This sermon is based on Ephesians 2:11-22
Ephesians 2:14 For he (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he as made both groups (Jews and Gentiles) into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
Christ has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. I wonder if anyone here this morning would disagree with this idea?
It seems like a no-brainer to us, but it was a hot topic for the early church. A VERY hot topic, in fact. It was as emotional and contentious to the early church as any of our own hot topics are to us.
And the topic of whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised before being accepting into the church was not the only thing the Early Church was arguing about.
In the New Testament, we hear that the early Church was arguing about whether or not to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols or used in Pagan temples. They were fighting about the proper way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and this debate got so heated that Paul even ends up pointing out that some of the early church members might be at risk of eating and drinking to their own condemnation.
The early Church fought about the marks of leadership, about what the fruits of a God-appointed leader looked like and even whether or not Paul himself was a leader appointed by God. And they fought about charismatic gifts: Should supernatural gifts be used in public worship or was worship to be a place of strict order and dogma?
Close to Home?
Whilst we ourselves might think silly the debates about Gentile membership or food sacrificed to idols, some of the other issues might start getting a bit too close to home. We are happy to accept uncircumcised Gentiles in the Church these days, but what is the Church’s track record when it comes to opposing anti-Semitism?
And debates about the nature of the Lord’s Supper or what sort of person should lead or whether or not charismatic gifts are to be used in worship are not debates that are entirely unheard of in the Church today.
So, if we’re tempted to write off this morning’s reading from Ephesians as yet another all-too-familiar no-brainer statement about the unity of Jews and Gentiles, let’s not do that.
Let’s appreciate the seriousness of the emotions behind this particular issue and let’s not feel too smug or superior as we listen to author telling us that through the flesh of Christ, the dividing wall between factions has been broken down and that the former hostility has been turned to peace: to Shalom.
Because, at the end of the day, this reading is not really about Jews and Gentiles both being accepted by God as disciples of Christ. What this reading is about at its most fundamental level is Shalom. Peace.
And Shalom is not just the absence of violence; it is a holistic peace where a right attitude toward God and toward our fellow human beings shows us the potential of human life as it was first created to be. Shalom, is, above all, an attitude of the heart.
Living without Forgiving
A story is told of a famous preacher who was asked by a friend of his to preach at his church’s morning service.
As the famous preacher went up to the pulpit, he looked out into the congregation and saw a very angry-looking woman sitting on the pulpit side of the church. The preacher felt that the anger, which was so apparent in her face, might put him off his message of Good News, and so he decided to preach to the other side of the Church.
The only problem was, in his direct line of sight on the other side of the church was another woman, almost the same age, sitting there exuding as much anger as the first women. The preacher decided that he would have to deliver his sermon somewhere in the vague direction of the centre aisle, which he preceded to do!
At lunch with his friend, he was told that the two women were sisters and they’d had a small disagreement about 25 years ago and they weren’t speaking to each other. The visiting preacher said ‘It’s a good job they don’t live together!’ to which his friend replied ‘But they do!’
The friend went on to explain that each sister had told him that she was prepared to forgive the other, but that the other sister had never asked to be forgiven. Each one concluded that she was not prepared to forgive her sister until the other woman asked for forgiveness.
And so they had spent 25 years living together and becoming people whose anger was apparent for all to see.
God the Reconciler
The Good News that we hear in this morning’s Epistle Reading is that God is not like that.
The reconciliation that God offers to people through his Son Jesus is not a reconciliation that depends on us making the first move toward God, because we can’t. It is not our saying sorry that causes God to forgive us, but rather God’s offer of forgiveness that calls our repentance from us.
The Good News in today’s readings is that God makes the first move toward reconciling us to himself.
Elsewhere, scripture tells us that it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. Of course, we still have to recognize the gift of reconciliation that God gives to us in order to benefit from the gift. And I think that it is really in this recognition that we can begin to achieve the kind of peace – the kind of Shalom – that God wants for every one of us.
The point of my sermon this morning isn’t so much to say to you ‘Be thankful for the reconciliation that God has offered to you by being reconciled with others’, although that is of course true.
My point this morning is rather to point you to the truth that reconciliation is God’s way; It’s God’s way for creation and it’s God’s way for all his children.
Reconciliation is, if you will, one of the central tenets of the Christian faith, it is central to Shalom and it is central to being the kind of people who God wants us to be.
Ironically, it is in reaching out to others by trying to find a point of commonality that our own lives will be enhanced. It is in making the first move toward forgiveness that our own peace will be grow. Just like love isn’t love until you give it away, so too reconciliation isn’t reconciliation until you give it away.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, let us give thanks for our brothers and sisters in Christ who came before us and who challenged mindset of denominationalism so that we can freely celebrate communion with each other today.
Let’s also think about those situations where reconciliation is still needed. There are still many of these: I expect in our own personal lives, in our communities, within our own churches and even still between some Christians.
And let’s also give thanks to God for the forgiveness and reconciliation afforded to each and every one of us in Christ.
And may the Spirit enable each one of us to be messengers of peace. Amen