7.12.15 The Peace that is Jesus

by susan on July 12, 2015

Israel-Palestine wallSo then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember 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. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For 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. 15He 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, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.    -Ephesians 2:11-22, New Revised Standard Version

The Yad Vashem is a massive Jewish Holocaust museum that sits just outside of old Jerusalem. It is a memorial to lives lost in the systemic wiping out of an entire group of people based on their ethnicity. When I was there earlier this year, I had just long enough to walk through the photographs, stories and salvaged belongings pausing every now and then to imagine the hatred, the fear and the horror of this part of our history.

It was unbelievable. It was humanity at its worst. We are at our worst, we are less than human when we separate ourselves based on our differences.

You would think the Holocaust would have served as a powerful lesson, never needing repeated, but that’s not so, is it? Our first inclination is still to separate ourselves from those we fear do not share our same beliefs, traditions or ways of being in the world.

Ironically, this kind of separation still happens just blocks away from the Holocaust memorial as walls have been erected to keep Israelis and Palestinians separate from one another. And, in sometimes subtler ways, it stills happens here.

We have no idea how to live into the peace that is the fundamental of the faith we proclaim. That peace is the topic of the next part of Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus. Peace was a struggle and division was the cause.

The recipients of this letter were distinct in two ways: First, they were Gentiles. This meant they were once considered outsiders themselves because they were not of Jewish descent. They were not part of the original blessing spoken to Abraham and Jews had developed an entrenched prejudice against them. They were seen as illegitimate, as less than, as unworthy to share in the Jewish rites and rituals.

Yet, these Gentiles living in Ephesus had received by way of Paul the good news that they too were included in the good news of God’s love & grace and now THEY were distinguishing themselves from others. They were so quick to forget the experience of being left out, mistreated and kept distant from God.

So, Paul tells them to remember.
Remember…what it was like to be called names that remind you of your unworthiness.
Remember…what is was like to be alienated and estranged.
Remember…feeling hopeless.
And, remember how the message, the death and the resurrection of Jesus changed everything.

There is no more barrier between you and your neighbors because Christ died for all. There are no more insiders and outsiders. We are all on equal ground.

I can only imagine the impact of these words for those living in Paul’s ancient world. Divisions may have created challenges, but they were also very important. People were identified by their family lineage, their race and their religion and these differences were worth living for, fighting for & dying for. Paul was saying these hostility created by these differences had NO significance in the kingdom of God.

The Christians receiving Paul’s letter were once excluded Gentiles and they were also distinct in another way. They were Roman citizens. They were citizens of an empire that promoted itself as the most important and powerful force for world peace. Keeping the peace happened through intimidation and force.

To these Roman citizens who looked to the emperor to bring peace, Paul shockingly declared: Christ is our peace.

If this group of people who were likely crammed in a house together had started to drift off, this would have woken them up. This claim bordered on treason. Paul is saying that despite all the convincing claims of Rome’s emperors, true peace comes through a man this empire crucified. First, Paul challenged their religious divisions, and now their patriotism.

Divisions that foster insider/outsider statuses have no place in the kingdom of God. Through Christ, there is a new kind of peace.

This Jesus kind of peace:
…treated everyone the same
…welcomed the outsider
…died rather than use violence to have his way
…made a place at the table for wandering exiles
…broke boundaries, categories and laws that hindered love
…invited people to start over when their differences had gotten the best of them.

It was a revolutionary way of peace and also a very confusing one. Where Roman & Jewish laws were clear, people did not know what to do with Jesus. Jesus would not declare an agenda that fit neatly into political or religious categories. He could be found studying in the synagogue yet breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath. He was less interested in declaring his difference and more interested in meeting people wherever they were on life’s journey.

What a foreign concept to these Roman citizens and once-alienated Gentiles! What a foreign notion to us as well. We, too are so deeply entrenched in the insider/outsider way of living in the world that it is difficult for us to imagine anything else. We, too are so prone to divide ourselves into neat categories that keep us at a distance from one another.

We are divided by political party, race, religious affiliation, denomination; we divide ourselves by professions, into haves and have nots, by our stations in life and by our interests. And, with college football season approaching, let’s not even go there…

And, let’s be honest, we do not just divide ourselves to distinguish ourselves – we think our way is better than yours.
We, too are so deeply entrenched in the insider/outsider way of living in the world that it is very difficult for us to imagine peace the Jesus way.

If we are at our worst when we perpetuate our divisions, than we are at our best when we come together.

I shared with some of you on Thursday night that earlier this week, the girls and I drove down to Vilano beach to watch the release of Kate’s adopted sea turtle Mahi. I’ve learned a lot about sea turtles over the past year and one of those things is how helpless these endangered animals can be. This particular turtle had been caught in some fishing net and injured one of her front flippers. Ultimately, she had to have it amputated. She was rehabilitated at the GA Sea Turtle Center and two years later was ready for her release. When we arrived, I expected a dozen or so people to be there. I was wrong. There were a couple of hundred people there all gathered in a semi-circle waiting to cheer Mahi on as she was released back into her home. Our differences were irrelevant. We were all there to celebrate recovery, to cheer for healing and to watch hopefully as this sea turtle swam her way back to sea.

I could not help but imagine a world where we did this with human beings as well as sea turtles, a world where we transcended boundaries for the common good.

In the kingdom of God, there is peace of a new kind – a peace that brings us together instead of separating us. We are invited to know and to live into that peace. We are invited to know and to live the peace that is Jesus.

What might happen if we ever really grasped the kind of barrier-breaking peace that Jesus came to bring?

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