When I was a teenager I remember going out to pizza hut with my family, and as we waited to order our pizza we started doing that thing I'm sure you all do - looking around the room at all the different people eating their pizza trying to work out things about them. I remember there was one group in the corner who immediately stood out because they seemed such a random group of people. There was a middle aged man who was well dressed, a young pregnant lady and her husband and , some teenagers who looked wearing black eye make-up, a couple of Chinese girls, and my brother looked at them and said – they must be Christians.
He said there's no other explanation for why such a random group of people, would be hanging out together – its looks weird he said – they must be Christians.
I wonder have you ever noticed that same trend – maybe in this church or another – that diversity of people from so many different backgrounds and ages and social groups who seem to call themselves Christians
And have you ever asked – exactly why is that?
What is it about churches that would cause such a diverse group of people to get together regularly every week to spend time with people who for the most part seem to have nothing on the surface in common with each other?
I think the answer to that question is what we're looking at this morning as we consider whether or not church is really relevant to us in the 21st century and its in that passage we had read earlier which is from a letter that a guy called Paul wrote to a church a bit like this one in the first century.
In this passage Paul gives us the big reason why church IS relevant and why it stands out on the surface as this seemingly odd group of people, who get together – its in vs19
"Consequently you (the church) are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household or more literally – members of God's family"
If Paul had been having pizza with me and my brother, he would have said Lewis, the reason that unlikely group of people are all sharing a meal together is quite simple
It's because they are family.
I want us to notice 2 main things and the first is this:
God's family is a family that accepts each other
In this passage Paul is addressing two distinct groups of people in this church he's writing to and the groups are: Jews and Gentiles.
The Jews – They were the nation of people God had related to in a special way in the old testament – who he'd built a relationships with - who he had given his law to – his instructions about how to live
And the Gentiles – they were who were basically everyone else.
And while God's plan was always that the Jews would show the rest of the world how they could know God, this difference in how the Jews and the Gentiles had instead led to an incredible separation between the two groups.
These were two distinct group of people who stuck to their own, kept themselves to themselves and didn't mix with each other. There was the in group who said – we are living the right way, we believe the right thing when it comes to God – we have his law – we follow the rules
And the out group who didn't have or follow God's law, and so, seemingly were far away and to be looked down on.
This privilege of having the law – God's right way of living had become a massive barrier between these two groups because one had it and one didn't
Which makes what Paul says from vs 12 incredible:
"– remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship In Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world
But Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ
"For he himself (that is Jesus) is our peace, who has made the two (groups) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments ad regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and in this one body to reconcile them both to God through the cross."
Paul is saying God has formed a new group of people not on the basis of:
What country they're from
Or what gender they are
Or what football team they support
Or even how good at keeping the rules of the group they are.
In fact this group is not formed based on any merit or privilege of anyone
This is not on the basis of anything they are in themselves or what they've done, but on the basis of something God has done on their behalf.
He's saying that when Jesus died on the cross he destroyed the thing that separated the Jews and the Gentiles – how –
By making a new way to know God – not on the basis of which group you're in, on how well you follow the commandments
But on the basis of Jesus' dying to pay the price for everyone who couldn't follow the law and so couldn't have a relationship with God.
He's saying that by trusting in Jesus' death, anyone Jew or Gentile, from either group can be vs 16 reconciled to God.
Vs 18 sums it up nicely – "For through him we BOTH have access to the Father by one spirit"
Which means vs 19 says Paul
we are FAMILY –and God's family is a family that accepts each other
A few years ago I played football on the worst of football pitches, it was basically a mud bath. But the brilliant thing was no matter how good you thought you were at football, everyone started from the same place, because on this football pitch everyone was made equal.
It meant everyone was accepted into the game
we even let girls play ;-)
Look back up to verse 8 with me
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith then vs 9 – NOT by works, so that no-one can boast."
Paul says – it doesn't matter how good you think you are,
your relationship with God is through grace, not through anything you've done which means there is no grounds for boasting or exclusion of anyone.
You can't look at someone else and think you shouldn't be here, you don't belong in this group
You can't look at anyone else and think – I shouldn't be here, I don't belong, I'm not good enough
If you're new to our church and investigating these things please don't think Christianity is for a certain type of person – from a certain race, or background, or social class
And if you've ever been made to feel like that isn't the case by Christians and by people here in this church then can I deeply apologise.
This is a family which you are welcome to be a part of wherever you're from
Whataver you're like as a person
Whatever you've done or haven't done
Because you don't join a family by obeying a set of rules, or dressing a certain way do you – but some people think that's what it means to be a Christian.
Its not through anything you do
Its through what someone else has done – your parents
And its your relationship with your parents – that determines you relationship to your brothers and sisters – who have the same parents.
Paul is saying that in the church Jesus has not simply created a new club or institution with shares interest
He's saying Jesus has he has fused us together as family, he has made us brothers and sisters.
I don't know if you've been watching the six nations rugby, if you're English then I hope you haven't been
But in the 6 nations we see 6 teams divided by race battling it out to be the best.
But every now and then they come together and form the British Lions which is a team made up from all those countries
They take off their individual national shirts and they put on the shirt of the British Lions, they
become a group with the same identity, united, no longer opposed to each other
The question is then – will they play in a way that reflects their new identity?
If we are a Christian here this morning then we are sitting here this morning as part of God's family
The only question is – what kind of family member are you going to be?
This is also
A family that shares lives with each other
One of the things I struggled with in preparing this message was which passage to use to talk about God's family
Because written large across every page of the NT is the assumption that if we are Christians then we are to treat each other in our local church as literal family.
It is assumed on every page of the new testament
Which means brilliantly that when start to think that way
and read the NT it starts to fire our imaginations as to what this family can look like in real life
and in the life of this chruch
Have a listen to some of these selected verses:
"Be devoted to one another"
"Honor one another "
"Live in harmony with one another…"
"Accept one another,
"…instruct one another"
"…Serve one another"
15. "Carry each other's burdens…"
18. "…Be patient, with each other"
19. "Be kind and compassionate to one another…"
20. "…forgiving each other…"
24. "Do not lie to each other…"
30. "Encourage one another" (
35. "Don't grumble against each other"
37. "…Pray for each other"
41. "Offer hospitality to one another
44. "Love one another"
We get some kind of idea as to just how radical this looks like if we consider that second reading we had from the book of Acts which describes what the first Christian community looked like and did you notice how incredible it was?
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praiging God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who ere being saved."
Do we see how seriously the first Christians took the truth that they were one new family?
They shred their lives. Literally – when someone was in need, they helped them out. They provided for each other even at great cost to themselves.
When we start to think like this we see that this is something that can't be done simply over a cup of coffee for a half an hour after church – although it's a great place to start.
Living in a family is a whole new identity and way of living.
Now I'm not suggesting that we have to all move in together like some cult, we don't have to sell our houses and give all the money to Rod
But this is an example of what happens when people grasp the fact that first and foremost in Jesus we have been made one incredible family.
See when I consider my family, there are big signs that we are a family:
Financial support from my parents while us kids were at uni
The fact that we share a house
The time my brother stood up for my at school in a fight
But actually its in the little things that you really see it
The fact that we are interested in each others lives, we're involved in each others lives
The fact that when a job needs doing we all assume a responsibility
The fact that we bear each others burdens and also celebrate together something good that happens
That we eat meals together, that's where you see the everyday blessing of being a family member.
So we should ask ourselves here this morning – isn't this a family we want to be part of.
I don't know what your experience is of family, whether it's a happy and warm
Or whether even that word brings up painful feelings for you because family life for you has been hard in your life
The truth is that human families however great are always flawed and ultimately never last forever
But God's family is the only family that lasts forever, that brings real blessing now and forever because the head of the family is God who saves us and will love us in Jesus forever
And what's more – that's where other people see the incredible blessing of being part of God's family
Did you notice in that passage in Acts vs 47
they enjoyed the favour of all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved.
This is a family that accepts each other and shares lives with each other and therefore finally and very briefly
A family which shows the world what God is like
This is a family where people are welcome to visit
And when they do they get a taste for what God is like because God is a God who accepts anyone on the basis of Jesus death and who generously shares everything he has with people who don't deserve it.
Which means as god's family reflects him and his values people can see. This is a family like no other because God is a God like no other. This is a family that shows the world what God is like.
It sounds so simple doesn't it yet the reality of it is so incredible. God's family accepts each other and God's family shares its life with each other
In a few moments we are going to take communion, and this is a great way to apply this principle because communion is essentially a celebration meal – and sharing meals is what families do isn't it. It's a meal where we celebrate the death of Jesus and the fact that it brings us into relationship with God and with each other.
So lets remember as we do that this is a meal we enjoy together as God's family, remembering what God has done for us together – as a family
And as we can I ask you:
Are you part of this family which has an open invitation to anyone? Are you trusting Jesus this morning to bring you into God's family, not through anything you have done but because of what he has done.
Are you a guest here this morning at our family meeting, looking in on us sharing taking communion - you're very welcome – but why not use this as a chance to think where do you stand with God and with his family.
But secondly –if you've been coming here for a while and you would call yourself a Christian, as we share this meal with those around us, why not reflect
What kind of family member are you?
What could it look like to share your life with your family this week?
Thnkyou that in Jesus you have broken down all the division that would seperate us from each other and from you
Thankyou that you have made us into your family
Thankyou for our family here at HTG and all the opportunities we have to share our lvies with each other
We confess we often struggle to accept each other the way as brothers and sisters and live like it but we pray you would so fill us with a vision of your family and the blessings of being in it that we would be a great sign to the watching world of what you're like
For Jesus sake