17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17–22 CEB)
This is only about half of the passage on which I have been asked to preach in a couple of weeks. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve ever preached. The last time was during Lent this year. Before that it had been about 15 years, back in my “seminary days.” In the meantime, I’ve taught courses on exegetical methods and New Testament introduction, even once teaching a book study on Ephesians. I find the classroom setting much less intimidating than a church sanctuary. And yet, here I am with one of the densest pericopes in the New Testament staring me in the face. How can I possibly do it justice in twenty minutes to a varied group of congregants? Give me a couple of weeks of hour-long classes with seminary students looking to employ the Greek they learned the term before, please!
Fortunately, our thoughtful pastor has provided some focus in that my sermon falls within a series on Ephesians. Never mind that I have to follow her—she is a very gifted preacher! The series is to look at Ephesians as a description of maturation: from birth and infancy (ch. 1) to childhood (ch. 2) to young adulthood (ch. 3) on to adult responsibility (the latter half of the epistle). So I am somewhat relieved of having to distill the always precarious issue of the Jew/Gentile relationship; although I imagine there is much to be said about the dividing walls of hostility that begin to get recognized and even erected during the childhood phase of life.
I think I am going to focus on the shaping of identity that takes place during the childhood years. During these early years we begin to understand who we are. As any good parent, the author of Ephesians is nurturing a healthy identity for his readers, helping them see themselves for who they are, “God’s household,” “a place where God lives through the Spirit.” Of course, this implies what they are not, and he spends a good deal of time on that as well.
Well, that’s where I am right now. I have some work to do. I’d welcome suggestions from those of you who have more experience than I. When it comes to preaching I still feel like a stranger and an alien.