Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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One New Humanity

Ephesians 2:11-22

 We live in a divided world.  We are divided from each other in so many ways:  Male and female, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old, Hutus and Tutsis, Israelis and Palestinians, Shiites and Sunnis, and the list goes on and on.  And worse yet there are many who perpetuate divisions and seek to divide us further because they find advantage for themselves in a divided world.

 There are many things that divide us, but the better question is, what could unite us?  Or is it even possible?  Well, the Scriptures tell us that the single greatest unifying force in the universe is Jesus Christ.  Is that so?  Can Jesus really bring people together?  

 Paul knew what it meant to live in a divided world.  His world was divided into Greek and Roman, civilized people and “barbarians,” male and female, slave and free, and most profoundly from his perspective:  Jew and Gentile.

 Paul, of course, was a Jew.  He was part of “God’s people.”  They were the chosen nation, the children of Abraham.  And they were proud of their identity and their exclusive claim to God.  To them, Gentiles were outsiders, “far from God.”  The Jews were near.  They had the Law and the Prophets.  They had the rituals of the Old Covenant.  They had a long, long history with God. 

 The Gentiles lacked all these things.  They were “uncircumcised.”  They did not have the outward sign of being a part of the covenant.  They were apart from Christ.  They had no hope of a Messiah to come to them.  They had no promises of eternal life.  They were without God, and hence without hope.  

 There was a lot of truth to that statement.  The Greek view of the universe, which was widespread throughout the ancient world, was that the universe was cyclical.  It came into existence, it went on for a while, it died in a fiery cataclysm, and then the whole process just started all over again.  There was no expectation of any kind of future hope or glory.  History wasn’t going anywhere.  You lived, you died, and that was the end of it.  They believed in an afterlife, but not a good one.  They thought that the dead just continued in some gray, joyless existence forever and ever.  

 And there was hostility.  Jews did not think good thoughts about Gentiles, at least not in general.  Many Jews considered the Gentiles to be no better than dogs.  Some rabbis taught that God only created the Gentiles to keep the fires of hell burning.  

 The most visible sign of this hostility was the “dividing wall” in the Jerusalem Temple.  When the Temple was originally built, in the time of Solomon, about 900 BC, it was said to be a house of prayer for all nations, a place where people could come to approach God and be blessed by him (I Kings 8:41-43).  And there was only one division in the Jerusalem Temple.  There was part of it where anyone could go, and there was part of it where only priests could go.  But by the time of the New Testament, more divisions had been created.  Now there was a Court of the Gentiles, where anyone could go, a Court of Women, where only Jews could go, a Court of Men, where only Jewish men could go, and then there was the part where only priests could go.  Between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women was the “dividing wall,” a barrier to all who were not Jewish.  On that wall, there was an inscription that promised death to any Gentile who dared to go further.

 Paul knew the place well.  Not just because he was a Jew, but because that dividing wall had been the cause of his arrest.  At the time Paul was writing Ephesians, he was a prisoner in Rome.  He’d been arrested a few years earlier in Jerusalem, in Acts 21, after he was accused of taking a Gentile named Trophimus through the dividing wall.  

 But now, Paul says, the wall is broken down.  Now there is one people in Christ.  Both Jew and Gentile come to God and become one people through Jesus.  Both were in need of salvation, and Christ brought it to both groups.  Christ has brought about peace by creating one, new humanity.  

 We are a “new” people, different than we were before Christ.  In the Greek language, there are two different words that mean “new.”  One word is NEOS, which meant “new in time,” more recent.  The “Neolithic Era” is more recent than the Paleolithic Era.  But there is a second word that means new, and that word is KAINOS.  It means new in terms of quality, not time.  Newer and better, we might say.  That’s the word that Paul uses in verse 15.  

 In Christ, we have peace with God and peace with each other.  

 I see this as a reversal of the curse of Babel.  Let’s go back and talk about that story for a moment, in case you are not familiar with it.  In the book of Genesis, chapter 11, after the Great Flood, there is an incident we call the Tower of Babel.  Human beings are repopulating the earth.  And they come to place called the Plain of Shinar.  There

they say to themselves, “Let’s build a tower, reaching to the heavens, to make a name for ourselves, to immortalize our own greatness.  That way, we will be united.”  

 The problem with the plan is that it’s an atheistic undertaking.  There is no place for God in it.  It’s all about human beings exalting themselves.  So God puts a curse on them:  Their languages are confused.  They all begin speaking different tongues.  And they are scattered.  

 But in Christ, the curse of Babel is being reversed.  The barrier of languages is overcome at Pentecost.  And now we see the divisions between human beings coming undone as we are united together in Christ to become one, new humanity, restored according to the image of God.  

 In this new humanity, Gentiles are no longer “strangers or foreigners.”  Those two Greek words described foreign travelers or resident aliens.  Both were denied the full rights of citizens.  But now all are citizens of God’s Kingdom.  

 Is unity possible?  Is it possible for Christians to be united?  Yes, it is.  But it is never easy.  But sadly, we have not lived into the unity God intended for us.  

 It’s not just that we have different churches and denominations.  I’m not so sure that is as much of a barrier to unity as some Christians think it is.  The real issue is that we lack unity.  We won’t work together.  We won’t worship together.  We don’t cooperate.  We get territorial toward each other.  

 Some even refuse to associate with others.  I’m sad to say it, but several times in my career, I’ve seen just that thing.  There are some churches that refuse to do anything together with other churches.  I could name a few that seem to think that way especially, but I don’t want to get into naming names.  Rather than focusing on those who don’t live in unity; it’s better that we focus on doing it ourselves.  

 What does it take to live in unity?  We must be humble.  We must be committed to Christ and his Kingdom above all else.  We must think first of building God’s Church and not “my church.”  It’s not easy, but it’s possible, because with God all things are possible.

 There is also another similarity between this passage and the Tower of Babel.  In the Tower of Babel, people were building a great edifice.  Now, God is building a great

edifice:  A Temple.  A Temple not as we might think of one, but a Temple nonetheless.  The Church is God’s Temple, the place where he dwells by his Spirit.  

 In John chapter two, Jesus said that his body is the Temple that would be destroyed and in three days rebuilt.  Jesus is the Holy Place.  And if Jesus dwells in us through the Holy Spirit, then we are the Temple of God.  

 It’s remarkable to think that for the first 300 years of the Church’s existence, it had no permanent buildings.  Christians didn’t start to build church buildings until the fourth century.  And yet, all that time, the Church was being built at a remarkable pace, faster than at any other time in history.  It might have been better if we had kept going in that same direction:  building the Church, not building church buildings.  

 Buildings can help our “building of the Church,” but more often than not they seem to hinder it.  They distract us from our true purpose by keeping us focused on maintaining an earthly structure.  They become barriers to our mission.  Our walls not only keep people other people out, they keep us in.  They shut our eyes to the needs of the world.  We come in here and close away the world rather than seeing the world as the place for our mission and ministry.  

 Next Sunday is our Community Worship & Picnic.  It’s an opportunity to worship and fellowship with other believers.  And it’s a day to get out of our building.  Is it the solution to our problems?  No, but it could be a step in the right direction.  

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