No Longer Strangers
A Study of the Letter to the Ephesians
by Kay Huggins
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Living Lesson for Congregations
Students at the University of
Mississippi gather as familiar strangers to pray for the victims
of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. The aftermath
of the attacks held much silence, with even the closest friends,
families, and congregations drained of words of comfort. In this
silence, many looked to God for guidance.
in the New Testament, foreign visitors
with no rights in the community
This is a Bible
study about strangers. Strangers sit side-by-side at worship
in Ephesus. Strangers share their faith stories in unnamed congregations.
Strangers receive rules and consider resistance to the dominant
culture. We will never know the original audience of the Letter
to the Ephesians; at best, we collect hints and follow leads
about their lives, their faith, and their challenges. They are
strangers to us, but in Christ, they are part of the rich history
of the Christian community.
This is a Bible study from the pen of one who is unknown-a stranger.
The letter is attributed to Paul and certainly carries his authority.
Portions ring with authentic Pauline theology, but other portions
employ words rarely used in Paul's epistles. Scholars do not
agree on authorship. Many say "Paul," but just as many
say "Not Paul, but someone like him." The author remains
a stranger, no matter his, or her, name. But, again, as we study
this letter, the words of a stranger ring in an accent of home
and family. This author-Paul or someone like him-offers words
that reverberate throughout our Christian heritage.
This is a Bible study for strangers. Presbyterians from South
Dakota and South Carolina, from the Laguna Pueblo and Laguna
Niguel, from Green Bay and Green Valley, from Alaska and Allegheny,
from Rio Rancho and Rochester, from towns and cities and suburbs
and seminaries will gather together for study. Some are members
of PW circles who are long-time friends; some are newcomers to
a Bible study group. Those we claim to know-as well as those
whom we are meeting-carry an inner solitude and should be, at
times, respected as strangers. Remember, though you are united
in Christ, you study in a circle of strangers.
So this is a Bible study about, by, and for strangers. Yet, this
study announces God's great mystery: In Christ, we are no longer
strangers. That mystery penetrates every relationship, breaks
down all dividing walls, and interrupts the neat categories of
"us" and "them." Ephesians, however, is indirect.
It neither prods nor pounds the truth. The mystery of reconciliation
is addressed by only a few verses. As a mystery, the theme of
"no longer strangers" underscores difficult issues
and overrides easy conclusions. To help you with this, each lesson
in this study includes the following elements:
1. To assist in the interpretation
of the "living lessons," each lesson opens with an
experience drawn from a pastor's life. As a minister to a congregation,
I have learned that pastoring is one of God's surprises: those
who pastor enter intimately into the lives of others. They also
recognize that their calling creates a separation from others.
Use these opening illustrations to test the mixture of near and
distant in congregational life.
2. To keep the focus on the stranger
and the mystery of being "no longer strangers," each
lesson includes a poetic description of a stranger. Use these
descriptions as guides to the mystery in this study. Allow your
mind to seek the strangers in the church, in the world, and in
the community of nations with which we share our planet.
3. To recollect the original author,
audience, and culture, each lesson includes a sidebar that sets
the text in context. Use these sidebars to supplement your group
discussion and your personal preparation. Allow the information
about the early Christian community to inform the life of the
faith community of which you are a part.-KH
We Live with Strangers
Those we love most, with whom we share a shelter, a table,
a bed, remain mysterious. Wherever lives overlap and flow together,
there are depths of unknowing. Parents, children, partners, siblings,
and friends repeatedly surprise us, revealing the need to learn
where we are most at home. We even surprise ourselves in our
own becoming, moving through the cycles of our lives. Strangeness
is hidden in the familiar.
At the same time there is familiarity hidden in the strange.
We can look with curiosity and respect at the faces of men and
women we have never met. Learning to recognize these strangers
with whom we share an increasingly crowded and interdependent
world, we can imagine ourselves joined in a single family, perhaps
by a marriage between adventurous grandchildren.
Despite the familiarity and love these
cradled hands suggest, part of each
person will always remain a stranger.
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