She was a Russian school teacher living in Central Asia. My husband and I had taken a team of college students to help some of the Christian workers there by leading intensive English seminars for students and teachers. Like many of the former Soviet Republics, the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union had seen a dramatic power shift. After chafing for decades under Soviet control, the ethnic people had assumed power. Their language was now the national language; their religion the national religion. The two groups co-existed, but they didn’t mingle. They spoke different languages. They ate different foods. They worshipped different gods. They lived side-by-side, but there was a wall between them.
I think sometimes we read past the passages about Jews and Gentiles in the early church and grossly underestimate the seismic shift that it took to reconcile the two groups into a united church. Israel’s devotion to the law defined them as a people and kept them separate from the nations around them. The law defined every aspect of life–the foods they ate, the clothes they wore, how they washed the dishes, how they handled their money and treated the poor. They regarded Gentiles as immoral sinners and were repulsed by many Gentile customs.
It took time, but eventually the first Jewish believers came to understand that God’s plans were bigger than they had imagined. God showed no partiality, but was seeking worshipers for himself from every nation. And yet, even with that understanding, can you picture the transformation that it must have taken for Jews and Gentiles to worship together? A faithful Jew wouldn’t go into a Gentile home because it could make them unclean. Jews refused to eat with Gentiles. Gentiles were not permitted into the temple–a riot broke out because of a rumor Paul had taken Gentiles into the temple’s inner courts. Now, in the church, Jews and Gentiles were united into one body. They worshipped together in homes. They ate together. They sought the Lord together.
Only God could have pulled it off. It was the heartbeat of Paul’s message. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6). Paul saw that Christ had thrown the door wide open. All are welcome. All have access to God in Christ. All stand in need of grace. There are no second class saints.
I wonder who today needs to hear that message that the gospel is for them? Who needs to hear that they are welcome? Who needs to know that they aren’t relegated to the back row? That they aren’t a second class citizen of the kingdom? That we share together in the promise of Christ? That there is no more barrier, no dividing wall. God’s grace is big enough for everyone.
I don’t have all the answers. But there’s something in me that hungers for more–that believes church can be greater than we sometimes settle for. I long to see what it looks like when God shows up and moves. All I know to do is to take the longing to God and offer it up as a sacrifice to him, believing that somehow it’s from him anyway.
And so I pray.
Lord, your kingdom come and your will be done. Make us one in you. May we be a people of grace and gathering; a people who seek out the harvest. Make us willing to lay aside our own traditions and tastes to pursue a people who have been excluded and forgotten. Remind us that there are no insignificant souls; no second class saints. Open our eyes to the harvest Lord. And may your presence be manifested among us. Amen.
Pray with me.
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