Where do you come from? (Ephesians 2:11-22)

Scripture:  Ephesians 2:11-22 New International Version (NIV)

Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Where Do You Come From?

I have heard sermons preached on this passage many times, and they have focused often on the symbolic meaning of circumcision, and on the abolishing of regulations and the hold of laws on our life that happened with the death and resurrection of Christ.  They ultimately focus on the theological aspects of what can be a difficult to comprehend passage.  Today, let’s focus on a much more practical aspect of this passage, and that is where we call home.

Where do you come from? It’s such a simple question, but these days, of course, simple questions bring ever more complicated answers. When I lived in South Korea, Saudi Arabia or Thailand, people were always asking me where I come from, and they were expecting me to say England or America, and they were absolutely right insofar as those two countries have been historically responsible for most of my cultural heritage. Except, I’ve never lived one day of my life in the United Kingdom and I have a kind of latent animosity toward America. I can’t say “y’all” or “How do you do” without breaking out in laughter.  And if “Where do you come from?” means “Where were you born and raised and educated?” then I’m entirely of that funny country known as Canada, except I left Canada as soon as I completed my graduate education, and all the time I was growing up, I was the only kid in all my classes who didn’t think Winnipeg was the big city, or a destination in my life. And if “Where do you come from?” means “Where is your life insurance? Where is your money saved? Where do you see your doctor and your dentist?” then I’m both Thai and Canadian, and I have been for more than 12 years since I was a really small child in my Christian walk. Except, for many of those years, I’ve had to carry around this funny little stamp in my passport that identifies me as a permanent alien. I do actually feel more alien the longer I live in both places.

And if “Where do you come from?” means “Which place goes deepest inside you and where do you try to spend most of your time?” then I’m a member of my family, because I’ve been living as much as I can for the last 15 years with them.

And I say all this just to stress how very old-fashioned and straightforward my background is, because when I go to this church, or to Bangkok, Seoul, Saudi Arabia or Vancouver, most of the people I meet are much more international and multi-cultured than I am. And they have one home associated with their parents, but another associated with their partners, a third connected maybe with the place where they happen to be, a fourth connected with the place they dream of being, and many more besides. And their whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained glass whole. Home for them is really a work in progress. It’s like a project on which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections.

It is in this observation that I read Ephesians 2:11-22. From scripture 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, Before the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, Gentiles once had no way of “belonging” to the God’s household.  But through Christ, both Jew and Gentile had access to the father by one Spirit.

We are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of His household, built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.

For those of us in Manitoba, and dare I say from rural and semi-rural communities around the world, where we dwell is associated with the land.  We grow our food on it; we plant our gardens in it; and we locate our life on it.

However, for more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than, you could say, with a piece of soul. If somebody suddenly asks me, “Where’s your home?” I think about Air or my kids or my closest friends or the songs that travel with me wherever I happen to be.

I have always felt this way, but it really came home to me, as it were, a few years ago, when on a vacation in Manitoba I brought Air and the kids to the house of my youth, a block away from Vincent Massey. When I looked at the front of the house I saw that “our” tree where we had we had hung “our” Christmas lights, had been removed.  Once a year, for seven straight Septembers, I scaled that 3-story high monster to hang those Christmas lights.  I had a longer relationship with that tree than I did with my high school sweetheart. Also the house was much smaller than I had remembered. There was a pick-up truck parked ON THE LAWN (for goodness sakes!) They had eliminated and paved the rock garden that my Dad and I built with our hands and wheel barrow and paved it for a place to drink whiskey.  And I realized that that all used to be so important. If anybody asked me now, “Where is your home?” I literally couldn’t point to any physical construction. My home would have to be whatever and whomever I carried around inside me.

And in so many ways, I think this is a terrific liberation. Because when my parents were born to my grandparents who had immigrated to southern Manitoba from Russia, they pretty much had their sense of home, their sense of community, even their sense of enmity, assigned to them at birth, and didn’t have much chance of stepping outside of that. And nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, take our own place in community, have our own individual relationships with God, and in so doing maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our parents’ age. It is no coincidence that the president of the United States is half-Kenyan, partly raised in Indonesia, and has a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law.

The number of people living in countries not their own now comes to 220 million, and that’s an almost unimaginable number, but it means that if you took the whole population of Canada and the whole population of Australia and then the whole population of Australia again and the whole population of Canada again and doubled that number, you would still have fewer people than belong to this great floating tribe. And the number of us who live outside the old nation-state categories is increasing so quickly, by 64 million just in the last 12 years, that soon there will be more of us than there are Americans. Already, we represent the fifth-largest nation on Earth. And in fact, in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, the average resident today is what used to be called a foreigner, somebody born in a very different country.

And I’ve always felt that the beauty of being surrounded by the foreign is that it slaps you awake. You can’t take anything for granted. Travel, for me, is a little bit like being in love, because suddenly all your senses are at the setting marked “on.” Suddenly you’re alert to the secret patterns of the world. The real voyage of discovery, as Marcel Proust famously said, consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes. And of course, once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home, become something different.

Many of the people living in countries not their own are refugees who never wanted to leave home and ache to go back home. But for the fortunate among us, I think the age of movement brings exhilarating new possibilities. Certainly when I’m traveling, especially to the major cities of the world, the typical person I meet today will be, let’s say, a half-Korean, half-German young woman living in Dubai. And as soon as she meets a half-Thai, half-Canadian young guy from Edinburgh, she recognizes him as kin. She realizes that she probably has much more in common with him than with anybody entirely of Korea or entirely of Germany.  Where you come from now is much less important than who you’re with. More and more of us are rooted in the future or the present tense as much as in the past. And home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself and you meet God.

What then of the claim that we are no longer foreigners and aliens, that the Apostle Paul so clearly stresses about the impact of Christ?  Well, let me extrapolate what we could take away from this bold claim. In verses 6 & 7, Paul writes, “6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

We have already been raised up with Christ and sit with Him! We are already in the presence of the Spirit, and the question is: do you know that?  Do you know that the Spirit of God is in our midst, and that God is with us every day?  Do you look for God working in your daily life?  God is with you, with us, and takes us beyond our boundaries of “us and them”.  God provides us not only unity, but gives us grace.  The Spirit not only abolishes the idea of being a foreigner, but supplies us with belonging. Christ not only put to death hostility to outsiders, but to everyone, he preaches peace.  Belonging and Peace.  Belonging and Peace.

And yet, there is one great problem with movement, and that is that it’s really hard to get your bearings when you’re traveling. And I began to think that really, movement was only as good as the sense of stillness that could be brought to it to put it into perspective.

And I started to go back to a still place, and I noticed that God was doing his most important work there invisibly just by me sitting still, and certainly coming to my most critical decisions the way I never could when I was racing with crowds in Korea, or in Bangkok traffic..

And I began to think that something in me had really been crying out for stillness, for setting out time in my day to encounter God. But of course I couldn’t hear it because I was running around so much. I was like some crazy guy who puts on a blindfold and then complains that he can’t see a thing. When I look at Brandon high school kids who go from schoolwork, to dance lessons, to part-time jobs, to volunteering opportunities, to time chatting with their friends on the phone, I can imagine they feel the same thing.

However, I think it’s only by stopping movement that you can see where to go. And it’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find God dwelling with you. And I’ve noticed so many people now take conscious measures to sit quietly for 30 minutes every morning just collecting themselves in one corner of the room without their devices, or go running every evening, or leave their cell phones behind when they go to have a long conversation with a friend.  Or stopping your movement to worship and talk with God.

Our home is two things; home is rooted in our relationship with Christ bringing us peace, and home is the awareness the God dwells in our midst giving us all a sense of belonging.  Movement is a fantastic privilege, and it allows us to do so much that our parents could never have dreamed of doing. But movement, ultimately, only has a meaning if you have that home of God’s household to go back to. And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It’s the place where you stand.

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