Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Partners and Promise: Breaking Barriers

Last week, as we began our four week series in Ephesians, I mentioned to you the general consensus among theologians that this letter was not written by Paul. For some of you, this may be a little unsettling. Yet, we know that this was a way of doing things in the first century. We also know that this letter was used widely in the early church and was accepted as authoritative by church leaders when the canon - the collection of writings that make up our Christian Bible - was decided.

One of the reasons that it has been determined that this is not Paul’s letter is because the author of Ephesians goes a little further than Paul in a few areas. One of these relates to Christian baptism. Both authors write of baptism as a death and resurrection. That in our baptisms we die to an old way of being and are raised to a new person in Christ. Paul is careful to locate that resurrection with Christ into a future time - at the fullness of time. We heard this today in the Romans text: “we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

The Ephesians author goes further than Paul - saying that Christians have already been raised with Christ. And, therefore, are already part of Christ's heavenly kingdom. Just a few verses before our reading today, the author to the Ephesians writes these famous verses: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” The writer continues: “so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

This idea, that through our baptisms we are already part of Christ’s heavenly kingdom then sets the stage for our reading today, which begins to unpack the mystery of God’s plan mentioned last week. The mystery of the new thing that God is doing.

We read today in Ephesians, chapter 2.

11Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. --Ephesians 2:11-22 (CEB)

Who is your enemy? That may be a startling way to begin. But, who is your enemy? This is really the question that is being asked here.

To understand this, we need to grasp the huge divide between Jews and Gentiles in the first century. The Gentiles to the Jews were anyone and everyone who were not Jewish. There was deep hostility between Jews and Gentiles - hostility that was bound up with the law, which created personal and social antagonism between them. The laws, for example, that made eating with or intermarrying with Gentiles often led Jews to have contempt for Gentiles, regarding them as less than human. In response, then, Gentiles would often regard Jews with suspicion, considering them inhospitable and hateful to non-Jews. They would engage in prejudicial acts against the Jews.  This mutual animosity was one of the uglier elements of the first century world.

We might think of the relationship between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. My family is half Lutheran and half Catholic. When I was young, my aunt, who was Lutheran, fell in love with and married my uncle, who was Roman Catholic. It was scandalous in my family. So scandalous that my grandmother did not speak to my aunt for decades. Perhaps something like this has happened in your family. Where the barriers - the divisions - that arise, that we create, deeply harm relationships. 

But, the Ephesians author argues here - but Christ has demolished this law, this barrier between Jews and Gentiles, between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. To take it further, between black and white, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, and on and on. By demolishing the law, Christ has made each person part of the heavenly kingdom. Taking two divisive elements and creating one new person that transcends the two. A new creation. This is the claim of Ephesians.

And going further, the Church is the place where the results of this peacemaking by Christ, this embodiment of peace by Christ, is to be seen. Verses 15 and 16 from today’s reading: He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” 

If Christ has done this for Jew and Gentile, then Christ has done this wherever there is division, whether that division is caused by tradition, by class, by color, by nation, by groups of nations or by whatever it is that divides us. And we, in the Church, in this temple where God dwells, are called to be the example of what it is to embody peace. To move into the places in relationships that are uncomfortable. To cross the barriers that exist. Through our relationship with Christ and our relationship with one another, we are being shaped into a sanctuary that is fully fit for God.

So, back to my opening question. Who is your enemy? What are the relationships in your life that are characterized by division. Whether that division comes as a result of color or class or even just personality? Christ calls us to move beyond the division, to work to repair these relationships in our lives and in our church.

This morning, I invite you to sit silently for a few minutes before we sing our hymn of the day. What are these relationships that need tending in your life? Make a note in your bulletin of one of them. Then, add one step you can make, one uncomfortable step you can make, that begins to bridge the divide in that relationship. And trust that Christ will be in the midst of it overcoming the barriers that exist. Amen.

Preached July 18, 2021, at Grace & Glory Lutheran, Goshen, and Third Lutheran, Louisville.
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Ephesians 2:11-22, Romans 6:1-11, Psalm 84

No comments:

Post a Comment