Week of Dec. 9: Christ brought about dramatic change that removes all barriers
By the Rev. Sam and Helen Rogers
Lesson for week of Dec. 9
Scripture: Ephesians 2: 11-22
This week we struggle, as Paul did, with the many divisions in the world that not only separate, but even make enemies out of adversaries. If you have ever been separated from other people by race, gender, education, beliefs, practices, social standing, geography, or politics and felt animosity in that separation, you can perhaps identify with today’s lesson. Remember, Ephesians is written to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) by a Jewish Christian.
There is a convenient way to outline this week’s scripture in three parts: The Past (vss. 11-12), The Present (vss. 13-18), and The Future (vss. 19-22). The writer first describes how it was in the past. The name Gentile covered anyone who was not a Jew. The Greeks called anyone who was not Greek, barbarian. We humans have a very dark habit of labeling anyone who is different with a name—usually derogatory. Jews held Gentiles in contempt. They declared God created Gentiles to be fuel for the fires of Hell. (Remember in the American West: the only good Indian was a dead Indian!) Paul makes it clear Gentiles were “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenant of hope.” There were indeed rich blessings in being Jewish. The descendants of Abraham were blessed by God’s choosing them for a special relationship – not of privilege, but of responsibility. They were blessed to be a blessing to all the earth. Gentiles were not part of the covenant, with its promises of blessings. Moreover, without a relationship to God, they were “without hope and without God.” Oh, they had gods—lots of gods, like we do—but hope only comes in absolute trust in the one God who reveals, relates and responds to humans and meets their need for forgiveness.
Now, in Christ there has been a dramatic change that removes the barriers. The American poet, Robert Frost, wrote in the poem, “Mending Wall,” “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The Berlin Wall came down with great rejoicing and celebration. Much more is the rejoicing when Jesus made all the barriers separating Gentiles from Jews irrelevant ! In the Temple in Jerusalem, there were clearly demarked areas that were reserved: The Holy of Holies for the High Priest once a year (the Day of Atonement), the Court of the Priests (priests only), the Court of the Israelites (men only), the Court of the Women, and finally, far away, the Court of the Gentiles. On that last barrier was a sign in Latin and Greek warning of death to anyone who proceeded farther.
Paul is also speaking metaphorically. He says dramatically, “He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so he could create one new person out of two groups, making peace.” (vs. 15 CEB) With his work on the cross, Jesus reconciled all people to God, and the result is a new humanity.
The present, for Paul, now moves to the future unfolding of God’s plan. These Gentile Christians are no longer aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people. I have had the privilege of participating in the naturalization ceremony in Federal Court when immigrants became United States citizens. I was honored to be among the first to welcome them as an American. With citizenship come great responsibilities. So it is in becoming a part of God’s household. We are sisters and brothers in the family through the sacrifice of Christ. And God has a plan for us in that new relationship!
Paul uses another metaphor to describe this plan of God for all time and for all people. He says as members of God’s family, citizens in the kingdom, we are being built on a sure and certain foundation. The prophets and apostles have told us what God is like, and what God expects. Old Testament prophets minced no words in speaking for how God wants His people to live. To quote just one of them: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)
Jesus called The Twelve to be His disciples. Eleven of them became apostles (the sent ones). Paul calls himself an apostle because all of them had been sent to share the good news with anyone who would listen. Their work was to build a building held together by the cornerstone of Jesus Christ. Not just any building. We are to become a holy temple in which the very Spirit of God lives. Imagine that! The Beatles had a song by that name—“Imagine”—with the vision of what the world could be like if people lived like Jesus. Oh, they didn’t explicitly use the Jesus word, but that was what they were describing.
After apartheid ended in South Africa, many black citizens wanted revenge and retribution for the many brutal acts and murders that occurred under white rule. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wanted to avoid more suffering and bloodshed. He proposed, and President Nelson Mandela approved, another way. Again, there was nothing explicit about a Christian way, but that is exactly what the plan became. A program of Truth and Reconciliation was inaugurated. Our good friend, Sam Clark, with a group of students from Oxford College, witnessed one of these sessions in Cape Town. Persons who had been involved in the brutality were given the opportunity to confess their complicity and ask for forgiveness. The event was called “the Trojan Horse.” A covered truck had come into a community where demonstrations were being held. Inside the truck were soldiers hidden until the covers were removed; and then they shot and killed many of the demonstrators. In the meeting they cried, confessed they had done evil, and asked for forgiveness. They were forgiven! Here is how we—both individually and as the Church—make peace in the midst of a fragmented world.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.