Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Message Notes for Sunday, July 17, 2016; Ephesians 2:11-18

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ephesians 2: 11-18

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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What would you say if one of your friends or neighbors were to ask what it means TO YOU to be a follower of Jesus? We are in the midst of the series of sermons dealing with this very topic. Today’s Scripture sheds light on the tensions and frustration that all of us experience on our spiritual journeys as we age. I want to say the same thing a little differently: today’s Scripture gives us a glimpse of the daily frustrations that eventually result in emotional and spiritual growth in our lives. As an illustration of what I mean, think of the daily frustrations we experience like the pruning of a rosebush. Any gardener knows that pruning the old branches results in new growth, and blooms only sprout on new growth.

The last time that we talked about what it means to be a follower of Jesus was on June 26 and we looked at the Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000. Studies have shown that when a large group of people needs to divide itself, it will naturally break down in groups of 8-12 people. Jesus did not let this group break down naturally, but instead separated them by community. In his time period, these church communities were known as ekklesias.

We can accomplish things both ways – in small groups or as a WHOLE church. The difference is that doing things in small groups promotes intimacy and smallness. Intimacy is a good thing, but it also makes it hard for others to fit in.

If we want to bring our neighbors to God, we need to start doing more things as an ekklesia, or as the whole church family. Doing things as an ekklesia provides opportunities for outsiders to imagine themselves within our church environment and gives them opportunities to grow and nurture their spirit. The point I’m trying to make is that doing things in small groups and doing things as a whole church accomplishes different results, and we need both.

In Ephesians 2:11-13 we hear, “11 … remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … 12 …were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This excerpt takes ten seconds to read (fifteen seconds tops) yet it describes the whole span of our lives’ spiritual journey from the cradle to the grave {What John Wesley called a journey towards perfection}.

All of us get complacent with all of our relationships. Our loved ones become a part of our day-to-day routine and all of us have taken those close to us for granted at one time or another. It’s human nature. Think of your loved ones; when was the last time you had a heart-to-heart talk with them? When was the last time that you assumed that they would be there for you when you needed them only to discover that they were not emotionally available? When was the last time that one of your loved ones needed you and you realized how inconvenient it was to be there for them?

We do the same thing in our relationship with God. Truth be told, how many of us assume that God will bless us when we want and are ready to be blessed? How many of us, armed with this assumption, do nothing to build up and maintain our spiritual and emotional connection to God? And because we live in a fallen world, because we are fallen creatures, that state of being can easily become second nature to us.

It is part of living in a fallen world and being a fallen creature: we take each other and God for granted and we don’t even realize that we are doing it.

There is a divide between us and God. That is part of our human condition; that is a part of our fallenness.

Today’s reading gives us a glimpse of how our lives could be different. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13). Our Good News, our hope in today’s Scripture is that “14 …he [Jesus] himself … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, …” (Eph 2:14-15).

Humans love to build walls. Smile I think that it started with the Great Wall of China and therefore I blame the Great Wall of China.  Smile. It is easy to see how the Great Wall of China could be seen as divisive because it says to anyone who sees it from the outside, “go away, we don’t want you or your friends or people like you on OUR side of the wall.”

It is much more difficult to recognize walls that we build around ourselves because they are subtle. Nobody wakes up and says to themselves, “today I will make it difficult for anybody to come to church” or “today I will shut out the majority of my neighbors from my life.”

When we hold church-wide events we should invite as many people as we can possibly reach – and we are already doing that. Often when we invite our neighbors they don’t see a need to come. We have become very good at meeting people’s immediate needs (if someone is hungry, we give them a bag of food), but in order for renewal to take place, we now need to find what their spiritual needs are, and then ask God’s blessing and help in figuring out how to address those spiritual needs. That will take time; it is not something that will get resolved very quickly. It will take all of us working together. That is in part what it means to be a follower of Jesus today.

The walls of the church are meant to be structured enough to create a sense of real belonging, and conducive to nurturing our relationship with God. The walls of the church are also meant to be porous and welcoming so that visitors can see themselves weaving their lives into the tapestry of who we are.

I do not know what the solution will be. In one of his lectures, Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” I suspect that our solution may not be easy, but it will be simple.

{Q&A}

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