Watercolor painting by E. J. Kirsch

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May 13, 2018

“Families” 5-13-18

Ephesians 2:11-21
May 13, 2018 (Mothers’ Day)

Last Thursday was Ascension Day, a day to remember that on the 40th day after his resurrection, Jesus ascended from earth to heaven.  Most of the biblical accounts of that event connect the Ascension of Jesus to the Great Commission, in which Jesus ordered his apostles to go out into the world beyond Judaism and make disciples of people from all nations.
We don’t realize it today, but that was a cultural shock for those to whom Jesus was speaking, because for them, a part of being Jewish, of being God’s people involved being separate from Non-Jews, or Gentiles.
God had, in the Old Testament, established Israel as a separate nation, a nation that would provide an example of how God wanted people to behave, and from which God would bring the Messiah, the one who was to save people from all nations and races.
In establishing that one unique and separate nation God gave them distinctive customs and regulations that kept them separate from the gentiles.  In every major city in Asia Minor and Europe there were Jews, but they were living in their own separate communities with their own stores and schools and leadership.
And then, in obedience to Jesus Great commission, Paul and others went to those places and preached about Jesus to the Jews and to the Gentiles.  It was Paul’s custom to preach to the Jews first.
Often, preaching to both groups would involve using separate locations.  He would preach to the Jews in their synagogues, when possible.  The Gentiles would be preached to in other venues, their schools of philosophy, the marketplaces, etc.
But the cultural shock came when Paul and the other evangelists told the newly converted Christians that it was God’s intent that This new kingdom of God was to intentionally include all Christians, both Gentiles and Jews.
That is the background of this particular part of the Epistle to the Christians in Ephesus.
You might remember that last week I stressed that Paul deliberately included all of the Christians of both groups in verse three when he said that “We all were... children of wrath…”
But in verses 11-13, the first part of the passage we are looking at this morning, Paul writes exclusively or primarily to those Christians who were born of the gentile races. 
They are described in various ways as: “Gentiles by birth”, “Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel”, “strangers to the covenants of promise”, and “without God”.
In other words, they were descendants of those from whom God had intentionally separated his people in the past.
Today is mother’s day, a day we remember and give thanks to God for our mothers.  It was their bodies that grew us and nurtured us before and after our births.  It was our moms whom God used to bring us into being.  We are right in thanking and honoring them. 
But they gave us birth not just from themselves, but into two different families.  They birthed us into their family and into the family of our fathers.
Now I assume that your families are pretty much like mine.  Their histories and past members give us reasons to be proud, and embarrassed all at the same time.  My Father’s family provided ancestors that served as soldiers or sailors in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
My Mom’s family was a slightly different story.  Her paternal grandfather went through some difficult times.  His first wife died when their two children were under 10 years of age.  He eventually married another woman, but before he married her they had a son.  In the midst of all that, he was caught embezzling funds from his employer. 
Before I moved here, I used to attend the family reunion of his descendants.  I always thought it ironic that we were gathered in the name of a fornicator and embezzler.  But the other side of his truth was that he was a good man, a good father and grandfather.
Our Moms bore us into life and into families and into ethnic races and traditions.  The people who were parts of the church in Ephesus had been born into various types of families.  Some had been Jews, taught to be separate from the Gentiles, and also taught to worship and serve the only true and living God.  But there had been in the histories of their families such great disobedience and turnings away from God that God had banished their ancestors from their own land for 70 years.
Others in that church had been born to the families that God had separated His people from.   They were pagans, idol worshipers, whose people had engaged in all sorts of disgusting behaviors, while at the same time providing for their families.
But now through their faith in Jesus as the Christ, God had brought them all together, to live, worship, and eat together.
The blood or death of Jesus had brought them all together from various nations to be a part of One kingdom.  They were a new humanity, a new kind of human beings, created from both Jewish and non-Jewish families.
They were citizens of the same kingdom and members of the household or family of God.
From many families, with many mothers, God had made them one family, with one Father.  And in sending Jesus into the world through a woman, He had essentially made Jesus their brother too.
And so it is with us, as we thank God for our Mothers, and the existence He gave us though them and the mixed blessing of the families into which they birthed us, we also thank God for His family into which be brought us through the death of his Son and our faith in Him.
Mom gave me a brother and a sister, both of whom are more like me than I willingly admit.  But now God has also made me a brother to people who are not much like me at all.  I am brother to Grieke, who was born in Holland and suffered during the Nazi Occupation.  I am brother to Jurgen, whose family fled the Nazi regime.  I am brother to Leonard and Dewi, whose families left China and were raised in Indonesia.  I am brother to Olga and Phil, whose families are from the coast of Africa.  I am brother to Sergei and Nadya, whose families were from different parts of Russia.
You are brothers and sisters of all those folks too, and a great multitude of people around the world.
And we are not only God’s family, we are also each parts of his living temple, built on the foundation of the teaching of the Apostles and linked to each other through the keystone or cornerstone of Jesus.  So, together we are not only a Kingdom of God, but also a living worship place, devoted to bring honor and glory to the only God.
We have been brought together to be at peace with each other and to be at peace with God.

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906