9th Sunday after Pentecost; July 22, 2018, Year B
Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2.11-22; Mark 6.30-34, 53-56
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who breaks down the walls that divide us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Dividing walls are everywhere. There are physical walls that divide territories like the Great Wall of China and the walls in Israel and Palestine. There are fences that mark property and borders all over the place.
There are other walls we erect to keep others in our out: mental or emotional walls we put up to not let others see our pain or struggles.
We put up spiritual walls between human beings: this kind of Christian or that kind of Christian … Protestant or Catholic. Or we put up walls across faith traditions: Muslim, Christian, Hindu, etc.
These walls communicate that there are differences here, so do not try to cross.
Or, on this side of the wall we have the right way of doing something or thinking and those of you on the other side don’t.
Our reading in Ephesians is about dividing walls and how Jesus breaks them down to create one people. Paul emphasizes this as he tries to get Jews and Gentiles to see one another, not as a strangers, but as people belonging to the same body. This might not seem radical, but it really is.
Just a note of clarification: In Scripture anyone who is not Jewish is considered to be a Gentile. So, when we read about Gentiles in Scripture, that refers to you and me and others who are not Jewish.
In Scripture there are hardly two different groups of people than Jews and Gentiles. Most didn’t even like each other and for fairly good reason. Gentiles, Roman people at the time, occupied Jewish people. That means that the Roman people took over the land and ruled over the Jews. To say that relations were hostile would be an understatement.
They didn’t eat the same food, didn’t dress the same, didn’t look the same, and had different religious practices. There were all kinds of dividing walls between them, and the writer of Ephesians is proposing something radical:
That Jesus has torn down the walls between them in order to bring them into the same body, to be brothers and sister in Christ.
He has done this through his death on the cross.
Ephesians says: “But now in Christ Jesus you … have been brought near 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 creates in himself one new humanity … thus making peace … reconciling both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
I once heard a saying that someone used more as a joke with a kernel of truth, is that when Jesus says when two or more are gathered, there he is with them. Meaning, where two or three actually agree on anything, Christ must be in the midst of them!
Jesus knew how hard it was and is for people to simply get along, let alone be joined together for a common mission and purpose in the world. And we know that Jesus gave up his life in order that all hostility between people may be put to death.
We know about division. Rival gangs, political party affiliation, gender identity, sports teams, neighborhoods, languages, religions, you name it. Ephesians speak of Jews and Gentiles, but we can substitute any group with this reading.
Even though it is true that all walls of hostility have not been broken down, there are some that have been through the grace of God.
A story for you:
I have a friend from Tonga, a country of islands in the Pacific Ocean. My friend’s name is Aisea. We were at an event together with people from all around the world. I didn’t know he was going to do this, but he stood up to speak in front of everyone.
The room was silent as he began. He said: “We have a few brothers and sisters in Christ here from Samoa for the first time.”
Samoa is also a country made up of islands in the Pacific, near Tonga. Tonga and Samoa have a history of warring with each other.
Aisea said, “My whole life I have been taught to hate you. I don’t even know why. I am sorry for this and I am wondering if you would forgive me.”
All of us watched four Samoans get up from the side of the room and walk towards my friend. They didn’t say one word, but reached out and embraced him.
They wept together. It was so powerful. It put flesh to what it means to have the hostility and the dividing walls between us ripped down and to be ministers of reconciliation.
How often are we to make assumptions about people rather than truly get to know someone?
How often are we to point a finger of blame rather than take responsibility for our own actions?
How often do we dismiss someone’s worth rather than look upon them as someone for whom Jesus died?
Jesus death works in this way: We come to understand that not only did Jesus give up his life for me, but for you as well … and even those we may consider to be an enemy.
This is how Jesus rips down the walls of hostility between us. He gives up his life in order that we can look upon one another and not see a stranger or someone to be feared or disliked, but in order that we see another human being as someone for whom Jesus died. That they are worth the death of God’s own son.
This is really hard. I find this especially hard when I see bumper stickers that I hate and then I have not nice thoughts about the person behind the wheel. I feel hostility rising up from my belly with those who take advantage of vulnerable people, or perpetuate a sense of hierarchy within the human race. Or like my friend Aisea, who was raised to hate someone he has never met.
Perhaps this is why I feel our Ephesian’s reading is difficult. Perhaps this is why I too need to come to worship week after week to hear the words of the Gospel. That Jesus gave up his life in order that we can be One and act like it, to truly do the impossible … to love one another as God first loved us.
This doesn’t mean we should be okay with injustice, but to actively seek understanding, and ask that our hearts might be changed right along with those we find difficult to love.
The question is: Can we imagine a different way? Can we imagine a world in which the Salvadorian immigrant and the ND farmer can be one … or the Syrian refugee and the Greek fisherman … or a DAPL water protector (or protestor) and a Morton County Police officer? [ … or a nurse from Bismarck and a YCC resident.]?
I think we at Heart River can imagine a different way! Jesus, the WAY, is our life together!
Can we trust that God continues to work in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit, changing your heart, changing mine, ever working in the world to make all thing new and right and good?
When we imagine and live out a different way of being in the world, we know deep in our bones that we are molded from the same dust of the earth, we breathe the same air, and we are all loved by God.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, binds even enemies together through love and forgiveness. Jesus calls us into one family and it is hard and grueling work sometimes.
But the reward is great, for when we are joined together, when the walls of hostility are broken down, we become a dwelling place for God. Meaning, God comes and makes God’s home with us. What could be better than that?