Sunday, July 19, 2015


Ephesians isn’t easy to read for for a couple of reasons.
Greek didn’t have punctuation so the sentences
            tend to go on a ways.
Plus Ephesians is actually not so much a letter
            as a medley of Paul’s greatest hits,
            a gospel stew of Paul’s ideas from elsewhere.
After his death ,Paul’s followers strung together a lot of key phrases
            to express his basic message to the churches in that time & place.

The first churches were always dividing up into factions
            over this issue here; over that issue there.
In Corinthians, some folk spoke in tongues and some didn’t.
Some ate meat and some didn’t.
Paul told the Corinthians they each had different gifts,
            but they were all part of the same Body, the Body of Christ.

In Israel and Syria, most of the Christians were ethnically Jewish
            and still practiced Judaism.
For them, Christianity as another party within Judaism,
            like the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essences.
But things were different around Ephesus.
There were Jews and some of the Jews were Christian.
But most of the Christians were gentiles.
So the division was between Jew and gentile.

There had been a real blowout in Galatia, not far from Ephesus,
            over whether you could even be a Christian
            if you didn’t convert to Judaism first,
            and for men that meant getting circumcised.
That’s the kind of division Paul was writing into.

I have seen Christians divide up over all sorts of things:
            women’s ordination, dancing, drinking, movies on Sundays –
            whether the born again experience is essential to salvation,
whether baptism in the spirit with tongue speaking
                        is essential to salvation;
            whether the promised millennium of peace and justice
                        is to come before or after the rapture;
            whether there will be a rapture;
            whether the virgin birth is literal or symbolic.
We have divided over incense, prayer book revision,
            abortion, LGBTQ inclusion, background checks for gun buyers,
and whether it is too Catholic to put candles on the altar.
You name it.
If we ever run out of issues to divide up over,
            we’ll get busy inventing some new ones.

What is true in the church is especially true in  the wider society.
In his landmark book, The Big Sort, Bill Bishop lays out the facts.
America as a nation is more diverse than ever.
But we have divides ourselves up as never before
to insure that we only interact people like ourselves
--- people who look, think, and even eat like we do.
We live in neighborhoods of people like us.
We go to churches where we all think alike.
We watch news channels carefully programed to offer facts
            that support whatever opinions we already hold.

The social and political impact is obvious: division and discord.
We have redrawn the congressional districts into conservative
            or liberal
so candidates do not have to campaign across ideological lines.
That’s why there are no longer any moderates to broker deals
and Congress no longer works.

Our divisions also have a personal impact.
Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone,
            shows that we are increasingly isolated.
And philosopher Martha Nussbaum, in her book,
            The New Religious Intolerance, says we are losing
            our very ability to imagine how things look to someone else.
That makes our world smaller. It shrinks our lives.
We can divide up Black versus white,
            English speaker versus Spanish speaker,
            liberal versus conservative.
The categories don’t matter.
What mattes is the very act of dividing up
            in a way that breaks relationship,
            isolates us, and narrows our minds.

It was into just such a division that Ephesians was written.
So you can substitute any of our contemporary divisions    
            for the division of Jew and gentile in this letter
            and we’ll see how the message plays.
Paul said, “Now . . .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.”
My bishop in Georgia used to have a saying.
When people would ask him if he could work
            with some person or group of people, he’d say,
            “I haven’t met anyone yet that Jesus didn’t die for his sins.”//

And that, my friends, is where it stands.
There may be somebody we don’t agree with.
We may not even like him very much.
But you know what: Jesus went to the cross for him too.
Jesus shed his blood for him too.
We drink that blood in the Communion
            as a ransom price to make us one.
We lay down our grudges and animosities
            in order to take Jesus into our hearts at the rail.

There are so many standards
by which we judge each other as right or wrong,
wise or foolish, good or bad.
There’s a term for those standards in the New Testament.
It’s called “the law.”
The law is the standard of judgment we use to set ourselves apart.
But Paul says,
            “(Jesus) has abolished the law with its commandments . . . ,
            that he might create in himself one new humanity;
in place of the two, thus making peace,
            and might reconcile both groups into one body through the cross.”

One speaks Spanish; the other, English.
One is black descended from slaves; the other, white,
descended from slave owners.
One is straight; the other, gay.
And we all got a law to make us right and the other guy wrong.

But the Bible says, “(Jesus) has abolished the law . . .
            that he might create in himself one new humanity.”
How did he do that?

It wasn’t easy. He went to the cross for both sides
            of every division we can invent.
Paul says Jesus “create(d) in himself one new humanity;
in place of the two, thus making peace,
            and . . .  reconcile(d) both groups into one body through the cross.”

When Jesus brought us together in the Body of Christ,
            he did not abolish our differences.
He did not make us all alike.
He left us different.
But he gave us something in common that runs deeper than our differences.
He gave us grace.
He gave us salvation.
He gave us the love of God.

We may have religious differences or political differences
            or different spiritual styles.
And that’s a good thing.
How bland it would be if we were all alike!
How dull life would be if we didn’t know people
            who saw the world through different eyes.
We get to enjoy each other’s differences
            because we have something deep in common.
We act out that something in common at the communion rail.

“The gifts of God for the people of God.
Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you
-- died to make all of us one body –
and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”