Sermon 7-27-2014; “One New Humanity”
Pastor Ruthie Tippin, Indianapolis First Friends
Every morning, no matter what website, television station, or radio call letters you turn to, you find stories of violence and hatred; stories of aliens, strangers, the ‘haves and have nots’, the powerful and the even more powerful.
Today, we pray for: (move to candles and light each one)
· The frenzied fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas fighters
· The children of Central American families who are crossing the borders of the US
· Christians who have been forced from their homes and communities in Iraq by Jihadist forces.
· The ongoing conflict in Congo, where mineral resources have become more highly prized than it’s people
· The ongoing crisis between Russian and the Ukraine
God, grant us peace. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians doesn’t ask for peace… it shouts about peace. The apostle is not writing this letter as vapor in thin air. He is writing it with intention. A spiritual message? A deeply political message? It is both. The policies – the choices governments make, people make, the early Christians make, you and I make, have spiritual consequences. For Quakers, there is no distinction between the two.
The people of Ephesus lived in peace… a forced order of peace imposed by the Roman government. Anyone stepping outside that order was done away with, literally. The ‘pax romana’ was held in place by the Emperor for almost 200 years by men who were treated as gods: the Emperors. Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero…men who ruled over the citizenry and military might of most of Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia – the Roman Empire.
Sally Brown, professor of Preaching and Worship at Princeton Seminary shares this: “Imagine that we, a community of Christians in Asia Minor, are tightly packed into the largest home available for the first reading of a new treatise that has arrived -- the one that will later come to be known as the Letter to the Ephesians. We're gathered to hear it read out, of course, because most of us cannot read. As the reader gets to the part that says, "You who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ . . . He is our peace," there is a quick intake of breath and glances toward the door.
Who may have heard? "He [Christ] is our peace" (verse 14) would be a pronouncement bordering on treason. What is being claimed, after all, is that despite all the swaggering claims of Rome's emperors, true peace has been inaugurated – [not by the Emperor] - but by a man the empire crucified. The dissonance between the chilling rhetoric of the state and the thrilling rhetoric of the Gospel would set any listener's blood racing.”
Remember those words that begin that wonderful story we tell each year? “And it came to pass in those days, that a word went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed…” Caesar may have been the god of Rome, but he would soon be trumped by the God of All. To speak of God’s Son as the source of peace was a terrifyingly bold thing to do. To speak of Christ breaking down walls that held people apart, gave power to someone other than the Emperor. To speak of a reconciled community rather than one filled with hierarchy and hatred was the antithesis of the life these people knew.
Not only did Paul speak of Christ and the cross breaking down the wall of hostility, but of Christ becoming the cornerstone, the foundation of peace. A wall only travels two directions – up and down, and side to side. A cornerstone travels in three, literally ‘turning the corner’ and adding stability to a structure that it would not otherwise have.
Walls and borders separate people because of their race, their religion, their economic status, their ideas… some are in and some are out. For the Ephesians, the distinction was Jews and Gentiles. They refused to ‘turn the corner’, and only lived an up and down, side to side existence. Families, churches, neighborhoods, peoples of the world live as strangers and aliens, rather than citizens of God’s world.
Sally Brown: “Ephesians declares peace on new terms, the peace forged not by the "lords" of Empire in its manifold forms, but in the blood and bone of the Crucified. [What was meant for death brought life!] The cross undermined the wall dividing Jew and non-Jew, but that is only the beginning.”
“The new household of God is not a purely spiritual reality that we visit briefly on Sundays -- a weekly "time out" in which we pretend peace is possible by sitting next to people we scrupulously avoid the rest of the time. The church is the daring practice of a new politics -- a different kind of power, the self-outpoured, boundary-crossing power of Christ's cross.
George Fox called the cross ‘the power of God”. Quakers do not display crosses in their meetingrooms, because as Fox taught us, “He that feeleth the light that Christ hath enlightened him with, he feeleth Christ in his mind, which is the power of Christ, and shall not need to have a cross of wood or stone to put him in the mind of Christ or of his cross, which is the power of God.” [Journal, 1655] There is no need for an image of God’s power, when we have the actual power of God within us.
Brown, continues: “We trust this power, letting it undermine every wall, until we are "built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God" (verse 22).”
The sad thing – actually, the wonderful thing, is that God saw the people of Ephesus, sees us, sees all of us, as one, as the same, as God’s creation… [Galatians 3:27-29] “ For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [There is no distinction!] And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
We don’t have to be in the family line of the Emperor to be valued, to be listened to, to be cared for. We are a part of God’s family – the one who created the Emperor! We are one new humanity – the humanity of PEACE.
I invite you to add your prayers for peace – whatever the need for peace is in your life – to these that have already been spoken. Light a candle, if you wish. Hold the light of God’s invading, interceding, loving, living light within you, even as you extend it to others.