Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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The New Humanity

Ephesians 2:11-22

Paul begins by addressing the Gentile Christians in the Ephesian church, who were apparently a large part of the church, maybe the majority. “Remember who you were before. You were excluded. You were called names. You were outside the community, excluded from the covenant. You were without hope and without God. All because of the circumstances of your birth, you were far away from God.”

Our inclination as human beings is to create divisions. We divide people up according to their race, their sex, their age, their social class, their lifestyle choices, their politics, their language, their birthplace, and so on. And we build walls between our groups.

Paul knew this all too well. Ephesians is one of Paul’s “prison epistles,” one of the letters he wrote during his house arrest in Rome. Now if you remember the story from Acts 21, the original charge against Paul was that he had caused a riot in Jerusalem by violating the laws of the Temple. He had allegedly taken a Gentile into the part of the Temple where they were not allowed to go. He had taken one past the “dividing wall.” From that arrest, he was imprisoned in Jerusalem, then Caesarea, and eventually sent to Rome for trial before Caesar.

In the Old Testament, the Jerusalem Temple only had one division: Priest and laity. There was a part where only priests could go, only those dedicated to God, and the rest of the Temple was for the laity, the people. By the time of the New Testament era Temple, more divisions had been added. In addition to the divide between priest and laity, there were also divisions between men and women, and between Jew and Gentile. The Temple was now surrounded by walls dividing people. Jews could come closer to God than Gentiles, and men closer than women. And that seems pretty typical of how we human beings behave.

Diversity is just a fact of life. And it important to try to understand other people and what makes them “tick.” Our church has access to a tool using data from the census called “Mosaic.” Mosaic divides people up into 76 different groups, according to age, race, class, where they live, lifestyle, and politics. And the tool can help you to understand other people’s values and behaviors.

The problem is that we are very prideful beings. We assume our choices are superior; our identity is better than someone else’s identity. We don’t tend to appreciate the diversity of humanity as much as we look down on those who are different.

We have a tendency to minimize our own faults and failures while we magnify the faults and failures of others. A middle class person might say, “Poor people are lazy and take advantage of the system,” while ignoring the advantages they have had in life and the ways in which they have used the system for their gain. It is our “human nature,” that is our nature that has been corrupted by sin.

The truth of humanity is that our differences are less significant than our similarities. We have a common ancestry; we are made in the image of God. We have a common problem; we are sinners who deserve death and are in need of a Savior. And we have a common Savior in Jesus Christ, who died once and for all. We who were once far off have been brought near to God through the blood, that is, the death of Christ.

Christ has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. In the case of the New Testament era Church, it was the dividing wall of Jew and Gentile. That was the most pressing issue facing the Church. But we can add more to the list. Christ also destroyed the dividing wall between rich and poor, male and female, slave and free, as he creates one, new humanity.

In the case of the Jew and Gentile divide, Christ set aside the ceremonial law and its requirements, most especially circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant. If you were circumcised, you could be part of the covenant community. If not, you couldn’t be. But it was only for males. Now baptism is the sign of the covenant community, and it is for all.

We are no longer strangers in Christ: We are members of a household; that is a Temple. The Temple is built on the foundation of the prophets, the Old Testament; and the apostles, our spiritual heritage in Christ. And Christ himself is the cornerstone, as prophesied in Psalm 118, “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

The Temple of God, the Church, only rises to its full height when all people are included. Our responsibility as Christ-followers is to tear down the dividing walls of hostility between people and then use the stones to build the Temple of God. If there was a message that the world around us desperately needed to hear from the Church right now, I’m pretty sure this is it.

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