We turn today to a similar passage as that which we read yesterday from 1 Peter 2:9-10, where Peter spoke to a Gentile readership about how they were once not a people, but are now — in the church and through the reconciling work of Christ — the very people of God. The former identifications as Jew or Gentile were no longer particularly interesting. Rather, the two groups were together now as the one new people of God — the church of Jesus Christ.
When I write articles, devotionals, sermon illustrations, etc., I attempt to think of an experience or application from my own life or in some story that I know of in the experience of others. I am pretty much at a loss to come up with something that quite illustrates the unification of Jews and Gentiles into a new and living endeavor of working, worshipping and serving together. The hostility and alienation of the two groups was enormous, creating a chasm unimaginable to ever be crossed and united.
But the cross of Christ has done the unimaginable. The cross crosses the divide, and it not only does it for that division, it can be the crossroads as a common denominator to unify other divides that exist in culture, like the ethnic and racial divides that so afflict our country and culture at this time.
Even as today’s passage from Ephesians 2 expands upon Peter’s basic thought and fits well with our current series, it was also the central passage at the heart of my challenge to the congregation on the first Sunday of this year. A visionary sermon on the Sunday after New Year’s is always a bit risky because it so often is a weekend where masses of the congregation are involved in the holidays and possibly away from attendance.
Nevertheless, that message was entitled “The Unity in being CROSS-cultural.” The essence of the challenge was to call the church to a new initiative to truly be a diverse and cross-cultural community (as the tri-state area is increasingly becoming), seeing the message of the cross of Christ as the crossroads of reconciliation between not only God and man, but man and man.
There are three movements to this passage in Ephesians …
- The Way Things Used to Be …
Eph. 2:11 — Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
- The Way Things Changed …
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
- The Way Things are Moving Forward …
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
So here again we see the idea of a living building, a spiritual house or temple with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. And just as Jews and Gentiles came together into a new and beautiful organism called the church, so also can the church in our culture and generation be the model of reconciliation of all the diversities of peoples and backgrounds that increasingly make up the fabric of American society.
This is not natural or easy. The quickest and most efficient way to build a big church is to have everyone be rather homogeneous by markers of age, race, or social strata. Church growth experts over the years have taught us that the wise church will maximize these natural affinities and thereby be the most efficient in reaching masses of people with the Gospel. Their central phrase was, “You can’t be everything to everybody” … with the inference then being to just accept that you can only reach people who are just like you already are.
But I’m weary of that — that which I see as mere American pragmatism. I want us to increasingly look like the church in heaven — people from every tribe, tongue and nation.
As a summary statement several weeks ago, I said, “The gospel of Christ is most vividly seen when outsiders observe the CROSS-shaped and cross-cultural love and unity that believers from varying backgrounds share with one another. A pragmatic desire for rapid and strategic church growth of a single affinity group will never have the beauty and health of a diverse congregation.”
We can do this. How? I’m not completely sure, but I believe it is our calling as we move forward together, accepting a new challenge to us as a congregation to be a cutting edge fellowship in this community.