Paul just said he was writing to Gentiles, but hear me out. During the first century there was diverse religious expression among the Jewish community, there were at least four expressions of the Jewish religion that was being taught in Israel, and then there were the communities that were scattered throughout the empires that each had their own interpretations of what it meant to be a child of the promise. In this portion of the letter Paul is actually being very derogatory to make a point. A Gentile is anyone that is any individual outside the nation of Israel. And when there was contentions within the larger community many begin to make claims that they have the true knowledge and everyone else is just wrong. Paul is using very colorful language to make a point. That point is that every human being is born Gentile. Every male baby that is born is by all physical appearances born outside the community of Israel, every male is born uncircumcised. To be joined into the community someone within that community had to physically get involved to bring that child into the community, someone had to quite literally pierce the skin and cause blood to flow before even the highest of high priest’s son could be call a Jew.
Everyone is born a Gentile. This goes right along with the teachings of John the Baptist, who was crying out in the wilderness that all should repent and be cleansed. He stood there in the waters of the Jordan and said “and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” Every person is born outside the Kingdom of God. Every Ephesian that was born to parents that worshiped in the temple of Dianna, and every child of the synagogue at birth are equal in the eyes of God, uncircumcised Gentiles.
The reason that Paul wrote in such a fashion is because this is a very diverse city and therefore a diverse church. There were people that responded to the Gospel of Christ that were once dedicated to the gods of Rome, and people once dedicated to the teaching of Moses. This diversity among the church was causing division along cultural backgrounds and heritage. “Remember,” Paul continues, “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.”
Having no hope and without God in the world. The terminology in this statement is very profound. Paul is quite literally saying that every one of the people within that church were atheists without any hope. Today this term is thrown around all over the place, but it was used quite regularly in the ancient world to identify anyone that had a different belief than the common religion of an area. Christians were often regarded as atheists by both the pagans and the Jews. Many of the earliest Christian writers had to defend their faith against the claim of atheism. But Paul is using the very same statements to prove his point. You were atheists at one time without hope, without Christ. This is a powerful claim especially since he is saying this to a religious community that was largely comprised of people that claimed to be children of Abraham. They did not have God with them. They did not have Emmanuel. They were children wondering through the wilderness without hope.
With Christ thing change. Paul takes both the actual Gentile and the Jewish members of the community all the way back to the beginning of the history of Israel. Back to the original promise to Abraham. God did not say that Abraham was to be the father of a nation, but many nations. Many nations, consider this for a moment. What is a nation? It is simply a group of people with a common history and culture. The promise of Abraham was not to make one nation but bring the nations with their various histories back to the God that created them. The gentile people do not lose their cultural identity to become Jews, and the Jews do not lose their cultural identity, instead God brings the nations together under one promise in Christ. No longer atheist without hope but people with God and God with them.
In Christ we have a commonality, in Christ we have hope, and in Christ we have peace, because in Christ the walls that separate the nations break down and we are seen as we truly are. All of us are the same Jew and Greek, Catholic and Orthodox, Baptist and Quaker all of us are humans that recognize that our hope can only come through God with us, without that there is no hope. And Paul tells us to remember this.
In Christ there is no division, there is no separation of greater or lesser nations, and there are no aliens or strangers, because we are all similar. The physical divisions within the temple of God were ripped apart revealing that God is not held in a box but freely among the people. If God is not held in the temple of the Jewish people, why are we building walls? This has profound power in our contemporary age. For half of a century there was a wall that divided Eastern and Western Europe, this wall was built recognizing a division of ideology. On each side of the wall different nations, different cultures no unity only division. I was alive when that wall came down, many of you witnessed that event too. Maps were redrawn nations uniting and others dividing. Today our children learn a different geography than we did prior to the 90’s. That wall gave us a visual indication of the difference that nations can have, the divisions that can occur when we focus on ideology instead of humanity. There are other walls that show the same thing. But Christ came to break down the walls, to unite the nations under the promise of Abraham, not to diminish cultural identity but to build a kingdom of which there is no other type on earth. Uniting people in grace and mercy instead of national identity. Uniting people and urging them to live the holy lifestyle that God himself lived with us in Christ.
I know that most of us have read this letter to the Ephesians as a text to Gentile believers, a letter that is encouraging them that they too are part of this great promise that God gave to Abraham that was fulfilled in Christ. It is that but it is also a letter written to Jewish believers encouraging them to remember that the promise was not for them alone, but for the nations. It would be extremely difficult for an established community that lived three centuries under a certain framework to change their thinking. We are no different today. We remember history in ways that support our current ideals, and we conveniently forget the portions of history that contradict our stances. We must remember. We must remember that we were once something else. We were once without hope, but we now have it. That hope came to each of us freely through Christ. We have hope because God so loved the WORLD that He gave his only son, not to condemn the world but to save it. God loves the world. He loves the Canadians, the Mexicans, the Russians, and the Chinese. He loves the Germans and the Israelis. He loves the atheists as well as the Christian, he loves the Hindu and the Muslim, and He loves the CEO and the Union member. All of those nations, or groupings of people are things of flesh, things that man has defined to divide and define. Those divisions are not seen by God and have no place in the Kingdom because God loves the world. We have hope because the God first loved us and gave his son to redeem, free, and build a bridge of reconciliation with us. Remember. Remember that we were once without hope. Remember that we were once caught behind a wall of separation, but Jesus broke down the wall so that we could be free to love the nations. Remember that we too were once like those that do not yet know the God that loves them. Remember that each of us are here today because someone was led by Christ to see beyond the outward expressions of life and cause us to see that spark of God trying to take hold in our souls. Remember.