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July 19, 2015 - Ephesians 2.11-22

”Tearing Down the Walls”

Ephesians 2:11-22

July 19, 2015

 

11So then, remember 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.

 

They can’t find the cornerstone of the capitol building in DC.  Cornerstones tell of the reason for building a place – the principles for which it stands.

 

You’ve heard of the infamous three-point sermon. Well, it’s summer, it’s hot, you could have been on vacation, so here’s a two-point sermon based on the two main points of Ephesians 2:11-22.

Point One: In Jesus Christ, God has broken down the barriers between us and God, bringing us near to God through the church.

Point Two: In Jesus Christ, God has broken down the barriers between us and our sisters and brothers, bringing us near to one another through the church.

Do you believe it? I have not only believed it but also have seen it in you, in the church. After all, in our epistle today, Paul says that we have been “built spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” Paul uses the analogy of a building here, saying that the church is like a vast building project in which we – you and I – are elements of the building, the “apostles and prophets” are the foundation, and Jesus himself is “the cornerstone.” The cornerstone is that part in the masonry, that strong stone, which holds everything together. We are, right here in this congregation, “a holy temple,” “a dwelling place for God.” Note that Paul doesn’t say that our building is God’s dwelling place. He says that we, the human beings in the church, are God’s dwelling place.

Do you believe it? Sometimes it’s not easy to believe that this place, our church in our life together, is God’s dwelling, the only true temple for God that folk will ever see. Sometimes our differences and divisions get the best of us; we find it tough to get along together. It’s tough to get it together in the church.

 

You might think that I am a people person because I am a pastor.  Not really, but I used to be.  I used to be a people person – until people messed it up.
 

In seminary, they often ask students, “What led you into ministry?”

They sometimes say, “I like working with people.”

“George, have you ever actually been in a Baptist church? I’d worry about somebody who said he likes working with them!”

People who “like working with people” often make a subtle claim on the recipients of their humanitarianism, namely that the people be worthy of our sacrifices, that the people be nice. Alas, if one really is to “work with people,” one needs more than a vague sense of humanitarianism. The people can be tedious.
 

Gentiles in a Jewish world.  Can you imagine what these words of Paul’s meant to those Gentiles?  It meant that they were included.  That should mean a lot to you and me.  We are gentiles.  Without scripture like this, none of us would be here.  Pork, shellfish, the whole nine yards.

 

Gentiles were excluded.  Jews had immense contempt for the gentiles.  Fuel for the fires of hell.  Not even lawful to render aid to a gentile woman in childbirth – one more gentile.  If a Jew married a gentile, the funeral was held for the Jew.  The Jews were the people of God, not the gentiles.

 

“Will the Jews go to heaven?”  Not a biblical question.  The question of the New Testament is “Will the gentiles get to heaven?”

 

Yes!  Paul shouts it at the top of his lungs right here in Ephesians.  God has adopted us!  Through the grace that God has lavished upon us, we are now children of his promise.

 

It is a great reversal.  Christians are made, not born.  God has no grandchildren.  We are all God’s children if we believe.

 

God is at the center of activity here.  God’s grace is such a miracle.  In reading the scripture today, Paul uses an architectural metaphor, talks about building something, to describe what God is doing in his church.  Note that the verbs are all passive.  He doesn’t say “You decided to join the church,” or “you came to God.”  NO.  He says that you were built – joined together – built together spiritually.  Like we are bricks and God is the builder.  Ben often prays “thank you for building us.”  None of us are here, or are even Christians due to our own works, it is all due to the grace of God.

 

Paul talks about aliens.  This is political talk.  Immigration and illegal aliens.  This is where it seems strange to us, because most of us grew up in a “Christian” society. For many of you, your parents never worried whether or not you would grow up to be a Christian.  It was the natural, normal, American thing to do to be a Christian.  However, that is not the case today.  The world in which Christianity was a natural, normal, American thing to do no longer exists.  IF our youth and children are going to grow up in this faith, we will have to make them that way

 

Jewish talk-show host Dennis Prager complains that what passes for “acceptance” in our society is often another form of huddling with people like ourselves:

That is, as I explain to Jews all the time, why their children so easily inter-marry. Jews don’t marry Christians. Non-Jewish Jews marry non-Christian Christians. Jews for nothing marry Christians for nothing. They get along great because they both affirm nothing. They have everything in common – nothing.
– quoted by D.A. Carson,
“Christian Witness in an Age of Pluralism,”
God and Culture

 

Years ago, a Catholic theologian spoke about “anonymous Christians – good people who never formally embraced the Christian faith.  He said they were sort of Christians at large – anonymous Christians, even though they weren’t aware of it.  Horseradish.  There is NO SUCH THING.  To be a Christian is to be someone who intentionally believes in Jesus, self-consciously follows Christ – someone that lets the story of Christ form and guide his or her life.

 

That is why we feel like aliens in this world.  We have a different set of boundaries than the rest of the world, and Christ has set those in place – having torn down the old ones. We feel like aliens in this world because we belong to another. 

 

So the writer reminds any of us who would be too scandalized by the difficulties of getting along with one another in the church that we, each of us, were “strangers,” “aliens” “separated” from God. The writer is speaking to Gentile Christians who have been brought into the church but, in a way, what he says applies to any of us. We have no “right” to be here. As we noted in last Sunday’s sermon, we didn’t earn our way in here. We are here because Christ reached out to us, paid a price for us, won us back to God, kicked down the door separating us from God.

 

Spontaneous prayer at football games.  This is far preferable to the loudspeaker prayer.  It makes each person declare his or her identity.  It provides an invitation to come be a part of the church, come join us – you are welcome.  This is different from the old walls of religion that divided people.

 

Religion built up the walls between People.  There was a wall in the Temple that separated the Gentiles out from the Jews.  This wall is what got Paul killed.  (Acts 21) There was an inscription that read, “Let no one of any other nation come within the fence and barrier around the holy place.  Whoever will be taken doing so will himself be responsible for the fact that his death will ensue.”

 

Well we should remember that act of reconciliation to God as we attempt to get along with one another in the church. The thing that often sets us apart here is that we are strangers. That is, we’re not of the same biological family, not all of the same social class, the same race. All those factors work together to make us appear strange to one another. Yet, in baptism, we have been made family, adopted, engrafted into a new people. Out of many have been made one.

 

Do you believe that? I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the way you, although you have many things separating you, learn to work together, pray together, grow together. How is it possible in a world of so many intractable divisions for that to happen? It is only because Christ, having brought us near to himself, also enables us to come near to one another. So says Ephesians 2.  

In our community today we tend to be separated by age. Most of us live in neighborhoods where everyone in the neighborhood is about our age. We have “adult communities” now and “young singles apartments” and neighborhoods that advertise “No pets; no kids.” Yet the church is intergenerational. We’re all together here – all together in Christ.

My two points: Christ has made us one with God. Christ has made us one with each other in the church.

Oops! One last point. (Don’t you hate it when preachers do this!) Ephesians says that we, you and I, in our attempts to get along together in the church, are “the household of God,” a “holy temple,” built into “a dwelling place for God.”

I guess that means that if folk in the world are going to see any hope of overcoming their painful divisions, any prayer for unity and peace, they must see it in us. We are the only concrete, visible, tangible evidence the world has that in Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.

Get the point?