given on Sunday, September 17, 2017
Opening: Ephesians 1:3-8, NLT
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.[a] 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
- Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
B: Ephesians 2:19-22
19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
- Ephesians 4:11-12, 31-32, NLT
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
…31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
- Ephesians 5:18b-20, NLT
Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Closing: Ephesians 3:20-21, NLT
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Reflection: Why is church a place to belong?
Our neighbors keep changing. When we bought the house almost 20 years ago, we did not know the neighbors; and we did not buy it based on who was living next door. The house was what we chose.
Fortunately for us the decision was positive because we feel like we live where we belong. The neighborhood has been filled with people we ended up knowing and enjoying as neighbors. Yet over these past 18 years, the neighbors keep changing.
Today is designated as “Back to Church Sunday” as a national outreach campaign. The churches in our communities, especially the smaller ones, are struggling to fit into their neighborhoods because the mobile society keeps the areas around the churches ever changing. The churches no longer seem to belong where they are.
In reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I do not think he was concerned about whether or not the church fit into the community around it. This letter’s purpose was to encourage the church. The opening scripture greets the church with an appealing reason to be part of God’s church:
5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
The decision on where to live is based on the reasons why a location is chosen. Reasons for the location range from family proximity, jobs, schools, city services, and even personal preferences as to historical districts, shopping preferences, and the list just keeps growing. The choice of location also is related to the basic needs of the family: food, clothing and shelter must be accessible.
Then the decision is tied to the next tier of needs—a sense of belonging. Once an individual’s needs for food, shelter and clothing are met, the next need is to feel a sense of belonging. Today’s mobile society makes finding a place to belong difficult.
The “Back to Church” campaign created a flier that helps explain this need:
As primal as our need for food and shelter, our need to belong is part of what makes us human. Yet belonging easily escapes us. We are often disappointed by the very people we thought we were most strongly connected to.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was shared with the other churches, much like an email we might forward to others we know. The letter identified many reasons that the church was a place people were unified and equal, and that was why church was a place to belong.
Paul opens his letter with words of encouragement, writing how God
. . . is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
This is the foundation for the church. We are loved and God so loved us that he gave his only son Jesus Christ for our salvation. All who are baptized, who profess Jesus Christ as their savior, belong in the Christian family.
Paul’s letter explains the church unifies all who believe:
15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
The church is a place for everybody to belong. Paul goes on throughout his letter to explain how the church is unified, how it is Holy Spirit driven, and how it uses each person’s individual talents to serve God.
His letter encourages the church on the very behaviors that are necessary to create an environment where everybody belongs and works in unity. The church is a place for everybody to belong.
Today’s national campaign, Back to Church Sunday, challenges each of us to consider whether or not our church(es) are a place where people have a sense of belonging. If it is not, then work is needed.
The flier, A Place to Belong, identifies the different attitudes people have towards churches:
The word “Church” means different things to different people. For some, it awakens warm feelings of childhood potlucks and singing. For others, it might trigger a more sour feeling, a subtle tensing of the shoulders. People’s reactions to the Church are as varied as their individual histories.
Paul’s letter encourages churches by including a list of qualities the church should develop to create a place all are welcome and can have a sense of belonging. The list also includes behaviors to avoid:
- 4:2-3 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
- 4:7 7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.
- 4:11-12 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
- 4:30-32 …31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Today we may not have joined in the nationwide campaign to get Back to Church, but it is never too late to invite those who have been or have never been to church to come to church. The key, though, is the church must be a place where people do belong and want to belong. Paul said, “10 God’s purpose . . . was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety . . . “
Our responsibility is to be the church family that works together to do all that we can for all we can in any way we can. We must do what we can to open the doors to those who seek a place to belong. The church “is not a building. It’s a community of people brought together to experience God’s love and purpose. . . . God wants each of us to find a place of belonging in His family.” Is our church a place others want to belong or do we need to work on the behaviors that Paul outlined to the Ephesians? Let’s work to be a place where anybody can experience God’s love and purpose. This is where we want to belong and we want to make sure others transformed by God’s love also want to belong here.
Dear God Almighty,
Guide us in this time of resting and renewal
So we can hear what you ask us to do.
As we join together in worship and study,
Speak to us how to shape our church into a place to belong.
Guide us in hearing Paul’s message to ancient churches
So we can learn what we can do in our church.
Let us find the wisdom of unity and of inclusiveness
That creates a space of equality filled with your love.
Guide us to use your words to teach others
So they too may know your grace and salvation.
As we read and study your scriptures,
May we commit to doing life together
so others find a place to belong in your church.
In the name of you the Father, the son Jesus Christ,
And through the Holy Spirit, amen.