If you’ve ever traveled crossculturally, you likely know what it’s like to feel displaced—to not speak the language, to be confused by the cultural norms. You likely know what it’s like to sink into that lonely and lost outsider feeling and to long once again for home.
Witold Rybczysnki, in his fascinating little book Home: A Short History of an Idea, says that home is that “settled sense of satisfaction that overcomes us when circumstances come together for our ease, comfort, and well-being.” When we hear that, it’s likely that some image of “home” arises in our mind—a place where our body and soul can be at ease and for a moment sense that all is right with the world.
The famous Austrian architect Christopher Alexander often encouraged his clients to “dream their way to design.” He would say:
Imagine yourself on a winter afternoon with a pot of tea, a book, a reading light, your favorite chair and two or three huge pillows to lean back against. You put the tea right where you can reach it, but not where you can knock it over. You pull the light down, to shine on the book, but not too brightly, so you can see the naked bulb. You take it in and make yourself comfortable. You sip, you read, and dream.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
The problem is that we can be in the kind of place Christopher Alexander just described and still feel terribly out of place. Amazingly, we can be in the most perfectly homey environs and yet feel like strangers in our own skin.
In Ephesians, Paul is writing to a largely gentile audience—to a people living in the place they grew up, surrounded by people they know and love, and inhabiting a culture they know like the back of their hand. They are anything but outsiders. And yet, Paul says to them, you were once “strangers” and “aliens” (Eph. 2:12). In saying that, Paul is not speaking in the usual way we understand those terms. His focus is not on national, familial, or cultural ties. Paul is speaking spiritually. He is referring to the well-documented fact that gentiles (i.e., non-Jews) were in times past “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Said differently, even though the Ephesians are right at home in the beautiful ancient city of Ephesus, they are radically displaced spiritually. And that deep soulish sense of lostness that every one of us experiences is not something we’re supposed to stuff down deep and pretend is not there; nor are we to try to overcome it by glutting ourselves with the creature comforts of the world. Rather, our profound sense of out-of-place is a clue that’s intended to lead us to a most important discovery.
As Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, he calls them to remember their spiritual displacement and to enter the new home God has made for them. A home they are welcomed into through the blood of Jesus Christ. A home that goes by the name church.
According to Paul, the church is the beginning of our future home now.
These once strangers and aliens are now “fellow citizens . . . and members of the household of God.” The language of “fellow citizens” and “household of God” describes a radical reversal. No longer are we strangers and aliens. Through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we have been welcomed into a community, a family, and a home—the church.