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 Ephesians 2: 14-22

1. Background to the Book of Ephesians

The Book of Ephesians is one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to churches.  This letter is somewhat different from his other letters.  In this letter he is not addressing any particular problems but is free to give his theology unfettered.  In fact this letter was or could have been a ‘teaching document’ that was taken to other churches in Asia Minor as basic information for all Christians to know.   So this letter contains much, according to Paul, general teaching on the theory and practice of Christianity. 

In this letter Paul outlines all that God has done for us through Christ and the differences there will be in our lives because of Jesus.   Paul opens this letter addressing the people at Ephesus as ‘saints’. This is not meant to mean that they are saints in the literal sense, that is perfect, but that they are saints because God has set them apart and thus they have a special status as well as special responsibilities.  Clearly, to Paul the church members of the ‘United Church of Ephesus’ are ordinary people but who are special in that they are part of Christ’s family.  We too, like they, are part of Christs’ family as sons and daughters.  We belong together. 

And then in prayer Paul assures us and the Ephesus church members that there is available to us the opportunity, through reflection to get to know the mind or heart of God better-all the time, down through time.   We and they are called to consider life from an expanded vision- not a narrow and parochial point of view.  An unlimited time frame and a world without borders are to be crucial elements of our consideration.  Also, we are to keep in mind that having Christ in our lives gives us a unique new life or new birth.  Before this, we were dead but now we are alive in a special way.  And this is because of the rising from the dead of Christ.  “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  

But a strong recurring theme throughout this letter is that of Christ’s seeking to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles.  Paul, a former Jew understands well what divisions do to the souls of individuals, to families, to friendships, between neighbours and between peoples of different race, creed and color.  Paul is, in this letter to a people who are not in great distress or turmoil, asking them to always seek a unity with other members of humankind.  Paul wants the walls between people to come down.

  1.  Sharon…..

 

Ephesians 2:14-22  Read from the Message

14-15The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

 16-18Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

 19-22That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. 

May these words written centuries ago speak anew with living power in our hearts.

Sharon’s Reflections:

Most scholars think that this letter was written after the crushing of Jewish resistance and destruction of Jerusalem. There was one peace, pax Romana, peace by the sword, enforced by military power.  The writer of the letter to the Ephesians greets the community with a different kind of peace.. the Peace of Christ, and certainly  this passage speaks of that peace as breaking down walls that divide, creating one community of former antagonists. Peace building rather than peace by conquering.  The church in Asia Minor was dealing with this issue and many other issues of how to be faithful to core Jesus’ values in the midst of empire. 

They were also dealing with an issue that marked, sometimes scarred the 1st Century church, disagreements about integration of Gentile ie non-Jewish, Christians.  Christianity, had its roots as a progressive sect within Judaism, well tolerated in its early days. But after the Jewish war, and the decimation of Judea, many were reeling from the killing and displacement as refugees. Judaism in crisis became less tolerant of diversity. At the same time Christians, spreading the good news of Jesus into Asia Minor began to attract many non-Jewish believers.   It became less “convenient” in the Roman Empire to proclaim Jesus, crucified as a Jewish rebel, right after Rome had just wiped out Jewish rebellion.

And so the issue of Jewish and Gentile Christians was a huge issue, at least as huge and divisive as the issue of gays and lesbians in the church in our day. The debate was whether these new Gentile converts had first to become Jews,  and to experience the mark of the covenant, circumcision.. well for the men anyway… and frankly a deterrent for a lot of adult men. (Can’t imagine why!  Paul had been a strong and controversial advocate for the NO position.  He had a radical vision of God who created equality. This  passage is very much in keeping with his core teaching. 

Sam and I would like, over these last weeks of August to work with this letter to the Ephesians in a series of reflections.  Today, we will each share reflections on where this passage speaks to us today.

There’s a title of a new book I noticed on the Sojourners website. “Living together, in a world falling apart”   Haven’t read it, but the title kind of sums up the issue I think that both we and the Ephesian  community are dealing with. What does it mean to follow Jesus surrounded by a sea of hostile people for whom faith, and God have little meaning or call on their lives. Many suggest that the real division these days is not between different faiths, but between those who have a sacred perspective on life, and those who have none.

The key I think is  the “Living Together” part of that book title.

The Christ way is a way of living together, of creating community of loving resistance; and doing that out of strangers, welcoming to the heart of community those who were formerly far-off/ outsiders. The mandate of the Christ way is peace-building by being community across lines that might divide us…lines of age, of race, of gender, of sexual orientation, economic lines of class and human condition, and then out of that community becoming a people who can together claim their power and make a difference in a world that is falling apart.  We need to use our voices to cry for justice, use our collective strength to speak truth to power, to speak hope and compassion to those alienated and feeling that no one cares. The passage speaks of a vision of creating a home coming community, where those who felt they were strangers, outsiders, hopeless, helpless people find a place to belong.  Find a place to claim their sacred connection and their own holy ground.  Find a place to use their gifts and their insights and their energy and their money and their power to create something much better for the world….a holy temple built by God, all of us build into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

At Cedar Park, we have been very intentionally working at welcoming strangers, inviting them into the heart of community, so that they are no longer strangers, but have the right to belong here just as anyone else.   Nobody has a claim on the pew.   We are still learning and we have a long way to go to figure out how to create the deeper integration of newcomers.  But we are committed to welcoming of strangers and those who come seeking God, and Christian community.  Many come with absolutely no church history, or they come deeply wounded by abusive church history. 

One group particularly that has experienced violent oppression at the hands of some churches, and certainly the community at large, are gays, lesbians, transgendered bixexuals.  They have been vilified, told God hates them, that the church has no place for them, unless they deny who they are and pretend to be “healed” of their identity. This congregation has chosen by a 96% vote to be an affirming congregation which welcomes the GBLT community and their families, and commits to ministry with them.  Breaking down a wall that divides; saying that they are no longer strangers or outsiders. They belong here as God’s beloved.  And we challenge them to use their gifts and insights to continue to help build up a holy temple built by God. 

This whole process of becoming an affirming congregation has challenged us to think more deeply about inclusion, not just of gays and lesbians, but of everyone; of children, of elderly, of mentally challenged, of those without resources.    How do we deepen the welcome beyond surface friendly hello?  How do we create homecoming community for all different kinds of people?   How do we shift our culture as a community to recognize that it is every person’s role to reach and and engage people they don’t know….newcomers as well as more long-time members?  How do we get to know one another deeply enough so that the radical hospitality we speak with words, becomes the kind of radical belonging that the writer of our letter to the Ephesians talks about? How do we allow God to build us into a holy temple, each one a brick, a stone, necessary for creating the whole, built on the foundation stone of Christ who sets the pattern for us for life that is deep in spiritual encounter, committed to community, and lived with action in the world?

Sam where does this passage connect with you?

III.  The other night I had a restless night’s sleep—because as I was flipping through the TV channels before I went to bed I happened onto a documentary on the CBC.  I probably would have avoided it had I known how much it would disturb me and down what paths of reasoning it would lead me—but I didn’t, I was hooked and so I watched it.

It was a documentary about where our old computers, TV’s, cell phones- all electronic devices go.  They go to China.  They go in ship containers and in massive amounts.  At the docks in Hong King and then in other terminals the various devices go through a sorting process until all keyboards arrive at one or two or three Chinese towns, all cell phones at another, all the plastics in computers at another, all mother boards at another and so on and on.   Now this doesn’t sound too bad.  We have called someone to get our computer or we have dropped it off at a depot to be gathered with other electronics we are changing or upgrading and now these things are gone from sight and mind.  In fact they are going to China for a huge recycling process.  Well it sounds very good but in actual practice it is a dirty and very high risk business that employs people of all ages at very minimal wages.  The methods of breaking down and recycling these things is laborious beyond belief.  People squat all day with hammer and pliers in hand pulling apart these machines.  The parts that have valuable metals are baked over open fires or braziers to capture these metals with no or very little thought given to the fumes that are inhaled in this process.  Watching this happen in this documentary was like going back in time to the earliest days of factories being dirty places where people laboured 12-14 hour days for pennies with no benefits and no thought given to health effects or environmental degradation in this process.

Now in the documentary our CBC correspondents tracked down some of the collector agencies and individuals on the west coast of Canada.  They were asked if they knew where these shipping containers went filled with all of our garbage.  There were two basic claims.  Firstly, that these goods were being recycled so that none of the materials went to landfills and second that those devises still usable were for the poor people of the far east who didn’t  have them because they could not afford a cell phone or a computer and thus, this was a charitable endeavor. 

Folks, today in our passage form Ephesians Paul, a way ahead of his time is tasking the United Church of Ephesus members to think globally; to act so that barriers will not go up and so that walls will be torn down.  Now some might say, “well if China cleaned up its act and stopped this then all would be well.”  In fact there is legislation in China that forbids many of the practices I spoke of but just so that they have enough money for the basics of life, many millions of Chinese have to do this labour.  We could say that the problem is the shippers’ on the west coast of Canada.  Our government has legislation to control shipping but there are always it seems ways to define what is being shipped as ‘not a problem’.

More and more I am struck by how much the world is interconnected- and how much we have built up walls around ourselves so we do not have to be responsible for the situations such as this.  We do not insist that the products we buy increase in price by perhaps 50% so that those who sell the products would be responsible for the reclamation of all that goes into the making of the product and that this reclamation must be done in ways that do not further build up the walls between us and others. 

We will sing, ‘walls that divide are broken down’ but we must do more than sing.  If not, we will continue to build the walls between us and the rest of the world higher and higher especially through our toxic ever on-going consumerism.

 Sharon: Peace to those who are near, peace to those who are far.  It’s complex, many layered.  And it’s a challenge.  Today we have the opportunity to do some peace making right here. Recent measures by the Federal Government are closing the doors on some of the most desperate people in our global community – refugees. We have been invited by Montreal City mission and Presbytery to  send letters to our government to ask that it stop decimating our refugee system.  Montreal City Mission, which works with refugees, has recently had to close down two of its Project Refuge homes because of a sudden decision by the govt. to cut funding promised just last year.  There are other aspects that would cut to the root of Canada’s long time record of a humanitarian approach to those forced to flee their homes.  Susan Regan, the new coordinator of our Social Justice ministry will be at coffee with letters you can send.  One way, the Community of Christ can work for justice as we live together in a world falling apart,

 Remember God continues to build us into a holy temple, fitting us stone by stone, brick by brick into a community of Christ. May the welcoming, justice-seeking community we build as  United Churches on this west island be truly a sacred temple in which God would feel quite at home. And may God’s dream of fullness of life for all flow through us into the world.

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