“Two Become One”
Ephesians 2:11-22, July 22nd, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now, these words from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, Chapter two, verses eleven thru twenty-two.”
11 So then, remember that at ‘one time’ you Gentiles by birth, (you were) called the “(uncircumcised)” by those who are called the “(circumcised)” – a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands – 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But 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. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
“Having listened to this ancient teaching by the Apostle Paul, let us see if we can put to good use this idea of two becoming one in our lives today.”
“Two Become One”
“For (Jesus) 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. /Ephesians 2:14/ In the context of our scripture lesson this morning, the groups the Apostle Paul refers to represent the Jewish community and those of us born as gentiles, non-Jews. In our time, the here and now, the two groups speak to a large range of people who find themselves joining together, crossing over all types of boundaries and divisions. Taking our scripture literally, Paul is talking about and to, a group whom were not born into the Jewish community and thus did not participate in some of the traditions, rituals and customs which Jews practiced at that time, such as circumcision. Paul is simply saying, this is of no consequence and of no concern, for Christ has brought us together in the Spirit! Therefore, any walls or stumbling blocks between these two communities has been broken down and no longer exists. Paul wrote at a time when it was believed that the recognition of Jesus, as the Messiah, would spread as the Christian communities became stronger. Historically, this did not happen, for in the Twenty-First Century, the majority of those brought up in the Jewish faith are still waiting for the Messiah. Yet, the truth of Paul’s writing lives on.
Hence, we non-Jews, whom consider ourselves Christians, we must expand Paul’s analogy to encompass a much larger group of people, as the Spirit of God has touched a lot of faith communities, around the world.
On Reverend Michael Coffey’s blog, for poems, sermons and reflections of all forms, he speaks about this passage of scripture from Ephesians, raising up a challenge or two for congregations such as ourselves. He begins by telling us how we might consider changing our focus. “Let’s work as congregations not to necessarily perfect our diversity but connect to other congregations with their differences and declare our unity.” Pastor Coffey is a Lutheran Pastor in Austin TX. Wow, it sure seems like he has a great point, at least a point well worthy of some thought! His simple, yet powerful statement, is way ‘outside the box’! We, like a great many congregations are focused on how we can strengthen our diverse community. I must confess, I have encouraged us to do just this! And let us be clear about our progress. We are a diverse congregation. We have done an excellent job of welcoming in all people, from various social and ethnic backgrounds, as-well-as being receptive and welcoming to men and women no matter what their sexual orientations are. We have been diligent about making people with handicaps or disabilities feel welcome here also. The challenge for us is to endeavor to connect with others, other congregations, other groups, whom are not united with us in fellowship at this point; we are challenged to do this even though our differences are stark!
Let us pause here for just a moment, less we get confused or lost in this idea of connecting with other congregations. We are not discussing yoking or merging with other faith communities. We are talking about uniting with other communities through the Spiritual connection we have through Christ. Back in 1957, when the United Church of Christ was formed by bringing four denominations together, there was a naive belief that we could start a movement to bring all the diverse fellowships of Christianity together. That thought process has shifted dramatically, to the point that most leaders within our United Church of Christ believe that sharing in ministries does not mean we are compelled to yoke together. Rather it is believed that our diversity has expanded Christianity to reach a much larger community of people, joined in the Spirit of Christ, around the globe! And through that Spirit of unity we can do meaningful ministries together!
When it is suggested that faith communities work together there are many misunderstood notions. I have been in other areas, other communities, where these efforts have produced good results. In Delray Beach, our efforts to work together as faith communities, was very successful. We were a diverse group of Protestants: Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, The Unity Church of Christ, and Baptist; and we also had Roman Catholics, and several Rabbis representing two local temples, to name just a few. Here in our local area we also have different faiths, working together, seen extensively in the joint efforts at the Daily Bread in Melbourne, the South Brevard Sharing Center, the Shepherds Center and the Cold Night Shelter which is operated from out of our old facility on route one in Melbourne. We continue to share in these joint ministries at some level. Yet, our theological differences, our biases as groups, our differing views on what social justice means and what “the whole community of God’s children encompasses, still keep us apart, even to the point we find it difficult to find common ground to worship together.
Yes, this is indeed sad.
When I served a church in Middletown New York, I sat on an advisory board set up by the Chaplain (The Pastor Emeritus of the church I served) to oversee the scope of the Chaplains’ ministry at that medical facility. There were ten of us all representing different faith communities. I remember the day I suggested to the pastor sitting next to me, (I believe he was leading a Free Baptist Church) I proposed we set up a joint worship service or share our pulpits (thereby preaching to each other’s congregation). His response came quick as he said to me: “Tim, it is good we can serve the needs of others, by developing solid guidelines for the chaplaincy here at this hospital, but we do not share enough theology to worship together.” I was stunned!
Ecumenical communities are a good thing, yet all too often there is way too much time, effort and dialogue coming from groups, from individuals and their leaders, expressing how we are different! Many groups spend way too much time and effort expressing in various ways the importance of doing precisely this! A few months ago, I sat in on a discussion with a group of individuals, from various faith communities, and the conversation went like this: “Show me how you are different, and I will show you how I am different,” “we can even set up different events, so we can share this with more of our communities!” It is kind of like going on a first date and spending the time talking about your differences; she says: “I like opera,” he says: “I hate that, it’s boring.” Or he says: “I love wrestling,” she says: “that’s a vulgar and offensive sport.” Usually, a first date, is a last date when conversations go this way. The same can be debated about how to bring diverse communities into a common none threatening space. Focusing first on differences, will… like a first date, push groups further apart. It can be argued that these are steps in the right direction, yet somehow it misses the point which Paul is trying to communicate. I believe we need to make this more grass roots, one on one, making authentic efforts to step toward others around us, in a genuine desire to be one with one another.
Can you just imagine a group of conservative pastors and a group of progressive liberal pastors sitting down and celebrating that we ‘all’ share in the “Spirit of Christ!” And because of this common connection with God, through Christ… we are “One in the Spirit!” Then join-together in a simple worship service, celebrating together the work of Christ’s church in the diversity of our faith communities! I pray for the day, when I can tell you this is happening here in our community. Take this one step further, can you just imagine, what might be accomplished if all pastors, (within the all-inclusive and wide range of theological perspectives and opinions,) were to join-together on even one central theme?! What are the possibilities we might consider – if the clergy from every: parish, temple, and mosque, were to stand up and proclaim from their perspective pulpit the importance of compassion for children at all levels of society; or the importance of having empathy and the need to show kind-heartedness for those who have been marginalized, (within the continuing change and turmoil of a brisk and robust upturn in economics,) here in these United States!
Surely, Jesus didn’t want us to simply celebrate our diversity, but to use our assortment of understandings and images of God, to enhance our God consciousness and our range of worship styles. Thereby, using our mixture of faiths to illustrate and illuminate that no matter what our differences, we can come together in the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God. We need to focus on the common points of agreement, not the opposite! This is not as easy as it sounds. We shall need to consider the possibilities first, before we knuckle down and discuss the difficulties in front of us in this regard. One pastor commented on this passage saying: “In a world that has grown frighteningly guarded and harsh, Christian congregations are called to imitate the ‘table manners’ of Jesus by being sacraments of God’s hospitality in the world.” /Paul J. Wadell/
The Professor Emeritus of New Testament, at Union Theological Seminary, Arland J. Hultgren, wrote this regarding our scripture lesson this morning: “We are all family, and no one is to be treated as a stranger or alien. Differences in race, class, gender, economic condition, politics, and opinion exist, but they are not barriers to living in unity in Christ. The congregation is a laboratory for the kingdom of God.” If our congregation is a ‘test site’ or a ‘work shop’ to test what the kingdom of God is to be like, what goals might we want to set, or what changes ought we to consider? First let us clarify what would be some reasonable goals to set in this regard. One solid goal, which, I believe most of us already strive for, is to be a friend of friends. We have seen this in some manner or another, virtually every Sunday. Last Sunday it was Mary Lou supplying a birthday cake for her long-time friend Beth. This Sunday we have friends of Mary Lou reminding me to lift-up her recover from knee surgery in prayer. Many members and friends of this fellowship consider this church community as an extension to their family. In the kingdom of God, we may want to consider coming together and becoming one family, sharing in the Spirit of Christ together.
Looking outside the walls of this church, we may want to expand our understanding of ‘outreach’ to go beyond reaching out to the marginalized, going beyond simply relying on our ‘outreach committee’, and begin working on this one on one. By doing this we can work at making every encounter we have with another person – an opportunity to live out the concept put forth by the Apostle Paul: two become one. When Jesus encountered people, he reached out to them in word and action. Do we do this, every time we encounter someone? Consider this, instead of trying to
compete against others we would set our goal at joining with them, in some way, in whatever the event or moment offers. Rather than point out our biases we could be a more useful member of our community, of our society, by seeking opportunities to find ways to share in things we hold in common. To be a worker among workers without gripping or complaining about how your coworker is or is not carrying their weight. If you think this approach is too simple or too little, consider this: try it, see what it feels like. Wouldn’t you like to have people approach you in this manner?