Ingrafted Relationships

Read Romans 11:1-18

Since moving to our current home, I have become much more involved in the landscaping choices and maintenance. My participation is on the simpler side of these activities. My partner does the harder work in terms of planting and major pruning. I am more of a visionary and trimmer of small plants. I also assumed the responsibility of keeping plants outdoors hydrated. As I have become more active in landscaping there is much which I have learned but there is also a greater awareness of how much more I need to learn. I am clearly not at the point where I could graft any of our plants or control the pollination of any. I do have a rudimentary understanding of both however. I greatly enjoy the success which we have had with our landscaping. Now if I could just figure out how to get some of our plants to grow faster.

I share this information regarding landscaping at our house because in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is using plant husbandry as an image when discussing Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s letter to the Romans is an apologetic in regard to Jesus for the Roman Jews primarily and the non-Jewish (Gentile) Roman believers secondarily. His intent is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. At this point in the letter, Paul is explaining the relationships between Jewish and Gentile believers. He indicates that while there is a majority of Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God has never rejected the Jews. The Jews who have not rejected Jesus are a remnant who God has saved by grace. The rejection which others have made opened access to the Gentiles. Through their rejection, the Gentiles have been brought into God’s fold, ingrafted to the tree of life. Paul also states that the Jews who have rejected Jesus will always be given the opportunity to rejoin God’s tree. Then he gives a warning to the Gentile believer. He warns that the Gentile believers should never consider themselves superior to the Jews who rejected Jesus. All are supported by God, the source of life.

This passage speaks to all of us about relating to one another. Whether we are considering the Christian-Jewish relationship or any relationship between Christians and non-Christians, including atheists or agnostics, we are to view others as equal branches on God’s tree. The first branch of the tree were the Hebrew people and then God chose to engraft other branches of the human race. This truth must inform and guide our words and actions as we engage in a highly diversified humanity, a humanity in which every branch is a creation of God.

Acceptance

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”

10 Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:7-13 (NIV)

Frequently in life there develops an “in” group and an “out” group. Those within the special group achieve their membership based upon a defined set of criteria. This criteria can be items such as athletic ability, physical attributes, wealth, or even who the person knows. Sometimes being included may even be based on ancestry. Being part of the “in” group affords a person special knowledge, privileges, and treatment. If a person is a member of the “out” group, animosity and resentment can arise towards the members of the other group. There can be emotional and psychological pain experienced by those on the out. Trying to build acceptance among the groups can be a true challenge.

Reading from the letter to the Roman believers, we can see that there has developed a division among them. This division is based on ancestry and history. The Jews had always been considered as God’s chosen people since the time of Abraham and Sarah. This delineation was due to the events regarding Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away and Isaac became the chosen one to carry forward God’s promises to Abraham. This would begin the lineage of the

Jews, the “in” group. Those who are not part of the lineage were referred to as Gentiles and were on the outside. Paul points out that God did not intend this to be a permanent separation. In Jesus Christ, this division has been eliminated. The believers in Rome are to understand this as part of their belief in Christ and accept one another. Belief in Jesus Christ unites those who used to be divided.

This type of division still exists today in a different way. Too often today the “in” group is considered to be members of the Church. The “out” group are those who are not a part of the fellowship. There is an attitude of being special among those who worship God together. A special set of words and ritual behaviors have been established among this group. A set of criteria has been adopted which must be met to be allowed in the group. There is even an us versus them mentality. 

Like the believers in Rome, we must learn to accept one another and break through the walls which divide us; no longer in/out or us/them but an attitude and behavior of we. Those who are believers must lead the way by reaching out to those who are not currently part of the fellowship. Going outside the walls of a building or the barriers we have constructed through rules and rituals. Accepting people where they are just as Christ accepted us where we were.

Faith

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Romans 4:1-12 (NIV)

What does it mean to have faith? The dictionary states “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Having faith does not come easily nor does it mean abandoning what common sense tells us. The key to faith is the trust which is necessary. Trust takes time to develop so it is natural that faith takes time to develop. When faith has been established, the confidence one has in someone or something will aid the person in following and/or believing.

In our reading today, Paul writes about the faith of Abraham. Reading Paul’s letters can at times feel like you are on rabbit chase. If you are able to keep on the trail with Paul, you will obtain great insights into faith, Jesus Christ, God’s love and how to live as redeemed children of God. Paul speaks about how Abraham became righteous, or right with God. Paul writes that Abraham was right with God not because of any actions which Abraham did but because he had faith in God. Paul then continues in what may seem a very complicated manner to show that this righteousness is available to Gentile and Jew alike.

For us today, Paul’s connection between Abraham’s faith and the faith of people in Paul’s time is easily transferable to us. Abraham’s faith was in God, our faith is in Christ, the revelation of God in humanity. Like Abraham and the Romans, we are not right with God because of anything we have done or will do but because we trust and have confidence in Jesus Christ. Faith is all we need to have confidence in living as a redeemed child of God.

One Household

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

One of the recurring themes of human history is division. Looking through the annals of history it is like watching the waves of the sea. One group of humans separate from another group for a number of reasons. There are times of deliberate breaking away, while at other times it is not by choice but out of necessity. These divisions can occur for philosophical or religious reasons. Practical reasons like a need for space or access to resources being depleted due to the group’s size may cause separation. Then we see groups reunite because the original impetus to divide is altered or no longer exists. The pattern continues indefinitely, apart then together then apart once again. Currently in our country there has been a growing division of our citizens. Calls to reunite are growing stronger. Only history will be able to determine which trend will prevail.

In the letter to the believers in Ephesus, we hear about the reuniting of two groups. A majority of the Ephesian believers were Gentiles, or non-Jewish. Paul writes to them declaring that in Jesus Christ the barriers between Jews and Gentiles are removed. While they had lived separately over thousands of years, Jesus has reunited them into one house. All are fully children of God’s covenant with the people. Every person has full access to the Father, Son and Spirit. The binding together of all people, accomplished by Christ, created one household.

Paul’s words make it sound so simple. Clearly God views us as one people. Yet we continue to see divisions of nationalities, races, philosophical ideals, faith and religious concepts, and political views. Is it possible to achieve a sustained sense of being one people? Yes, in some areas of our lives but not completely at this point. Is there notvalue in diversity? Absolutely! But like a jigsaw puzzle which has diverse pieces when connected together creates one picture, diverse people connected can create one people. God is our connection.  Jesus did not intend to make everyone the same. Jesus provided the avenue for us to understand that while we have differences, we are one people, one household, one redeemed collection of God’s covenant people.