The below blog, “But Now,” includes the complete message given by General Secretary A. Roy Medley to the Assembly on the morning of July 9, on Ephesians 2.
We are created for community. From the beginning of time, God created us to live in relationship with God and with each other. Even the most introverted among us is created for community. God has set us in networks of relationships: family, kinfolk, neighbors, and language groups to name a few. Life is both personal and social. God has ordained us for community.
God’s intention for community is beautifully symbolized in the creation narrative in Genesis. God creates all of nature but it does not suffice for Adam. So God creates Eve as well. And as Adam and Eve live in Paradise, they stroll and converse with God their creator, just like we stroll and talk with neighbors. Adam and Eve live in community with each other and with God.
But the serpent enters the garden and community is broken. Doubt breaks trust and leads to rebellion and in one of the most telling snapshots of the Biblical album, Adam and Eve are caught hiding, hiding from God like wayward children as God calls their names. Community between them and God is broken because of a lie.
And soon community is broken within the human family as well. Adam and Eve no longer walk as equals. Issues of domination and subjection taint their relationship. Cain rises up and slaughters his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage. Murder enters the human vocabulary. Languages are confused; Strife and enmity abound. Human community and community with God are lost.
Open the news on your computer, tablet, television or radio and you hear the echoes of earth’s cry when Abel was slain. Only today we count the bodies in the hundreds and thousands whether it is in Newtown, Connecticutt, Syria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Enmity shatters our unity as humankind and we find ourselves divided: divided by language and culture, divided by religion and philosophy; divided by national borders; divided by our identities of race, tribe, clan and family. And those divisions are often bloody.
Enmity and division build walls, plot revenge, gloat in conquest and ravage the landscape of history.
The theological task that Paul is inspired to take on as he writes to the fledgling church of Ephesus not far from where we gather is this very issue of enmity and division. The ancient world, like us today was marked by walls of separation. Paul names the three most prominent divisions of his day in Galatians: male and female, slave and free, Greek and Jew.
Here in Ephesians, Paul is focused like a laser beam on the separation between Jews and gentiles, between the people of the covenant and the people of every other nation. This division was front and center in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The court of the gentiles was separated from the temple itself and other areas of the temple compound by a wall. Warnings were posted on the wall that any gentile who ventured beyond this court would be summarily executed. Perhaps it is this very wall of division that is the source of Paul’s imagery in this second chapter.
But the dividing wall existed not only in the structure of the temple, but in the heart as well. Jews considered gentiles as but dogs. If a Jew married a gentile a funeral service was held and he was considered as dead. And gentiles in turn reviled and mocked the Jews. And throughout history the enmity between the two led to war and the conquest of first Israel and then Judah.
The wall between the two was as high and as strong as the wall that today separates Palestinians from Israelis. Do you not wonder how true community, true life together, will ever prevail between Israel and Palestine? The enmity is so great, the hurts so deep, the separation so definite and the division so permanent. What will ever bring the two together and make them one? That was the question in the first century as well. What will bring Jews and gentiles together and establish peace and true community?
Paul’s response is the cross. Jesus, through his death, has destroyed forever the dividing wall and the hostility between Jew and gentile and in his own person has created of the two one new person, a new humanity Paul declares.
In the midst of a broken world, in the midst of violence and war between nations and peoples, the promise of God is not only will I make you a new creation, a new creature, a new being, I will also make of you all a new community. I will make you a new community and establish peace among you because I have created you for community. Even as I, God, exist as the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Three-in-One; One-in-Three, so I have created you to live in communion with one another and with myself. Our communion is a mirror of the communion that exists within the Holy Trinity whose essence is love.
The new thing that enters history as the result of Christ’s death and resurrection is the Church. God’s new creation is a new community established in love through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The body of Christ is the new humanity, the bold expression of God’s redemptive intent to restore humankind to relationship with one another and to God through the cross of Jesus in whom every barrier, every wall, every enmity has been abolished so that we might live in peace with one another.
The church is a new sociological phenomenon as well as a spiritual one. Look at us here. Look at our differences! Many nations, many colors, many tongues, yet, we are one in Christ Jesus. The life of the church is a living miracle and the testimony of Christ’s power to reconcile.
In this community, the redemptive power of Christ’s love and sacrifice to tear down the dividing wall of hostility is to be experienced again and again and again.
In my own life, such moments have been transformative, healing, life-refreshing, life-giving works of the Spirit. One such moment was in the ’80’s. There had been a spate of church burnings in the southern part of the US perpetrated by white racists against African-Americans. I was at a denominational meeting in worship when news of yet another burning arrived. As a white Southerner I had lived through America’s apartheid – segregation, and I had experienced the dividing wall of separation that ran through every town and every heart in the South: White against Black.
These burnings brought back to me the shame and guilt we as a people bore for the injustices we had committed against Blacks. The weight of that consciousness was so heavy that as the invitation for communion was given by the presiding pastor, I felt glued to the floor, unable to step into the aisle to go forward. Eventually, with heavy heart I found myself in the aisle moving forward to the communion table.
As I looked to my right, I saw Joan Parrot, an African-American staff person, walking beside me. As we came to the communion table together, there were not only the bread and the cup, but also a bowl of water and a towel on the table. In what I can only describe as a prompting of the Holy Spirit, I turned to Joan and with trepidation asked Joan if I might wash her hands. As I took her hands in mine and poured water over them I said to her, “Joan, these are the waters of repentance. For all the hurt, harm and hate that I and my people have shown to you and your people, I truly repent.” And in what I can describe only as a moment so holy and transcendent that it has blessed my life ever since, Joan took my hands and as she poured water over mine she said, “Roy, these are the waters of forgiveness. In the name of Christ, you are forgiven.” And then we shared the bread and the cup. No longer strangers! No longer strangers through the cross of Jesus.
No longer strangers! Here in the body of Christ such experiences should be the norm. Here in the body of Christ, it ought to be said often, “We are no longer strangers.” Turn and say to the persons around you, “we are no longer strangers in Christ Jesus.”
Let the world see the promise of this new community, this new reality! God inserts us, this new humanity, this community of promise, this community of hope called the church where there is no longer Greek or Jew, male nor female, slave nor free, American or Arab, rich nor poor, outcasts or high caste, – dare to name the dividing wall in your life! God inserts us, by the power of the Spirit alone into the life of the world with a vocation, a call, a mission. Our mission is God’s redemptive mission brought to its climax in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the ministry of reconciliation, the uniting of all people in Christ Jesus, the breaking down of the walls of hostility, as a worshipping and serving people filled with the Spirit of Christ.
In Ephesians, as Paul stands on this side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, looking to the aeons of enmity before and now the reality afterward, he can say to the church in Ephesus of their new reality “But now, in Christ Jesus.”
Oh, friends can’t you feel the joy of those simple words – “but now, in Christ Jesus.”
But now, in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,
But now, in Christ Jesus, the dividing wall of hostility between us has been broken down.
But now, in Christ Jesus, we have access in one Spirit to the Father;
But now, in Christ Jesus, you are no longer aliens;
But now, in Christ Jesus, you are citizens with the saints;
But now, in Christ Jesus, you are members of the household of God;
But now, in Christ Jesus, you who were no people are now God’s people;
But now, in Christ Jesus, you all have been built together into a dwelling place for God.
But now, you are no longer strangers, for you are one in Christ!
No longer strangers.
Thanks be to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.