Sunday, August 8,2021
Pastor Arne Bergland

Ephesians 2:11-22

 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands  remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were 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. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,  and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;  for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;  in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Beloved of God, Grace and Peace to you

There is an old story about a Lutheran who was stranded on a desert island for 30 years.  He was rescued and his rescuers noticed and wondered about three huts that  had been erected on the beach.  The man responded, “That one over there is my house.  The hut next to it is my church.”  “What about the one over there,” they wondered.  “I don’t talk about that one, that is the church I used to go to.”

Lutherans are no strangers to conflict and disunity. Perhaps it is because we are so passionate about the things of faith. Perhaps it has to do with being uncomfortable with change. Or maybe it comes from generations of attitudes and assumptions about what is right and true. It is quite clear that others know conflict and disunity as well.  Today’s lesson from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks to these things.

There was hostility in the town of Ephesus. Paul says this about that, “God is our peace, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility…” Paul knew these were words that the church needed to hear. The Ephesians were fighting with each other.  They argued about circumcision, they were arguing about what foods were acceptable, they fought about their leadership, should they follow Apollos or should they turn to Paul. They argued about the resurrection, one group did not like the other, and the list goes on.

Into that mix Paul spoke a word of peace. The cross of Christ puts a stop to the hostility within us and reveals the will of God to live in peace with one another. Jesus opens the door that we might truly know peace. The word that Paul used for peace denotes a tying together or joining together.  Jesus would have known the word “Shalom” which is Hebrew for peace, but he would have said “shlomo” in his Aramaic tongue. Both words speak to total happiness, total harmony with self, God, nature, and others.

One of the hallmarks of Paul’s letters is that he began each of them with the same phrase: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”  As he signed off his letter to his friends in Rome he wrote, “The peace of God be with you always.” He knew that no matter what the day might bring into our lives that God’s peace is with us, that peace is our hope, and that we need to learn to live into that peace.

We know that there will be good days and we know that there will be bad ones as well. There seems to be no end of conflict and division in our world. Even among the faithful there have been constant arguments. Churches have been fighting about a variety of issues for two thousand years.  Conflict is not new to our communities and for that reason  Paul continues to lift the peace of Christ as promise, hope and aspiration

I have had the privilege of visiting Dresden Germany on several occasions.  It is a place that has special meaning for me. In the center of city is the Frauenkirke, a Lutheran church that features one of the largest domes in Europe.  It was destroyed in WWII in a controversial attack by our Army Air Corps and British air forces. When the smoke cleared over 1600 acres of the city center lay in ruins and 20,000 and likely many more lay dead. My father was a pilot of a B17 that flew missions over Dresden twice between the 13th and 15th of February 1945. Each time I have visited the city I wonder if he knew what the result would be.  When I am there, I look to the sky and wonder what it felt like to see over 1200 heavy bombers overhead. The church building  remained in ruins  for 50 years as a war memorial, following decisions of the East German government. They wanted to remember what had happened there.  After the fall of communist East Germany, it was finally rebuilt in in 2004. Putting together an incredible puzzle of pieces, they replaced original pieces as best they could and used new stone as needed.   To this day you can make out the difference between the dark stones of the original building and the lighter stones of the new. It remains a monument to the devastation of war and the effort to make things whole even after the darkest of days. The terrible conflict that is recalls is not forgotten but the need for healing is remembered as well.

God’s peace is not merely some theoretic ideal. It is a reality that exists amid our conflict and division. The unity it creates is not a world where everybody thinks alike and acts the way we do. One might think that peace is the absence of conflict where we escape the real world. Rather it is living in the messiness of life finding God’s peace with and between.

We want that peace. We want peace in our homes, with our family. We want peace across the fences of our neighbors.  We want peace in our cities, nation, and world.  We want peace.  Paul’s call for peace is his word for us. God wills peace within ourselves as well as one another.  Paul’s word to us is that God’s peace is there in the midst of everyday and every event of our lives.  Jesus came that we might learn to be peaceful people in all things.

But there is more. Recall the words at the end of our lesson today, “In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” It is a remarkable privilege that we have been given that we might be entrusted by God to be peaceful people and in so doing become a dwelling place for God. Through the cross the division and hostility of our world is destroyed. As heirs of that promise, we have been entrusted with holy purpose. God’s faithful people live out the welcome and hospitality that we have received. That is where we begin, and it is also our goal.

It was as  the Jewish and Gentile peoples lived out that goal that the church became a dwelling place for God.  it all depends on community the church then became a place of healing overcoming  division and hostility. The church as a dwelling place of God can break down the division that the world has known. Division of tradition, class, color, gender identity, nation.

Division and hostility are a constant in this world.  As faithful people we might recall the example of Jesus who died for all, believer, unbeliever, those who look like me and those who don’t look anything like me, those who like what I like and those who hate what I like.  Might we remember that Jesus never led with judgement but rather with welcome? What would  it look like if our defining values were love and welcome?  Jesus provides for us an opening to break through the walls of hate and hostility.

It is as we join beneath the cross that we become the faithful people God would have us be.  We cannot do that unless we do it together. Only as we join are we able to fully proclaim God’s presence in the world. As the old hymn proclaims, “Blest be the tie that binds, our hearts in Christian love, the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Gods’ peace is our hope, our promise, and our aspiration.

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