“No Longer Strangers”
Today we welcomed little Adley Harris into the family of Jesus Christ! Adley is adopted as a child of God, heir to the Kingdom of Heaven. She is a full member of God’s family. She has, of course, done nothing to earn this great gift and honor. It is purely by the grace of God, through the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that she joins her sister Paisley and the rest of [us] [this motley bunch] here at Zion.
The faith is passed on from Adley’s parents who have promised Jesus to raise her in the Christian faith. It would be interesting to learn just how far back on the family tree that faith in Jesus goes. I would love to learn that about my family tree.
Many of us cannot remember a time when we did not know about Jesus or know Him as our Lord and Savior. But sadly, the Christian faith isn’t being passed on like it has been in the past. Many are falling away from Christ; many simply do not know or believe.
St. Paul in our Ephesians lesson is writing to remind the Christians in Ephesus that at one time they too were lost and without the saving grace of Jesus. He says that at one time they were without Christ, aliens and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God.
It may seem foreign to us, but that’s the case with many people over the years and can easily become the case as succeeding generations fall away from faith. Paul is reminding them of who they were before they knew the Lord.
Then Paul goes on to remind them of who they are now. With Christ in their lives, they have a peace that has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between God and humanity. God has removed the barrier that has kept us from God: sin. God has placed faith in Jesus as the key to the Kingdom and our eternal salvation.
Paul also reminds us of who we are. Today, we celebrate Adley’s baptism because we know that she will now be in the care and love of God throughout her life. And we are reminded that passing on the faith is one of the most important things we do. We are reminded that it takes effort to continue in faith: parents, sponsors, grandparents, the Church are all important pieces to Adley’s growth in faith and her understanding of the faith she is given.
From time to time, we receive new members into the fellowship of believers here at Zion. Do you know how they are able to join? Do they have to pass a quiz? Are they from a certain political persuasion? Or possibly a certain national origin? What about other things such as: skin color, sexual orientation, economic status? Do we look at their criminal record for DWI’s, jail time, or if they are a sex offender?
No. We ask them to profess their faith in Christ Jesus along with us. We accept people based solely on their faith in Christ Jesus.
Now we do everything possible to keep our congregation safe and ensure a healthy worship time and faith-building experience for everyone. Our Safe Church Team has established a Sex Offender Policy document which is very detailed. In the event that someone with a background as a sex offender wants to worship here, we have a document with policies in place to help ensure a safe worship experience for everyone.
This is the nature of our faith. We are welcomed to God’s House & God’s Acres based on faith even though we sin, and our sin condemns us to death. But we also welcome those who do not yet believe or have not learned about Jesus. We want to share our faith and our worship experience. People who have had a traumatic life and don’t know Jesus, or need the Church to show Christian love, kindness, and hope to all.
Is it always easy to accept or welcome others into the family of Zion? When we don’t agree with someone’s past or lifestyle it can be difficult. When we have had disagreements or conflicts with someone, it might be hard to accept them as sisters or brothers in Christ.
One of the stories shared with me when I first came here was from a couple I visited when I was getting to know the congregation. The husband had a problem with alcohol which must have been pretty well known. They were absent from church while he was drinking. After he had gone through treatment and was trying to get his life back together, they decided to go back to church. Their first Sunday back they overheard a couple in the row behind them whisper something to the effect of, “What does he think he’s doing here?! He doesn’t belong in church!”
Obviously, that hurt them deeply, being judged in such a harsh way. We talked about this and they decided to come back and give it another try. Things went well for them and they became regular attending members for the entire time they lived here.
Christ’s family, the Church, is an extremely diverse group of folks. We are much more accepting with certain things these days, but there are still things that would be very controversial.
How do we avoid the church—the congregation of believers—looking just like us? Sometimes people with different experiences or backgrounds just don’t feel comfortable here. Sometimes our worship experience is not what others may be looking for and they feel more comfortable somewhere else. Sometimes our church polity gets in the way and some folks just can’t be a part of that.
Those are all reasons why there are different denominations and different expressions of worshipping. We’re not all comfortable with the same worship experience.
But yet, we invite. We still invite and welcome people of different ethnic backgrounds, social or economic backgrounds, and folks who may be different from us in some way. It can be difficult to have a diverse ethnic congregation, for instance, when most folks look like us. We keep an open heart and mind for those who come looking for a church home, or even just looking to hear about Jesus and His love.
We are God’s people through our baptism into Christ Jesus. We are loved and accepted as we are, because Christ died that all might believe in Him. We welcome all into Zion’s fellowship because ultimately this is not our church. It is God’s Church and God has opened the Kingdom for all believers in Christ. This is an enormous gift of Grace that we all share.
Thanks be to God!