Christ has already reconciled all things into God’s life and love, breaking down all walls; now it’s up to the Spirit to help us live into the one humanity that God sees, in truth for all to see.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 16 B
Texts: Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56; Jeremiah 23:1-6
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Paul’s vision of what God is doing in Christ might be the answer to all our problems.
Christ transformed Paul on the road to Damascus, and sent him, an educated, brilliant Pharisee, faithfully observant in Judaism, into Gentile territory as the one chosen to speak to non-Jews.
And Paul proclaimed a breathtaking vision. He saw in Christ God reconciling the whole cosmos into God’s life. Paul proclaimed, as we heard today, that Christ in his own flesh broke down the dividing wall, the hostility, between the two peoples, creating “in himself one humanity instead of two, thus making peace.” In this new humanity in Christ, all are siblings, all belong to each other, all owe each other only love.
Paul knew Jews and Gentiles had little in common. They differed in religious beliefs and laws and rituals, in their ways of eating and dressing and living. But Paul said, “in Christ, these can live together in love. In peace. In respect.” In Christ, Paul said, your particular cultural habits and practices are fine to keep, as long as they don’t divide you from those who are different.
This new creation in Christ connects diverse peoples into one without destroying their diversity! Can you imagine the impact of this vision if it were lived today?
The tragedy is that from the start, followers of Christ struggled tremendously living this oneness.
Even before Paul preached, the church in Jerusalem found a communal life, where all believers shared everything. But that lasted only a few months, it seems. Already by Acts 6, the Greek widows of the community were being neglected, not getting their fair share. In Galatia, Paul’s churches fought over requiring circumcision. In Rome and Corinth, struggles over acceptable foods to eat and over Torah observance threatened and even fractured communities of faith.
It’s actually hard to tell if any of Paul’s communities were able to live as one in Christ.
Today, the distinctions between people are even more divisive.
Christians have split into hundreds of faith traditions based on culture and doctrine, often enemies of each other. Followers of Christ have fought and killed millions who share the same baptism and millions more who hold a different faith stance.
In our country, for four hundred years we’ve constructed arbitrary divisions based on skin color, institutionalizing and systematizing them to put those called “white” above those who have more melatonin in their skin, building a world where people of color are oppressed, beaten, arrested, red-lined, killed, and suffer countless other injustices. We built a system rewarding the wealthy with more and more, while making the gap between the comfortable and those who struggle with poverty larger and larger. For millennia in the cultures of the Western hemisphere those who identify as male have built patriarchal systems of justice, language, pay, employment, and many other things, keeping everyone else in secondary places in the culture.
If God in Christ is reconciling the world into God’s own life, we seem to be fighting just as hard to resist that reconciliation, building dividing walls, weaving barriers, and embedding division into every piece of our culture and society.
But there is Good News today: Paul’s vision of what God is doing in Christ might be the answer to all our problems.
Paul says it today to the Ephesians: Christ is our peace, not us. Christ Jesus, in his own flesh, breaks down dividing walls and hostility between peoples. Christ makes one new humanity in place of what existed before, reconciling all groups “to God in one body through the cross, putting to death that hostility through it.”
Even as Paul desperately wrote letters to his communities urging them to remember they are one in Christ, this was his great hope: Christ, in his death and resurrection, has already broken down all divisions, and ended all hostilities.
Jesus today looked on suffering crowds and was torn up inside with compassion, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd. He took that compassion, and offered God’s life to the world on the cross, showing a path of compassion carved out by God’s self-giving love. A path that brings reconciliation to all things, all peoples, as they learn and live that love.
Do you see why this is Good News?
To those of us who, in Christ, see the need to dismantle any one of our systemic sins built to divide and separate God’s people, benefitting some while harming others, just that one is daunting work. All of them together is beyond overwhelming.
But God in Christ has already broken down everything that needs breaking down. The reconciliation between God and all God’s people has already happened. So, as Paul kept challenging his congregations, the question is whether we, as God’s children, will live in that reconciliation.
To live into Christ’s new humanity as it already exists, means several things.
First, can we recognize the reconciliation is already real and true in Christ? Each child of God on this planet is one in God’s reconciliation. Nothing divides us except what we create and act on. And God in Christ still works to draw all people together through the Holy Spirit. If you look, you’ll see it.
Second, can we share the same compassion of God we see in Jeremiah? The gut-wrenching compassion that led Jesus, God-with-us, to offer himself as shepherd not just to the lost and frightened crowds of today’s Gospel but to the whole world? If there’s Christly compassion in your heart for all God’s children, so you see your sibling, your beloved, in all who suffer, you’re living in Christ’s reconciliation.
Third, sharing Christ’s compassion, can we commit to God’s shepherding revealed today? That is, looking for any and all who are lost, so that none will be missing, as the prophet says. If you settle for nothing less than blessing and safety and peace for all God’s people on earth, you’re living into the reconciliation of Christ. Because the One who reconciled all things in his death and resurrection settles for nothing less than all, and if you follow this Christ, neither will you.
Paul says to you today: you are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens and members of God’s household.
But if you don’t understand how God in Christ is reconciling all people regardless of culture or language or even religious differences, that doesn’t matter. God so loved the whole cosmos, Jesus says. This reconciliation isn’t stopped or divided by any walls or barriers we put up.
But we pray this: that the Holy Spirit keep changing our hearts, changing your heart, to beat with the rhythm of the Triune God’s heart. That God empower you to live a compassion that reveals this one humanity in Christ, created from all that divides us. That, living in that one humanity, we celebrate our differences in the joy of our oneness in Christ.
Until everyone knows they’re not strangers and aliens, but citizens and members of God’s own household.
In the name of Jesus. Amen