No Longer Strangers – July 23, 2006

II Samuel 7:1-14, Ephesians 2:11-22

July 23, 2006

“…so then you are no longer strangers.” That was the theme of the 2004 Presbyterian Youth Triennium. We are no longer strangers with God through Jesus Christ.

First or all, let me say that was the idea in the first place. That’s why God created us – to be in fellowship with him. We are not strangers. We are not just his possessions or his “playthings.” We are created in relationship with God, to be in relationship with God. We are the pinnacle of his creative process. It is only from that perspective that we can truly understand what Christ did for us.

So many miss that! As you’ve heard me say before, so many people see their faith only as “fire insurance.” They “believe” only because they don’t want to end up in hell someday! But the glory of the faith, the wonder of the relationship with God, is something they’ve never considered as part of the life of faith, now. They are only interested in doing the minimum. And then, as I’ve also said before, they can’t seem to figure out why their faith seems empty somehow – like something is missing.

We were made to be in relationship with God. But that relationship was broken. And for some it is still broken. For some of us, that relationship was broken, like the prodigal son. We had gone far astray. We had left and forsaken our God, and we needed to come back home to him.

For others of us, we were like the elder brother in that story. Do you remember him? He was with the father all the time, but he didn’t see the relationship. He never celebrated. He never realized the depth of his father’s love. He never realized that everything the father had was his as well. And he grew indignant when this younger brother came home. Actually, I think his is the more interesting story. In fact, the more I read that parable, the more it seems to me that he is the one the story is really about! I think maybe it should have been called, “The parable of the Elder Brother.”

At any rate, both of those brothers became “Strangers” to their father in their own way. But they were reconciled. And like them both, we are “no longer strangers” to God, either. That’s the metaphor Paul uses in this passage from Ephesians. And I think it’s a good one! “No longer Strangers.”

Of course, much of the original meaning of that phrase has to do with the inclusion of the gentiles in the faith. (Hence all that “circumcision” talk at the beginning of this passage!) A lot of what he was talking about had to do with the readers of this letter once being “outside” the faith, and now they have been brought “inside” the faith. The city of Ephesus was the capitol of the Roman Province of Asia Minor. So it was predominantly a Greco-Roman society. So in terms of the Jewish faith, his readers were once “strangers.” And now being included in God’s plan, they were “no longer strangers.”

I’m glad we have these words, though. Because, I think the message here is more universal than that. Jesus came to bring us home, too. Remember Paul’s wonderful descriptions of Jesus in the first Chapter. (We read last week.) Remember how he told them about the unity of all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Remember how we said that our differences and disagreements pale in comparison to the majesty of God and the glory of his eternal kingdom.

That’s wonderful! But even knowing all that, sometimes we feel like strangers to that eternal kingdom, don’t we? Sometimes, even after coming to know God, we still have times of feeling like strangers, don’t we? Sometimes we feel like there are others who are more familiar with God, more fervent in their faith, more understanding of spiritual things. “Strangers” is a good word to describe those times in our lives, isn’t it?

When you feel like that it seems like there’s a distance between you and God. It’s an empty feeling isn’t it? It could be that you’ve never really understood what it was like to be “citizens” of God’s kingdom, as Paul describes it. You’ve never really felt close to God. In that case, becoming “no longer strangers” has a more literal meaning. In that case, you should consider this passage carefully. Consider going beyond just believing the right things and learning more, and opening up your heart to God. Share your life with him.

On the other hand, it could be that you’ve been with God for a long time. You’ve been a person with a strong faith. You’ve always been sure of things. But then perhaps you went through some crisis that has “shaken” your faith. Maybe you’ve begun to let the concerns of life get you down. And somehow you’ve found yourself feeling far from God. Somehow you feel like a “stranger.”

I think we all go through that from time to time. Don’t we? We all have crises of faith. We all have times of doubt. And those are tough feelings, aren’t they! What do we do then? What do we do when we feel far from God? What do we do when you feel like a stranger? What do we do when we feel like Paul describes here in verse 12, “alienated from the community, strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope without God in the world.”

It’s sad, but often when people are going through that kind of thing, we don’t see them. They’re absent from Church. And then when we do see them later, they say, “I’ve been going through some struggles, so I didn’t ‘feel right’ coming to Church.” My friends, if you think about it, that’s the time you really need to come! When you are hurting, when you have failed, when you’re ashamed of your thoughts or actions, when you’ve been beaten down by life’s circumstances, that’s when you need to be in God’s presence – whether you feel like it or not! Am I right? Is this not the place where we talk about forgiveness and reconciliation?

Yeah, you might come and find yourself sitting in Church wondering why you’re here. You may feel distant from God, and perhaps even your friends, somehow. But in being here, you are allowing that re-connection to take place. In coming here, you have taken a positive spiritual step, rather than staying away and adding to the distance from God you already feel.

Please understand this, my friends. This is very important! There may be someone sitting near you right now who’s going through exactly that! They may be in need of your presence! We’re not here in Church as individuals. This isn’t television Church that you can watch all by yourself with no connection to other people. This is the true Church where the body of Christ lives. When you come here Sunday morning, remember that there are those who are going to be here who need you!

Each one of us needs to take Church attendance very seriously. Because each one of us is always needed. And we never know when our presence will be especially meaningful to and needed by someone else! We are giving of ourselves to others here, if only by our presence. That is so important!!!

I know there have been times in my life when I wondered why I was in Church. When I was sorting out all this “faith stuff” as a young person (a younger person, that is!) I wondered why I did this. And to this day, I can still picture in my mind those people sitting around me those days at Carmel Church. I know somehow it was so important to be surrounded by them in those questioning times.

Maybe it’s somebody near you, maybe it’s you, who is going through a time of questioning, or perhaps has reached a crisis of faith. Maybe you find yourself wondering why you’re here. Maybe things aren’t going so well. Maybe you feel like you’ve been a failure in your faith. Maybe you feel like the stranger. Let me assure you that you’re in the right place! Just making the effort to come here shows that you are seeking God.

Those words we read from Jeremiah are still true today, thousands of years later. “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. Then you will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Strangers or no, seek God with all of your heart. This is the place to start. If you are far from him, move closer. Put yourself in a position where God can speak to you. Know that you were created to be in relationship with him! Humble yourself before him. Seek his face. That’s when God will tell you most meaningfully, that you are no longer strangers!

Prayer.

Eternal God, creator of all things, we want to know you more. We want to seek you with all of our hearts. Touch us, we ask. Make us to feel your presence. Strengthen and deepen our relationship with you. Help us to live our lives in your presence, becoming more and more like Christ, our Lord, in whose name we pray, Amen.

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