Have you ever spent some time after Sunday worship, just standing and looking around the sanctuary as people leave? If you’ve never done it, try it out; we bet you’ll see something wonderful. You will see knots of people standing or walking slowly together out of the sanctuary–deep in conversation. Parents of children the same age chatting; an older adult complimenting the singing of a young child; a member welcoming a new visitor; the youth swapping stories. All around the sanctuary, and outside the doors, probably all the way to the parking lot, you’ll see the same phenomenon. This is what it looks like to be church.
When we think of how the church is “odd,” or differs from the ways of the world, we may first think of cultural things – liturgy, music, or art. Yet it is our stated goal – striving to be worthy of the gospel – that sets us apart. In our culture, we’re encouraged to look after ourselves, our families and our communities first, and then help others. We need to make sure we are “secure” in all the ways we can be – safety, financially, future plans. Followers of Jesus Christ are instead to put others first before thinking of ourselves. We are told that the lilies of the valley and the birds in the air, that do not have a 401(k), are taken care of… so how much more will God look after us?
This outward-looking attitude does not come naturally, is not easy, and requires trust and discipline. It means we pay attention to those around us, not only the ones we know. We notice how amazing people are by talking to each other and by creating friendships. Those friendships are also built on a strong foundation of shared hope and action. Who doesn’t want to be around people who believe the world can be made better through love and who then go and love the world?
As we read through and learn from Ephesians together, we are learning about a beloved community that has people from all walks of life, languages and lands of birth. They are drawn together by this call to love as God loves, because it is that love lived out that brought them together. So, look around and be reminded of God’s love in all of those clusters of people gathered here and there, excited to talk and to spend time together. Look around and see how we are no longer strangers, we are beloved community.