Tag Archives: Unity

Why is church a place to belong?

given on Sunday, September 17, 2017

SCRIPTURE CONNECTIONS

Opening: Ephesians 1:3-8, NLT

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. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 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. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.[a] He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

 

Sermon scripture:

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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:

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. 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 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
  • 4:7 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.

Closing prayer:

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.

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Paul tells the Ephesians all are one in Christ; same message today

given on Sunday, February 5, 2017  (This will be the first of four in a series based on Ephesians.)

 

Scripture connections: Ephesians 2:11-22, 4:1-16 (NLT)

Oneness and Peace in Christ

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

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.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

A Temple for the Lord

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 4:1-16 (NLT)

Unity in the Body

4 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is over all, in all, and living through all.

However, he has given each one of us a special gift[a] through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say,

“When he ascended to the heights,
he led a crowd of captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]

Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world.[c] 10 And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself.

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. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Reflection:

 

“Life isn’t fair.” Just three words, but how many times have we heard that or even used them as we listen to someone talk about how tough things are. I certainly do not like hearing them thrown at me. In fact I dislike them so much that I try very hard never to use them, especially if someone is telling me how difficult life is for them.

How, then, does a person listen to a friend or a family member when they are complaining or whining about how tough life is for them? For me, I listen, but then I hear God. From the pages of Genesis right through to Revelations, God listens to the complaints of even the most faithful; but he never tells them life isn’t fair, instead he challenges them to love one another.

Granted that is an oversimplification of God’s instructions, but here it is February and our society is flooded with images of hearts, flowers, candy, and love. Just do a search on special events for the month, weeks, and days in February. Suddenly this short month is crowded with reasons to demonstrate love or at least pay attention to life challenges, different groups or organizations, even sweet potatoes—yes, February is Sweet Potato Month, along with November.

Life may seem terribly unfair, but God puts us into a powerful role when he authorized us to love one another, as we want to be loved. Currently our society is bristling over decisions that appear to pit those who have versus those who have not. Forgotten is the fact that the system that placed us in this dilemma is designed to be fair and equitable. If today’s Christians dropped all the whining and complaining and listened to God, I am convinced that the negatives would be smothered by the positives.

God created a world wanting a relationship with us. He did not create a world that was purposefully filled with conflict; we created the conflict. In Ephesians, Paul tells the congregation in Ephesus that living a God-centered life is key to a healthy relationship with God, true; so using the same approach to all relationships can remove the life-isn’t-fair mindset. Living a God-centered life is exactly what our society wants if February’s labels are any clue.

Today our society seems to be screaming, “life isn’t fair” as one decision is made after another. Our culture may compare closely to the one in ancient Ephesus. The city was a leading center of trade. The influences that created it’s profile came from all corners of the world as ships docked in the port and trade routes went inward to land-locked regions. Paul spent three years in Ephesus working to establish the church soundly as a Christian community in the midst of the diverse culture.

Paul’s letter, written while imprisoned, served as a love letter to the congregation. Filled with good wishes, the letter also provides advice how to love on another whether in one’s own home or whether at work or just in the community. Life might not seem fair, but following God’s commandment gives Christians no excuse for complaining. Rather, Christians are challenged to act. The ancient Biblical literature works just as well today.

The complex culture in which we live today developed just like it did in Ephesus.   People all over the world chose to come to North America to establish homes and businesses. The United States evolved from those Atlantic communities, and the history books are full of the challenges. The history is really no different than the history of the ancient world shared in the Bible. Therefore, Paul’s letter is just as appropriate for us in our community this February 2017.

Paul tells us, as he did the Ephesians, that no matter whether you were Jewish or Gentile—a believer or a non-believer—once you accept Jesus as your savior, you are all equal. No matter what your physical makeup, financial status or cultural heritage, as a Christian we are all one. Life is fair when we acknowledge that we are all one in Christ:

12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

Knowing that each one of us sitting in this sanctuary today believes in Christ’s salvation makes us equal. And when we look past our differences and work together as one, the power of the Holy Spirit takes over.

Paul tells the Ephesians how the Holy Spirit works through the church that is unified as one in Christ:

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. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Each Christian has gifts that God uses. Our task is to stay focused on God’s commandment to love one another right now in February 2017, the heart month, to build relationships that are God-centered.

Invite others, who still see life as unfair, to know God as we know God. We know God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We know God because we know Jesus as his son sent to take our sins away. We know God because he baptized us with the Holy Spirit that powers our ability to love one another, as we want to be loved.

Life may not be fair, but when we accept God into our life and live by his commandment; life is good. Looking at our lives as God looks at our lives, we see the positives and find ways to manage the negatives. This February we open our hearts to God with thanksgiving, but we also open our hearts to those still hurting. Share God’s love so more and more can become one in Christ.

Paul was a prisoner and he had every reason in the world to say life was not fair, but he did not. He chose to continue using all his gifts to share God’s message of love to all he could:

  • He left a powerful position as a Jew to preach to the Gentiles. He saw no difference between the believers and the non-believers; he saw they were all one in God’s eyes.
  • He left his old life and literally stepped out on a new path that led him around the Mediterranean coast, stopping in communities, working, and sharing the good news—God loved them so much that he gave his only son so that their sins were forgiven and they could have eternal life.
  • He was forced to even leave his mission travels because legal authorities confined him, but he still shared the message that all are one in Christ.

And today, Paul’s letters continue to guide us in living as one in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians reminds us even today that life may not be fair, but living as one in Christ makes a difference in the quality of our lives.

Paul gave us a Valentine’s letter that guides us, encourages us, and fills our hearts with love. This February we will celebrate the love of God and review the lessons that Paul shared with the Ephesians. Tough times take some tough words; and God shares them with us to strengthen us and to show us that life is good when filled with God’s love.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

 

Thank you for loving us so much

That you sent your son Jesus Christ

To teach us how to love one another

And to save us from a life that is not fair.

 

Thank you for your missionary Paul

Who learned that all are one in Christ

And stepped out to share the Word

Even when life was not fair to him.

 

Thank you for the gifts of the Holy Spirit

That equip us with gifts we need

To love one another in our lives

Doing what we can to make life fair.

 

Guide us in our lives today and tomorrow

To demonstrate love for one another;

To share your love in as many ways we can

So others learn that love erases differences. –Amen.

 

 

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