Many of us have been through a long dry spell this past year, and I'm not just talking about the weather. When it comes to our jobs, our relationships, our wealth and our health, many of us are waiting for the drought to break, for the creeks to run, for the hills to green, for the growing, healing season to begin... When the forecast doesn't give us much hope of rain anytime soon, it's good to be reminded that our reservoirs are already full to overflowing with spiritual blessings. That's the message from Ephesians for this first Sunday of the new year.
The early Christians figured that if there were no salvation outside the church, then they were going to have to bring more folks inside the church. And that's what the Creed does. It includes all those poor souls who just happened to miss out on the Messiah. By including this line in the Creed about Jesus descending into hell, ancient Christians extended the boundaries of the Church into the past. And that's important for us to know, because a lot of Christians today want to expand the Church in the present.
What is left? After all, Jesus left, and the work of the kingdom was not finished yet. He still needs a body here on earth, so he drafted us. (Imagine that!) The Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is our last best hope for peace in the world today, which is why I want to cry when I think about what we have done to his body! Every time we exclude this group or that group, it is like cutting off a limb or ripping out a vital organ. We are all members of the body, so the foot can’t say to the hand, “I’m better than you.” The ear can’t say to the nose, “I have no need of you.” The lungs can’t say to the pancreas, “You are ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ We don’t want you.” A fully functioning Body of Christ needs all of our bodies and all of our stories. To be a recognizable image of the all-loving God, we need all of our lives and all of our loves. I’m still waiting for the Church to be the Body of Christ.
Ephesians says that Christ came over 2,000 years ago to break down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, but wouldn't you know: the Israeli government has put it back up. Over 400 km long and not yet finished, the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel has been called a security fence by the Israelis and an Apartheid Wall by the Palestinians. Either way, it is a "wall of shame," and it stands as a symbol of the enduring hostility between Jews and Gentiles, between Israelis and Palestinians. And that wall poses a very challenging question for us: Does the God we worship through Jesus Christ have the power to take down that wall and make peace in our world?
This is the crazy plan that Paul is commissioned to preach and the church is supposed to teach. This is the wisdom of God in its rich variety. Now, I’m lucky to have a husband who reads the Greek. I ask him, “Hank, what is the Greek that gets translated “in its rich variety”? What is Paul saying about God’s wisdom here? The word is polypóikilos. Literally, it means “many-hued.” Literally, Paul is talking about the multicolored wisdom of God. I love it. If our churches were more multicolored, think how much closer we would be, how much more legitimate our claim to the wisdom of God in all of its rich variety!
As Paul says, this is the church's job: to live in the joy of Jesus. No one else is going to make the rulers and authorities know that no matter how much money or power or social media presence they have, they cannot drown out the Good News. They cannot tweet away the Truth. They cannot roll back the boundless riches of Christ. Nor can they ban anyone's entrance into the kingdom of promise. You don't need any documents or DNA tests. With boldness and confidence through faith in him, anyone—and I mean anyone—can walk right in!
Can you see what I'm getting at here? Christianity didn't come to us fully formed with the birth of Christ. It was God's plan to reveal to us the "boundless riches of Christ" through the spread of Christianity into Gentile cultures. This was Paul's task: to reveal Christ to the Gentiles and to build up the Body of Christ in lands outside of Palestine so that "through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known…" [3:10]