Sermon on Ephesians 2:13-22
4th Sunday of Lent | March 11, 2018
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Amen.
The lesson for your meditation is recorded in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:13-22.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Is it a wall that divides? A few thousand years ago the Chinese built their Great Wall in order to divide the civilized states of China from the Mongol hordes living to the north. It was a wall built for defense, meant to keep out a group of “undesirables.” Hadrian’s Wall in England had the same purpose – only in that case the undesirables were Scots and Picts. More recently, the Berlin Wall divided East from West, communist from capitalist, and, depending on whom you ask, slave from free. But its purpose was much like those other walls – it was intended to divide one people from another, to keep out the undesirables.
The Word of the Lord.
In 1979, the rock group “Pink Floyd” released the song “Another Brick in the Wall,” as part of a protest against abuses in government-run boarding schools in South Africa. These abuses were “another brick” in the wall that separated whites and blacks in that country. Their cause was just, despite the fact that since 1979 others have misused their song to inspire less noble causes. Walls do divide people – that’s what they’re intended to do. But walls can also be part of something bigger, stronger, maybe even better than the bricks used to build them. Each of us, whether we like it or not, is another brick in the wall…but what kind of wall are we talking about here?
But let’s leave history, culture and politics aside and look at ourselves. Are their walls around your heart? What kind of walls have you built to keep out the undesirables? Do you have a wall like that of the Pharisee? “I’m glad I’m not like that man! What’s he doing in here, anyway? You know he’s not fooling anyone!” Or is your wall built out of stereotypes? “You can’t trust any of those people – you know they lie about everything.” “You don’t have to be polite to her – she probably doesn’t even speak English.” “Look at how he’s dressed – imagine coming in here looking like that!”
What other things divide you from your neighbor? What would you label as “undesirable” and unworthy? And once you’ve identified these things, ask yourself another question: where do these standards come from? Do they come out of a sanctified, charitable Christian heart, or out of the hatred of a sinful nature?
Let’s look at yet another wall – the “dividing wall of hostility” Paul talks about in our lesson. Historically, this wall was the Law given by God through Moses on Mt. Sinai, and it separated God’s chosen people, the Jews, from the unbelieving and hostile Gentile nations around them.
God built this wall to protect his people and to show them which lines they were not allowed to cross. But it had a greater purpose – this Law given on Mt. Sinai, and the whole of God’s Law given in Scripture shows us our sin. It tells us when we have done wrong – and it condemns us to hell for it. With this wall, the Law, God separates himself from sin, from the undesirables, from us! Look at how he reacted to the people’s grumbling in our OT lesson today – he can’t stand sin! But this wall is called the “dividing wall of hostility” not only because God is hostile to sin, but because we build this wall higher and thicker by ourselves with our own hostility towards God, which we demonstrate in our actions and thoughts towards others.
And so our sin and hostility, and the dividing wall of God’s law, puts us on the outside – if we were to remain in this state of sin and hostility, we would remain “foreigners and aliens,” undesirables, and condemned, forever shut out by a wall that divides.
And who can break down that wall? Surely not us - but Jesus can! It is Jesus Christ who breaks down that wall so he may build something better.
- A Wall that is part of the Church built on Christ
You see, you are another brick in another wall, and that wall is part of a Church founded on Christ, built by Christ.
And how did Christ found this Church? Well, first, he had to tear down the old walls. When modern-day developers want to put up new buildings on an old site, they have to tear down the old, dilapidated buildings that are already there. Then, once the old walls and their foundations have been dug out and removed, new foundations and a new structure may be built. That is what Christ did for his Church. He tore out the old “dividing wall of hostility,” the Law that once separated Jews from Gentiles and sinners from God, by becoming a man and fulfilling that Law. By keeping God’s commands perfectly in your place, and then by hanging on the cross and dying in your place, he removed the solid brick wall that stands between you and God.
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." - No longer “foreigners and aliens,” undesirables kept at a distance by walls, but citizens of God’s kingdom – citizens with full “constitutional” rights, sons and daughters with all the rights of true children of God.
And after he’s bulldozed the lot, and removed every brick in that wall of hostility, how does he build his Church? “…on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” It is with his Word, spoken through his prophets and apostles, that God brings us the gospel message of forgiveness from sin, creates faith, and makes us his children, citizens of his kingdom, building blocks in his Church, founded on the shed blood of our Savior Jesus.
"…to create in himself one new man out of the two…through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." What hostility did Jesus put to death? As we’ve said before, the hostility between God and man. And also the hostility that man has for other men - because Jesus and his gospel good news goes beyond all human barriers and tears them down. He unites all people regardless of race, color, gender, age, national origin, or spiritual aptitude. While in the world, people who have these differences may be physically far apart, but in Christ they are all “near.” His work of saving mankind is the one historic event that made the difference, destroyed the old order and set up a new order where Jew and Gentile, Black and White, American and non-American, are no longer separate, no longer two, but united in one Church.
As strong and divisive as that wall was, Jesus brought it down. No matter how strong the prejudices are, no matter how deep the animosity, no matter how set the hatred, Jesus can bring down any wall. By his great works of love for us, and by the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, he teaches us to love Him, and each other.
And he’s not finished, my friends…
"…in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." Building Christ’s church and fitting it all together is a continuing process, as we grow closer to him and to one another. We might not always seem to fit together perfectly, but the Spirit has given us the tools we need: the gospel in Word and the Sacraments, by which he teaches, admonishes and strengthens us as individuals and as a church.
Remember, too, that you are all components, bricks, in the building of Christ’s church, “a dwelling in which God lives.” Each of us plays a part in this dwelling, each has a certain place and function, each has a right (and a need) to be here. Whatever your function is, serve that purpose with joy, knowing that God has put you here, another brick in the wall, to be a blessing to his Church. What’s more, the function and place of your brother or sister, whatever your differences, is also a blessing to the Church.
Pink Floyd tried to tear down Apartheid’s wall of prejudice through song. But Christ is much more skillful at demolitions than any rock band. By his life and death he did more than worldly activism can do – he tore down the wall of sin and opened the way to heaven. He built new walls into a church with the task of spreading the gospel message so that all who hear and believe may be bricks in that building, and share in one purpose, to glorify God on earth, and to share in one glory, Christ’s glory, in the eternal kingdom of Heaven.