I want you to think back to your high school days. That might be easier for some, or harder. It might bring back pleasant memories, or painful ones. But we all know that in high school, there was generally two groups. There may have been lots of different groups, but in general, they broke down to two main groups – the In crowd, and the out crowd. Which one were you in?
I know that for me, I was most certainly in the out crowd. I wasn’t one of the popular kids. I didn’t fit in. And try as I might to try to get in with the popular crowd, I most certainly never did. I didn’t have the right look, the right speech, the right hair, the right interests, whatever it was that I needed to be part of that crowd, I didn’t have it.
Now, you might see similarities in our society today. There are the in crowd and the out crowd. Those favoured by society, and those despised by society. Those who have it and those who don’t – whatever it is. I’m reminded of a scene from the Simpsons, where Abe Simpsons says “I used to be with it, but then they changed what *it* was. Now what I’m with isn’t *it*, and what’s *it* seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you…” Whatever is it now, will eventually be not it later. Keeping up with it is difficult, unfulfilling and eventually not worth your time.
When Paul was writing to the Ephesians, there was a similar debate happening about who was in and who was not. Who had it, and who didn’t… or more so, who didn’t have it and who did have it. When Paul talks about “the uncircumcision” – he’s talking about the Gentiles, those who had come to believe in Christ, but didn’t live according to the law of Moses. “The Circumcision” on the other hand were Jews, who had lived with the Law their entire lives, or Gentiles who had adopted the law. And Paul is writing to the Ephesians and addresses this issue.
The Law of Moses was designed in order to keep the Israelites separate from those around them. You look through the laws and we can see that separateness that is evident. And when Christ came, we could see that some people went on following the law, wanting to keep themselves separate – separate again from the Jews, and from those that didn’t believe. And then there’s a group that came to Christ, not knowing the law of Moses, but still believed and still followed what Christ taught.
So you’ve got the “in crowd” – those who were following the law to the letter, who argued that unless you followed the law to the letter you couldn’t be in. And then you’ve got the out crowd – those who still believed in Christ, and did what Christ said, but didn’t know or follow the law of Moses. Now the “in crowd” didn’t want the “out crowd” to be part of their faith, because they didn’t follow the laws that were meant to keep them separate.
But Paul writes to the Ephesians, and says to them “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (NRSV, 2:13-14)
Now, blood of Christ can be a bit of an icky subject for those who are new to faith, and aren’t up to terms with all the theological imagery that is evident throughout the bible. But basically, what it means is that when Christ was crucified, his death tore the curtain in the temple in two. It brought God out from the temple, and into the world, and has brought unity to the world. Paul is saying that it is through our common belief in Christ as Messiah that we are united as one group – as followers of Christ. Now, notice that through the rest of the passage, while Paul states that we are one group, he continues to refer to both. Verse 16 says that Christ, through what was done on the Cross, “might reconcile both groups to God in one body”. Verse 17 says “He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Verse 18 “both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
What Paul is saying is that while there are still those who believe in following the law of Moses, and those who don’t follow it, that there’s still the “in crowd” and the “out crowd” – because of what Christ has done, we actually can all come together as one crowd – the Christ Crowd. Through Christ, whether we’re in the “in crowd” or the “out crowd” doesn’t matter – because Christ, through his death on the cross, brings us together, “no longer strangers and aliens, but… citizens with the saints and… members of the household of God.”
So what does that mean for us? What does that mean for us today? Well, what it means is that no matter who we are, we are all welcome in the house of God. Do you like old, traditional hymns? Fantastic. Do you prefer the newer contemporary worship songs? Great! We’re all welcome in the house of God.
Do you live according to the laws of Moses? Wonderful. Do you find yourself falling asleep reading through Leviticus, but still try to live according to Christ’s teachings? Excellent. We’re all a part of the body of Christ.
Have you been following Christ’s footsteps since you were knee-high to a grasshopper? Awesome. Have you just come to an understanding that God loves you? Magnificent! Whether we’re young or old Christians, we all share in the one God.
We have our differences, that’s sure. And the reality is that we can always discuss them. However, when it comes down to it – Do we all believe in God? Yes. Do we all believe in Jesus? Yes. Do we all believe that because Christ died, we are able to believe that we are forgiven and set free? Yes. Together, we are all one family, joined together in Christ, and together, despite our differences, Christ lives within us all.
So today, how are you going to respond to Christ calling you? Are you going to accept his invitation to come and join the Christ crowd, the one that is open to all, one that is embracing of our differences, knowing that it makes it stronger? Or are you going to stick to your guns, thinking that you are right, not Christ? Maybe you’ve felt excluded all your life, and you’ve heard of this God who loves all, who accepts all, and who is open to all. Come as you are, and open yourself to the one who is open to you – just as you are. Maybe you can think of a time where you’ve deliberately excluded someone from the body of Christ. Come as you are, acknowledging our weaknesses, to the one who is above all, and who is open to all. Maybe you are aware of a time where you haven’t shared the Gospel, fearing that others may exclude you because of your faith and belief. Come as you are, to the God who is stronger than any fear. Come and join the Christ crowd. Jesus is inviting you in today.
Jesus is calling you to come, as you are. Inviting you to lay down your burdens, your shame, your hurt and your heart. Whatever Jesus is speaking to you today, don’t let it be ignored. Don’t feel like this place of prayer is closed to you, because it is open to all. Those who need mercy, those who need guidance, those who want to just come and to spend some time in the presence of God. Just as Christ invites us all to the Christ crowd, you are invited here.
We’re going to listen to this song, Come as you are by Dave Crowder. It speaks of how no matter where we’ve come from, we can all come and lay down our lives at the foot of the cross. If we’ve wandered far from here, then we are always welcome home. That there’s hope for all, rest for all, and nothing that God cannot do. During this song, if you wish to come down to the mercy seat and spend time in prayer for whatever Christ is saying to you, then come.