We are going to be spending the next seven weeks in Ephesians, so we need to take a minute and set the stage.
Ephesians is probably not from Paul, probably not written for the Ephesians, and probably isn’t even a letter.
More likely it is a sermon, written by someone using Paul’s name, meant to be passed around from congregation to congregation in the region of present-day Turkey.
A common issue in the churches of that area was that Gentile converts are now outnumbering the Jewish Christians. Since these newer church members don’t have much knowledge or history with God, they are quite different in their approach and attitude toward the church. They have pagan backgrounds and virtually no religious rules or lifestyles to draw from. And they are driving the longer-time church members crazy because these new comers don’t know how we do things around here. And they aren’t showing much interest in learning. “They” aren’t like “us,” and we aren’t sure what to do about it.
On the other hand, the new members resent the experienced members telling them the rules they have to follow. The Jewish rules don’t apply to them, they feel, and they aren’t sure what to do about all these imposed restrictions that don’t make any sense to them.
So there’s a issue of unity and cohesion in the churches of the area. The church is changing, the world around them is changing, and they don’t know how to adjust to it.
Nothing new under the sun!
So the author addresses this growing concern in these churches and cuts right to the center of things in this reading today. Jew or Gentile doesn’t matter. Rules of righteousness or pagan background don’t matter. Past or future doesn’t matter. Even heaven or earth don’t matter. Everyone is part of God’s plan of redemption. All things are to be gathered up in God’s grace.
So church, quit fighting about who’s a better Christian or whether new ways or old ways are superior. You’re all the same! You’ve all received the same inheritance! You are all redeemed! You are all forgiven! You are all destined for adoption!
The issue isn’t who’s better or who’s worse, who’s in or who’s out, who’s saved or who isn’t, who’s ways are closer to God’s ways. The thing that really matters has nothing to do with what we do, it’s about what God is doing. And God’s plan of redemption for all people, for all things in heaven and on earth, has already been put into action. The evidence of that goes back deep into Jewish history, where God continually made redeeming covenants with a disobedient people. Which culminated in one covenant for all people set forth in Christ. And ultimately winds up with all people gathered up in him.
Your job as church is not to fight over whose ways are better. No, your job as church is to reveal that redemptive love. Reveal what it looks like when things are being reconciled to God in Christ. So quit judging each other, quit fighting, quit talking about “them,” because in Christ we’re all “us.” God started it, and God will finish it. You just reveal love to the world.
How would the church behave differently if we started with the assumption that God’s plan includes all people and all creation being gathered up together in God’s grace? Everyone we meet is destined for adoption no matter who they are or what they believe. If we didn’t have to worry about them going to hell or whether or not they were “saved.” Would our energy, time, and priorities be any different?
It seems that the point in these verses is that the church needs to trust God with eternity, and recognize our role today. How would it look if the Christian Church throughout the world was intent on showing the world what God’s unconditional love looked like? What would be different if, rather than converting people, the church just loved them. And that was all. If the church committed to a world-wide endeavor to make sure every single person was shown how worthy of love they are, right now, just as they are. What would it look like if, instead of churches fighting among themselves, we stood up to institutions or governments or businesses that make people feel they are not worth being loved.
What would it look like if, rather than trying to fix LCM, we simply made sure every single person who lives or works in Green Mountain was touched by a genuine act of love? What if each one was shown that they are worthy of being loved? What would happen to our congregational cliques? To any disagreements? To any rumors? What would happen to our personal preferences around worship styles or music styles? What would happen if we changed our emphasis from numerical growth and getting more “families with children” to discovering ways to show every person who lives in this neighborhood that they are worthy of love—regardless of what their background is or what they’ve done or what they’ve experienced?
The point in these verses from Ephesians is that eternity belongs to God. It is to recognize the mystery that in Christ God’s plan for gathering up everyone has already been set in motion. It is that we don’t have to figure out how to get people “saved.” We are to show God’s love around us. Jew or Gentile no longer matters. God-fearing background or pagan background no longer matters. Long-time member or brand new member no longer matters. In God’s eternal plan, all things, all people God has made are worthy of love. No matter what, no matter who, we are all loved, chosen, adopted, destined for redemption. God has made known to us the mystery of his will . . . To gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Now we just love them.