As you may know, Ashley and I used to live in southern California. (We met there, were married there, and Shaw was born there.) One of the things I love about California is that it is so completely post-Christian. California is so completely post- Christian that they’ve pretty much lost any traditional language about “religion.” This doesn’t mean the religious urge has disappeared, though; people still speak about “religion.” But it’s different. Consider, for example, the following, taken from a brochure for a New Age church in northern California:
We are not a church “in the traditional sense of buildings, structure and congregation, but [we are] an embodiment and a manifestation of the New Age: that common tread uniting the Human Potential Movement, the Holistic, Natural Movement, and Universal Spirituality.”
Or consider this from another brochure:
Our church is about “oneness and love: love of ourselves, of each other, of the natural environment, and of everyday experiences closest to complete identity with Oneness… The purpose of our church is to teach spiritual life and how it can be realized by individuals; and to spread wide the practice of Oneness and love.”
In California, unfettered by traditional language of “religion,” people still speak of what they’re looking for in life, who they think we humans are, what is our purpose, who the Divine is, what is our hope, and so forth. In short, unhindered by traditional language about religion, people still speak of experience in the spiritual life. I find it refreshing.
One of the things I love about the letter to the Ephesians is that it is so completely post-Judaism. Unlike the early Christian community in Rome, or in Galatia, or in Jerusalem – communities that were comprised of both Jews and Gentiles – the early Christian community in Ephesus was made up entirely of Gentiles. “Remember that at one time you Gentiles…” writes Paul in this morning’s lesson. This entirely Gentile community came about because, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us, the Jews in Ephesus “stubbornly refused to believe” Paul’s preaching. So in Ephesus Paul preached to the Gentiles, and over three years built up a thriving gentile Christian community.
This entirely Gentile community in Ephesus meant that Paul’s letter to them was completely devoid of the usual Jewish-Christian language. (“Baggage?”) In Ephesians there is no polemic about the law versus faith, such as we find in Galatians. Paul doesn’t spend time hashing out what is and what isn’t “kosher” for Christians to eat, as he does in Romans. There is no arguing about whether or not Gentiles could even be Christians, as we see in Acts. In Ephesians Paul – unhindered by traditions or expectations from Christianity’s Jewish roots – is given free rein to speak about Christianity in whatever language he chooses.
Given this opportunity, how does Paul speak about the Faith? Since we’ll be hearing from Ephesians over the course of the next several weeks, let’s take a look. If I could sum up in a word what I hear Ephesians telling us about Christianity, I would say “riches.” Ephesians tells us again and again of the “riches” that God pours out on those whom God has chosen. For example, last week’s lesson gave us a litany of “riches:”
- God has blessed us
- God has chosen us and adopted us
- God has freed us and forgiven us
- God has given us wisdom and insight and made known to us the mystery of
- God’s eternal plan
- God has given us an inheritance and marked us with the seal of the Spirit
- God has given us the hope and promise of salvation
And that’s just in the first fourteen verses! Today’s lesson tells us of yet further riches:
- Jesus gives us hope
- Jesus gives us God
- Jesus brings near those who had been estranged and far off
- He ends hostility and breaks down dividing walls
- He unites people with each other and with God
- He proclaims peace
- He gives access to the Father
- He makes us citizens with the saints and members of the household of God
For us and for many, religion often comes with baggage. And so when we hear “traditional” religious language – language of sin, for example, or commandments, or calls to repent, or language about the flesh versus the spirit, and so forth – we might tune out and move away from God.
If we find ourselves tuning out and moving away from God, maybe Paul’s letter to the Ephesians can help reinvigorate our spiritual life. Unfettered by traditional language or expectations about religion, maybe Ephesians can help us see God in a new light, can help open us and bring us to a place where we might be ready to receive the “riches” that God wishes to bestow:
- God blesses us
- God chooses us
- God frees and forgives
- Jesus offers hope
- Jesus offers peace
- Jesus can bring us near to a God who loves us, no matter what.