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The Stranger has Come Home

The Stranger has Come Home

The Stranger Has Come Home
Old Mystic, CT
January 25, 2009
Ephesians 2:11-20

Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, the foundation of our lives, our peace, and the architect of a new humanity. In his death he has reconciled us with God and with our fellow human beings, broken the walls of differences and separation, and he made peace as he brought us all together into his household so there are no more strangers.

What an extraordinary combination of events and celebrations took place this past week! Our nation, in a unique historic moment, a moment so much awaited by many, a moment that perhaps even the most optimistic onlookers had doubts it would ever happen, witnessed the inauguration of the first African American president in history. It was not by chance, I believe, that this singular event coincided with the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the beginning of the week of prayer for Christian Unity. When the walls that divide human beings in races, or cultures, or ideologies begin to crumble, when possibilities are made available to those who time ago did not even dare to dream, unity is possible.

We all know about Martin Luther King’s dream: … that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." And… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Today we are witnesses to the fact that the underlying racism that still shows its ugly face in America has received a severe blow. Barack Obama, the son of an African man from a village in Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, an unusual interracial combination, born in the 50th state, raised by his grandparents, a man who had to overcome incredible odds, has made it to highest position anyone can think of in this time in history, in this 21st century. Some people, at least some people, enough to vote him into office, did not judge Barack Obama for the color of his skin but for the content of his character.

The stranger has come home. A wall of separation is beginning to crumble. It is a dividing wall that in the minds and hearts of many is still standing; a wall that divides peoples into opposing groups, into different cultures; a wall that does not allow the richness of differences to flourish by keeping those who are different at bay; a wall that very often keeps sibling against sibling, wife against husband, and parent against child. But that wall is crumbling, not just by the pounding of single accidental event. The pounding has a long history, way beyond the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.

If I can bring your attention to the passage read this morning, It is in Christ, who according to God’s Will, as a plan for the fullness of time, [that God has purposed] to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. It is in Christ that the walls of separation are broken down; he makes peace possible; he is the one who brings reconciliation between human being and God and among humans themselves. In Christ, the stranger has come home. President Obama was a stranger in many ways and someone who represents the underrepresented—and everybody else now—he has come home.

So we can claim, and we can proclaim that in Christ we are no longer strangers. So let us look at Jesus Christ breaking down the wall of separation.

I. HE MADE A NEW HUMANITY.

Our text this morning places us in the context of the early church and its struggles. A church that was apparently divided by strained cultural tensions between the Jewish and the Roman/Greek Christians with their different customs and worldviews. It was a fledgling church in a time where believers gathered in households and, in spite of the deeply rooted tradition of being hospitable to the stranger, the stranger was often left out. The unbeliever was a stranger, but the one who was different was also a stranger.

But the writer to the Ephesians pointing to the blood of Jesus as a symbol of his sacrifice makes clear that it was not in vain. As the veil of the temple, the veil that symbolized the separation between God and the fallen human race, was torn in two when Jesus died at the cross, this sacrifice breaks down all the walls that divide human beings and makes a new humanity.

Perhaps, a new humanity is still a project. A new humanity would imply the expectation of new relationships; humans loving humans; people embracing people. A new humanity would imply a new set of rules. As the text goes: He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity. A new humanity implies change, a constant transformation. Quite a project!

But God’s projects are promises. A new humanity is a project that has possibilities. God’s transformation in Christ takes place! The signs of the kingdom very frequently appear when we are about to fall into despair. And what America witnessed these past few months is a sign of the work of Christ in human lives. Hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and racism can and will be defeated.

As a faith community we have the opportunity to flesh out what Jesus started. We can be people that welcome the stranger; people that because they have met the Savior, and have committed themselves to walk with him, reflect his character and love the way Jesus loved.

The stranger can come home; the wall has been broken down by Jesus Christ,

II. HE MADE PEACE.

Peace, what an elusive word! Who doesn’t want to have peace? At the personal, individual level, peace may be related to being home, or coming home. It is when all things are all right; when everything is the way is supposed to be. Relationships are peaceful, there is no want, there is no pain, and joy is at the center of life. The world seems to be a better place.

But such a state of bliss is elusive in this life. We all know about pain; we all experience suffering, sometimes to a point that it seems unbearable and makes us question our whole existence. Even more, since we are born to be related to our neighbor, being part of family, or a network of relationships, since we are created to be part of a community, peace is possible for one when it is possible for all.

The writer of Ephesians points out that Jesus Christ made peace through the cross. He reminds us of the unjust and violent death that continues to appeal to us because through the death of Jesus Christ we are set free. Paradoxically, the cross is a symbol of death and suffering and at the same time of new life; and this new life is a life of peace. But peace for one is only possible when there is peace for all.

As we are waging two wars and we see conflict all over the world; as we witness violence in the streets and in homes; when we see families broken, couples divorced, and children separated from their parents, we question if peace is possible here and now or whether is just that state of bliss reserved for life beyond this world.

By faith we embrace the Savior who went to the cross to make peace and called us to a mission, a mission of making peace. When we come together, when we embrace one another, when we love our neighbor, when we feed the hungry, cover the naked, and visit the imprisoned, we are making peace. They are perhaps just seeds of peace. But when the seeds are sown the signs are there and we are seeing those signs of peace of the kingdom of God.

There is peace for the stranger that has come home! Christ made peace through the cross, broke down the wall of separation and,

III. HE RECONCILED US

The text we read this morning seems to conclude that as a new humanity we are part of a new “household.” “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…” Jesus has reconciled us, reunited us. We were separated, divided, far apart from one another and now we are brought together to be a family—a family of families.

The household of God is this enterprise, this adventure, this little world we call the church, and there is no better way to portray the church than as a family. We are a family, a very special family where everybody is welcomed. It is a place for reconciliation; a place where we come together overcoming all kinds of barriers because the wall of separation was broken down by Jesus Christ.

We are family of people who are different, diverse, and colorful. Yet, we are one. We may have different opinions, different customs, and different ideas. We may disagree in many ways, but we can also agree to disagree. We have been reconciled and Christ brought us together to be united in our diversity.

We are a 300 year old congregation. The oldest Baptist Church in the state. We have endured the pass of time; we have prevailed over many obstacles; we have dealt with conflict and overcome; we have pressed on and here we are, the Household of God in Old Mystic. Let us be a household of reconciliation where the stranger can call it home. Let us be a family of families, a family with many colors, many cultures, and many strangers, all following the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his inaugural address the president spoke about the remaking of America. It is not going to be easy; the economic downturn is perhaps the worst in the last 70 years. Our country’s reputation has being tainted by allegations that detainees have been tortured. The number of people who are unemployed or underemployed is growing. We are living difficult times. But we, the church, we have faith. We believe. We have put our trust in Jesus Christ. Let us be an example for the whole nation of people who love one another, who work together, who build together, who are the household of God, a place where the stranger has come home.
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