Messages of Hope

Redefining community

Published / by Sandy

Week 2: Ephesians series (Ephesians 2:11-22)
The original audience for this letter was the fledgling Christian community in Ephesus, in what is modern day Turkey. This was a world where the Emperor was considered to reign supreme in a huge Empire. He alone was the source of peace – won, of course, through military domination. The proclamation that peace without war could be declared in the name of Jesus was outrageous, and was perceived as a challenge to the Emperor’s own powers. These were dangerous times when the gospel of Jesus ran counter to the systems of the Empire – which included identifying who had privilege and who did not. This ancient text has its own context, but is not unlike the systems and structures of privilege and exclusion today that need to be challenged by the gospel of Jesus.

The text begins by redefining belonging. The core issue was how to live as a Christian community that embraced both Jews and non-Jews at the same time. The Jews had always assumed special privileges as the people of God, and were bestowed with the designation of God’s chosen ones. Although they were not large in number in this part of the world, they nevertheless carried privilege with them. And into the mix of this new Jesus community were large numbers of what were named ‘Gentiles’ – in other words, non-Jews. They were defined by what they weren’t. This Jesus community was comprised of people who were by definition the antithesis of each other – Jew and non-Jew; Jew and Gentile; insiders and outsiders. It’s not an easy mix. Christ breaks down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentiles. It is not that the Gentiles have finally found the God of the Jews, but rather God has brought together both Jews and Gentiles, and they are now one people, children of God, one body in Christ.

Many may wonder how it would even be possible to have people diametrically opposed to each other forming a new community following the way of Jesus. The witness we have is that Jesus gathered all kinds of people into his new community, the excluded, the denigrated, the discounted – mirroring the reign of God where all find welcome. Jesus challenged systems and structures that allowed ‘insider distinction’ and top down privilege at the expense of ‘the other’.

We can name our own experience of inclusion and exclusion, and barriers we erect or others erect. All of us know how this dynamic works. All of us know how sweet it is to enjoy privilege and how difficult it is when we encounter exclusion. Knowing this, why would we want to exclude any from community? And yet it happens – over and over again.
I wonder how we might name some of these dynamics in our time:
Able bodied people   Differently abled people
Straight people          LGBTIQ people
‘White’                         ‘everyone else’
Citizens                       Foreigners and aliens
the achievers              those perceived as failures – mentally, economically, socially
…and so many more…

The church as a community is called to a way that offers ‘radical hospitality’ and welcome to all people. It is called to challenge top down power, and systems and structures that serve to exclude. It is called to challenge distinction and privilege, and provide a counter-point to painful exclusion, until we are ‘built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God’ (Sally Brown).