According to Ephesians 2:19, we are members of the household God – we being “the church.”
This summer, I visited a guy.[i] His house is old, mildewed, run-down. Junk is piled everywhere. Stacks of seemingly uses papers and old clothes lay about. What can I learn about the man by what I saw in his household?
He sits on his front porch. He had invited me to do some porch-sitting with him. So we sat. As we talked, people would walk by; people who are having a hard time in life. He lives in that part of the city where drugs are easy to get, but work, not so much. There’s an abundance of heartache and a shortage of love.
He knew just about all who passed by, and they certainly know him. Many would stop, and he’d say, “What do you need?” He would give a bag groceries. I don’t know who donated all the food, but he never ran out. On the table on his front porch were clean, neatly folded used clothes. He’d pass those out too, as people had need.
This is not all he does. Sometimes he preaches at the church where he’s an associate pastor. That’s how I met him. Sometimes, he goes to prayer meetings with other pastors. Sometimes he does advocacy work for the underprivileged in Durham. And sometimes, he sits on his porch.
What can we learn about the man when we look at his household? That he needs to clean up and maybe paint the walls? Or, that he is ready to meet people in their need with compassion, kindness, prayer, and groceries if they are hungry and clothes if they need them?
I visited another household – one in the part of the city with spacious green lawns and two-car garages[ii]. People don’t walk by these houses, they drive up to them. This couple, near 80, has known me for 40 years.
They invited me into their neatly decorated home. For over an hour, we sat at their kitchen table, drank coffee, and talked about share memories. We discussed life in the church and race in America. At lunch time, they had prepared a table on their beautifully furnished, shaded back patio. After a sandwich and some coleslaw, she said, “Rob, you haven’t had enough to eat,” as she refilled my empty plate.
By the time I departed, I was full of food, and even more full of love from people who have loved me for as far back as I can remember. And wisdom. Gently, they poured the wisdom of their years into me.
What can I learn about these people from their household? That they have worked hard and enjoy the privilege of good education and good salaries and cultural refinement? Or, that they love me and out of their household flows welcome and generosity?
Both my hosts showed me that God is welcoming – welcomes all. They showed me God is generous. They showed me God is ready to sit on the porch with me and listen. They showed me God has a place at the table set for me. And after each visit, I left with my cup full, God’s grace flowing out of me. On Sunday morning, do people leave our church full, with God’s abundant love pour over?
Verse 10 caught me as I read Ephesians 3 this week. Through the church, the wisdom of God will be made know to rulers and authorities in Heavenly places. Are we ready for that? Angelic beings, heavenly creatures we cannot imagine, supernatural forces both evil and benevolent, ask God, who are you? What are you? What wisdom will you share? God responds, all you need to know of me you can know by looking to earth, to the realm of humans. Look to my church if you want to know anything about me. Whoa!
My family visited several churches this summer[iii]. We met some wonderful people. But I don’t know if I would call the church (church worldwide) exalted based on what we saw. One church didn’t really welcome us. They were very nice, but they barely noticed we were there. Another was so polished in their welcome, so refined in their method, it felt kind of like they wanted to sell us something. Each church had its strengths and weaknesses. That’s true of us too. There are things HillSong does well. And areas where we need improvement.
However, we would miss the mark if we thought we had to strive for that improvement in order to be the church described in Ephesians 3:10. The church does not make God’s wisdom known to the heavenly powers. God does it working through His church, imperfect as it is.
The great reformation theologian John Calvin says, “Truth is not extinguished [from] the world, but remains safe because it has the church as its faithful custodian.”[iv] We have custody of the Word of God; we are responsible to share the Gospel and to do it in an inviting, loving way.
Our sins separate us from God, but Jesus took our sins and the end to which our sins lead, death, on himself. On the cross, Jesus shouldered it all. Removing our sin and replacing it with righteousness, Jesus makes us right with God and each other. And then in resurrection, Jesus defeated the last enemy – death. So, as we come to life in Christ, we step into the Kingdom, into eternal life as sons and daughters of God. This is the Gospel. Paul calls himself a servant of this Gospel (3:7). We, God’s church, have custody of this word and must care for it according to God’s design.
Bible scholar Marcus Barth says it another way, calling the church a functional outpost of the Kingdom. The world yearns to be rescued from the decay of sin and delivered to live in the Kingdom of God. As Barth thinks about the church as the place where the wisdom of God is revealed, he imagines an outpost. In the church, we’re not in the Kingdom fully, not yet. But, we are connected and we point the way.
Eighteenth century evangelist and founder of the Methodist Church John Wesley reads Ephesians 3:10 and writes that the church is “the theater of divine wisdom.” The church is where divine wisdom performs. It is where God’s ways are displayed and it is where we are affected by God.
The church is …
· a faithful custodian – caring for how the good news of life in Christ is shared
· an outpost – pointing the way so people can escape the clutches of pain and loss and find their way into God’s arms
· the theater in which God touches all who come with love and grace
· the front porch where we sit together and pray and listen and welcome all who come buy
· the kitchen table where we talk over cups of coffee
Pay attention because in these pictures, we don’t come to church to see what we can get. We just come as we are, no pretensions, and we receive what God gives. In receiving, with God doing the giving, we become the medium in which the wisdom of God is made known.
We come wounded and broken. God restores and heals.
We come sad. God sits with us in our sadness long enough for us to see that we are not alone, but rather are part of a family who loves us. Sometimes the way we see God sitting with us is in others in the church, our friends, putting their arms around us. No answers. No solutions. Just presence and love.
We come confused. God says, that’s OK. Follow Jesus, even when confused. Does the confusion clear up? Sometimes? Yes. Eventually. Always? Not necessarily. Some mysteries of God remain as mysteries. But keep worshiping God, keep following Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will work through us.
We come with our questions, our doubts, and our fears. God says, yes, come. And God loves us, through the love of the church family.
What does the world learn about God when the world looks into our church and we are living as a people in a dynamic relationship with God in which we give up all control and authority to God?
One lesson about God is seen in examining ourselves. We have been created to be receivers, not achievers. America celebrate achievers. Look at what he accomplished. We put those who have accomplished a lot on pedestals. But God made us to be in relationship with God. We are designed to receive what God has to give. We probably have trouble with this because for centuries, we’ve been condition to work for what we have, to earn it, so we can tell ourselves we deserve it. In the way of the Gospel, life, the love of God expressed through the cross and the resurrection, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, can only be received.
Oh, we work hard. We work hard to turn the other cheek, to respond to hurts with forgiveness, to know the word, to tune out temptations, to bless others with our generosity. We work hard, but our efforts flow out of our gratitude for the grace we’ve been given. We work knowing everything we have has already been given to us before we did a thing. That’s the wisdom of God revealed through the church.
A second lesson is we are created for a home, not created for the marketplace. The marketplace is not bad. Buying and selling is a part of human interaction. There are examples of smart business people who became devoted followers of Jesus while continuing to be smart in the game of commerce. Jesus commended shrewdness.[v] Yet, we were not made for business. We were made for home and family.
In America and in other parts of the world, church has become big business. Churches compete for one another to draw people. In that climate, worship attendees become customers who must be attracted and then satisfied. Church members see themselves as stakeholders or board members. The church staff are viewed as employees. And the senior pastor is a CEO.
The New Testament presents an entirely different metaphor for church. In the New Testament, church members called one another ‘brother,’ and ‘sister.’ Paul described himself as Timothy’s father in the faith.[vi] Ephesians 1:5 says we are all adopted as children of God. If we are unsatisfied with our family, we don’t shop around until we find a happier one. We stick with one another through painful, hard times. We come alongside each other, brothers and sisters in Christ, and together we pray for healing, forgiveness, and new life. We laugh and cry and sing and dance together. The church is a household, not one option among many in a spiritual marketplace.[vii]
What does the world learn about God when the world looks into the church?
Life is received from God, not achieved. Our effort comes as response to God’s grace. God is a giver.
Church is a family of believers who make up a household, not a Sunday morning option that serves to make the attendees happy. Church goers who are in Christ have joy in all circumstances and are equipped to walk through darkness and pain because they lean on Christ. Churches do not bend over backward to give people what they want; rather, they meet the needs people bring with the love of Christ – love expressed relationally, emotionally, and tangibly. God has a place for you.
I began with my experiences – porch sitting with one brother in Christ; kitchen-table-coffee drinking with two others. This week, the wisdom of God is going to be made known in the world through this church. Don’t be surprised. God does this every week. You may have been a part of it. God may reveal divine mysteries through you this week.
Ground yourself in Christ – bound to the Gospel by God’s grace.
Do some porch-sitting. Sit with someone and listen deeply, ready to welcome any who come, and pray for all.
Do some kitchen-table coffee sipping. As you do, with gratitude, receive the grace of God others will pour into you. Don’t keep your brothers and sisters in Christ at arm’s length. Let them pour love into your heart – let someone love you to overflowing.
The wisdom of God won’t only be revealed through us, but also to us.
[i] My visit to Alan Jones of Mosaic Church in Durham, August 2017.
[ii] My visit to Sandy and Emerson Shelton in Richmond, VA, August 2017
[iii] The period of my Sabbatical, May-September 2017.
[iv] Institutes, Book IV, chapter 8.12.
[v] Luke 16:1-13
[vi] 1 Timothy 1:2.
[vii] Peter T. Cha and Greg J. Yee (2012). Honoring the Generations, M.Sydney Park, Soong-Chan Rah, and Al Tizon, editors. Judson Press (Valley Forge, PA), p.94.