We’re spending one final week looking at how the Gentiles were included in the church. The concern was a defining moment in the birth of the church. The Apostles and elders were deciding who is a child of God and how does one become a child of God.
First, we looked at how the church resolved the conflict of including the Gentiles through healing from dissension, rebuilding relationships and restoring trust. Last week, we looked at the reconciliation of parties debating the theology of the issue which required all parties to be humble and listen to one another. This week, I want to talk about how inclusivity and equality became of value of the church because of this important debate.
So far, we’ve learned that the Apostles and Elders, who were Jewish Christians, would not require Gentiles to become Jews before becoming Christians. This is significant, because, if the Jewish Christians did not require the Gentiles to become Jews, the Apostles and the elders were for the first time truly acknowledging that there was a new covenant in Christ. If the Gentiles were required to become Jews that would mean that the Apostles and elders rejected the new covenant and would bind the Gentiles to the family of God through the old covenant that God made with the Jews through Abraham. The church now recognized that the Gentile Christians received the Spirit which was a sign for them that God had established a new covenant that included Gentiles. This new covenant is one written in the faith and grace of Christ which we celebrate in communion.
In our reading today from Galatians chapter 3, Paul says that God had known the Gentiles would one day be included in God’s family because Abraham was told that all the people of the world would be blessed because of Abraham meaning one day all would be welcomed into the family of God. And, it is so, when the Gentiles are welcomed into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The church has acknowledged God’s grace given to the Gentiles in a new covenant in Christ.
That new covenant brings Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ into one human family of God. All are God’s children through Christ. Both Jew and Gentile have the same claim to God as the other. Both men and women, slave and free man have the same claim to God as the other. All have received the Spirit at baptism. All know the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both Jew and Gentile are children of God.
This decision by the Apostles and elders meant that the Jewish Christians would have to welcome the Gentile Christians to the church and treat them as equals. Being that the church still has trouble treating one another as equals in the eyes of God, I’m guessing that equality and inclusivity in the church, while they strived for it, was not so easy.
I want to show you a clip from a movie which describes what I think of when I think of church at its best, as it was meant to be, as one inclusive family. The clip is from the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and describes the community that has become of a group of seniors. In the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Sonny inherits a hotel on the brink of ruins from his father. Sonny has the vision of turning it into an exotic senior living community. The retirees who arrive at the hotel have very little in common other than their age and their disappointment by the hotel’s accommodations. In this clip, one of the residents describes the community that grew from this first group that checked into the hotel.
The Video clip is 4:07 – 5: 08 of the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It is not available on YouTube.
Over 8 months, the seniors grew into a community that cared for one another. One had died; one had left; one had joined. They knew each other’s names. They checked on one another every day. They made sure each person was healthy and alive. They still had very little in common, but they lived together and shared life with one another. There was work for everyone to do.
Church is much the same. We don’t have things in common with some of our other members – what we have in common is Christ. We may not know each other if it were not for the church. But, we know each other’s names. We are concerned about the physical and spiritual life of each other. If you aren’t here a few Sundays and we don’t know that you’re out of town or otherwise unable to come, someone is going to check on you and tell you that you’re missed. There is meaningful work for you to do to serve the church or participate in the ministries of the church. Our reading from the Apostle Paul today challenges us to treat one another as equal and include all those who come to our doors so that we can be a welcoming community that loves each other because we are all children of God.
Over time, I’ll share some of my faith journey with you. Today, I want to tell you about how I was welcomed into the church. I became a Christian at 27 and sought out a church. I looked for maybe 6 months at different churches and couldn’t quite find one that felt right to me. Then, I decided to check out High St. Christian Church in Akron. I felt the Spirit stir within me just make the decision to attend there the next week. I walked up the front steps and was greeted by Wally. He welcomed me and walked me into the space where they were gathering for worship. He introduced me to Char, her husband and kids who invited me to sit with them during worship. I knew within 5 minutes that I was welcome there and was included in the fellowship. I knew then that it would be my home.
I’ve heard similar things from you, that you feel welcome at this church and feel a sense of the Spirit that is real and profound. I look around and see that there is diversity in our church family where all are welcome. May it continue to be so.