Monday, July 6, 2015

The Gospel Compels Us to Tear Down Walls of Hostility and Make Peace

One of the greatest events to take place in the last few decades was the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. For almost three decades this wall stood as a visual reminder of the hostilities that existed between the parties on either side of the wall. Yet the demolishing of this wall brought a new sense of hope to the world and the beginning of a new relationship between countries that once were hardcore enemies. 

And yet, despite this historic event, walls still remain barriers between groups of people who often do not trust one another, and who do not care to associate with one another. Some of these walls exist as physical representations of one of the fundamental problems of human societies: a deep fear of the other. But, there also exists the non-physical walls that keep us from building authentic community.

Ephesians 2:11-22 addresses the idea that in the incarnation of Jesus, God was bringing about a new creation, not just of those individuals who became new creations in Christ, but also a new creation of one new humanity in which the barriers between two specific groups of people, Jews and Gentiles, were brought down in order to bring the two into one.

In Christ, the wall of division has been brought down, and the two people that once existed apart from each other are now one new humanity. This transformation in relationship is not God’s attempt to create two covenant people, Jew and Gentile. Nor do the Gentiles take the place of Israel. Rather, the Gentiles have been brought near to God and are now joined in union and in peace with God and God’s people.

What really is at the center of this passage is the idea of peace. The word appears four times, and the peace that is discussed is that which is connected to our peace with God through Christ, as well as our peace with others. And this peace is certainly what our world needs now to break down other walls.

As we have seen even in the last few weeks in witnessing the heinous shooting of African-Americans in their own church, even in our modern world violence continues to plague our homes, our neighborhoods, and indeed, countries around the world. Division and fragmentation continue to work against God’s desire and dream for true community that is based in love and peace.

Much of the problem is that although people desire community, they often cannot find authentic community. We don’t know everything about the gunman that took the nine lives in the Mother Emmanuel Church, but we must wonder, at least to some extent, about his community and whether or not he had a community that nurtured something other than racist hatred.

Would it have made a difference if he had a loving and caring community that offered him both acceptance and accountability? Would this have nurtured him to be a different person? 

And we must also wonder and reflect on who we are as a society that we continue to allow these tragic events to be possible. Our radical individualism, as much as we take pride in this as Americans, has caused us to lose the view that we are a collective society. Even if we show concern for others and seek community with them, we are more likely to do so with people who are like us, who look like us, and who agree with us.

Christ came to bring peace and community among all people. And, if we read the Gospels carefully, we find that Jesus was concerned with community, including the mission to bring those who had no community into his community.

And in his mission, Jesus, as the writer of Ephesians puts it, created, “In himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.”

But the message of peace, reconciliation, and unity cannot be limited only to the divisions that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Christ’s death was an act of God to bring all people into a new relationship with him, and this includes coming into new relationships with others.

No longer are we to stand on either sides of the wall so that we can vilify the other. Rather, in Christ, God has brought us near to God’s self, and thus we are near to people from all walks of life. God desires to destroy the barriers that divide us and Christ teaches us to embrace others.

If we are followers of Christ, to embrace others means we are called to be peacemakers. As Jesus plainly stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

In the closing verses of the Ephesians passage, the writer uses the image of the temple, a structure that once stood in Jerusalem that symbolized the division between Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians states, however, that the two people have become one united holy temple in which God dwells. 

This temple is never finished or closed; it is a living and ever growing inclusive temple. It is a community of faith that seeks to bring near those who are far off; that seeks to welcome aliens and strangers; that seeks to bring hope and community to those who do not have these. As we participate in what God is doing, we cooperate with the spirit of God in fulfilling God’s dream to continue to create break down wall and create one new humanity of peace.

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