Strangers in a Strange Land

Ephesians 2:11-22

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some of you know that while I was born and raised in the Twin Cities, I went out to Boston for college.  As an 18 year-old, I was both excited and scared by the prospect of being on my own, but I didn’t expect my change in locale to be too profound.  After all, Boston may have been on the other side of the country, but it was still the US.  I was just moving from one metropolitan area to another… no big deal, right?  Wrong.  If you’ve ever been to Boston, you know how vastly different the culture is there.  Everything moves faster, everyone is short on patience, and they are happy to let you know it.  Yelling at complete strangers is an acceptable form of communication.  Giving provocative and unsolicited opinions is totally normal.  If a native Bostonian feels something, they generally let you know.  And as a stereotypically reserved Minnesotan bred for polite conversation, I was a fish out of water.

Now, if you’re a human being who’s spent any amount of time in this world, I’m guessing you’ve had similar experiences.  Maybe it was visiting a foreign country or starting a new job or just surviving high school.  Whatever the specifics, you’ve likely had moments or maybe even whole seasons of life where you’ve felt out of place.  Like an outcast, an alien, a stranger.  Moments where you have had no idea what to do or what to say, no idea how you could ever be accepted.

If you have ever felt like that, you are certainly not alone.  And as Christians, we don’t need to look too far to find examples of people just like us.  The Bible is full of outcasts, displaced people, and literal foreigners.  It all starts in Genesis, with Abraham, who God specifically calls to leave his people and travel as a nomad to far-flung places.  You may remember that Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph is later sold as a slave and brought to Egypt, where he has to adapt to both the culture and his new low social position.  Fast-forward another few hundred years to Moses, who is driven from Egypt and finds refuge in Midian.  He returns to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery, only to then wander with them in the desert for 40 years.  And then there is Ruth, a Moabite woman who marries into the Israelite clan and who just so happens to be the great-grandmother of David, arguably the greatest king of Israel.  The list goes on and on, of great and faithful biblical characters that live their lives outside, those who never quite fit in.  Wanderers.  Exiles.  Outcasts.  And yet, we see in story after story that each one had God’s full support. Each one was welcomed in, made to be included in God’s people.  Israel was a growing band of misfits, brought together by a promise and a relationship with the one true God.

In our text today, we see those borders broadened even further.  The Old Testament stories tend to be about expanding and defending the Israelites, God’s chosen people.  But in Ephesians, we are told that God has extended his grace even to those who need not be Jewish.  This expansion comes through none other than Christ.  We see it in his earthly ministry, in the way he eats with sinners and tax collectors, the outcasts of all respectable society.  Jesus heals those to whom he should not even speak, and he offers forgiveness to those who deserve it least.  He tells us that the grace of God is meant for all, that his love and his sacrifice will redeem everyone.  Not just the Jews.  Not just the righteous.  Everyone.

This is good news.  Because whether you’re a life-long Christian or someone just now exploring what this is Jesus thing is all about, at one time or another, we have all been outcasts.  Every one of us knows how it feels to be on the outside looking in.  One of our biggest flaws as human beings is our need to draw dividing lines, to separate the us from the them.  Our society constantly breaks people into smaller and smaller subgroups, and so it is inevitable that at one point or another, we find ourselves outside a group we would rather be in.  And we allow ourselves to become defined by the things that we think divide us.  Our age.  Our race.  Our opinions about one thing or another.  But no more.  By the grace of God, we have been made one people, united through Christ.  The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, has broken down the walls and the dividing lines.  We have been made one in love and in purpose, in grace and in glory.

Of course, this opening of doors and welcoming of the stranger continues now just as it has since the time of Genesis.  God continues to draw the outcasts of the world to himself.  Those without hope.  Those without identity.  Those seeking peace and belonging.  God welcomes them in, regardless of where in life they’re coming from.  Through Christ, God claims them as his own and adds them to his ever-growing family.  They are made members of the body of Christ, and through him, they are offered the same peace, the same belonging he once gave to the people of Israel, the same love he has given to us.

So let’s not just keep it to ourselves.  It would be easy, now that we are on the inside looking out, to shut the door.  We could say no more room, we like things the way they are.  But that is not who God is and it is not who God calls us to be.  Instead, let us live into the warm and welcoming nature of God.  Let us reflect the love that God offers us daily, the radical grace the he blesses us with.  Let us open our arms and continue to grow the body of Christ, as God has been growing it all along.  God carries on proclaiming peace to all, those who are far off and those who are near, so that all may enter into relationship with him.  Let us join him in that proclamation.  For we were once far off, but have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.