To the saints at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Eph. 1:1-2)
I’m sure you’ve heard the adage that history repeats itself. Indeed, there are many instances and plenty of things to point this as true. This was the prevailing thought of those in ancient Greek society, those living in Ephesus. The philosopher Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex introduced this foreign thought; The recognition that perhaps not everything is left to fate but that one’s own faults lead to a downfall, be it an individual, a family, or a society. Near the end of the tragedy Oedipus laments that he was even born in such a cursed family, for he was without hope.
This was prevalent in many people’s thoughts. That history simply repeated itself and that most of society was left without hope. There was no individual hope to speak of. Where one was born and into what life was all the determination of it, it was all left to fate. What Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and to you and me today is something quite different. History is not merely repeating in a cycle. History is spiraling towards an eternal rescue, a resurrection of the body.
This was an alien thought. The Gentiles were without hope. The only thing offered to them was to become Jews. As a people and society that had no individual hope, there was a lot to proclaim. For truly they had no hope without faith and trust in God. They were a divided people. Divided by a wall.
What Paul proclaims to the church at Ephesus is this, they are not separated. There is indeed a hope, a something to look forward to, and that is the resurrection of all flesh. They may have been far off, they may have been separated, but no longer was it so. Many Jews had this notion that they were the only people of God. While it is true they were favored, what was lost on the Jews was the purpose which God had chosen them – to be a light to the Gentiles (Is. 42:6, 49:6). Likewise, the Gentiles often persecuted the Jews and isolate from them. There was a great division, a great dividing wall.
Even for those that believed this wall existed. Within the Jerusalem temple was a middle wall to separate the people. There were several divisions actually. Around the temple were a number of courts, one for the priests, one for male leaders, and another for the women and children. Then, if you went down some steps and through another wall, at a much greater distance, there was the court of the Gentiles. Archeologists have uncovered an inscription on such a wall that states, “Any Gentile passing this wall will have only himself to blame for his ensuing death.”
Yet, in many places Jews and Gentiles were coming together under belief in Christ. One would think that this would have meant such past hostilities were over as well. While they seemed to tolerate each other Jews and Gentiles still called each other names, still viewed each other as separate people.
In reconciling two groups of people, one whose hope was in an earthly kingdom being restored and another who really had no hopes other than enjoy the present, what is perhaps most surprising is that he asks them to do nothing. He doesn’t tell them steps towards being unified and reconciling their differences. Rather He merely proclaims what Christ has done. As Paul proclaims to the people of Ephesus, as the Spirit brings this Word to you today, it is always the work of Christ who restores and brings peace.
First and foremost, Christ has destroyed this dividing wall. The wall which seemed greater than the Berlin Wall was brought to a pile of rubble. There were to be no divisions among them. For not only is the dividing wall of hostility broken down but He comes to make them one in the flesh, that is one body, the body of Christ.
There are many dividing walls amongst God’s people. There are dividing walls within the union that God establishes as one man and one woman joined in one flesh, our marriages have there divisions. Within our families are divisions. It only takes one odd comment or criticism or misunderstanding and a dividing wall quickly builds between husband, wife, child, brother, sister, or other family relation. We have dividing walls within the church, sadly. Walls that divide us that have to do with social and economic status, education level, background and profession, length of time of membership, even divisions over something as simple as age.
Dear Christians, our sinful flesh and sinful hearts are pros at building dividing walls. In looking at our sin and looking at the situation within the world, we may also want to divide as we see no hope and future. Our sin leaves us like the Greeks and like Oedipus, only looking at death. For without Christ who breaks down the dividing wall, we have no peace, we are not reconciled to God, and we are not reconciled to one another.
What reconciles us, what is the hope of the world, is the death and resurrection of Christ. It Christ who brings us together as one body. Thus we pray for each other, we talk and care for each other, though we have different families, different lifestyles, and come from different generations.
The miracle of the Christian Church on earth is our unity gathered here as the people of God. That we, who sin, are not on the outside of the temple, where God is, but are brought together. Not as outsiders, not just welcomed in to be nice, but made citizens, one’s who belong here, one’s who make the nation, one’s who live here eternally.
The church of Christ, the one body of people brought together, where you are declared not visitors, not strangers, but citizens, is built entirely upon Christ as the cornerstone. We don’t often give much thought to these stones, but these stones were massive. They weighed as much as 50 tons. These stones were not the ceremonial cornerstones we think of today, they carried the weight and burden of the whole structure. There could be no cracks or brokenness, or else the whole place would collapse.
Christ is the cornerstone in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Yet our cornerstone – our rock and fortress – crumbled under the simple ways of our sin. To break down the dividing wall between God and us required that it be broken down in the flesh of He who is incarnate Wisdom. To bring us near who were far off required the blood-letting of the Son of God as the Father stood far off.
Beloved in Christ, you are no longer without hope and without God in the world – for God has come so close as to take on your flesh! The cross of Christ is not merely a historical event but that which builds and that which lives. It is the event that repeats not as the Greeks and Oedipus saw, repeating after death with new people, but new people repeatedly forgiven and given a new life. You are no longer separated from Christ or strangers to the covenant promise because God has made you a member of the household of faith – washing your sins away – placing His name upon you in your Baptism.
Now there is peace! He Himself is our peace! He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. Risen from the grave – He is still preaching and says to you “peace be with you!” In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Once you were far off, isolated, walled off, excluded. Now you have been drawn near, gathered, included. You belong. Your Baptism testifies. Christ’s Body and the Blood declare it as the presence of God is here for you. You belong to the people of God. You belong to the family of God. You are citizens, living in Christ. Amen.