This sermon was written by Rev. KJ Norris for Kerr Presbyterian Church Sunday, February 28, 2021 as part of a Lenten Series on Ephesians.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Read vs 14 again.
I was a little girl when the Berlin wall came crashing down. It is one of the first news stories I remember watching on TV. As a kid I wasn’t very globally minded, it didn’t occur to me to ask how people lived their lives in other parts of the world—perhaps it didn’t occur to me that anyone lived differently than I did.
But watching people tear down a wall—that got my attention. One group had managed to get a rope around a piece of the wall and many pulled together if they were in a game of tug of war, their opponent being a solid mass of concrete. I watched them heave and ho and then saw many people flood through the hole they made. Those who had stood on opposites sides of the wall hugged. Long embraces. Tears of joy. Strangers no longer kept by a wall of division, bonding as family.
The images melted into my young mind and I asked my parents to explain. They told me how the wall had gone up, almost overnight, in the early 60s when they were my age at that time. It had separated families, they said. Brothers and sisters even may not have seen each other for nearly 30 years. This was a time to rejoice. The wall of hostility was coming down.
Today our Scripture speaks of the work of Christ as the work of tearing down walls.
Often times when we think of this, we think of Jesus breaking a barrier between God and humanity. One frequently seen image to explain this is the image of a great chasm between humanity and God. Humanity is on one side of the chasm, we are told, and God is on the other. The chasm is created by sin and death. But God in God’s great mercy sent Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—to close the distance between us.
This image, often found in a the mission booklet is followed by a second picture. When you turn the page of the booklet you see where the deep chasm once dipped there is now the image of the cross. The central beam acts like a bridge so that humanity can be united with God.
I personally prefer the Biblical image given in Matthew. Matthew reports that at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, the curtain in the temple, the veil which separated the Holy of Holies from humanity–the covering God had told us to hang between the place of holiness and humanity whom is born into sin—at the moment of Jesus’ death that curtain is torn in two. From the top to the bottom, Matthew tells us (Matthew 27:51). God rips away the division between us and the Divine. In Christ, we are no longer estranged but are welcomed into the family of God.
Today, our Scripture takes this truth much further. Sometimes we in the church are prone to stop here. We think about God breaking down barriers between God and humanity, and we think that this is all there is. Our faith becomes a faith which is private and personal. It becomes all about our singular relationship between us personally and God.
But Paul today reminds us that this is not the only thing Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. Not only is the barrier between God and humanity ripped, in addition, the wall between different groups within humanity is smashed.
In Paul’s day for those who grew up in the line of Abraham, there were two kinds of people. There were those who were circumcised and those who were not. Those who were circumcised were a covenant people—people who God had chosen to reveal God’s own self to, people who spent their lives learning the ways of God and trying to walk in them. And then, there were those who were not. Our Bible sometimes refers to these two groups as the Jews and the Gentiles.
Paul explains today that “[Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall…between us… [Jesus] creates in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace… [Jesus] reconciles both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Ephesians 1:14-16, Pastor’s Paraphrase).
The work of Christ is not just about ending divisions between us and God. Central to the Gospel, central to the work of Christ, is that Jesus broke down the walls that divided all of humanity. Praise the Lord.
This is the truth of the gospel. Jesus has already done this. There is nothing that separates us from one another—not race nor gender nor wealth nor citizenship nor anything else. As it says in our Scripture we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but we are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 1:19, Pastor’s Paraphrase). This is the truth of the gospel; thanks be to God.
And. And. In this season of Lent we are called to look deeply at the “now and not yet” nature of our life on earth.
In reality, in Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, Jesus broke all barriers. Jesus ended sin and death. Jesus reigns on high over all and all things have been placed under his feet, as we learned in Ephesians 1 last week.
And, and we know that we don’t always see this reality in our daily lives.
In our world, there are still walls of hostility.
The great non-violence activist Bayard Rustin who was an openly gay Black leader in the 1940s trained Martin Luther King and others in the demands of Christian-nonviolence. He talked about the wall of hostility this way: he said, “Segregation, separation, according to Jesus, is the basis of continuous violence” (Rustin, 1943, p. 176-177).
Segregation. Separation. These by themselves are a form of violence. Having walls between us—whether they are physical walls like the Berlin Wall or not—are a kind of hostility which Jesus came to break apart.
There is a phrase in our culture which has come to bother my spirit more than I can say. It is the phrase “finding your tribe.” Have you heard this saying? The idea is that we just need to find “our people.” The connotation of the phrase goes like this: I know you are lonely. Most of us are lonely. Especially in this world of new boundaries created by the coronavirus.
But, you won’t be lonely anymore once you “find your people.” What you have to do is find people who are just like you. That’s our task, the world tells us. Find people who are just like us, and we will no longer have this loneliness inside of us. Fiddlesticks. That’s what I have to say about that. Fiddlesticks. Bologna.
That’s a lie that the world is feeding us.
First, it is impossible to find someone who is just like you.
Look at Kimberly and I for instance. We are sisters. We are born of the same DNA. We had the same upbringing. And as a adults we live in the same house.
But are we the same? No! And it’s not just that she has that beautiful long black curly hair compared to my strawberry blond with a touch a grey.
We are not alike in our thinking. She is an introvert. I am an extrovert. She orders her world by ordering her mind. My mind is brought to some semblance of order through external stimulus. We are not the same.
And that is beautiful. No two people are the same. God made sure of that. Even twins which share DNA have separate fingerprints.
So, the idea that we can somehow find ones who will match us perfectly is just not possible.
The goal should never be to eradicate difference. Part of what makes us beautiful is our difference. The desire is not to find those with whom we are most similar and then build walls around them to keep them in and others out.
No! The walls have been torn down by the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be people of unity, yes, but never people of uniformity.
Instead, as Rev. Dr. Barbra Wheeler, former President of Auburn Seminary says (reading from Belief: Ephesians, p. 98).
God calls us together, not because we are sinless. Not because we all agree. Not because we have something in common. God calls us together because God is a God of love.
God calls us together because through forming a new people, a people unlike any that that world would naturally form, God shows us the meaning of love. Jesus Christ did not just come to break down the boundaries between us and God but between groups within humanity. Jesus came to teach us to love one another. To love boldly and strongly. To love in ways which push beyond any kind of physical or metaphorical wall humanity can put into place.
So, this week, in this second week of Lent, I want to challenge us all to look deeply within ourselves. In the quiet of these next few moments when we hear the music playing, pray boldly that God might reveal to you where there are walls in your life.
Let us look at our friendships. If we think of our 30 closest friends, how many are noticeably different from us? How many are a different ethnicity? A different political party? A different gender? A different economic location?
Let us look at our input. Maybe we are readers or maybe we listen to podcasts. If we think of our input, who we are listening too. How many are noticeably different from us? How many challenge us to think differently than we are prone to do?
Today the words of Scripture challenge us to not look for “our people”—to not look for those who appear to be most similar to us—but rather to look for ways in which we can break down diving walls. Ways in which we can love through barriers. Ways in which we can embrace those on the other side of the wall with tears of joy. And in doing so we will find our true home in Jesus Christ, just as we are promised in Psalm 84.
Rustin (1943), Letter to local draft board No. 63. In Long, M. G. (Ed.), Christian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History. Orbis Books.