The Idolatry of Division

Ephesians 2:12-22                                                              5th Sunday of Lent

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          22 March 2015

 I am a very practical and realistic person.  Except when it comes to division.   I really do believe (and you can call me an idealist on this one) that we all can live together in peace with Christ as our cornerstone and that nothing can divide us.  I believe it is ontologically true that we are united.   That long “o” word means that in our being, in our essence.   So I believe we are one, even if we are not acting united.   I think one of the things that makes God sad is the way we divide ourselves up.  

So it happened to be my turn to write the faith column for the Bradenton Herald this week.   I wrote about the recent decision of our Presbyterian Church (USA) to leave room for pastors and sessions of elders to decide who may be married.   I was hoping that my piece would help some of our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Manatee County and perhaps some of you who are disturbed by this decision.   I am not disturbed.   Except that I worry about division.   I worry that people will think they cannot tolerate to be in our denomination now, so they will flee.    And I think that running away is a mistake.

Change is hard.  I shared a birthday lunch this week with 90 year old, Margaret Towner who was the first female minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1956.   She tells some interesting stories about how for a while she was not allowed to preach or celebrate sacraments, even though she was ordained.   When I started seminary thirty years later, there were plenty of churches that did not want a female pastor, especially as head of staff.   But now after nearly thirty more years, it is not an issue – at least not for Presbyterians.    We learned to re-interpret the verses that speak about women being subordinate to men, whether in the home, the workplace, or the church.   Slavery was largely set aside in the 1860’s, but it took many more years for civil rights, and still more for attitudes to change, and that change continues to this day.

We are living through another change with LGBT people, and it will take time for attitudes to shift.   In the meantime, we need to love one another and remember that we are one in Christ Jesus.  I have no doubt that this church will continue to be welcoming and open to all.   I am also convinced that this church will be sensitive both to all who wish to be married and to all who find it difficult to call a same-sex union a marriage.   Don’t ask me today exactly how our session and pastor will move forward faithfully and sensitively, but we will.    And we will continue to be the body of Christ together.

By the way, when I was looking at the lectionary passages set for today, I could not settle on any one of them.   Having preached the first half of Ephesians 2 last week, I felt drawn toward the second half, not even knowing that the deciding marriage amendment vote from the presbyteries would come this week.  I chose this passage because of its references to our being the building, the temple, the dwelling place for God.   As we bring our pledges for the sanctuary today (By the way, if you forgot, we will still accept them next week.) I wanted us to remember what the children sang – that we are the church.   A building does not make a church.   We, of all people, should know that, for we have moved around from building to building, finally landing here to stay.   We like having a building for our church, but our church is not a building.

Hear the word of the Lord from the second half of Ephesians 2.   Remember from last week that the first half was about the grace of God being a gift given through faith for good works.   So then the chapter goes on to talk about the division issue of the early church – whether those Christian men of Gentile background who were uncircumcised were as acceptable as the Christian men from Jewish background who were circumcised.   We cannot imagine making such a fuss over such a matter but for them it was a big deal, as we can see in Galatians even more than Ephesians.   

 Ephesians 2:11-22

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-- 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. ( NRSV)

Peace to insiders.   Peace to outsiders.   Christ came to reconcile all of us into one body through the cross, putting to death all the hostility that separates us.   All of us have access in the One Spirit to the Father.   So there are no strangers or aliens of any kind here.   All are citizens – no matter your color, your ethnicity, your country, your gender, your sexual orientation, your background, your theological perspective, your socio-economic status, your mental or emotional or physical health, your educational level, you are all one in Christ Jesus.   You are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.   I believe that citizenship with the saints is at our essence.   It is who we are, whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not, whether other people believe it about us or not.   It is ontologically true – that we are one in Christ Jesus, who is the foundation, the cornerstone of the whole creation.   In him the church is built.   In Christ, we are knit together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.   And when we believe it is true, then we cannot treat anyone as an outsider.   No one.

I’m sure someone is now wondering, “Is she saying that anything goes?”   Is she saying that it doesn’t matter how we live?   Of course, it matters greatly how we live.   We are to live in communion with God and humanity.   We are to bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.    We are to welcome one another in the grace of Jesus Christ, understanding that no one deserves to be here, but all are here because of mercy.   We are to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh, and generally live as Christ would, if he still walked on this earth, because we have his Spirit and we can by His power and grace.   We are called to be the exhibition, living demonstration of God’s way of being here on earth, because we are citizens of heaven – not later, but now.   How do you think the Jewish Christians in Ephesus, who were increasingly becoming a minority, felt when they heard these words --  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,   They were probably very nervous, like those who are uncomfortable with marriage being redefined.

So, in my mind, it is not a problem for anyone to come to this today – anyone who wants to meet Jesus Christ, to taste and see God’s goodness, to be filled with Holy Spirit.   It is not problem for anyone to come into this chapel or into the sanctuary that we will one day build, to celebrate God’s love that unites us and calls us into caring relationships as friends and covenant relationships as marriage partners.  I care about making peace with my brothers and sisters to the left and to the right of me, so we will proceed carefully and sensitively.

We are waiting for God to inspire the whole congregation to build together, not only ourselves into God’s holy dwelling place, but to build a physical space where we can gather as God’s people and live out these principles of grace and inclusion.   I would really love to see us build soon, because as this area grows, I want to be able to more easily welcome every person who walks in the door.  I am always disturbed when by our lack of space, it could seem like this is a small club for insiders, instead of a growing hospital for outsiders, for anyone in need.  There are some of you who have not prepared your sanctuary pledges yet.  There are some of us who have turned in pledges for the sanctuary who might be able to stretch further.  Only you and God know whether you have been generous, based on what you have to share.    

We are seeking to leave this legacy of a sanctuary that inspires all people with the loving embrace of Christ, with the peacemaking welcome of God’s people here.  

Christ is our peace.   He has taken all the barriers down.   There is nothing that stands in the way of our loving one another like Christ loves us.   There is one new humanity, not two.   There is one Church and one Christian faith.   No matter our differences, we belong to each other and Christ is our cornerstone.   All the idols, the values we place higher than God, fade away, for Christ is our foundation.   Christ is our peace.