ephesians week two

Two of our groups are on to chapter three, one will read chapters two and three this coming Sunday. This is a summary of the conversations that I overheard as we hosted Ephesians chapter two. The main thing we wrestled with was the word "grace". It is a key word in this chapter. Yet we realized that it is such a well worn word in the church that it has sometimes lost its power for us. We talked about how the word is used in common parlance these days: "She is a gracious host" or "He is such a graceful dancer". We thought again about what it means to say "grace" before the meal. We sang "Amazing Grace" and wondered about what makes it so amazing. We noticed that the Greek word that is translated as grace is "charis" from which we get "charisma" - someone full of energy and spirit. It is also the source of the Greek word "eucharist", meaning thanksgiving, the sacrament of the heavenly banquet where all are fed and welcomed as a beloved member of the household of God, the great homecoming for all orphans and lost souls. We realized that grace is meant to speak of God's great power to save and heal and redeem and that this power is given freely, without reserve to insiders and outsiders alike in Jesus Christ. We realized that it is sometimes very good for us to revisit such a central and well-worn a word as "grace".

Another word that we revisited was the word "flesh" as in "following the desires of flesh" (Ephesians 2:3 - New Revised Standard Version). It helped us to remember that in Paul's world this refers less to bodily desires and more to what is taken to be worldly wisdom, common sense, the way things are. The various translations helped here: "our selfish inclinations" (Cotton Patch Version); "You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live" (The Message); "you drifted along on the stream of this world's ideas of living" (JB Phillips); "when you were living by the principles of this world" (New Jerusalem); "keeping in step with this world's 'present age'" (The Kingdom Translation - NT Wright). All of these trying to find the current English equivalent of "following the desires of the flesh". The gospel, says Paul, is a different way of life that runs counter to the way of life that is taken for granted in the world. It sounds like Jesus speaking to Peter when he says: "You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" (Mark 8:33).

We had a lively discussion about the metaphor of the church being a building in which Jesus is the cornerstone or keystone (the Greek word can mean either). Some preferred to think of Jesus as the cornerstone - the place from which the whole building takes shape and is built around. Others liked the image of Jesus as the keystone that holds the whole building in place, at the top of the arch - the stone whose odd shape caused the builders to reject it as useless but then discovered that it is essential to the entire structure (Psalm 118:22). We noticed that in the first century thinking of the church as a building was unusual since such structures did not exist. The church was a movement, a people, a way of life but not at all an actual location. Now when we think of church the idea of actual buildings is the first thing on our mind. Recovering the metaphor takes work for us. Recovering the church as a movement, a people and a way of life seems essential in our time and helps to make sense of our little congregation's journey away from owning property and "having" a church. None of our studies of Ephesians take place in a church because we don't have a church. One takes place in a restaurant, another in a home and the third in an office. Finally, what we found surprising in this metaphor was who the church is meant for. We often think of the church as a place for us. But in this metaphor the church exists as a suitable dwelling for God. In a people formed by the work of Jesus Christ in breaking down the dividing wall of hostility between insiders and outsiders (Ephesians 2:14) God finds a place of residence (Ephesians 2:22).

Well, there was more, much more. But this gives a taste of the conversations on chapter two. I had forgotten that it was a passage from this chapter (Ephesians 2:19-22) that I offered as a gift to the congregation when we celebrated the completion of the Doctor of Ministry degree back in July of 2002. A google search later and I found that sermon still posted online. It is at A Gift to University Hill Congregation.

Now, on to chapter three.

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