The Great Equalizer

Inspired by Ephesians 2:11-22

When Sara and I got married, our pastor asked us what ritual elements we would like to include in the service. As a pastor myself, I now know why he asked this. You never know what a couple wants to include in a service! I’m pretty open to any idea but I’d have to draw the line at asking me to dance just so they could make a funny YouTube video in the middle of the service! Lucky for him, we didn’t ask for anything crazy. One thing that was mentioned was a unity candle. For those of you not familiar with that ritual, a unity candle is a set of three candles, two small simple candles on either side of a large more elaborate candle. The idea is that at a certain point in the service, the couples light their own small candle, and then from those flames, the large candle is then lit, hence, a unity candle, a reference to that old Genesis passage, “and the two shall become one flesh.”  

Our pastor was perfectly fine with including that but he had one stipulation. He said, “I’m only comfortable including that if you don’t blow out the small candles at the end of the ritual.” We said ok, not thinking much about it and then during that part of the service, he pointed out to the those assembled that we had not blown out the small candles and the reason why was because, even though we were now joining ourselves to one another, and becoming a new entity, we were also still individuals, with individual gifts that we both bring to the table of our marriage.  

That even though we were making something new, we were still ourselves. It seems like a simple truth, but it had a profound effect on me as a new husband. It has been a constant reminder for me to not allow our marriage to hinder her ability to blossom into the amazing individual that she has been called to become. Now, how well I did with that I don’t know, you can ask her. But I do know that she has done a wonderful job allowing me to blossom as an individual. 

This passage from Ephesians is pretty darn convicting. Here the author gives us a vision of what we were to become, the original blueprint that was set out before us to follow; almost as if the author knew this was going to be a challenge for us, and I think the author probably did know that. It doesn’t take an anthropologist to pick up on human behavior, human patterns, and see what our strengths and weaknesses are. And speaking of weaknesses, the author spends a good chunk of time on community, and you can’t spell community without…unity, which the author spells out for us as well. It seems that, if you read between the lines here, that the early church was having a hard time with the concept of community. Even with Jesus still a very real memory in many of their minds, they still were struggling with finding unity among themselves.  

Last week we talked about adoption. The author used the metaphor of adoption to describe how God brings us into God’s family, to describe how God loves us into God’s family, and how that love stems from a choice to love us, when God doesn’t have to. Now, aside from being an absolute beautiful way to describe how God loves us and brings us into God’s own, there is something else this metaphor does for us. It levels the playing field. Have any of you see those videos on social media where a dog owner says to their dog, “Your adopted”, and then wait to see the dog’s reaction? Oh my gosh, they’re hilarious. Here’s one now!

So, the author of this letter wants there to be no confusion, no surprise, no shock, no disappointment, and goes out of the way to point out that we all are adopted. So before any of us get any ideas of superiority over any other group, before we get any ideas of having better credentials than anyone else, before any of us get any ideas of being in a better position, being favored, being entitled, being special in any way, just stop all that nonsense, cuz y’all are adopted, the author would remind us, y’all are adopted.  

It’s a great equalizer, putting us all on level ground, humble ground is the hope here. This letter was written to a group that was mostly gentile, mostly people without a Jewish background. And so, you’d think that a people like that, who had been welcomed in, adopted in, loved in, would have learned how to do that for others through that experience, that was the dream, that was the original blueprint, but apparently, they hadn’t figured that out, otherwise this author wouldn’t have felt the need to write this letter. 

And the author knew, that if they, we, were going to succeed in the work that we were called to do, we would have to figure this unity business out, we were going to have to figure out how to put aside our differences, and work together. Now, whether the author knew this or not, it’s interesting that this new religion, that we now know as Christianity, has become mostly a Gentile religion. Unfortunately, we forgot our adopted identity, and began operating like we were the originals!  

On Good Friday, we pray an ancient prayer called the Bidding Prayer. And in it we pray for all sorts of different groups of people. And at one point, we pray for “our Jewish siblings”, and the prayer refers to them as “the first to hear the word of God.” I’ve always loved that. It’s such a grounding, humbling recognition, especially in our U.S. American culture that seems to value being the first, being the greatest, above the things that really matter to God. 

And while we’re on the subject of U.S. American culture, this is a teaching of our own that we seem to have forgotten over the years. In 1782, congress approved the phrase E Pluribus Unum to be used on the Great Seal of the United States, which of course means, Out of Many, One. That was the original blueprint of our very own nation, that was the hope for us, that was the dream: Out of Many, One. Out of many cultures, nations, ethnicities, ideologies, religions, you name it, out of many, one. It’s simply a retelling of this ancient biblical truth that is so powerfully expressed in this letter we now know as Ephesians. And spoiler alert, it wasn’t a new concept then either but I digress. 

Now, before you get to down on yourselves, the author ends this chapter on a positive note, so don’t be too hard on yourselves. The author doesn’t want us to leave feeling like a bunch of failures. I mentioned last week just how centered on Christ this author is. True to form, the author ends this chapter by reminding us how, through Christ, God brings those that were far away, Gentiles, us, near to God. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all we really want, to be near to God? The author goes further to tell us that we have equal access to God through Christ, more good news, that we are not strangers to God, but citizens of God’s very own household, a household built with Christ as the cornerstone, the stone that all other stones are lined up with. More good news!  

And the whole building, us, is joined together in Christ, with the hope of growing up into a temple dedicated to God, reflecting who God is. But that’s not the best part. The best news comes at the end when the author says, “Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.” Did you hear the present tense there? Building. Not built and now failed. But building. We are a work in progress and that is good news. No need to feel like failures here, as long as we keep at it, as long as we keep working on that original blueprint, thankful for our adopted identity, and ready and willing, to welcome others into the household in the same way that we have been, in the same way that we have been adopted in, loved in, to God’s household. All thanks to God through Christ, our very own unity candle in the flesh. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment