Read Ephesians 2: 11 – 22
Guiding God, we want to be led by you to find the purpose you have in store for us. We long to be so reconciled to you through Christ, that we may seek, and find, reconciliation even and especially with those who are totally different from us.
Now, in the silence, in the words, in your breathing your Holy Spirit within us, we know we will experience your wholeness and peace, your will for us.
So still us now, we pray, so that we may hear your voice through my voice, and attune our hearts to the beat of your Holy Spirit,
In the Name of Jesus,
In 1989 a crucial and hopeful demolition occurred, attracting worldwide attention. I’ll never forget its impact on the household in which I was living at the time. The news broke in NZ on a Saturday morning, 9th November, in the manse in Whakatane, which I shared with my flatmate Kirsten and a German young woman, Burgit, who was living with us at the time. The event was of course the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, signifying openness at last between East and West Germany. The wall had stood as a sign of division since 1961 until that turning point in 1989 when the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the GDR could cross the border whenever they pleased. That night, ecstatic crowds swarmed the wall. Some crossed freely into West Berlin, while others brought hammers and picks and began to chip away at the wall itself. I’m sure I remember with much greater intensity Burgit from West Germany who was only with us as a parish and household for a few months, because of this momentous event in her homeland while she was with us.
Have you ever found yourself ensnared in a conflict? You may not have even started it. You may not have even chosen to participate in defending your territory, but because of who you are, or where you were, or who you were allied to, you were seen by one side as firmly on the ‘other side’! Maybe your allegiance dates back to the Second World War, when I guess you weren’t on the side of the Germans! Maybe, sadly you’ve been ensnared in an in-laws vs out-laws battle at one time or another, or perhaps it was town vs. country, or union vs. employer, or one political party pitted against another. Or maybe a generation or two ago it was the Catholic/Protestant divide even here in NZ that may have divided you from a branch of your family or a group of friends. Provincial NZ, perhaps particularly in the south, certainly was defined for some time by such a divide. You’ll remember friends or perhaps you, yourself being told to never get into a serious relationship a Catholic boy or girl. In Ranfurly, where Alan and I ministered for six years, we were intrigued by the placing of the Roman Catholic Church as far out from town on one side as was the Presbyterian Church strategically placed as far out in the other direction.
So, even if we are peaceable people on the whole, we know, at least in theory, enough about conflict to know we long for reconciliation.
In the first half of Ephesians 2 Paul led the Ephesians through the journey up from and beyond sinfulness, from disobedience and the passions of the flesh, to resurrection in their inner selves, as well as in Christ. In that passage Paul rejoiced in the truth that God has made us alive in Christ, so that we are in fact created for a life style of good works, and belonging in Christ rather than being saved by good works.
Today in our study of the second part of Ephesians chapter 2 we hear Paul stressing that they and we are called to change the way we see our lives and live our lives.
Later on in Ephesians Paul will list specific guidelines for the living of our lives, (and I’m looking forward to unpacking that together) but in chapter 2 he speaks about a change in our imaginations, a change in the way we see ourselves, and a change in the way we see others. Paul notes a central religious distinction between the people of Jesus and the rest of the world: circumcision. He notes that it is a worldly ritual for males, done by humanity, yet it has religious power. Though other cultures practiced circumcision at the time of Ephesians, the people of Jesus added a religious dimension: It was a sign of the covenant with YHWH, the God who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, the God who had chosen them to be God’s people. For Judaism, circumcision of males recalled the covenant that God had made with Abraham and Sarah, a covenant in which God had claimed them and their descendants as God’s special people, a “light to the nations,” as Isaiah called them (42:6). The people who were not claimed in this way were called “Gentiles” in the New Testament, translating a Greek word meaning “the nations.”
Now the Bible has various opinions of the Gentiles. Several New Testament portraits show Gentiles who are God-fearing and admirable, such as the centurion in Luke 7, Cornelius in Acts 10, and the woman who begs Jesus for healing for her daughter in Matthew 15. For the most part, however, the Gentiles were seen as pagans at best and as dogs at worst. Even Jesus called them “dogs” in the Matthew 15 passage. His culture had taught him that Gentiles were not his people and more importantly were not God’s people. That is Jesus’ point in defending his refusal to acknowledge the Gentile woman’s request for healing in Matthew 15:26: “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This basic distinction was seen most vividly in the temple where a wall divided the court of the Gentiles from the space reserved for Jewish people.
In today’s passage, Paul, writing to the Ephesians, makes a direct attack on these kinds of divisions, and he affirms that in Jesus Christ, there is a whole new vision — a whole new world — that we are asked to enter and to explore. He proclaims that God has broken down the dividing walls in Jesus Christ, and in this movement, we are called into new life — to see ourselves and to see others in a new way, that each of us and all of us are now children of God, belonging to the same household.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we are familiar with the divisions that Ephesians is addressing. They are divisions on which we all tend to base our lives, the divisions upon which we depend — Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, black and white, male and female, poor and rich, terrorists and law-abiding citizens. Ephesians tells us that these divisions — that seem so important to us — no longer have validity in Jesus Christ, for Jesus has broken down the dividing walls of hostility. Like circumcision, they are distinctions created by human beings, not by God.
So the dividing walls of hostility have been broken down, and all people are now welcomed into the household of God — all people, not just special ones. All people, not light-skinned or dark-skinned. All people, not comfortable or poor. Breaking down the dividing walls is no easy task. These dividing walls don’t get built in a day by goose-stepping armies but through a much more gradual process on a daily basis. The idols usually don’t crush us — rather they slowly capture our imaginations. Most often it is not a tidal wave that overwhelms us but rather the routine, day-to-day lapping of the waves over the shores of our souls, gradually eroding the sand under our feet.
You see, Christ not only brings peace – He is our peace.. It is Jesus who said, ‘peace be with you’ who challenges our comfortable prejudices, and breaks down those dividing walls, which if we’re honest exist not only in war zones or in our minds but in our neighbourhoods, families and church.
These dividing walls become deeply rooted in our identities and our imaginations and breaking them down is not easy. The dividing walls are not melted down by the glorious and radiating, sunny light of God’s love. The dividing walls are broken down by the blood of Jesus Christ — it is costly and painful.
Peace of course in not merely the absence of war. It’s active, timeless, extremely precious and God’s way of bringing together those who were previously divided to make one. At the beginning of last month we celebrated World Communion with our two congregations together recalling Paul’s claim to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 10: 17 “ Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the same bread.”
And this vision of peace and hope, not only for Israel, but for all nations and people, is not new, but was foreshadowed by the prophets and especially by Isaiah. Tom Wright, in his book ‘Simply Jesus’ describes God’s intention, outlined in the Book of Isaiah as not only restoring the tribes of Jacob, but bringing light to the pagan nations. Tom Wright goes on to say that we find in Isaiah ‘the rushing together of hopes for king, Torah (the law) the temple, for world- wide peace, for the replanting of the Garden of Eden, for nothing short of a new creation.’ (page 73). Of course God will accomplish this through the coming of the ultimate King of Israel, the descendent of David, with God’s wisdom and power to bring God’s justice, peace and healing to the whole world.
And the beauty of this new world is matched by the beauty of the ancient poetry which evokes it, as in this vivid metaphor of peace-making from Isaiah chapter 2:
“He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many people: they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2: 2 – 4
So the wonderful news is that we are no longer strangers and aliens, but we all now belong to the people of God – in peace.
To God be the glory! Amen.
Are you excited about that? Let’s respond then with a resounding Amen!
Prayer in response to God’s Word