"Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." - Ruth 1:16
You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. - Ephesians 2:19
Two-year reading texts: Psalm 33:6-11; Ezra 5:1-6:12; Acts 28:17-31
Life is hard; it's good to have family we can count on, to help us get through the challenges. The power of Christian community - being part of God's household, God's family, together - is one of the things that we overlook and take for granted in the church today, at least in our part of the world. Around the end of my time in seminary, when people asked what was the most important thing I learned, that's what I would tell them: That we are never Christians alone. We are formed in faith by the "great cloud of witnesses" who have also traveled the paths of faith. We are upheld, supported, and loved by the church gathered and sent. And in living our faith, we also have the privilege of seeing God work through us to benefit many others.
It's ironic that in today's reading from Ezra, God's people who are rebuilding Jerusalem reject offers of help from neighboring people. This is interpreted as a good thing by the writer. At that time in Israel's history, they had suffered greatly from being led astray by foreign gods and customs, and felt that purity of belief and behavior and even biology were essential. The rejection of the offer causes some political backlash that has to be overcome.
Then, in the Acts 28 reading, the last section of this book, in fact the very last piece of the history of God's people in all the Bible, we end with Paul having reached Rome, waiting for his hearing before Caesar with some time to keep telling the story of Jesus. Some of his hearers believe, some don't. And Paul now picks up the prophet Isaiah's words about this kind of rejection, noting that outsiders will continue to hear and be saved, when insiders won't receive God's healing.
The determination of who is IN and who is OUT of the family is not really about biology. It's about receiving God's good news, internalizing it, letting it change us, and becoming a "new creation," bearing a new identity as a member of the body of Christ.
In my own life, I'm thankful for all the ways people have loved me and my relatives, and thankful for the opportunities I've had to learn and grow and serve, and play a part in helping others to grow in their own ways. I'm grateful to be part of this family. And still, every week in this ministry, I'm amazed to see new life and new growth among all kinds of people, in all kinds of settings, as the love of God is made known and lives are changed.
May the blessings of the household and family of God be yours as well!
|Part of God's family, at the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit|