For He Is Our Peace (Ephesians 2:11-22)Joan MacPherson, July 23, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
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For He Is Our Peace
A few weeks ago I got to watch a Dad and his young son on the waters edge. There were shovels and some pails. There was this part of a family ready to relax and play together with sand between their toes, the salt air filling their noses and crisp water cooling them from the blistering heat of the sun. Dad was intent on creating castles. He collected sand from a little ways off in a bucket then brought it over, turned it over and placed the first castle in place. Repeat, repeat, repeat, forming a circle of small structures. Well, trying to create a circle of small structures. The son was just as focused and methodical. He was working with a shovel and water for his medium. He trucked back and forth from the waters edge and used his shovel of water to pour on top of the castles his Dad was erecting. His shovel carried enough water to reshape the castles not totally collapse them. Dad tried to redirect his effort so the design plan in his head would come to pass but no luck on that. Regardless a circle of castle like shapes remained. A circle that might have been imagined as a protection for something with in the circle. Or as a barrier to keep harm away. Or a way to connect the castles to one another. They kept playing and creating and then in came the water that eliminated the circle and knocked down the castles. So it goes on the ocean’s edge. The eternal tides rise and fall. The waters of life rush in and spread wide. The power of the water rearranging the structures humans have created and resettle it all in an open, exposed way.
If Paul had lived in Amesbury and got to go to Plum Island to play on the beach I am thinking he have would have spoken about sand castles and tides in his letter to the church in Ephesus. He wanted them to know about God’s inclusive love made real in the life of Jesus and Paul was intent in reaching the hearts and minds of those early church folks. He wanted them to understand and he wanted them to embrace this life and love and way of being that God offers and envisions. Had they lived here and now he might have used sand castles and tides as an illustration but they lived in a different place and Paul speaks to them with language and images that are familiar to them but not so much to us.
In his time and in those circles there was a lot of concern about who whose was included and who was excluded and what one had to do to be included in the radical love and peace and way of Jesus. Jesus was Jewish. Jewish men needed to be circumcised as an expression of their faith. Should this rule continue? Should uncircumcised men be kept out? The Jewish tradition had a lot of rules within it. Rules established to help people connect to God and live out their faith. Rules that were intended and developed to be life giving. There was a time when they made a lot of sense and were helpful for the community but now things have changed. Understandings are different. Jesus has lived, loved, been killed but not silenced. Jesus has shown that deeply faithful life doesn’t mean mean following all the rules that have been made with a hardened heart but rather a deeply faithful life means loving broadly and inclusively and consistently. When a human created law gets in the way of loving, God’s law of love wins out.
Paul is writing to a community of Jesus followers and reminding them that God’s law is the one that is most important. It is a law of love. It is a law of connection. I, who live here and now, would use the image of the sea rushing in to knock down the castles, the barriers that that Dad had built but Paul says “”but now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought neat by the blood of Christ. For 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. He 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, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” Paul is saying that Jesus’ love rushes in like the tide and knocks down any and all barriers that people seek to put up to contain or constrain that love. Paul is saying that no matter how good the intention was to make sand castles in a circle on the beach or boundaries for tribal lands and nations, holy love will rush in and knock over the barriers. Holy love is like the tides and the ocean water. Eternal. Persisting. Leveling. Opening. Connecting.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus to give them courage and guidance to be a people of deep love. Paul writes to them to let them know how much their peculiar, connected, love based way of being is needed in the world. Paul recognizes that being faithful to God’s inclusive love means that there are laws and norms that must be given up in order to be more loving, more faithful more life giving. It isn’t a call to be anarchists - it is a call to be very grounded in the law, the law of love. Followers of Jesus have a history taking the risk of putting God’s law above the laws of their land - to bring life and to care for the vulnerable. The Underground Railroad. Freedom Riders and Civil Rights marchers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Oscar Romero. They, like Jesus and Paul, recognize that there are times when human laws get in way of God’s law of love. In our time, in this country, our immigration laws and policies are getting in the way of God’s love and Jesus’ call to care for the vulnerable. No matter how well intentioned they may have been when created, there are problems now. Fransico Rodriguez but one example. We have a team of people at Main Street Church that are talking, praying and preparing gatherings and education for us to learn more about the Christian tradition and responses to immigration issues. We recognize that this is a complex conversation and enter into it holding on to the truth and hope of our Welcome Statement -we may not all think a like but we can all love alike” We seek to be in conversation with any and all from the congregation over differing opinions and support.
In a violent and divided time we have the chance to be an expression of Jesus’ peace and inclusion. Not an easy peace and a simple inclusion. It is hard work. It is risky ministry. We step into because we have promised Liam that we will show him what Gospel love looks like in flesh. As we move ahead, the power of God’s love will bear down upon us like the rush of the tide, sometimes knocking our feet out from under us, sometimes washing away the things that hold us back, always working to eliminate barriers and make level the ground for all of creation. God’s love, like the waters of baptism and the ocean water, eternal, constant, enfolding us, holding us up, giving us life, giving us what we need to be life to the vulnerable in our midst. Amen.
Main Street Congregational UCC
July 23, 2017
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11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)