Sermon for Pentecost 6, Year B
Based on Eph. 2:13-22
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“No Longer Strangers”
Our passage from Ephesians is rich in metaphors and word-pictures. The writer mentions several word pictures to explain what it means to be a Christian. I would like to explore two of these metaphor-word-pictures with you today. They are: Christ as the great reconciler, who, in the words of our text, “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” And the second one is a reference to our new status as Christians ~ namely, that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens of the household of God.”
First, Christ as reconciler and demolisher of the dividing wall of hostility. When the writer speaks of this wall, he probably had in mind the temple wall in Jerusalem which divided Jews from Gentiles. If the Gentiles went beyond that wall into forbidden areas of the temple, they did so at the risk of death. The following words of warning were addressed to Gentiles: “Let no one of any other nation come within the wall and barrier around the Holy Place. Whosoever will be taken doing so will be responsible for the fact that death will ensue.”
This dividing wall was clearly designed to keep Jews in and Gentiles out of certain areas of the temple. Our writer is saying that which once kept Jews and Gentiles divided from each other no longer divides them. Old prejudices, stored up hostilities and divisions between Jews and Gentiles have been removed, demolished. Christ’s love has now brought them together as God’s people.
When we take a close look at human history, we discover that human beings are good at building dividing walls. Here a wall, there a wall, everywhere a wall. The ancient wall of China, the Berlin wall, city walls both ancient and modern. Then there are other kinds of walls. Walls of race, creed, class. Walls of families which seem bound and determined to keep some in and others out, some near and others far off.
Walls may feel good, comfortable, secure for awhile; yet, there is something deep within us that longs to be curious enough and brave enough to go beyond walls. Eventually, walls often do go tumbling down ~ like the walls of Jericho and Berlin.
We can only stay within walls for a certain length of time, otherwise we stagnate and die. Walls can and do prevent growth and maturity. When we were conceived, we could only stay within the walls of our mother’s womb for nine months. After that, our very lives had to go outside of those walls for the health and well being of ourselves and our mother.
Jesus came into this world and died on the cross to remove the dividing walls, to reconcile, to draw all who were once far away near. The following story, told by Robert Beringer, is an example of Christ’s reconciling, wall-demolishing power at work in the lives of Christians.
“Warren Jones had just retired from a long and successful career in business. He wasin good health, but he suddenly found he had more time on his hands than he could use doing chores around the house or spending afternoons with his four grandchildren. It was then that Warren remembered the pastor of his church asking for volunteers to become covenant partners with the youth who were in a class preparing to join the church.”
“As the pastor described the job, it sounded challenging and rewarding. Each adult covenant partner would meet once a week for an hour with one of the young people to discuss what they had both read from the Gospel of Luke. Warren agreed to become a partner, and was looking forward to his first meeting with a boy named Sam, one of the few senior highs at the church that Warren had never met.”
“In fact, Warren was so excited about his new job that he arrived at the pastor’s office early that evening when he was to begin his work with Sam. He and the pastor were chatting warmly about a church canoe trip last spring when a young Korean boy entered the room. The pastor immediately greeted the boy and then said, “Warren, I want you to meet your new partner, Sammy Oh. Sammy and his family just moved here from Korea two years ago, and we are really delighted that his parents have joined our church. I just know the two of you will have a great time together.”
“For what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only a few moments, Warren could not even extend his hand to the boy. The sight of that Korean face brought back a flood of terrifying memories that Warren had pushed far out of his conscious memory. Suddenly, he recalled the night when his plane was shot down over North Korea, how he had been captured by North Korean soldiers almost as he hit the ground.”
“And then came almost two years in a North Korean prison camp ~ the bitter cold, the beatings, the terrible loneliness, and the almost suffocating hatred that he had formed in his heart for all Koreans. How could he bring himself to work with this young student over the next few months? How could he possibly read the Bible with this smiling Korean when the wall of hatred in his heart was so great?”
“With a thin smile on his face, Warren and Sammy went off to a small classroom at the church for what was to be a weekly ritual of study and discussion of Luke’s gospel. Warren had to steel himself for this ordeal but he had made a promise, and he would carry it out.”
“At their final meeting, Sammy, who had turned out to be more knowledgeable about the Bible than Warren, handed his partner a small gift. As Warren fumbled with the package, he was not prepared for what Sammy was about to say. “Mr Jones, I am not sure why, but I know this hasn’t been easy for you. I just want to thank you for spending the time with me. You’ve made joining the church really special for me.”
“Warren could not control the tears that began streaming down his cheeks. It was as if the wall of hatred within him was suddenly smashed. Reaching out to embrace this young Korean boy, he said quietly, “Sammy, it is I who thank you. You’ve taught me something very special about the love of God!”
This is the power of Christ’s reconciling work among people who were formerly enemies because of dividing walls. Christ has come among us to break down, to demolish our dividing walls. Christ has come among us to break down, to demolish our dividing walls too. He has removed the dividing walls of nations, of denominational differences, of Jews and Gentiles, of rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, husband and wife, parents and children. His reconciling love is more powerful than the dividing walls of hatred.
Because Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, because he has now given us access to God and God’s covenant-promises, we now have new status, a new identity as God’s people. The writer of Ephesians tells us we are no longer strangers and aliens, we are now citizens of God’s kingdom, God’s household, we are citizens of heaven. At the time this letter was written, many people were strangers and resident aliens.
To be a stranger or a resident alien at that time meant that you were a second class person. A stranger or resident alien did not have the rights, the freedoms, the privileges that citizens enjoyed. The strangers and resident aliens were often treated with suspicion and hostility.
If you have ever lived or travelled in another country, if you have ever talked with immigrants and refugees, you know what it’s like not to be a full-fledged citizen. The immigrants and refugees that I’ve met often tell me they feel lonely and sometimes frightened or lost in a foreign land. They have difficulty fitting in, language and customs are unfamiliar. Citizens treat them unfairly and, all-too-often with hostility and suspicion. No matter what they do or how hard they try, citizens still reject them and close their doors to them and treat them as inferiors or even worse ~ as less than human.
Jesus Christ has given these strangers and resident aliens dignity and an identity that is first class. They and we are citizens with all of the rights, freedoms and privileges which go along with our citizenship. So take heart people of God! For those who feel like second class people; for those who feel rejected or lonely or misunderstood or ignored ~ remember, never forget that God loves you and has made you a first class citizen of your eternal homeland, heaven. For those who struggle with low self-esteem or who wonder what their purpose, meaning, and place in this life is ~ remember God loves you and is with you in these struggles. For those who wonder where God is or what God is doing ~ remember, never forget that God keeps God’s promises. You are all citizens of priceless worth, you are God’s precious people ~ today, everyday, and forever!
This page has been visited times.