This World is Our Home
Text: Ephesians 2: 13-15, 17, 19
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.
This is a remarkable text. The level of inclusiveness that is present in these words is off the charts. The apostle Paul, I believe, is making it clear that the entire world needs to be at peace with God. For Paul, the entire world consisted of just two groups, the Jews and the Gentiles, so he speaks about the two groups coming together to form one new humanity and making peace. He claims that those who were far off have come near and he even says that Jesus has abolished the law and the commandments to make it easier to achieve peace. Paul also states that the dividing wall that once separated the groups, or the hostility that separated the groups, has been broken down; all in the name of peace. Paul goes on to say that people who once were considered strangers and aliens are now citizens of the household of God. This new understanding welcomes everyone.
It is interesting to me we don’t hear this message very often; it is a powerful message and one that needs to be spoken, and yet the majority of preachers seem to leave it alone. I wonder why that is? I wonder why it is so scary to be inclusive. Is it really easier to just pretend that the others don’t exist?
Yes, actually, I think that is what is going on; and not just with inclusiveness, but with a host of other theological issues. I am suspicious that a new theology has gripped many of the nation’s preachers and it is dangerous and it is counterproductive.
Let me see if I can explain. One of the things which I do periodically is that I listen to or read information from alternative perspectives. I feel like this is a good idea because it helps keep me balanced and sometimes it helps me understand a different perspective or a different view. The other night I was doing that very thing as I listened to a TV evangelist talk about the recent bombing in Brussels. I don’t know what channel I had surfed to and I don’t know the name of the evangelist; but the message he was repeating at first was horrifying and I wanted to throw something at the TV. But then I began to take what I was hearing and apply it to a host of other theological questions I have had for some time and I had a moment of enlightenment. It didn’t make me like the message any better, but I had a new understanding of what might be happening. I think I have identified a new theology that has many thousands of unsuspecting followers. I call it Ostrich Theology.
Back to my TV evangelist for a moment.-as he spoke about the recent terrorist attacks and bombings he kept repeating how horrible the world was. Then he would follow-up that statement by saying that we are not of this world and how comforting that is. He gained great comfort from this idea that he was not of this world that somehow he was above the world, not involved in the world and what happened in the world was of no consequence, because he belonged to Jesus.
When I first heard it, I was stunned. Of course we are of the world-I wanted to yell it back at the TV-what do you mean you are not of the world? This world is our home. This world is where we are to live out the mission and the ministry of the Jesus we follow. How can we not be of this world? And how is that comforting?
But he kept on. He quoted scripture about being in the world but not of the world. He talked about a new heaven and a new earth as referenced in Revelation. He spoke about the return of Jesus and how all this chaos is hastening the return of Jesus and the coming apocalypse and how that may actually be a good thing. Take comfort in the chaos because you are not of this world and one day you will be snatched up in the rapture and that day is approaching fast. Take comfort that you are not of this world.
Suddenly a whole bunch of other things I have been wondering about fell into place for me. Ostrich Theology lets you say one thing and do another. It isn’t exactly denial; it is more like an alternative universe. When you have been the victim of Ostrich Theology your entire perspective of what is really important shifts and you are no longer responsible for the chaos in the world. You are powerless to change anything and even if you could, that would hinder the eventual return of Jesus, and who would want to do that?
I mentioned that a lot of things began to make sense to me. Let me explain what I’m talking about when I say that. I have been observant over the last several decades that often those who claim to be the most devout Christians often support political candidates that support policy that seems to me to be blatantly unchristian. I have wondered to myself how they reconcile these positions. For example, we are clearly called to be good stewards of the earth; at least I think we are. Yet, most of the current political candidates and those already in power that are heavily supported by evangelical Christians seem to think that climate change isn’t a real issue; some even think the whole thing is a hoax. Ostrich Theology helps me make sense of that.
Many of the political candidates and those already in power advocate for the elimination of many of our social safety net programs. They are critical of food stamps and Medicaid, they seem to believe that government programs designed to help people do nothing but make them lazy and encourage them to use drugs. When I read the New Testament and study the life example of Jesus, there is nothing more important that providing for the poor and feeding the hungry and taking care of the sick. These are absolute pillars of the ministry and mission of Jesus, at least as I read it they are. Yet the Christian right seems to support these policies in mass. I have often wondered why that would be the case, but I’m thinking Ostrich Theology may have something to do with it.
I mentioned taking care of the sick as being something that was central to the mission and ministry of Jesus. Yet health care for everyone in this country seems to be an impossible goal and the progress that has been made some want to repeal. Once again, it seems to me, just through observation, that many who oppose the idea that this country should care for the sick and less fortunate are supported by those who claim to be the most devout Christians among us. How can that be? We might find an answer in Ostrich Theology.
I want to return to the text I opened with and the level of inclusiveness that Paul advocates for this new religion that is catching fire. Contrast the ideas presented by Paul with those presented by current leaders and political contenders about immigration, or vilifying a particular religion or race or group of people. Paul speaks of the walls that once divided us as having been broken down by the love and peace of Jesus, and yet we hear that others want to build new walls. Am I reading the same Gospel that others are? What is going on?
Let me be clear. Ostrich Theology is a process where you convince yourself that you are not of this world. You convince yourself that what happens in the world doesn’t really matter. You convince yourself that your salvation and ticket into heaven is more important than the health and welfare of your neighbor. You put your head in the sand and pretend it will all go away once Jesus comes back.
I have news for you. This world is our home. This is the only planet we have. The health and welfare of your neighbor matters. And to truly follow Jesus requires us to be in this world, setting an example of love, compassion and inclusiveness for the rest of the world to see. This world is our home and all people matter. Ostrich Theology is dangerous and I think a little out of control.
Jesus was a tolerant person, and I believe we also are called to tolerance. But when Jesus encountered oppression and trickery and cheating and stealing at the hands on those in power at the temple, he became intolerant. It is up to us when we decide which example of Jesus we are going to follow, but for me, I am edging ever closer to reaching the point where it is time to start flipping over the tables of Ostrich Theology.
And that is food for thought. Amen.