Reconciled in Christ: Near and Far

. 5 min read

Reconciled in Christ: Near
and Far
      Being in Christ, 4 
Feb 2019, Christ Mountain Top, Scout Sunday, Lord’s Table
the Psalm, Psalm 87 (6:00 pm only)
Psalm 87 and my birth certificates
Ephesians 2.11-22
Moment, Scout presentations
begins with the wonder of Christ Jesus, beyond imagination, “all in all,” our
fullness and our destiny. It continues with practical direction on being in Christ. For eight weeks, we are
going to study this short letter. One of its marvelous features is its prayers.
Repeatedly, Paul offers his prayers for the readers of this letter – prayers for us – and he closes asking for our
prayer for him. 
weeks ago: blessing in Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace
weeks ago: power and fullness in Christ, all in all
week: Created and Made Alive in Christ: Grace through Faith
week: Reconciled in Christ: Near and Far
the time, on your own, to read Eph 3.1-13 as part of this theme, with a focus
on the role of Paul – a strictly observant Jew – in a mission to the Gentiles.
a child I had a set of Star Trek action figures along with the plastic
carrying-case that folds out into the bridge of the USS Enterprise. I let a friend and neighbor play with the figures.
He didn’t return them. I asked him about it several days later. “No, I did
return it. I threw them over the wall.” Now, in that neighborhood in Manila,
every home had an eight-foot wall around their property. He threw the action
figures over the wall to land in our driveway. Eventually, I found one of them,
pretty well mangled.
      And we never talked again, this
neighbor-friend and me. I don’t know who moved away first, him or me. I don’t
remember his name. I do remember being really mad. I remember a friendship
being definitively OVER.
      And that wall? To borrow from the apostle
Paul, that wall became for us a “dividing wall of hostility.”

section is one of the most revolutionary texts in the Bible, when it comes to
human relationships and social boundaries. It is not the only one that
addresses these matters in this way, but it is breathtaking in its eloquence
and it anchors its vision of reconciliation firmly in the gospel.
      In fact, in the next section of Ephesians (which
we did not read today but I encourage you to look at on your own), Paul calls
this message of the two becoming one, of the dividing wall of hostility
destroyed, of the broken and beaten flesh of Christ Jesus being the means of
that very destruction of hostility … Paul calls his message “this gospel”
(3.7), the “wisdom of God in its rich variety” (3.11), and “the eternal
purpose” of God (3.12).
don’t get the depth of what Paul is
talking about. Our times are different, and our divisions are different. In
Paul’s day, Jews and Gentiles, the circumcision and the uncircumcision, could
not eat together. Kosher dietary restrictions and ancient eating practices were
simply incompatible. And, of course, it is never just about the foods. It is
also about worship. Jews follow “the LORD your God, the LORD is One.” Gentiles
worshipped multiple idols, manmade symbols and statues that had no power and
reality of their own. Once you’ve got Gentiles following Jesus, how do you get these
folks who have every religious, cultural, ethnic, historical, and culinary
reason to stay separate from one another … how do you get such folks to share
the Lord’s Table? How do you get them to recognize in each other a brother or
sister? How do you get them to discover that they are one, just as the God they
worship is One?
      It began in practice before it was
developed in theology. That is, if you read the New Testament story, you see
that the church was originally Jewish. Almost accidentally, though the
storyteller makes it plain that it was all directed by God whether the actors
understood it at the time or not, almost accidentally, Gentiles are included in
the family of faith. First, Jews who were raised in Greek speaking communities
became part of the original Jerusalem congregation. Then, some Samaritans
(half-Jewish, half-breeds with all the negative emotion attached to that idea)
were reached in mission by a Greek-speaking Jew. Then, an African, a treasurer
of the Candace of Ethiopia, who was also a eunuch, expressly prohibited by the
law of Moses from being part of the assembly of Israel. Then so many Gentiles
that the church had to gather its leaders and do theology, had to explain how
the unexplainable was happening, had to do some fresh Bible study, had to
reexamine texts like the songs of Isaiah and the lyrics of Psalm 87.
      They needed a theological basis for what
God was already doing, a theological basis for Jews and Greeks gathering
together around the table of the Lord with equal access, a theological basis
for two who had been on opposite sides of the dividing wall of hostility to
come together as one. They found it in the Hebrew Scriptures and theologians
like the apostle Paul articulated it in preaching and letters.
 now in Christ Jesus
you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  14 For he is our peace; in his
flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall,
that is, the hostility between us.  15
He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might
create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,  16 and might reconcile both groups
to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility
through it.  17 So he came and
proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;  18 for through him both of us have
access in one Spirit to the Father.  19
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the
saints and also members of the household of God,  20 built upon the foundation of
the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
got lots of walls, physical and metaphorical, modern and historical. The walls
that make my African-American friends uncomfortable walking the streets in
daytime (never mind at night) in certain neighborhoods. The Berlin Wall. The
walls of occupied Palestine – I’ve been there. The wall our politicians have
been talking about non-stop.
      The walls of our prisons – and I’ve spent
some time behind those walls. Being a pastor gets you into some interesting
places. Here in America, we lead the world in incarceration rates, that is in
number of persons in prison per 100,000 in the total population. According to a
2006 study, we incarcerated 738 persons per 100,000. Russia came in second, a
very distant second, at 607 persons per 100,000.
      Despite the language of our pledge of
allegiance, proclaiming our country “indivisible,” we’ve managed to be pretty
good at division and hostility. Friendships and marriages have broken up over
election results. And Star Trek action figures have been the cause for
neighbors to never speak again.
hear the revolutionary language of the apostle when he declares that in Jesus’
flesh “both [hostile] groups” are made “one.” In Jesus himself, God has created
“one new humanity” by “making peace” and reconciling “both … to God in one body
through the cross.” Now there is no near to God and far from God, no good and
bad, no accepted and rejected. There are no “strangers and aliens.” There are
only “citizens,” members of “one body,” members of “the household of God.” And
it can all begin at this table.
R. W. Stott, God’s New Society: The
Message of Ephesians,