Ephesians 2: 11-22
‘You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are members of God’s household.’ This is the Good News that Paul is proclaiming in his letter to the Ephesians: it’s the good news of the Gospel: that we who were once strangers have now come to live in God’s home. And this has all happened through the gift of Christ’s dying for us on the Cross. The Cross, for Paul, is the most wonderful expression of God’s generous love for us, and the most radical expression of God’s extraordinary hospitality.
A few months ago, I was living in Colombia. And whoever it was I stayed with showed me extraordinary hospitality. The first thing they invariably said to me by way of welcome was that wonderful Spanish phrase, ‘Mi casa es su casa’: ‘my home is your home’. And Paul is telling us in this letter that God’s generosity is so overflowing, that he longs for each one of us, whoever we are, whether we feel like a stranger, or unworthy, God longs for us to ‘come home’, to come and live with God forever. You could say that the whole Gospel is about God inviting and welcoming each one of us with these gracious words, ‘Mi casa es su casa’: ‘my home is your home.’ Jesus came to offer us that very invitation. In John’s Gospel chapter 14, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘In my father’s house there are many rooms. I am going to prepare a place for you, and then I will come and take you there, so that where I am you may be also.’ ‘Mi casa es su casa!’ God’s extraordinary hospitality. And look who he invites! All sorts; tax collectors, outcasts, sinners, like you and me. ‘Let them all come in. There’s room for everyone in my house’.
I found inspiration recently, in of all things, The Edicts of Ashoka, ancient inscriptions written by Emperor Ashoka of India in the third century before the common era. They represent some of the oldest examples we have of what today we might call interfaith dialogue. For the most part, Emperor Ashoka is waxing eloquent on a newly arrived faith tradition called “Buddhism.” However, he also spends some time speaking about other religious traditions. Here’s some of what he wrote:
“The beloved of the gods… [he referred to himself in the third person that way] values this – that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause… it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one’s own religion and the religions of others… The beloved of the gods… desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions… And the fruit of this is that one’s own religion grows…”
With these words, Emperor Ashoka provides one of our first references to religious pluralism, suggesting a relationship beyond peaceful coexistence, towards finding essential wisdom in traditions not one’s own, and perhaps finding an underlying truth common to all traditions. Whatever his precise intention, the relationship between diverse faith traditions and their various truth claims has remained an important issue throughout our history.
God is one, and the many religions of the world are like many paths up the same mountain, or like many rivers emptying into one great ocean. Then again, maybe not. Maybe God is not one, in the sense that religions are so radically different in their beliefs, practices, their understanding of the human condition and the nature of reality that any talk of oneness threatens to gloss over some very important distinctions, distinctions that define who we are as Christians.
The question of how religions of the world understand and relate to each other is an important one, especially in today’s world where religious violence and harassment continue to rise, a world that cries out for more interfaith tolerance and cooperation. Of course, this is hardly a new problem. In our reading from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians we’re reminded of the tensions between the gentiles and Jews of long ago. Today, however, with the world seeming ever smaller, our opportunities to encounter those of different religious traditions has grown in ways Paul could never have imagined.
Eph. 2:11-22/Psalm 85:8-13/Luke 12:35-38
Paul speaks elsewhere of being “in Christ”. “In him we live and move and have our being.” [Acts 17:28] “…we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” [Eph:4:15] The phrase, “in Christ”, has often fascinated me, so I’d like to ponder what it may mean. Being “in Christ” may be one of those mysteries best comprehended without words in contemplation. But it of our nature to attempt to contain ineffable mysteries in our poor words. A poet [Alexander Pope] once said, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread…” But I’m undeterred.
So what does it mean to be “in Christ”? I’d like to explore this in reference to the passage from Ephesians we heard this evening and also in reference to an extraordinary document produced by the recent Synod of Roman Catholic bishops: the “Relatio post disceptationem”, specifically, the first draft version that came out about a week ago.