Sermon from 18th Jul 2021 (Pentecost 8)

Ephesians 2:11-22 (EHV)

11 Therefore, remember that at one time, you Gentiles in the flesh—the ones who are called “uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised” (which is performed physically by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. You were without hope and without God in the world.

13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace. He made the two groups one by destroying the wall of hostility that divided them 15 when he abolished the law of commandments and regulations in his flesh. He did this to create in himself one new person out of the two, in this way making peace. 16 And he did this to reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by putting the hostility to death on it. 17 He also 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 So then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household. 20 You have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the Cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may continue to be built up as your living temple of peace and grace for the sake of Jesus Christ, our chief cornerstone. Amen.

There have been, and are, many dividing walls of hostility in our world, such as the Great Wall of China, the wall of demarcation between South and North Korea, the wall between North America and Mexico, and also the imposing walls which have been put up around parts of Palestine.

While we don’t normally see these types of walls in Australia, we have our own natural wall as we’re surrounded by lots of water. We use this body of water as a political and security-conscious wall to stop refugees and other unwanted people from coming into our ports and airports.

This has been magnified due to fears of infection by Covid-19. We don’t just stop refugees, but we also limit how many of our own citizens we allow to re-enter our shores. It’s ironic that, despite the fact so many people once said: ‘We’re all in this together’, we actually struggle to get-together because each state government has been carefully controlling who it allows across its borders!

But it’s not just governments who build or use walls for protection and safety. We also have our own walls that we manufacture around us.

When we’re afraid we put up different types of invisible barriers around ourselves, such as:

  • Barriers of strength and might as we insult and shout at those around us.
  • Barriers of distance by keeping away from anyone who has, or who might, hurt us.
  • Barriers of silence by ceasing communication with those who have offended us, hoping the silence will hurt more than our words.
  • Barriers of expected behaviours by only relating to those who measure up to our own standards, and harshly judging those who don’t.

We build these types of walls around us in order to make us feel more secure. We put up these barriers hoping we’ll be protected from insult, abuse, injury, and betrayal. Unfortunately, those same walls might also stop us from receiving love, care, and compassion. Those same walls place other people on the outer and they feel excluded, unwelcome, uncared-for and strangers to us. And sometimes we’re the ones who are on the outer as people put up their barriers and walls of hostility against us.

What we often forget is God also erected walls to protect us.

His commandments and instructions tell us what to do and what we’re not to do. Keeping his instructions protect us and his gifts from becoming soiled with sin. His instructions also guide us on how to worship him rightly or how to show love and compassion.

One of his instructions, originally given to Abraham, is about circumcision. God said that all Israelite males were to be circumcised. This would identify them as God’s holy people and separate them from all the Gentile nations who weren’t circumcised.

But, for the fledgling New Testament church being built on the foundations of the Jewish apostles and prophets of Israel, this presented a problem for Gentiles who became Christian.

Sure, some Jews were trying to include them in a biblically faithful way by demanding Gentile converts keep this instruction as well, but it wasn’t as simple and painless as a vaccination injection! So, this particular teaching presented a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. It also became a hostile barrier between those seeking to remain faithful to God’s commands and those who were wishing to be more graceful and welcoming to Gentile converts.

So, how does St Paul seek to settle this argument and bring peace between these hostile groups of people? How does he remain faithful to God’s commands and yet show grace and mercy to those ‘outside people’ who, for many reasons, feel God’s command was a significant barrier to faith?

Well, he pointed to Jesus.

He reminded them that those who were once far off, and on the outer, have now been brought near to God through the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ blood paid the price of our access to God. Jesus’ blood made them holy and set them aside as God’s chosen people.

Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with Jewish customs and so bled the price for all those who weren’t circumcised. But even more than this, the barrier of sin which had previously separated us from God the Father, has been fully paid for through his blood shed on the cross!

In this way, Jesus not only fulfilled the commands of God, including the command to be circumcised, but he’s now set aside this particular command as no longer necessary because through faith in him, the two groups of people once separated and hostile to each other, have been made one through his blood. This means both Jew and Gentile now have equal and unrestricted access to God through the blood of Jesus. All nations, including us, have access to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the One who has broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Jesus has also broken down the wall which had separated us from God.

We, who were once far off and separated from God, have been brought near to him through the peace and reconciliation which was won for us through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. He has abolished the laws and ordinances which had previously separated us, making peace between these hostile groups of people.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can all approach God the Father with full confidence and without fear. We’ve been joined to Jesus and been washed clean of any defilement through our baptism into Jesus. In this sense, you and I and God are at peace because we meet together in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean God has gotten rid of the roles and functions of males and females or the roles of people and pastors (since St Paul talks about these roles later in his letter to the Ephesians), but Paul is making it clear we all have the same access to God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ and therefore no longer need to meet the requirements of circumcision.

We are all one in Christ and the barriers of hostility have been removed through the blood of Christ. But this also means Jesus is the foundation for our peace with each other and through whom any other walls of hostility may come down.

You see, Jesus received the full hostility of God’s anger against us for our sins because he bore our sins on that cross of suffering and death, and since he paid for the price for all people’s sin, if you still hold a grudge or won’t forgive someone for hurting you, especially a fellow Christian, then since Christ carries all people’s sins; Jesus is the one whom you’re holding a grudge against!

You see, no matter what you think of another person and how much they’ve hurt you (and how you want to build walls of hostility against them), Christ now bears all their sins and punishment. Who are you to say that the suffering and death of Jesus is no longer enough to pay the price for their sin against you?

Who are you to stand in God’s place to judge who is worthy or unworthy of Christ’s sacrificial death and the forgiveness of their sins?

What if, by building up walls of hostility between yourself and fellow Christians through your own unforgiveness, you actually block the blessings of Christ’s forgiveness out of your life and also from other people’s lives?

Earlier in this chapter, St Paul reminds you who you once were, and now in these verses he’s reminding you what this means for your life of faith in Jesus Christ.

All God’s anger against you has been taken by Jesus. All your anger and hatred against God has been taken by Jesus. All your anger toward those who have hurt you has been taken by Jesus. There on the cross, Jesus Christ dealt with all the barriers between you and those you build walls against. Christ then rose to become your only true source of peace without the need for any more walls of hostility.

Jesus is the foundation of all your peace and rest – both your peace with God and your peace with everyone around you. He’s your only hope of forgiveness and reconciliation in this world of conflict, terrorism and where walls of hostility threaten to divide us.

So now, through Christ, who breaks down all the barriers between us and brings true peace, we’re now being built up as one in Christ. He’s building us up into something more useful together than we can be apart.

We’re being built up as the new holy temple built on the foundations of the prophets and the apostles. We’re being assembled together with all the other faithful people of past, present, and future who have been washed in the blood of Jesus. We’re not to build up more walls of hostility between each other, but see each other as those who have been chosen by God and who are equally precious and holy in his sight.

Together, with Jesus Christ as our cornerstone, we’re being built as one in him as his living holy temple which brings his forgiving and reconciling peace to the whole world.

Through his forgiveness, Christ has broken, and still breaks down, all the barriers which keep us apart, and through his grace, he brings us together as one in him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this means:

Through Christ alone we have access to the God the Father.

Through Christ alone we have peace with God.

Through Christ alone we have hope of true healing and reconciliation in a world filled with so many walls of hostility.

Through Christ alone our walls of hostility can be taken down and we may experience true peace and unity and rest.

Through Christ alone are we made into one body, into one holy forgiven and forgiving family.

And through Christ alone…

… the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in peace and love and unity. Amen.