“At the center of all of this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (Ephesians 1 Message)In between my unpacking and settling in, I'm reading through Ephesians. Recently, I’ve been struck by the idea that this living-together-in-the-Kingdom—being “church”—is overriding and paramount when it comes to God’s continual move to redeem his Creation. In particular, I love how Paul underscores this as he leads us from how God’s move in Jesus is part of this beautiful plan to bring everything back to him to what that looks like and means as we relate to each other and those around us.
It’s in Jesus, Paul reminds us, that we can finally begin to get what we live for—this return to walking with the God (One full of a Love that is un-plum-able) who created us and everything else (Eph. 1). But in bringing he and us together, something else happened: he brings us and others together, too. These movements are inextricably and organically related. As a result, as the wall is down between us and God, the wall between us and others is down too; everything we are together is soaked in Jesus and “permeated with Oneness” (Eph. 3-4).
This doesn’t mean, says Paul, that we all “look and speak and act the same” (Eph. 4). We aren’t Stepford believers; to the contrary, we are fully freed to exude the gifts and unique expressions of Jesus that we are—as men and women, outsiders and insiders, husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters, neighbors and strangers. We’re a rag-tag, mingled, banding-together family of strikingly different—even poles apart—folks living-together in extravagant joy and love and Christ-likeness. How can that not be a more perfect expression of Jesus?!
If I’m reading Paul right, this kind of living-together takes place outside what we call “church” today. Paul tells his friends to “get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel” (Eph. 4). Be honest with your neighbor, he says. Don’t go to bed angry. Watch the way you talk. Make the most of every chance you get. Don’t live carelessly. Watch how you husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters treat each other. Paul is talking everyday, every minute moments, the nitty-gritty relationships in life. These are the ones that make up Kingdom living-together—not Sunday mornings and a Wednesday night study in a building.
I hunger for this Kingdom-living-together, this walking in such a walls-down way that Jesus “fills everything with his presence.” As I’ve blogged over the last year, I’ve experienced far too little of it. Living this way has nothing to do with (as Paul puts it) our "natural abilities" and everything to do with God (Eph. 3). I think it must require a mass steadfast trusting in Jesus, that he is working his grace and love in us and between us and into the world around us even in the midst of and through what might seem like an unlikely and randomly crossing band of brothers and sisters. Without that, don’t you think we fall too easily into our "natural abilities," trying to fit each other into boxes we can neatly tie up—and pushing out those we can’t? Without that radical trust, don’t you think we slip into the robes of the Pharisees and religious rulers who projected their ideas and visions of what God’s kingdom looks like—and what those who live in it look like—on the world around them? And doesn’t that squelch the beauty of what God can and does do?
Paul’s first part of this letter underlines that this kind of living-together oozes from a walking and relationship with Jesus. It is a kind of side-effect, ripple or natural element of being a follower of Jesus. It’s intentioned by God. He wants it there. It’s part of his plan and Kingdom-coming. It’s part of his love and ache to bring his Creation back into relationship with him. Oh, Lord, let it be so here-and-now. Free your children to live-together as Jesus’ body, “in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” Let it be so with me. Amen.
(Image: by Roger McLassus, Wikipedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)