07 Pentecost 06 Twentyth Sunday After Pentecost Ephesians 2.19-22
My friends, I greet you today in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Our lesson comes to us from the second chapter of Ephesians. I would invite you to pull out your Bibles or your bulletins and to follow along as we look at these verses and what they have to say to us today.
Have you ever had an experience where your footing was not the most sure? What were you doing? How was it? Now I’m sure this may shock some of you, especially with me having lived in Colorado for the last three years. But I’ve only ever been skiing once. And to be honest I’m not sure that I can even make that claim, because I don’t think that I was ever technically vertical long enough for it to be considered skiing. I did a lot of sledding that day, only I did not have a sled.
It was nearly impossible to stand. And the gravitational pull of that mountain had to have been warped. The “bunny” slope was at least a ninety degree incline, and there were maybe two feet between the bottom of the slope and the lodge. But other than that it was great.
The point is, I did not stand very well that day. I never had a footing that was sure and solid. I even fell trying to get off of the ski lift. If you don’t have the right type of ground to stand on, it won’t take a whole lot to knock you down. Today I would like us to take a moment to think about that which we stand on or try to stand on, and to see what our text has to say to us about that.
So what is it that we stand on? I’m not talking about just the floor here. But where do we turn when things get shaky? What do we look to for comfort or hope when things are out of whack? What do we rely on when trying to work through a confrontation? And I am not talking about just a personal situation, but what about for us as a congregation. These verses address that.
Allow me to set the stage. The city of Ephesus was the most important city in all of Asia minor, which is modern day Turkey. This was a major center of commerce, it was located on a harbor, at the intersection of major trade routes, and it was home to the temple of the goddess Diana. By the way, this temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In other words, there were some formidable challenges for the church of in Ephesus. Can you imagine what some of those might have been? Pressure to be like family members and neighbors. Persecution for not fitting in. Things we can still relate to today. For those students out there, how many of you have had experiences where you friends were making fun of you because you follow Jesus or trying to get you to go against what you believe? It can be tough.
I think these kinds of challenges are often the ones that come to our minds first when we think about the struggles of Christians in the world. But there is another struggle that our text has in mind here as well. And that is the struggle that comes in relationships. There are two types of relationships that we have in this life. Horizontal and vertical. Any guess on the vertical one? It is the relationship that we have with our God. What about the horizontal one? It is the relationships that we have with one another. Now this is all well and good, but there is a problem with this picture and do you know what it is? In a word it is sin! Anyone want to guess why? Because sin is brokenness in relationships. It brings about brokenness in our relationship with God and with one another. That is why sin is so bad.
It is not like God was sitting up in heaven and decided that we needed to be more miserable and so he said, all those things that are fun for people to do, I am going to declare them to be bad. And I am going to tell people that they can’t do them, and then they will feel guilty when they do do them. That’s not the point. Rather when sin comes into the picture it destroys relationships, and that is a bad thing, because we are created to be in relationship with God and with one another.
It is with these relationships in mind that we look at the words from Ephesians. I’m going to go back a few verses to give us some context. For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. 15 By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. The church of Ephesus was made up of two groups of people, Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles are anyone who is not Jewish. Historically they had been had odds with one another. In fact the walls that existed between Jews and Gentiles were not just metaphorical. But in the temple in Jerusalem, there was an outer courtyard. If a Gentile went any further than the wall of that courtyard, it would cost him his life.
Jews would often look down on Gentiles because the gentiles did not necessarily acknowledge God. They did not follow his laws, they did not have circumcision. They even worship other gods. From a Jewish perspective it was too messy to deal with Gentiles, so it was better to just leave them alone. However, if you look at the bigger picture, the whole reason why the Jews were to be different from the Gentiles, was so that the Jews might bear witness to who God is, and that through their witness, the Gentiles would come to know God as well. In other words, the Jews were different from the Gentiles, not for the sake of the Jewish, but for the sake of the gentiles.
And yet, and this gives me chills. And yet, Jesus, in his death ended this difference, and on the cross he reconciled both Jew and Gentile to God. He forgave the sins of both, because both needed that forgiveness. It is in that forgiveness from God, and in that reconciliation with God that we are able to forgive one another and to be reconciled to one another.
Now here is the $25,000 question. In our church today, we don’t really struggle with Jews and Gentiles, but we do see struggles, what are those? Is it political? Liberal vs. Conservative! Is it Generational? Traditionalist vs. Baby Boomer vs. Gen X vs. Millennium Is it stylistic? Traditional vs. Contemporary? Whatever it is, it is important to keep in mind that Jesus, through his death on the cross, has made for himself one person from the two groups. So what does that say for us as we live, work, worship, and serve our God together? As we listen to these next verses, we could replace the words Jews and Gentiles with any of the groups we have just mentioned. Listen to this.
Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17 He has brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and to us Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us, both Jews and Gentiles, may come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family.
Because the church is made up of human beings, who happen to be sinners, things can be difficult and messy. It is much easier to ignore or shun someone, than it is to love them and be in relationship with them. But that is exactly what God has done for us in Jesus. He has made us members of the same family. As happened with Isaac, happened with all of us, water flows over our heads and the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is spoken. Somehow in that, we are connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are forgiven of our sins. We are restored in our relationship with our God. And we are united to one another as brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. We are made members of God’s family.
God doesn’t save us so that we can be lone ranger Christians. But he binds us together to live, work, worship, and serve together as a community of faith. And in our doing those things together, in our living together as God’s family we are bearing witness in our bodies and in our lives, to the power of reconciliation and forgiveness that comes from God. It is kind of like putting our money where our mouth is.
We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
That is one of those things that looks good on paper, and sounds good as we talk about it, but is it realistic? What do you think? Is it? I think it is. But because we are sinners it can sometimes feel like this house of God that we are, is more like a house of cards. We sin against one another. We say and do hurtful things. We place ourselves and our own needs ahead of others. And yet, even when we are more like a house of cards, we will not be shaken because of the foundation that we are built on.
The foundation of the apostles and the prophets is the good news of God’s love, forgiveness and reconciliation in Jesus. And he himself is the cornerstone. It is a foundation that will not be shaken. This past week, as the workers were doing their job out front, there was a whole lot of shaking going on. But our foundation stood firm. With the Jesus as our chief cornerstone, we can have confidence in knowing that as God’s people we can stand firm in living our lives together in this community of faith, no matter what things try to shake us up. It is one thing to have preferences, but when those preferences take the place of our mission to bear witness to God’s love and grace in Jesus, then we are standing on a different foundation. One that is weak and feeble. But when we stand on the foundation that is Jesus, we grow closer together we see God living in one another. Because he lives in us, that makes you and me the temple of God. Not this building. Though it is a nice building, and the ministry that takes place and will take place is very exciting. But it is in you and me that God lives by his Spirit.
There will be times when we are shaken, there will be times when we are tempted to live life on own apart from one another. Yet, no matter how hard we are shaken, we can be confident in our foundation and the chief cornerstone of that foundation. It will never fail us. It will never give out. And because we stand on that sure foundation, we can live, work, worship and serve together confidently. And as we do this, we will proclaim to our family, friends, neighbors and world the amazing love grace mercy and forgiveness of our God, and the power that comes from reconciliation to him and to one another.
May we continued to be joined together and built up as a temple for the Lord, where he lives by his Spirit. Now and always. Amen.