Scripture: Ephesians 2:11-22
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” ~ Ephesians 2:14
Although I know you’ll probably say I am starting to sound like a broken record, the world seems to be hurtling more and more towards division than in previous eras, but our epistle lesson for today from the Letter to the Ephesians brings the topic of division to centre stage once again and because of the severity, I think it is an essential topic.
Pick a topic, any topic and you can almost certainly find two diametrically and vehemently opposed positions. Liberal vs. Conservative; Vaxx vs. Anti-Vaxx; Pro-same gendered marriage vs. Against. I know that these kinds of divisions aren’t anything new, in the world or the church, as I have heard stories of the Prayer Book wars when the BAS was introduced over 40 years ago, but whether it is due to social media, or the news-entertainment complex or just general social isolation which makes it hard to come into contact with views that differ from our own – it just seems that division has permeated into every corner of our lives.
While not everyone might see this as a problem – it is very comforting after all to live in your own echo chamber – as followers of Jesus and as his church we should see this as a very dire problem indeed. Division and separation from one another and God is a clear sign that the infection of sin continues to spread in our midst, a spiritual pandemic with dire eternal consequences.
The apostle Paul understood this truth and consistently throughout his letters, including his letter to the church in Ephesus which we heard this morning, exhorted his listeners against the divisions which plagued the infant church.
The church of Paul’s day did not face the same issues of division which we face today, their challenges largely arose from the fact that the Christian faith arose out of a Jewish context but quickly, through the work of Paul and his co-workers, spread into the Gentile world coming into contact with cultures and traditions which before the Gospel of Jesus Christ would not have co-existed within a Jewish understanding of their covenant with God.
In fact, the practices and even presence of Gentiles could be seen as defiling for most Jewish believers, something that would require ritual cleansing before they could participate in the great communal acts of the temple and their covenantal relationship with God. This presented a serious challenge for the church as Gentiles with no history or desire to practice the rules of the Torah began to believe in Jesus and his Gospel of Life. Some congregations and teachers insisted that Gentiles become Jewish to enter the way of Jesus: observing kosher food laws, receiving physical circumcision and everything else that fell under the Jewish Covenant. As you can imagine this was a stumbling block for Gentiles who heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ as liberation and did not enter into a restrictive set of rules which were difficult to follow at the best of times.
Rather than force one side or the other to assimilate into the opposing position, Paul exhorted his listeners to unity by bringing it all back to Jesus. Paul reminded his Gentile brothers and sisters that they were once outside of God’s family, outside of the promises of relationship and blessing that had stretched back to the original covenant with Abraham but that through Christ – his death on the Cross and his Resurrection – they now had hope, they now were brought near and into the one family of God.
And to his Israelite brothers and sisters, Paul reminded them that in Christ the old law had been abolished, that a new covenant had been placed on their hearts through his death and resurrection. And that through both of these truths the two groups had become one family, one new humanity in Christ. God in Christ removed all the barriers to the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, God in Christ removed all the division that existed between humanity and God so that all of humanity could be reconciled to God as it was ordained from the foundation of the world.
This new humanity did not eliminate the very real differences between Jew and Gentile, but it offered a way forward together which could celebrate their differences and find true unity in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ, our differences need not lead to disagreement and division, in Christ, in his body which received the weight of sin and death, which received our transgressions there is room for disparate and different groups to co-exist and thrive together under the same Lord and saviour.
Paul reminded his listeners that through Christ, God offered the same peace and reconciliation to all people regardless of their race, their religion, their theology or their practice. It is each person and group’s responsibility to live into the promises that Jesus opened up for all people. It was the Ephesian church’s responsibility to live into the reality of unity that Christ had won for them on the cross, it was their responsibility to embrace the truth that God had removed every division which threatened to infect and destroy their common life together.
That responsibility falls to us as well.
All too often we in the church allow our differences and disagreements to become dividing walls. We allow our different interpretations of scripture, our different worship preferences, our varied theological perspectives, our social and cultural paradigms and so much more to injure the unity of the church. Whether it is our disparagement of Christian denominations or traditions which are different from our own, or our intense divisions caused by theological issues such as the same-gendered marriage or our tacit support of oppressive systems of racism, we have willfully chosen not to live into the unity that Jesus Christ has won for us through his death and resurrection. We have willfully chosen not to accept the promises of Jesus Christ that are extended to every single human being, regardless of race, culture, sexuality, gender or religious identity.
Is it any wonder that our witness to the Gospel of Love and Joy has been hamstrung in our world today? Is it any wonder that people seek to find their hope and joy outside of the community of the church? If we cannot find a way to love one another, even when we differ and disagree then how can we expect the world recognize the work of Jesus in our midst?
Jesus has made it possible for us to truly be one family under God, with our differences, with our unique cultural, theological, religious identities still intact. The Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t assimilate all of our differences, all of our unique traits into a monochrome identity but rather they are celebrated in the great panoply of humanity which builds up the temple of God with Christ as its cornerstone.
We must repent of the ways that sin has infected our thinking and treatment of others, we must repent of the ways that we allow our differences to become dividing walls and that injure the body of Christ on Earth. We must pattern our life, and the life of our communities after the life of our Lord and Saviour who as Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians God “made to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” If we pattern our life on Christ, then we must also bear the disagreements, the divisions and even the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ, just as our brothers and sisters in Christ must bear ours. This is how we can live into the unity which Christ won for us and the whole world in his death and resurrection, this is how we can begin to heal the brokenness we see in our communities and the world.
Jesus has called us all to be one family, one humanity shaped by his love, his grace, his mercy, and his joy. We cannot allow our differences, our disagreements and our divisions to stop us from experiencing the abundant and eternal life that God extends to us through the death and resurrection of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us be a community that celebrates difference, let us be a church that loves even those who disagree with us, let us be followers of Jesus that seek to tear down the dividing walls that we have allowed sin to create in our world so the Kingdom of God might flourish so that peace might be preached to the ends of the earth so that all might come to know the joy of being part of God’s great family here on earth and into eternity. The Holy Spirit will give us the strength to do so, may we find the courage to live it.