Peacemaking: Our Way of Life

Ephesians 2:8-22
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert
22 July 2012

Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.

We want to hear what you, O God, will say to us.

for in your Psalter you promise to speak peace to your faithful people,

to those who turn to You in their hearts.   Amen.

When I chose this passage for preaching several weeks ago, I did so thinking it would be good to re-visit the scripture which first guided Peace when we chose a name for this mission outpost seven years ago, a scripture which grounded us and gave us wings when we chartered as the 39th church in presbytery three years ago.    Yes, this message which begins with God’s grace, and ends with Christ’s peace, reminds us of who we are in the Spirit and how we are  called to be a dwelling place for God.   This message is at the heart of our life as a church.

What I did not know when I chose this passage was that we would be grieving the loss of our sixteen year old sister in Christ, Leanna Knopik, daughter of First Presbyterian, Sarasota, and that we would be reeling once again from the news of an horrific and random act of violence in our own country.   And I could go on from Sarasota and Aurora to talk of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Marilyn’s hometown, where another gunman attempted a similar act of violence with an automatic weapon.   I could talk about suicide bombs in Syria, the Middle East, and Nigeria.   My Lord, is there enough tragedy to get our attention this week!    Is there enough pain this week?   Have we not already turned to you, O God, in prayer and begged you to work your miracles?   Have we not leaned into your grace and pleaded with you to bring peace and harmony to our world?    Well, dear God, we know you are not sleeping.   We know you are with us and all people in pain.    We know you do not sit aloof in some far away place not caring.    Surely you have borne our griefs and carried our pain.   Surely you have been our Shepherd as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  

We come each week to this quiet place, this place away to seek God’s face, to remember who we are and whose we are.   We come to be reminded that there is a larger and more glorious purpose and meaning to this life than is evidenced by these tragic events.   Worship is that time away when we slow down, reflect, and ask the big questions: what is my purpose?   What are my goals?   Who are my people?   Why am I here?

Funny enough, God never really answers that question so forward on our lips at times like this, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but God does answer the other questions, “Why are we here?   What is our purpose?”   So back to what matters, our calling in Christ – the grace by which we are rescued from our despair, the peace which transcends all understanding, breaks down all the barriers we try to erect, the home we have with God in life and in death, and our call to be a reconciling community.

Ephesians 2:8-22

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing;

it is the gift of God--

9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works,

which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

11 So 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--

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.

 So many of us who have followed the Caringbridge website with updates about Leanna have been amazed at the faith of her parents, her mother writing beautiful posts, full of faith, authentic hope, and reality of human pain and loss.    Beth Knopik is a Stephen Minister;  she and Steve and their children have been very active in the church as leaders.   Clay Thomas, their pastor, tells me they had a deep reservoir of faith from which to draw strength in this desperate time.    They understood to whom they and their children belong, and that brings a much-needed perspective when there are no answers.    They and Rogers and Clay sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” together, inviting Leanna to go home to Jesus, when there was nothing else the medical professionals could do.  Leanna is first and foremost, in her baptism, a citizen with the saints and a member of the household of God.   So whether she lives or whether she dies, she belongs to God.   That does not take away the pain of loss, but it reminds us of her true identity as God’s child.

I cannot imagine the pain of being Beth, Steve or Rogers Knopik in this moment.   Nor can I imagine the horror of being the parent of James Holmes, the Colorado gunman.   Nor can I imagine being the friend or family member of one who was randomly gunned down in a movie theatre.    But I know that these incidences make me all the more determined to live a life that counts, a life that matters, a life that is pleasing to God, a life that bears peace in this troubled world of ours.

For by grace we have been saved, not by anything we have accomplished.  No, this was a gift, giving us no reason to boast or claim to be better than others.    Grace – the free gift of God.   Faith is the appropriate response to grace, not something we muster to achieve God’s favor.    We were made to be responsive to grace, that is our way of life, a life of goodness which emanates, flows from the gratitude we feel for God’s unmerited favor toward us.   

And you see when we realize that grace is the free gift of God, fully appreciated and embraced in faith, then we cannot help but see that this gift is not ours for the taking, but ours for the living a grace-filled, peacemaking way of life.   

Isn’t it interesting that this letter to the Ephesians, circulated among all the early churches, doesn’t tell the Jews and Gentiles to forget their differences.   No, Paul or the Pauline writer who put this epistle together, encourages them to remember how different and how divided they had been before Christ changed the cosmos.    They could not enter one another’s homes.   They could not eat together.   They could not be seen together in the street.    They were different, but in Christ, even such a radical difference as between the Jews and the Gentiles, the circumcised and uncircumcised, was transcended by the grace and the peace that accompanies that grace.   

This vision is radical, more radical than we ordinarily think.  “There is no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free,”  Paul says to the Galatians.   “Christ is our peace.  He has broken down the dividing walls between us,” he says to the Ephesians.   So all walls are down – there’s no us and them.   Walls down between ethnic groups.   Walls down between religious groups.   Walls down between political groups.   Walls down between those who would debate sexuality, abortion, immigration, the economy, and healthcare.   Walls down!   That means that you and I know our relationship in Christ trumps everything else.   It calls us to exist peaceably and respectfully together.  Walls down between you and that family member who wounded your soul.   Holding up the wall will require too much of your energy, let it down.    Walls down between all who are divided by creed, need, or deed, because in the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, we are one in a way so amazing we cannot comprehend.

When we understand grace, then we appreciate that our calling is to be peacemakers.   Peace is our way of life.   Peace is the way God is made known, deep and transcending peace.   When we understand how deep and wide is the love of God in Christ Jesus, then we want to grow in grace-filled discipleship, and we want to care for the needs of others, so they too will be gifted to receive in faith the grace that God pours out on them.   

Are you living peaceably with your family, your community, and your world?    If not, then it is time to meditate, to delve deeply into the grace of God, to hear anew God’s message of love, so you can fulfill your destiny as a people called Peace.   We are not created for bitterness and division, but for peacemaking in the name of Christ.   We must get this message out to troubled world filled with reckless quarreling, ridiculous coveting, and random killing.   We must be the change that we want to see, as Ghandi said.   Be the change that you want to see.  

We are not created for such inhumane behavior.   We are being transformed by Christ.   We are destined to love God and love one another.   We are called to sit with the dying, to lift up those who are broken-hearted, to care for the forgotten, to be reconciled to those with whom we have differences.   We know that the light of Christ’s love shines on them as well as on us.   Making peace is our way of life.   It is not optional.   We are created by grace for this good but difficult work.  It is not for the faint-hearted nor for the head-strong.    A broken and contrite heart is required --  a heart wounded by God’s love, renewed by Christ’s grace, and made strong in the truth of the Spirit.

God, we pray for those who suffer when this world seems so unfair;
May your church be quick to offer mercy, comfort, gentle care.
And we pray: Amid the violence, may we speak your truth and love.
Give us strength to break the silence with grace and peace from Christ above.