We Are God’s Temple

Sunday, September 25,2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Ephesians 2:11-22

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from Jesus, the master builder and cornerstone of the Church. Amen

Let me start with a question for you all this morning. What is the church?

You could say the church is the building we gather in, or the people who lead us or the programs we do together, or maybe you’re thinking of the old camp song “We are the Church, the body of our Lord. We are all God’s children and we have been restored.” What we most identify with church is what we can see, what we experience, and participate in. These visible parts of the Church are important. They help a visitor find a congregation to become a part of. They help us feel a connection to our particular church. The church hasn’t always looked like it does today, though. What has remained constant in every time and place throughout the church is the activity of God transforming communities through faith.

We’re exploring Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this fall because this letter gives us insight into how God builds the church and what God seeks to do through the church. And let’s be clear, this isn’t just about the ministry and programming that happens when we show up to a church building. It’s about how we who claim a faith in Jesus embody the Gospel when we are both gathered together and scattered throughout the week.  In Ephesians, we see the interrelated working of God and God’s people. God in Christ is the Builder doing the building, the Holy One who constructs a beautiful, complex, and diverse community called to embody the ways of Christ in all aspects of our lives.

You could say that in architectural terms, God’s vision for the church is “open concept”. Christ starts with some demolition work, tearing down walls of hostilities between insiders and outsiders. Through the cross, Christ’s compassion and love extends to those who were outside the covenant with Abraham. The cross does not cancel the covenant, it expands it. In Christ, there’s room for both. Not only that, but God is just crazy enough to envision these people, who were once strangers and enemies, living together in peace.

This didn’t always sit well with those who were the original insiders. In fact, we know that many of the original apostles and their followers split from Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles over this radical inclusion. They struggled to make room for outsiders. But without Paul responding to Christ’s radical inclusion of Gentiles, it’s unlikely any of us would be Christians today. The church God envisions brings people who otherwise have little in common together because of Christ’s love through the cross, and nothing more. It’s not always easy to adjust to make room for new people. But the church has been a place of welcome to outsiders since the time of Paul. It’s in our DNA.

God’s plan for the church is a movement where God leads us into deeper and broader relationship with God and with others in the midst of our lives. I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of movement I believe our world desperately needs. So many walls are built that divide us. Hostilities and intolerance run in overdrive. So many voices in our world encourage us to close ourselves off from others’ ideas and experiences, and judge others from a distance. There’s a mentality that “if you aren’t for me you’re against me.” It’s exhausting, right?

Today, it seems that there is agreement that the world is a mess, but it’s hard to see who is willing to work together for the common good. Doesn’t that seem to be the opposite of the Gospel, where Jesus liberates us from the messiness of sin, and calls us into a life of grace and service to others? The good news is that Christ has already torn down the walls of hostility that divide us. God has already laid the foundation for us to be built into a holy temple. God has already given us what we need to be part of this movement that makes peace possible. We, the church, only have to embrace and embody what God has already made us.

I saw this plaque in the office the other day. It says El Templo de Dios es Ustedes – that translates to “The Temple of God is all of you”. A middle school student from a public school in Guatemala gave it to one of our Augustana travel groups as a thank you for school supplies the group donated. This student was excited to share his skills and appreciation for the group’s visit. We don’t know what has happened to this student over the years or what his life has been like since that visit. I pray that he has had opportunities to stay in school and thrive. But we also know that life as a young person in Guatemala can be dangerous, and it’s possible he isn’t thriving; that he or his family have needed to escape the dangers of gangs and poverty and corruption in order to survive. We don’t know. But because of this young man, whose story we can only glimpse, we are reminded that we are the temple of God. How we live as God’s temple matters. How we seek peace in the name of Christ, work toward reconciliation with others as Christ has done with us, how we seek to build unity amidst diversity of all kinds, matters. My friends, how we choose to show up as the church in a world often bent on hostility and division matters.

Today, 14 of our young people are affirming their baptism and are taking on the call to be the Temple of God with the whole church through the Rite of Confirmation. I told our confirmands yesterday that they are an important part of this church. Their gifts, their faith, their perspective on the world and on God have something to teach all of us, and we have wisdom to share with them. We can’t be the Temple God seeks to build without each other. And yet, as they take these next steps in faith, I suspect they are watching how we embody God’s call in our lives and are weighing whether it will make a difference in theirs going forward. We can’t see the fullness of God’s activity without one another.  It is up to all of us to embody and embrace the vision God has for Christ’s church. God will continue to bring peace and reconciliation to the world. God will continue to work through people to build up a church that glorifies God. May we continue to be those people, and may we see with the eyes of Christ, that there is always room for more. Amen.

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