Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 2:11-22 Extreme Makeover - God's Home Edition

Home makeover shows are very popular these days on TV. Whether it’s the American ‘Extreme Makeover - Home Edition’ or the more British DIY SOS, I’m sure you know the format. At the start of the programme, you’re shown a house that has seen better days. The heating has never properly worked, the floorboards are more than a little creaky, if someone leaned on a wall, they’d be through into the kitchen. The family are whisked away, an army of professionals are drafted in, and the house is transformed. The before and after pictures are amazing - it’s hard to believe it’s the same house.

In our Bible reading today, we find a makeover that is even more amazing; and if you’re a Christian, then this is a renovation programme that you yourself have been featured in. Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus, a city where some Jews believed in the good news about Jesus, but most of the new believers were Gentiles. In the letter so far, Paul has been reminding the Christians in Ephesus about all the blessings they have received in Jesus (chapter 1), before making it more personal in chapter 2, reminding them that God made them alive in Christ by his grace. So here, he shows them another aspect of what it means to be a Christian, to receive these blessings, and to have hope.

First up, he shows them the ‘before’ picture. These Gentiles were strangers and foreigners - complete outsiders compared to the family of God. That’s what he says in verse 12 - summarised at the end by ‘having no hope and without God in the world.’ This is the situation all of us are in by ourselves - far from God, and with no hope.

As if that wasn’t enough, they were also separated from God’s people, the Jews, by a big ‘dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us’ (i.e. between Jews and Gentiles). Now we’re all too familiar with dividing walls in Northern Ireland - the so-called peace walls in Belfast; but this was the wall between Jews and Gentiles - Paul might be thinking of the wall at the temple in Jerusalem, beyond which outsiders could not enter on pain of death, as a sign of the whole Old Testament Law, which marked the Jew out as special and separate.

So that’s the before. Just like some of the houses featured in these programmes, the prospects for the Gentile aren’t good. Our prospects weren’t that good either, apart from God. If you’re not a Christian today, then that verdict still stands. the makeover is still needed.

Jump forward to the end of the programme, to see the ‘after’ picture, and what a change we find. In verse 13, ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near.’ There is peace (15), and access to the Father (18). Now, believing Gentiles are ‘citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.’

Rather than being on the outside, excluded, missing out; people of all nations and languages are included in God’s household, welcomed to the family table, given a place. Think of a young boy who travels to London on a school trip, and goes to visit Buckingham Palace. They can only get so far - the railings and gates and guards all say ‘keep out.’ But imagine if that child was adopted by the Queen - he would have access through the gates, right to the dining table at state banquets. This is the sort of change Paul is describing here.

What a transformation! The contrast is incredible, yet it’s all true. Sometimes you hear of these makeover shows going badly wrong - the residents hate what has been done, and they quickly get rid of the supposed improvements. But these changes are so wonderful that you would never want to go back to the before.

The bulk of these programmes, though, features the work that’s done on the house. They might be a team paid by the makers of the show, or it could be a volunteer labour force. the presenter will be shown interviewing some of them, there’ll be speeded up footage of the renovations, the plastering, tiling, and the rest of the work.

What about the transformation of the Gentiles? What kind of workforce enabled the demolition of the dividing wall? What kind of effort was needed to provide access for us, who were strangers and aliens? Was there a wrecking ball? A team with heavy mallets? Some dynamite? There was no big workforce. No huge crowd doing their bit. Just a workforce of one, doing the work that only he could do; paying the price that only he could pay:

‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh... he has broken down the dividing wall... and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross.’

The wall has been washed away by his blood; as Jesus died, he abolished the law, giving us free access to God; and reconciling us to God and to each other. Did you notice in verse 16 that both groups - both Gentiles and Jews - needed to be reconciled to God?

The hostility between Jew and Gentile has been removed, and instead there is one new humanity - in Christ. You see, we’re saved by grace, not by race - salvation is for all who believe, not just for Jews, indeed, not only for Jews. Together, we make up the household of God.

As Paul mentions the household of God, he jumps to another picture, not so much of a household of people, but of the building of the house itself. God is building a house for himself, and as people come to Jesus, they are being included in the building. It’s probably more of a dry stone wall, where each stone is unique, and each has its own special place, joining together to build the house. The foundations are in place - the apostles and prophets, but the most important bit is the cornerstone, the stone that holds it all together, the one you build from - Jesus himself.

I wonder if this story is your story? Having been far from God, separated from him, without hope and without God, through Jesus you have been brought near and found peace. If it is, then remember your story - never forget what Jesus has done; the change he has brought; the guaranteed future he has secured for you; the place that you have in the church, in God’s dwelling, that no one else can possibly fulfil.

Perhaps you’re still at the beginning; still a stranger to God’s mercy and grace. the invitation stands for you today. You too can appear in this transformation; you too can be welcomed in, building your life on Jesus, and knowing peace with God.

Just as Jesus came and proclaimed peace to those who were near and far, so we must continue to proclaim this offer of peace and pardon - it’s why we try to understand and teach the Bible here; it’s why we are committed to helping and supporting mission both here and overseas. As the message of Jesus is heard, so people are drawn in, and God’s building work continues as we are joined together, reconciled to him and to one another, to the praise of his glorious grace. Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 26th February 2012.

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