Friday, August 04, 2006

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Eph 2:13-22, Aug 6, 2006

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-22, ESV)
(from an outline by Rev. Mark D. Boxman, pastor, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Arkansas City, Kansas)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Things just aren’t the way they should be.  You know what I mean.  Things just don’t work out like we’d like them to work out.  People just don’t get along like we think they should.  We even see it here in the church.  Old scars never seem to heal.  New, unexpected hostility pops up and former friends get set against each other.  Weather its money, or time, or authority people get divided.  People put up walls of hostility.  We know how it should be, and life just isn’t the way it should be.
St. Paul says it like this, there is a dividing wall of hostility, between Jews and Gentiles.  He knew it shouldn’t be that way.  The Jews and Gentiles knew it wasn’t supposed to be that way. (Illustration Jonah) God loves all people.  He created us to live in relationship to each other.  The Jews and Gentiles had a long history of hating each other.  There were lots of things that separated them, culture, language, art, race, and religion.  It was the same kind of relationship we see being played out with missile exchanges today.  The dividing wall of hostility is played out in the daily news in blood.
That’s exactly why Jesus came to earth.  He actually tore down the dividing wall of hostility.  He has already made things the way they are suppose to be.  God has reconciled old enemies.  God had healed old scars.  God has brought together Jew and Gentile.  He has done it all Himself in Jesus Christ.  Jesus blood shed on the cross has put an end to all sin between them.  Through Jesus, God has united Jews and Gentiles into His Church, the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.  We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Spirit and one Holy Word of God.  God has already done it all and we, you and I, right now, have it.  Jesus Christ has made things the way they are suppose to be.
How that? You ask, as you look across the aisle at the person you can’t seem to get along with.  How has Jesus torn down the wall that separates me from the people I enjoy fighting with?  He’s done it with His Holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
Look around you.  You know things aren’t the way they should be here at St. John’s.  We know how they are supposed to be.  We should enjoy being together.  We should be able to come to worship without feeling hostile to someone (we should be able to sit anywhere without causing a stir).  We should be caring for one another.   We should be taking Jesus to this community in a way that shows.  We should be able to get along at meetings.  We should have unity and harmony and peace in this place.
But we don’t.  Sin is a work.  Sin builds a very tall dividing wall between us.  It prevents us from doing what we should be doing.  It makes things other than the way they should be.
Jackie couldn’t bear to go to church.  Jean was there.  They worked at the same place and used to be best friends.  But something happened, a conflict at work.  Words were spoken.  Feelings were hurt.  Anger flared up.  The anger spilt over into church activities and meetings.  Sins a work cause things to change from the way they should be to the way they shouldn’t be, at work and at church.  Jackie hasn’t been to church for years.
The marriage was breaking.  Matt and Jill just couldn’t take the pressure anymore.  Sin had crept in between them.  The dividing wall was built up slowly, but when it got to a certain point everything else in their lives came crashing down.  The sin of a broken marriage and divorce made things the way they shouldn’t be.  The trouble made a mess of the family.  Parents and children struggled to make the best of the situation but it was painful.  And the pain spilled over into the church.  Members seemed to be forced to pick sides.
Ray thought that some people just don’t belong in his church.  He shouldn’t have to stand next to people who don’t even care to dress up for church.  He shouldn’t have to put extra money in the collection plate because others don’t manager their money properly.  He shouldn’t have to help people who don’t understand the value of a dollar.  He shouldn’t have to take communion with them either.  He was never so glad the church got rid of the common cup.  He wasn’t afraid to tell them so either.  “You don’t belong in this church.”  He told one woman.  And it worked.  He didn’t have to see her any more.
Satan is hard at work in the Church.  He’s hard at work in our church.  He uses the dividing wall of hostility to divide and conquer.  He uses the dividing wall of hostility to sap our energy so we aren’t doing the things we should be doing.  He wants to separate you and I from each other.  He wants to separate you and I from God.
Jesus makes things the way they should be.  He came to tear down the dividing walls that we build up with Satan’s prodding.  St. Paul says as much, that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19a, ESV) Jesus removes the sin that separates all people from God.  
Think about the Ten Commandments.  The first three are about our relationship to God.  Commandments four through ten are about our relationship to other people.  Sin that lives in our hearts breaks the first three first, and separates us from God.  When we aren’t connected to God we can’t be connected to other people and we break the other seven.  Jesus restores our relationship to God by keeping all the commandments for us.  He restores us to God and to each other.  (Fifth petition “forgive us our trespasses”, Paul pleads with Philemon for him to be reconciled with his servant Onesimus)
Jackie went to her pastor.  She wanted to know what could be done.  Her Pastor shared what God had done in Jesus about her sin and Jean’s too.  He talked about how Jesus blood was shed for the forgiveness of their sin, especially the sin that creeps up between friends.  Jackie suggested that maybe she should visit her old friend.  After several discussions they were reconciled and became friends again.  Jackie returned to church, in fact, every Sunday she sits right next to Jean.  
Ray’s story too has turned out the way things are suppose to be.  Jesus changes hearts.  God’s Word showed Ray that Jesus died for everyone.  He now heads the social ministry of the church.  He’s found new ways for the church to care for folks who aren’t socially acceptable.  
What about Matt and Jill?  What that’s still a work in progress.  Things just aren’t the way they should be… yet.  Jesus never gives up.  The Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to soften people’s hearts to see that the dividing walls of hostility are really gone.  
So what about you?  Do you see that the dividing walls of hostility between you and God, and you and your fellow Christians are gone?  Or are you hiding behind them?  Jesus has torn them down.  There’s nothing to them anymore.  
Your relationship with God is everything it should be.  Jesus has assured that with the shedding of His blood on the cross for you.  He’s given you some precious gifts to use to melt away the pain and fear in your heart.  In fact, He pours His Holy Blood right into you to do it.  What better way is there to be sure of God’s forgiveness for you than to be connected directly to Him in His Supper?  Jesus promises that His forgiveness is yours.  That means that you too can forgive.  The wall of hostility is torn down.  Things are the way they should be. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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