Holy Heathen

On Easter Sunday, last week, Pastor Aaron focused on God’s radical embrace as expressed by Jesus in Luke 15, which Aaron called “The Embrace of the Father”.  God’s loving embrace of the world, displayed so supremely by Jesus on the cross and made eternal in his resurrection, is what now, in this Easter season, echoes forward into the new series we’re starting today: “Out of Many, One” a study of the book of Ephesians.

Since Fall 2020, our teaching series have been leading up to this.  In sum:
We are called to be stronger together as God’s people, accompanied by God-in-the-flesh, Jesus.  Jesus calls us to the “third way” of following him in the world without being of the world, so we can radically embrace anyone with God’s love. 

Now we move to our new series, which begins with the question, “What happens as the result of embrace?”  It turns out that when MANY people, (especially when they represent a wide variety of worldviews) strive to live as ONE people, they face inevitable value conflicts.  There are "external conflicts" between a Christian worldview and the larger non-Christian culture.  And there are "internal value conflicts" amongst Christians with varying cultures and beliefs.  

Early Christians also dealt with both types of conflicts, and Paul wrote his master work in Ephesians to articulate the good news that in Jesus Christ, many peoples may become one people.  And it begins with the simple truth that in Jesus Christ, we are called to be embraced.

- We are called to be embraced and made “holy.”  Christians in Ephesus and surrounding areas were a mixture of Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus.  In scripture, Jews are called God's "holy nation," which would have made it all the more surprising to hear that their non-Jewish, or "heathen" brothers and sisters in Christ would also be called "holy."  

- We are called to be embraced and “blessed.”
Jews and Christians TODAY might take for granted that God blesses people, as the concept appears over 400 times in the Hebrew Bible.  But the non-Jewish Christians at this time would have been new to the idea.  In classic Greek literature, gods like Zeus never gave blessing to anyone.  Good luck, sometimes, but blessing?  No. Only the most personal God would do that.  

- We are called to be embraced and made “blameless.”
“Blameless” meaning “without fault."  But isn't that an impossible expectation?
It turns out there was one person who met the criteria of blamelessness, like the unblemished sacrificial animal, offered to God.  This one person is even called the “Lamb of God.”  Jesus gave his life as a ransom for the sins of the world.  So anyone who gives their life to him and is reborn into Christ’s resurrected life, now lives their lives in Christ are now identified in Christ, and credited with his blamelessness.  

But this is something we all have the opportunity to choose.  We can either allow God to embrace us, by offering Christ’s own blamelessness to us...or we can reject it.  But in the end, it is something only God can do in, and for, us.

God offers each of us His embrace in Christ.  In Christ we become “holy heathen” -- people from all over the world, from all walks of life, from all kinds of beliefs and behaviors, merits and mistakes, -- united first and foremost by receiving God's embrace, by being set apart for God’s purposes, blessed by God’s word, and made clean by our blameless Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  IN CHRIST, and only in Christ, the MANY can become ONE.

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