Coloring Outside the Lines: Ephesians 2: 1-22

scribbles-series-1-1076830-mI still remember being tattled on in kindergarten. We were busy coloring and I could see my picture clearly needed blue sky and was busy doing that when one of my table mates tapped my picture, declaring, “she’s coloring outside of the lines!” I was told to abandon my sky and to finish the picture. I didn’t put up a fuss – I wish I could finish this story by telling you I threw a fit and got into more trouble, but I didn’t.

In last week’s letter to the Ephesians, we read and heard that God had a plan long before we were around and that we were and are part of it. This week we jump to the 2nd chapter and hear and read that God’s plans were necessary because we’re so good at running away from God and pushing other people away in the name of God. We’re good at creating great divides, huge chasms, uncrossable terrain. So God’s plan was to send Jesus to demolish lines we draw, walls we construct, divisions we imagine, create, or highlight. God sent Jesus so that we’d see Jesus not only in our own actions but in those of people we meet, even strangers. Especially strangers.

Back when this letter was being written, Jews and non-jews (called Gentiles) had strict laws. They weren’t to socialize much less extend a hand in friendship. Christianity was started amongst Jews and now was spreading to non-Jews, so there was great argument about who was in or should be in and who was out or should be out.

Not a lot has changed since then in that regard, huh? There is a reason we pray some version of the prayer for the stranger every week. Well, really, there are many reasons we pray it week after week, month after month. It seems God knew we’d be good at not seeing Jesus in people we don’t know or like. Even in the church. Or maybe especially in the church.

My sermon prep this week has been done in the din of the commercial building at the McLeod County fair, shaking hands, smiling, talking, listening, eating fair food. For those of you that aren’t aware, the fair has come to town and is wrapping up as we gather here tonight for worship. River of Hope had a booth with a giant root beer float as our centerpiece. Brian Tillmann created a fun game, Sara Pollmann recruited all ya’ll to be at the booth, and Terry and Warren Kempfert created that giant root beer float.

Just yesterday morning, I stood with a person who was looking closely at our float. (The float looks like the one on the front of your bulletin only it’s 7 feet tall and has lots more words floating around in it.) She had just read the article in the paper about gay marriage and our church being open to gay people. As she stood and looked at the float, she said, “Oh, wait. I see myself in there. I’m a nerd, I get cranky, I have questions, I’m a coffee snob. So you’re open to all people including gay people?” Yep, I said.

We are so used to these lines that to say this community is open to trying to love all people in the name of Jesus is simply hard to fathom, to get our heads around. Worse yet, to get our hearts around.

Because it’s hard to love people. It’s hard to love the people you already love, much less all these other folks we’re called to love, to treat as friends instead of hostile, threatening strangers. It’s easier to draw lines, come up with reasons to shut out a person’s entire life.

We’re used to these lines – we’re used to being suspect of people. I got to practice crossing these lines all week by handing out root beer floats to people. We are not used to being offered something for free – we always look for the string, the catch, something that’s going to bite us in the butt later had we only scrutinized it long enough to not be made a fool of.

We gave root beer floats to everyone this week, it didn’t matter who they were. Some reactions were excited and gleeful from simple exclamations of “yes!” and “well, sure” or “well how ‘bout that!” Other folks would keep walking, stop, look incredulously at me, and then walk over and say “really?” Some would say no, keep walking, stop, turn around and come back. Some would rub their bellys and confess to me their intake of fair food and say they were too full. Some would tell me all they ate and then take the root beer float. Some would politely decline or just keep walking, avoiding eye contact. I got one eye roll.

It was awesome do this, to be this line-crosser. The scoopers and root beer pourers were joyful if not sweaty as they cranked out float after float. I stood out in the flow of people, inviting people, handing out floats, having just about every kind of conversation you could have. All the time, this scripture from Ephesians was alive and well in my mind and in my heart. I practiced it, again and again. And it was hard. Some people were tired and rude. Others were unappreciative or impatient as they waited in line. Some were certain they deserved the float long before I handed it to them. Some were there and gone so quick, it was like they hadn’t been there at all. Others were joyful and fun. Most were thankful. Everyone got a root beer float.

Now for those of you who are curious, this year at the fair was not debate camp. We didn’t have folks lining up to argue with us about politics or sexuality. Instead, one morning there was a tiny little note taped to one of our tables with 2 Bible verses scribbled on it. They were line-drawing verses. They were brick wall building verses. These were verses to estrange. These were verses plucked out of a larger narrative. It was someone passive aggressively tapping on our table saying “you’re coloring outside the lines. You’re doing it wrong.” No blue sky, no cheap grace. God’s love can’t be for just anyone, right?

Which is what we’re known for as the church, as Christians. We’re known for drawing lines. Again and again, we’d explain to people that if they signed up to win the gift certificate to Zella’s, we wouldn’t call them non-stop or email them incessantly or try to convince them to join our church. Unless, of course, they wanted me to call. Then, fine. One lady simply said, “I didn’t grow up in the church – I don’t go to church – I don’t really like church” and we said, “ok, that’s fine. But you eat, right?”

To cross lines is dangerous, which is why Jesus came to do it first, and then invites us to keep doing it. The collision of Beer & Hymns crosses lines like crazy. So often, the reaction people have to this joining of 2 things is to laugh – those 2 things can’t possibly go together, right? And we say, why not? Yet, the intersection of bar and church, of bar and God’s love have already shown to have great power in reaching out to people who would never darken the door of a church; to those who would treat the bar as church.

Another story from this week involves our office administrator, Shyann. A month or so ago, we got a phone call and an email from a young woman moving to the area to start her first job post-college and curious about living accomadations in the area. Shyann and this young woman kept in touch and then Shyann and her fiancée Luke met up with her as she arrived to town, brought their trailer and helped her move in. No longer strangers, indeed.

To treat other people as if they were Jesus himself; to extend a hand to someone you do not know is risky. To say God’s love does not stop at you and your own but to say it includes your enemies, people you don’t know, people you don’t like or agree with is not only risky, it’s real. It’s the truth. This is how God works. It’s why God sent Jesus.

Even our root beer float logo, in its attempt to broaden the scope of who God’s love is for, is limiting. These are our human labels and expectations for each other. God wipes away the labels, seeing us only as uniquely created children of God.

So this week, take home the bulletin with the scripture in it. Cut it out and put it on your mirror or your front door so that you’re ready to know it includes you and that it points you toward others. Look at it this week and be ready to say it to someone else, to think it about someone else, this grand, benevolent, mercy-filled invitation for the Kingdom of God to include more people than you can imagine: That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.