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Sermon for July 19, 2015

Ephesians 2:11-22 (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 11—Series B)

“The Church of God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

July 19, 2015

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text this morning is the Epistle lesson recorded in Ephesians 2:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands– 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated 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 himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

          What is the holy Christian Church?  If we turn to the Explanation of the Small Catechism we read, “The holy Christian Church is the communion of saints, the total number of those who believe in Christ.  All believers in Christ, but only believers, are members of the church.” (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, pg. 157)  The text cited for this answer is our Epistle lesson today from Ephesians 2.  In this Word of God we are given a picture of the Christian Church—believers in Christ.  And what we discover is that the Church is a brand-new community, distinct from the old communities that have come together as believers in Jesus Christ. 

          What were these old communities?  Paul introduces them using the labels of the day—the Uncircumcision and the Circumcision.  Gentiles and Jews.  It was to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants which God had given the covenants of promise that He would send the Savior of the world.  It was the children of Israel whom God had called for Himself as a people set apart, visually seen in Israelite males through circumcision, the sign of the covenant made with Abraham visible in the flesh of those who trusted in the Lord’s promise.  The Gentiles were separated from all this.  They were aliens from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of the promise.  They did not know the one, true God, and so Paul says that, without God, they were without hope in the world. 

          And what about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?  It was not a healthy relationship, to say the least.  There was a barrier between them, largely a psychological one.  Gentiles came to despise the separateness of the Jews, accompanied as it often was by a sense of superiority on the part of the children of Israel.  What was often conveyed to the Gentiles was the opinion that, “I’m better than you are because I’m part of the God’s covenant people.  I’m better than you are because I follow the Law of Moses and you Gentiles do not.”  While true, it became a cause of boasting and added to the aversion each community had for the other. 

          But something changed that relationship.  And that something is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Christ’s death on the cross, the shedding of His blood, did away with what separated the Jew from the Gentile—the law of commandments and ordinances.  The law as a written code, threatening death instead of imparting life, is done away with in Christ, for He fulfilled it in its entirety with His perfect life lived for Jew and Gentile alike.  And when the Law is done away with in this sense, the barrier between Jews and Gentiles is removed.  Now, both Gentiles and Jews are reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ, not by works of the law but by grace through faith alone. (Eph. 2:8-9)  Now, both Jews and Gentiles are also reconciled to one another in Christ Jesus.  Human hostility to God had to be overcome—“while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10)—and hostility within the human family and within creation as a whole had to be similarly overcome.  Both forms of hostility—between man and God and between people and other people have been put to death by Christ through His own death on the cross. 

          And so Christ came proclaiming peace!  Peace to those who were already near (Jews) and peace to those who were far away (Gentiles).  Through Christ and through Christ alone both Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus have access to God the Father by grace through faith.  The ground of approach to the Lord is the same for both communities—“by the blood of Christ.”  And so Paul, writing to the Gentile Ephesian believers says to them, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whole the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”

          Two communities of believers in Jesus Christ—Jewish Christians and Gentiles Christian—are brought together into one new community, the body of Christ, the holy Christian Church.  The barrier of the Law with its commands has been removed by Christ.  There is no further need for the communities to remain separate which the barrier of the Law once kept apart.  In the place of the former hostility Christ has made peace.  In Himself He has created a new humanity.  In fact, I discovered that early Christians would sometimes speak of themselves as a “third race” or “new race,” no longer Jewish, no longer Gentile—something entirely new and different.  Thus Paul writes by the power of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 3:27-28, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

          In Christ Jesus, by grace through faith, and not by works of the Law, you are a Christian.  You are one who believes and confesses Jesus to be the incarnate Son of God who died on the cross to redeem the whole world from sin, death, and the power of the devil, who bodily rose again on the third day in victory over death, guaranteeing not only your forgiveness of sins, but also your life everlasting in your own bodily resurrection.  As a believer in Christ, you are the Church.  Your race makes no difference.  It makes no difference if you are male or female.  Your age is immaterial.  Your native language doesn’t matter.  Your economic level doesn’t count.  When the Duke of Wellington, perhaps most famous to us for defeating Napoleon at Waterloo, once took the Sacrament at his parish church, a poor old man knelt down close by his side.  A warden came and touched the poor man on the shoulder, motioning him to move farther away.  When the great commander noticed this, he clasped the old man’s hand and said in a whisper, “Do not move; we are all equal here.”

In Christ, we are all equal here, equally reconciled to God, at peace with one another.  For God in Christ reached out to every one of us who were once far away from the Lord, lost forever in sin and death.  Every one of us was a stranger and an alien foreigner to the Lord, indeed, enemies of God by nature.  But through the gift of His Son’s sacrifice on the cross, through the shedding of Christ’s blood, atonement has been made.  We are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ because Jesus won our complete forgiveness of sins and gave us life everlasting. 

That same reconciliation and peace has been given to us who have been called together as the body of Christ, His holy Church.  Every one of us, from different backgrounds and walks of life, finds a home among fellow believers in Jesus.  By the gift of saving faith in Jesus, you and I are fellow citizens with the saints who have gone before us—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Peter and Paul.  We are all members of God’s household, His family of believers—those who are in heaven with Him and those who around this globe confess saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. 

Among this family of God in Christ called the Church there is no Gentile or Jew.  There is no Black, White, Asian, or Hispanic.  There is no rich or poor, smart or stupid, better or worse.  We are all one in Christ: equally forgiven, redeemed, loved, and reconciled.  One body connected to one Lord with one faith.  We are Christians.  We are the Church of God, “holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”[1]  Let us remember who we are in Christ by grace through faith alone and so live together in the peace and unity of Christ in our relationships with each other in the one, holy, Christian Church.  Amen. 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 283.


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