Therefore – Ephesians 2
We are currently working through a series on Ephesians. This is our second week – and we are looking at Ephesians 2 and it is a long passage! In the lectionary, the three-year cycle of readings many churches follow, it is dealt with in two parts. The first ten verses are read in the first week of Lent and the last twelve are read in the eighth week of Pentecost. But there’s a very good argument for reading the passage as a whole and that is found in one word in verse eleven – ‘therefore’ (dio in Greek; the NRSV translated it ‘so then’). We have – verse 5 – been saved by grace. Therefore, we are now – verse 19 – citizens of one country and members of one household. We have – verse 7 – been shown the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we who were once divided – verse 14 – have been made one. Christ has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility, between us. Because that happened therefore this is possible. That has made this possible. This is because of that. We cannot separate the two things. Or we separate them at the peril of ourselves and of the church.
I was speaking to Fran last weekend (apologies Fran – you’ve made an appearance in the sermon!) about the dividing wall that used to stand – very clearly – between Catholics and Protestants; how, growing up, I had always thought Catholics weren’t really Christian. It was interesting listening to John Doyle this week, promoting his book, Blessed: The Breakout Year of Rampaging Roy Slaven, speaking about how in the Lithgow of his/Roy’s youth, there were two groups of citizens, Catholics and ‘Publics’; that they had a deep distrust of ‘Publics’. They had no morality at all… They weren’t to be trusted…
I was telling Fran, that when I was very little, we lived in Campbelltown and the family next door was Catholic, and we kids had had our own version of breaking down the dividing wall. We were constantly pushing on the fence palings, so we could break through and play in each other’s backyards. I have a vivid memory of the neighbour, Mrs Francis, wielding a hammer, and swearing while holding nails in her mouth – shocking and impressive at the same time – as she nailed the fence back together. But mum and Mrs Francis had a better version of breaking down the dividing wall. They were friends and they supported each other in the task of managing multiple children under the age of five. Bath time or dinner time happened interchangeably between the two houses.
There are other significant dividing walls as well. When friends of ours, Linda and Kazuhiro married, they were told, by some of Linda’s family, that it was wrong; that it was even unnatural. The verse quoted to them, a verse with a long association with legalised racism in the United States, was 1 Corinthians 15:39, “Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.” “I asked them, “ said Lynda, still outraged, as she retold the story “Which am I?” The fish or the bird?”
I caught a little of an interview with Lady Carol Kidu, Papua New Guinea’s only female cabinet minister and the only non-indigenous women to enter Parliament who married Biru Kidu, PNG’s Chief Justice, and she told stories of their courtship in Queensland; while out walking with Biru, how a man came up to her and spat at her and said, “You dirty girl.” And how the police followed them and separated them, saying, “You go that way and you go that way.” Which is shocking, but only because we are hearing from her what was constantly happening to Indigenous and Islander peoples…and what still happens…
There’s another dividing wall when the person on the other side is your enemy. I met a Caritas (Catholic Aid) worker, some years ago, a Belgian priest, who spoke of his hatred, as a child, for the Germans when they invaded Belgium. He told of a time he was looking through the windows of a bakery, how hungry he had been (how he was always hungry during the war), and a soldier had offered to buy him one of the pastries he was looking so longingly at – he probably had a son my age at home he said – but he’d refused – point blank. Almost no degree of hunger would persuade him to take food from a German.
Perhaps these stories give us some understanding of the dividing wall – the dividing gulf – between Jews and Gentiles in the world of the book of Ephesians. Commentator Scott Hoezee describes this divide as a “spiritual Grand Canyon….one did not merely leap across it just by getting a good running start.”
And he goes on, “There were things that could happen to bring an outsider in, but it was complicated. A minor surgery (literally) was involved for the men…[and]…a whole lot of education in a very complex set of Laws was involved for everyone….But in truth . . . even when that was all said and done, the outsider remained second class….”
But what this passage says is that in the life and death and resurrection of Christ God has bridged a much much much greater division that this! The divide between sinful human beings and an utterly good and righteous God. This gulf makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the pavement! And the passage also makes it clear it is not a divide the Jewish people had already bridged. This great barrier affected – verse 3 – all of us. “All of us once lived…in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and sense”…all of us were “children of wrath” – our sin separating us from God’s goodness. And all of us were powerless to change this state. Our sin made us as helpless and hopeless as though we were dead. In fact, the writer says, we were dead in our transgressions.
“But God who is rich in mercy”, who loves us with a great love – verse 4 – reached across this divide, reached out to us, and – verse 5 – made us alive together with Christ, saved us – verse 6 –“ raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We are-in fellowship now with God.
Therefore (We are back to the therefore!) with this great division bridged, our petty divisions are declared null and void. Therefore, in breaking down this greatest of dividing walls, the walls between us have also been torn down. Therefore, we who were far off (Gentiles) and those who were near (Jews) – all parties – have been brought together and Christ is our peace accord. And we are now, we are told at the end of this passage, citizens (a powerful concept in the ancient Roman world) in God’s country. We are now members of the household of God. We are now part of a living structure – a temple – for God.
In Christ, going back to verse 10, we have been made for good works. We have been made so we can work out how to live – the way of life – together in this new country, in this new household. We are in the process of being built together as a place where God can dwell.
Looking around at the real divisions that still exist – at the real disagreements that still occur – within the Christian community, we still have a long way to go. Belonging to God’s family does not mean we cease to be what we are; Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, men and women ( to jump to Galatians 3:28) but recognising the reality – the new identity we have – of being one in Christ should give us the grace to address our cultural and racial challenges; should give us the courage to remedy the economic injustice in our world, should give us the resolve to form healthy, respectful relationships between genders in the community of faith.
The Belgian priest that I mentioned earlier had worked for many years in Rwanda and he related how a Christian leader there – after the genocides in which it is estimated in just 100 days 1,100,000 people were murdered – said to him, “Why when the missionaries came, why did you not say, what the gospel says, that when we become Christians we become part of one tribe; Tutsi and Hutu – we are one people – the people of God?”
And he told another story – which has stayed with me – of his childhood during the war, of how he served as an acolyte, assisting the priest in the church, and how on Christian Eve during Midnight Mass they heard the sound of clattering, as guns were being laid on the stone paving of the entrance to the church and a group of German soldiers came in, and then, at the appropriate time, came forward to take communion, and he looked at the priest, and the thought in his head was, “How can we serve these people?” And the priest looked at him and said, “We are one in Christ.”
“In Christ Jesus you were once far off 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.”
As we prepare to celebrate communion together, let us remember that Christ is our peace, that because of the love of God we have been made one, and that together we are being built into a holy place for God to dwell.