July 22, 2018 [Pentecost 9]  Ephesians 2:13-22  J.D.Roekle

 

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this 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 aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s 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.

 

Living in Peace as Members of God’s Household

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          The newspaper industry is changing dramatically.  It used to be that the only way to give feedback was by writing a letter to the editor.  Now, if you go to the Racine Journal Times online, you can generally comment on any story you read.  While they welcome anyone to comment on these stories, they give these guidelines as you do so:  1. Keep it Clean. Avoid obscene language, etc.;  2. PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.  3. Don’t Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.  4. Be Truthful.  Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.  5. Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of –ism that is degrading to another person.  6. Be Proactive.  Let us know about abusive posts. 

7. Share with Us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article. 

          It is interesting that the last guideline is really the only positive guidelines.  The rest of them are what not to do.  If you follow these comments online or if you follow social media in general, this won’t surprise you.  The digital age has emboldened people to speak up like they never have before, and when hiding behind a computer or a phone, the dialogue can get simply nasty. 

          But it isn’t as if this conflict is anything new.  It has been going on throughout the ages.  It just takes different forms.  Since sin has been around, so has conflict between people.  And the church is not exempt from that.  Our church is not exempt from conflict.  The duties of the principal and dean of students would be refocused if there were not conflicts in the school.  But we know that’s not reality.  Many of you have attended church meetings that have been contentious.  There may be underlying tensions that you sense with someone else because of what someone said or did to you.  With all this conflict going on, how can we live in peace?

          The message of peace was on Paul’s mind as he addressed the Ephesians in the words we have before us today.  The early Christian church was a time of transition.  The Jews had awaited a Savior for centuries.  Now that Savior was here.  That Savior was also for Gentiles, or non-Jews.  They were to all worship him as one.

          But this wasn’t an easy transition for either Jews or Gentiles.  They had learned to live separate lives and worship separately for the most part.  And that was primarily due to God’s command to keep the Jewish people separate as they carried the line of the Savior.  While the moral Law, the 10 commandments were essential being written on the hearts of Jew and Gentile alike, God gave Moses ceremonial laws and civil laws that were to separate the Jews from every other nation.  The ceremonial law had to do with Israel’s worship life, when and how they were to worship, which included all the laws on sacrifices.  The civil law concerned how they were to conduct their daily lives including what they were to eat and not to eat. 

          As God protected the line of the Savior, these civil and ceremonials laws were to act as a hedge between Jews and Gentiles.  They had turned into a wall as hostilities on both sides had grown.  For instance, Jews were not to eat pork, and Gentiles could.  As Jews and Gentiles got together, this got to be a problem. 

          So Paul addressed it.  He let them know that the wall, the thing that was causing hostility was there no longer.  Today Germany is united as one country.  It wasn’t always that way.  Following World War II it was divided into East and West Germany, with East Germany being communist as a satellite state of the Soviet Union.  This division of Germany was most pronounced in the city of Berlin which was in East Germany.  The city was divided into two by a wall beginning in the 1960s.  And in fact, West Berlin was surrounded by a wall from the rest of East Germany.  After a while, the communist rule of the Soviet Union over various states began to crumble.  It was at this time that Ronald Reagan famously stood by the wall in West Berlin and urged the ruler of the Soviet Union: “Mr. Gorgachev, tear down this wall!”  It was some two years later in 1989 that the wall that separated East and West Berlin came down. 

          The wall that separated the Jews from the Gentiles was demolished when Jesus uttered “It is finished” from the cross.  The hedge dividing Jews and Gentiles was no longer in effect.  No longer were the Jews required to follow the civil and ceremonial law given to Moses.  The curtain in the temple being divided in two at Jesus’ death was God’s hand speaking to the Jews that their former way of life was no longer in effect.

          But that temple curtain was also a reminder of something else.  The wall that had divided sinners from the holy God, was torn down.  Jesus had accomplished this by meeting the law’s every demand.  Jesus had also accomplished this through the blood he shed there on the cross.  Our sin demanded death and hell, and Jesus endured it for us. 

          Having the wall between them and God torn down is what finally would serve to unite both Jews and Gentiles.  It is what unites all believers in Christ regardless of who they are.  That’s true whether they are male or female; newborn or 103; from Racine, Wisconsin, Germany, Mexico, or Nigeria.  For now, this unity is invisible.  We confess it as the Holy Christian Church.  And because we have the means of grace here, the gospel in Word and Sacraments, the Holy Christian Church is also present in this place – at First Evan. 

          That of course doesn’t mean that things are perfect.  As we talked about before, there are conflicts we still need to work through.  But we work through them by directing our attention back to our uniting factor, the cross of Christ. 

          Whenever we face conflict here – and we will! – let’s remind ourselves of the purpose for which we exist.  Our mission statement sums it up:  “Since 1849, First Evangelical Lutheran Church has proclaimed great news of free salvation. Our mission is to use this Gospel, found in God's inerrant Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion, to bring Christ’s forgiveness to sinners.” 

          When we have hard feelings toward one another, let’s remember that we exist in order to bring forgiveness to sinners.  Let’s remember not to hold grudges, but to freely forgive.  Let’s remember to soak in Christ’s forgiveness when we are at fault. 

          As long as we live, there will be conflict in our lives.  There will be tensions.  Let’s remember the love of God in Christ who brings us peace, so that we can grow in the body of Christ.  After all, we have the same foundation.  We are built on the apostles and prophets.  We are built on the foundation of God’s Word.  And that foundation is built squarely on our chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ.  As long as we build on Jesus, what we have will never be destroyed by hostilities that come to us naturally.  As Jesus said to his conflicted disciples following his resurrection, “Peace be with you!”  Live in the peace Christ provides as members of his household!  Amen.