Good evening, my friends. We’re going to be reflecting for just a few minutes on Ephesians 4 (and just a touch of chapter five). So I invite you to turn there.
This is our fifth week worshipping together as a community.
(At some point you stop counting weeks, but I’m not there yet.)
When a group of people start doing what we’re doing—
(getting together to recite an ancient creed and sing songs
and reflect in silence and pray the words of Jesus
and dip some bread in some juice in a few minutes)
—it’s a bit easier than usual for us to see the oddness of the church.
When there’s no fancy lighting, when there’s no slick presentation,
when there’s just a small group of people gathered in a basement
I think we can see more clearly what a peculiar thing the local church is.
It’s this peculiar community centered around human history’s most peculiar figure.
Jesus of Nazareth has succeeded in changing the world in an unparalleled way,
and he’s done this by forming a community around himself.
That’s the legacy that he’s left the world—
he gave the world a new kind of people.
He gave the world the Church.
As we’ve begun to gather, we’ve ben asking the question that every local expression of the church—every local flavor of this new kind of people—has to ask:
What does it mean for us, here, now, in this place,
to truly carry the legacy of Jesus into the world?
And a few weeks ago we saw Jesus making a peculiar claim:
he saw him breathing his spirit into his disciples and sending them into the world.
So when we’re asking about how to “carry the legacy of Jesus into the world,”
we’re really asking what it means for us to carry the life of Jesus into the world.
What does it look like for his actual presence, his energy, his life-force, his Spirit
to be invading and transforming us?
What does it means for his life
to be continuing in us and among us and through us?
What does it mean for a local community of people to be a Jesus-community?
We’ve tried summarizing it by saying that
we’ve got to learn to trust and celebrate and embody Jesus.
So for the last few weeks, we’ve been reflecting on that.
The first two weeks,
we said for us to be a trusting-Jesus-community
means we’ve got to be a humble-and-honest-community.
We’ve got to be willing to submit ourselves
to something bigger than ourselves,
throwing back the curtains
and allowing it to illuminate and influence every corner of our lives.
We want to trust that the God-revealed-in-Jesus
actually knows what real-and-lasting life looks like,
and to begin entrusting ourselves to him.
And then lasting week, we explored just a little bit of the implications of trusting Jesus.
That as we begin to trust Jesus, we begin to celebrate.
And we said that we were going to use two words—two primary angles—
to explore what we mean by celebration means.
So last week we explored “hospitality.”
Behold the hospitality of God we said…
The Creator who welcomes the everything into existence,
also welcomes that world back to himself through Jesus
(most powerfully in the cross of Jesus).
Despite our rebellion, our brokenness, our violence, our insults—
God welcomes us back into his happy, humble, divine life.
At the bottom of things,
the universe is a friendly place.
Because by raising Jesus from the dead,
God is showing what he has planned for all creation.
Resurrection. New creation. Welcome.
That calls for the deepest kind of celebration.
Celebration that’s not just an exception on the calendar—
but celebration that reveals the rest of the calendar.
Because inside all moments, behind all days, beneath all history,
is the welcoming, forgiving, healing heart of God.
And that is good news.
This week, we look at celebration through our other primary angle:
If hospitality is about
maybe wholeness is
the drilling down,
And I think “wholeness” is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4:
(4.17f) So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
(4.20) That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
(5.1) Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
INVITED INTO SOMETHING
Earlier in this letter, Paul writes with some of the most sweeping, welcoming, affirming language in any of his writings. And, personally, I find it to be some the most powerful and moving and insightful language in all of Christian Scripture.
In Ephesians 2, what we talked about last week—the hospitality of God—
is on dazzling display.
Paul describes how God breathes life into us—even when we’re dead (2.1, 5).
God does this not because of anything we do (2.9)
but because of his love and mercy (2.4).
He rescues us from rebellion (he raises us from the dead)
and he has re-crafted us into a piece of artwork
so we can walk a particular path—a path of goodness, a path of good works (2.10)
And God isn’t just welcoming a particular group of people into this reality—
the people with the right beliefs or right practices or right ancestors (2.11-14).
God is welcoming everyone into the new humanity that he is creating (2.15).
All have been reconciled to God in the cross.
God proclaims peace to everyone,
both near and far (2.17).
Hostility has been put to death (2.16)
and hospitality is the new reality. (2.18)
And so you—you would think that you’re not welcomed by God—you are.
You’re citizens of this city. You’re part of this family. (2.19)
God welcomes you.
In fact, he’s building all who are willing into a house (into a temple)
where he himself is going to dwell (2.22).
Those are the staggering sorts of things that were said earlier in this letter.
What God has done in Jesus.
What God does—he welcomes us into his family.
That’s the heart of the good news.
That’s the heart of why we celebrate.
The hospitality of God.
God has accepted—redeemed, rescued, welcomed—the world in Jesus.
That’s worth celebrating.
But, now, what is God welcoming us into?
Paul is insisting that those who have experienced the welcome of God
that they “must no longer live” as “the Gentiles” (as “the nations”) do.
The traditions of both Judaism and Jesus
have long-recognized that there are ways of living that
are more in-tune, are more in-rhythm, are more aligned
with the heart of God and with how God designed humanity.
And there are ways of living
that are out-of-tune,
that break the rhythm,
that throw human life out of alignment.
Paul says (v18) that there’s a way of living where people are
“darkened in their understanding”
and “separated from the [real and lasting] life of God” (v18).
That’s strong medicine.
And evidently they don’t even what the life of God looks like.
There’s a kind of heart-hardness
that has led to a kind of lack-of-sensitivity to real and lasting life.
And so people (v19) throw themselves headlong
into sexuality and impurity and greed.
But Paul is telling people (no “insisting on it in the Lord”)
that it can’t be that way with you.
For you to embrace Jesus and the truth in him (v21)
means that you’ve got to learn to live a particular “way of life” (v20)
And it doesn’t just sound like an effortless process that just naturally happens.
He sounds like he’s inviting us to take an active part—an active role—in taking off
one set of assumptions, one identity, one “self” (v22)
(almost like a taking off dirty, ill-fitting clothes).
And he invites us (again) to be actively putting on something new.
A new attitude of mind (v23).
A new identity. A new self.
We’re smack dab in the middle
of Paul calling us to be righteous and be holy.
Our true self—according to Paul—was made to be like God (v24).
A self that is integrated and ordered rightly—that is righteous.
A self that is in right relationship with the Divine—that is holy.
Let’s pause right here for a minute.
Because this call—to righteousness and holiness—
often sounds antiquated at best and oppressive at worst.
I think that’s because there are very few local churches who manage
to celebrate both hospitality and wholeness.
Most churches tend to gravitate to one or the other.
Generally speaking, you have one group of colorful churches who say:
“We embrace what so many people just don’t see—the hospitality of God.
God is love. God loves everyone. and He welcomes everyone.
So come—come as you are, children. You’re perfect as you are.
We love you, we welcome you, we affirm you.”
And then you have another group of churches (dressed in black, I imagine) that say,
“We take the wholeness offered by God very seriously.
God wants us to be righteous, set apart, like him. It’s serious business.
And it’s a good thing thou art here, because you look rather shabby.
If we’re all very careful, we may just be able to scrape together some holiness.”
Both groups are in the grip of something true.
They just need the other group—the other angle of celebration.
We don’t have the full and robust celebration of Jesus
until we’re gripped by both hospitality AND wholeness.
The absurd excessiveness of God’s grace
and God’s intent that his people would be holy.
It’s a rare church that can recognize both the friendliness of universe,
and still admit that we’ve got fractures within ourselves that need to be healed.
The reality of the God of hospitality,
who welcomes and accepts and receives
with no strings attached while we’re still dead.
And the reality of God who invites us into wholeness,
who says “You’re going the wrong way; life is over here,”
and who stop speaking and prodding and working until we are fully alive.
God does welcome everyone.
Regardless of race, background, history,
orientation, choices, deficiencies, shame, sin—
God welcomes you. Period.
And a Jesus community must be the kind of people
who not only say but actually do the exact same thing.
But how welcoming is the welcome if we stay outside—
if we never actually come into anything?
But what’s the point of hospitality if we never come into the home?
The home that God is welcoming us into is wholeness.
BEING HOLY, BEING HUMAN
Because maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but I’m not fine as I am.
I’ve got all kinds of flaws and faults and failings.
And I’m not just talking about the things that I do…
I’m really aware that my deepest self—my soul—feels fractured.
And this is where celebration begins drilling deep:
God wants to transform us into a particular kind of people.
Whole and complete and integrated people.
What we were always intended to be.
He wants to give us a new self.
Wants to make us part of “a new humanity,” according to chapter two.
And this new anthropos, this new man, this new humanity,
is created to be like God (v24).
That’s always the root of things for the earliest Christians.
They are constantly holding before us the destiny of the human race.
To “participate in the divine nature” as one New Testament writer puts it (2 Pet 1.4).
To be caught up in the very life of God.
To share likeness of God and reflect his image into the world. (cf. Gen 1.26-27).
That’s why God fashioned humanity in the first place:
to share his life and his joy with others—with us.
We were made to experience this life and joy.
We were made to be whole.
We were made to be holy.
We were made to be human.
That’s three ways of saying the same thing.
The root question for someone like Paul is
what does it mean for us to follow God’s example and walk in the way of love?
After all, Paul says, God became a human being—
became the true human being—
and gave himself up for us.
Jesus became a fragrant offering. A sacrifice to God.
What does it look like for us to do the same thing?
What does it look like for us to become that kind of person?
To take off our fractured selves,
and put on a new self—the “new human being” (literally what verse 24 says).
Ultimately, what does it mean for us to put on true humanity?
What does it mean for us to put on Jesus? (cf. Rom 13.14)
For Paul, at the very least,
this kind of spirituality is less about a mystical experience when we’re alone
and more about what we do when we’re together.
It looks like a re-channeling, a refocusing, a re-directing
of our energies towards others.
So when we deceive, when we lie,
when we speak out of both sides of our mouth,
we don’t need to stop speaking.
We need to learn to speak differently—to speak truthfully (v25).
When we’re angry, we don’t need to deny how we feel—
we just need to learn to resolve our passions in a healthy way.
Otherwise we’re letting darkness get a grip on us.
When we’re tempted to use our resources for selfish ends—
our hands for example to steal—
it’s not that we to stop using our hands.
Our hands just need something better to do.
Our energy just needs a better purpose.
Paul says, why don’t you do something useful with your own hands (v28)
so that you can help others?
Our energy isn’t the problem. Our energy is just human.
The question is, “How will we use our energy?”
In ways that are unwholesome (v29)?
In ways that are driven by an insatiable greed
for more control, more sex, more power?
Or in ways that build up and benefit others?
In ways that splinter humanity
with bitterness and brawling, slander and malice,
or in ways that make people pause and say,
“That is what true humanity looks like.”
Maybe we could say it this way:
Wholeness is what happens when God’s hospitality starts invading us.
The picture Paul gave us back in chapter two is that we
(as a community and as individuals)
are becoming a house where God dwells.
C.S. Lewis once put it this way:
Imagine yourself as a living house.
God comes in to rebuild that house.
At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.
He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on;
you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to?
The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.
You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage:
but He is building a palace.
He intends to come and live in it Himself.
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas.
Nor is it a command to do the impossible.
He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.
He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ [cf. Ps 82 & Jn 10]
and He is going to make good on His words.
If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—
He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or a goddess,
a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through
with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine,
a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly
(though, of course, on a smaller scale)
His own boundless power and delight and goodness.
The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for.
Nothing less. He meant what He said.
(Lewis, Mere Christianity, 205-6).
The hospitality of God—the love and grace of God—wants to invade us
to make us a palace, to make us perfect, complete, holy, whole.
God wants us to be fully and truly human.
A Jesus community is a community learning to celebrate from both angles.
Learning to celebrate the unlikely reality that the universe is a friendly place,
and learning to celebrate the painful reality that our fractures can (and will) be healed.
This is why a local church has to take discipleship very seriously.
Has to take learning from Jesus very seriously.
Because we need to be discipled.
As a community, we want to learn how to be human from the true human being.
We want to learn how to live from Jesus.
The beauty and genius and reality of the local church
is that we all need to be in deep and lasting relationship with other people
who are exploring and learning and struggling through how we can take off
the labels and identities and habits may be defining us
and how we can learn to put on Jesus.
The good news is that God is friendly and that God is faithful—
he won’t relent until we’re fully alive.
This table is the place we come—in all our brokenness, in all our sinfulness—
to receive the hospitality of God into our very beings.
Where we bring him all our energies and ask him to refocus them.
Where we invite God to heal our fractures and make us whole.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
If you’re beginning to trust Jesus when he says, “My body is for you,”
if you want to celebrate the broadness of God’s welcome,
and if you’re wanting to celebrate the depth of God’s plans
to renovate and renew and resurrect even you,
then you’re invited to this table.