Breaking Down the Dividing Walls (Ephesians 2)

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Service Notes

Second Sunday after Trinity + June 10, 2018
  • Order of Service:Prayer & Preaching
  • Hymns: LSB #912, 510

Theme Verse

For [Christ] 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 expressed in 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. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

Sermon Text

St. Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus the basis of our faith. "[Christ] Himself is our peace."[1] This peace breaks down the dividing walls of hostility that exist between sinful humanity and a holy God and between sinful humans. Jesus' peace is something that we can only take on faith. His peace is not the world's peace.[2] His peace comes through the terrors and torments of His cross. The cross that breaks down the dividing walls and unites people together.

"What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good?"[3] Our sinful human condition longs for a certainty that we cannot obtain by ourselves. Religion has always been one of the avenues mankind has used to search for peace and life. Search for some sort of security.

But the foundation of their peace and life is anything but secure. Many times the foundation comes from our own sinful imagination or superstition. The foundation is insecure because it is completely internal. My thoughts. My feelings.

For a foundation to be secure, it needs to be outside you. Just as a building's foundation is not inside the building, your foundation needs to be outside you. Something you can build on. St. Paul points the Ephesians to the proper foundation: the Apostles and Prophets.[4] The words of the Old and New Testaments of Holy Scripture. These two sections of holy Writ are themselves founded on something inside yet outside them. Jesus Christ. The Son of God. Our cornerstone. "On Him alone we build."[5] There is no greater foundation to build your life upon except Jesus. "None of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned."[6] Everyone who has Jesus has peace. Life is built on Jesus as the cornerstone of salvation. On this cornerstone, there can be no walls that divide. On this cornerstone, all mankind is united through taking refuge in Jesus' death and resurrection.

Refuge from the hostilities of the world can only come when you take refuge in the fact that Jesus died to reconcile you with God.[7] Not just that Jesus died on the cross for all people. That He died for you in particular. But this only comes through the further revelation of God's Word. What Jesus preached to all—friend and foe alike[8]—is preached to you as well. You have been reconciled to God. You were once His foe, but you are now His friend.

Not only are you God's friend, like Abraham,[9] you are a citizen of Heaven.[10] All who are reconciled with God have this "present grace" while sojourning in this world below.[11] Living in this grace, we look forward to the day when "the blest of the Lord shall receive at His hand the crown to the victors awarded."[12] This is the heavenly inheritance we yearn for while we struggle in this world.

But that inheritance comes because we are not only citizens of Heaven but members of God's family through our Baptism into Jesus' reconciling death and resurrection.[13] We don't look forward in a whimsical way. Our hope is secure because we are secure in Christ. Secure because His cross has broken down every dividing wall.[14]

Seven major dividing walls make us hostile toward each other:

  1. The first wall that divides is religion. The devil has sold the lie that all religions are the same. Therefore, religion is seen by most people as solely and completely their personal interpretation. You look out at the thousands of Christian denominations. We all have the same Bible, but we interpret it in many different ways. Ways that aren't compatible with each other. But they come out of the same book.
    Jesus breaks the dividing wall of religion through His own Person. Because religion is about a system of beliefs. Many times religion gets in our way to see the Person who is at the center. The Person of Jesus Christ. The author and perfecter of our faith.[15] He says, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about Me."[16] He is the sole reason for our faith. Without Him and His cross, we would be locked in our sins. Scrambling after any and every insecure foundation to find meaning for our lives.
  2. The second dividing wall is politics. And I don't just mean Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal. Politics is much more personal than those generic labels. Politics goes to the very sinful core of humanity. Politics is what drove our first parents out of Eden. The devil only had to ask one question, "Did God really say?"[17] Everything else that followed with Adam and Eve and their being cast out from Paradise is all politics. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent.[18] Everyone wanted to make sure that it wasn't their fault. That's politics. The assertion of your own personal agenda with the expectation that no one holds you accountable.
    Politics is all over the place today. They were all over the place in Jesus' day. Pharisees. Sadducees. Zealots. Herodians. All of them struggling for positions of authority and honor. However, they were also the first to offer their excuses when Jesus invited them to join Him.[19] They were the ones to correct Him about His teachings and His disciples' activities.[20] Because Jesus didn't fit into their politics. And that cost them salvation.
    Salvation didn't come to them through their politics. Salvation comes through Jesus' cross. Jesus' cross tears down the dividing wall of politics. Jesus doesn't side with any side but His own.[21] In this way, He is very political. But He does not allow politics to control Him. Politics put Him on the cross, but politics could not keep Him dead. Politics fights for who is the greatest. Jesus calls you to be the servant of all instead of desiring your own will.[22]
  3. The third dividing wall is ethnicity or skin color. This has deep-seated roots in our world. In the ancient world, you were a Jew or a Gentile. You were a Greek or a barbarian. You were black or white. There was a stark difference. Today, especially here in the Twin Cities, we have a veritable rainbow of skin tones and ethnicities around us. By nature, we like to keep ourselves around like. We don't like mixing into the melting pot unless we absolutely have to.
    This has come into our churches as well. Missouri Synod is primarily German. Wisconsin Synod is primarily Norwegian. The ELCA is primarily Scandinavian. And there's one major problem with that mentality. We don't think outside our ethnicity. We don't reach out to those who are different because they are different.
    I remember this very well from one congregation I worshipped at in Mississippi. It was a small town of two hundred people. At the top of the hill sat the white Church of Christ. A quarter mile down the road, at the bottom of the hill, sat the black Church of Christ. One Sunday morning a black family pulled into the parking lot at the top of the hill. Being Mississippi, you might expect a scene. In fact, they were only pulling in to ask directions to the black church. They were politely given the directions and went on their way. What sorrow there is with having two congregations of the same denomination in such a small town! All because of skin color.
    The Twin Cities are filled with tons of ethnicities. From Caucasian to Hmong to African. Every ethnicity has its own quirks and rituals and stories. But they all have one Lord. One Savior from their sins.
    A Savior who wasn't German or Hmong or African. He was a Jew. But this Jew's cross breaks down the dividing wall of ethnicity. He even has to prove it to His closest disciples. Jesus sent St. Peter a vision with a blanket full of animals God had previously declared unclean. Three times He sent the blanket down. Three times Peter refused to eat. Three times Jesus said, "What God has made clean, do not call common."[23] Jesus didn't come just to save the Jews. The Canaanite woman near Tyre and Sidon.[24] The centurion in Capernaum.[25] The Samaritan leper.[26] Jesus had shown grace and mercy to these Gentiles. Showing that salvation was for all people, regardless of ethnicity or skin color.
  4. The fourth dividing wall is vocation. This takes two forms in the local congregation: clergy vs laity and office holder vs regular member.
    Many people divide the congregation between the pastor and the lay people. And the jobs that need to be done within the congregation are divided between those two groups. This is especially the case when it comes to evangelism. Sharing the Good News of Jesus. Bringing new people into the congregation. Bringing old people back into the congregation. Redeemer is no different. I've heard the sentiments through cards and conversations about how long people have waited for a pastor to arrive to save the congregation. As if it's only the pastor's job. Evangelism is everyone's job. Jesus didn't tell just the Apostles to spread His Word. He sent out "seventy-two others" to spread His Word to the people.[27] Everyone has the job of evangelist. That is how the Church grows. People sharing their faith in Jesus.
    The other side of the dividing wall involves those who have an office, or even just a title, and those who don't. Both sides often feel that those with titles should do the most work, and thereby have the most say. Then both sides complain because only a handful of people are doing the congregation's work.
    Again, Jesus calls all His sheep to do the work necessary to keep the flock afloat. "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves."[28] Servant leaders don't need titles. In fact, many of the greatest servant leaders in many congregations never held a title in the congregation. They merely did what they could with what God had given them.
    Jesus doesn't call any one person or group to save His Church. He has already done that through His cross. He gifts people with different abilities so that they can help in delivering the Word to the people around them. The neighbors that God has brought into our midst. Literally into our doors for what we can offer them. Regardless of our vocation in God's eyes, God has a plan for each of us in this place. As long as we open our eyes to see where His hand is guiding us.
  5. The fifth dividing wall is social class. We don't necessarily think of this as an American thing. It's more well understood in England with kings and queens, dukes and duchesses. Titles and names that denote a fixed standing in society. However, we do have it here in America. Especially when we look out our doors into the more impoverished areas of the Cities. Where people have had circumstances stack against them or have figured out how to get everything they need from the government with little or no work. Those who have worked hard their whole life tend to look at such people with contempt, regardless of which camp they belong. "They're from the wrong side of the tracks. They have nothing that will help us!"
    That's where the rubber meets the road with the Church. Years ago, the Church was seen as the place where people could find handouts. The Church handed that responsibility over to the government long ago. And helping the neighbor tended to go out the door with it.
    My heart goes out to these people because I was one of them. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. I had free school lunch, food stamps and even government cheese. But my goal throughout childhood was to get out of that situation. To make something of myself. To have God guide me where I would be most needed. And He has brought me here. To help Him break down the dividing wall of social class through the proclamation of His cross to everyone.
    Jesus didn't take social class into consideration when He was on earth. He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.[29] The lowest of the low. These were the undesirables that the religious establishment had long before left behind. Jesus came to them with His grace, mercy and peace. The Church is called to do the same. To be a haven for those whose lot in this fallen world has fallen among the weeds and thorns. To teach them to fear the LORD in all things.[30] "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame."[31] All are welcome to God's feast. None will be turned away because of social status.
  6. The sixth dividing wall is gender. Historically, there have been roles that were divided between male and female. Designated roles that each gender fulfilled in family, society and the Church. Now, most of these roles have been obliterated because Satan has demanded equality. He has come in to confuse what God has created from the beginning. Male and female have a "help meet" relationship.[32] They need each other. We take special note of this as we are in "wedding season." In the wedding vows, both bride and groom confess that they are incomplete in themselves. They have and hold each other so that God may make them complete. But God created each gender with its own specific design and roles. Males are to be the heads of the households, as Christ is the head of the Church. Females are to bring children into the world and nurture them. Neither can do both. Our fallen world sees many, especially single mothers, who are forced to try to be both.
    But God sent Jesus down as a man for a specific purpose: "so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."[33] Just as Adam was created as a male, Jesus came into this world as a male to find for Himself a Bride. That's you and me. All joined together in the one mystical body of the Church. As Christ's Bride, the Church is to nurture those who are brought into her doors. Being a holy temple where sinners can find refuge and forgiveness of their sins.
  7. The seventh and final dividing wall is education level. This dividing wall leans heavily upon others, especially gender, social class and ethnicity. Those with advanced degrees are prone to look down on those who don't have as much schooling. Those who have very little schooling often think those with advanced degrees have wasted their time with all their schooling. Education makes a great impression on people because it has been given its own chance to establish a measurable hierarchy.
    Jesus used both educated and uneducated people in His ministry. Among the Prophets, Jeremiah was a priest,[34] but Amos "was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs."[35] Among the Apostles, Matthew was very likely a defrocked rabbi. Paul sat at the feet of the great Gamaliel.[36] But Peter, Andrew, James and John were uneducated fishermen.[37] Jesus uses people of all education levels because everyone has something they can learn from someone else. No one is able to know it all.
    Jesus breaks down this dividing wall by giving the Holy Spirit to everyone. The Holy Spirit helps us when we pray.[38] We don't always know what to say, but Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to give us the words to speak in the proper time.[39] Whether you are in grade school or have multiple doctorates, you still need Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit to increase your faith and give you the words to express that faith. To express your peace.

"[Christ] Himself is our peace."[40] The peace that breaks down dividing walls by showing that everyone we meet is just another sinner looking for salvation. Looking for what we have in this place. Jesus came in the flesh to break down these dividing walls and bring to Himself a Church that has people "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages."[41] All with the same peace. All because of the same Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

References

  1. Ephesians 2:14
  2. John 14:27
  3. Psalm 34:12
  4. Ephesians 2:20
  5. LSB #912.1; Ephesians 2:20
  6. Psalm 34:22
  7. Ephesians 2:16
  8. Ephesians 2:17
  9. Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23
  10. Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20
  11. LSB #912.1
  12. LSB #510.4
  13. Ephesians 2:19
  14. Ephesians 2:14
  15. Hebrews 12:1
  16. John 5:39
  17. Genesis 3:1
  18. Genesis 3:12-13
  19. Luke 14:18
  20. Matthew 12:1-8
  21. Mark 9:38-41
  22. Mark 9:33-37; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Hebrews 3:1-6
  23. Acts 10:9-16
  24. Matthew 15:21-28
  25. Matthew 8:5-13
  26. Luke 17:11-19
  27. Luke 10:1
  28. Luke 22:25-26
  29. Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 15:1-2
  30. Psalm 34:11
  31. Luke 14:21
  32. Genesis 2:18, 20
  33. Ephesians 5:27
  34. Jeremiah 1:1
  35. Amos 7:14
  36. Acts 22:3
  37. Acts 4:13
  38. Romans 8:26
  39. Matthew 10:19
  40. Ephesians 2:14
  41. Revelation 7:9