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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a female journalist who heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, everyday, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. She went to the Wailing Wall and there he was! She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview. “Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wall and praying?” “For about 60 years.” “60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?” “I pray for peace. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship.” “How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?” “Like I’m talking to a wall!”
Heaven knows that the old man isn’t alone in his frustration. A lot of men, women, and children have been praying for peace and the end of hatred for a long time now. And as far as I can tell, they too have been left frustrated by God’s lack of response. Oh sure, there are times of relative peace but it seems like the times of struggle are far more often. The poor people of Jerusalem have certainly been struggling for a long time now with no end in sight. The Israel/Palestine conflict is the most recent iteration of that struggle and spans over 70 years, one of the longest conflicts in world history. But the struggle and conflict in that city goes back long before Jesus came into the picture. It’s been a teeming center for discord for so long it’s no wonder that Jesus focused his attention to establishing peace within its borders. That old man joins the ranks of not only men, women, and children around the world praying for peace but also several generations of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who claim Jerusalem as their sacred hub.
But peace is an ever elusive state of being in this world. Conflict and discord seem to be the regular state of being in this world. I suppose we can chalk it up to original sin and God’s punishments of pain and struggle throughout our days in this world. But that only holds water for so long for so many people before we resume with our complaints and/or prayers. Most of us simply don’t like conflict or discord and trying to justify it with the actions of Adam and Eve? Well, where’s the justice and fairness in that? Why should we suffer because of what others did a long time ago?! We should only suffer for what we do if there’s any justice and fairness in this world at all. Unfortunately, that’s not how this world works, nor should it work that way. None of us is an island unto ourselves. We ALL affect each other for good AND for bad in this world. And how we affect each other doesn’t necessarily have to do with justice and fairness. There are many forces in this world that affect how we interact with each other, some more powerful than justice and fairness. Sometimes we are at conflict with each other through no fault of our own. Sometimes conflict exists unjustly and unfairly. This is because there are powerful forces in this world that create conflict. But there is an equally, if not more, powerful force that creates peace as well. Therein lies the gift found in our reading for this morning.
Paul started his letter to his congregation at Ephesus with a lesson on the will of God as we reflected on last week. God wants us to not only receive his forgiveness but also to give him our praise. This is the will of God: to receive and to praise. But it’s very difficult to receive and praise him unless we are at peace. So Paul went on to remind us where we can find true and lasting peace, in Jesus Christ himself. Paul used the context of his quarreling congregation to remind us, “For he [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.” Some suggest that expression, “in his flesh,” refers to how Jesus died on all our behalf so that we might ALL be freed of our burden to sin, freed of the blemish created by Adam and Eve. But Jesus brought us together long before his death. He was teaching and healing all types of people in his earthly ministry. He rebuked powerful leaders who sought to separate and divide us. He reached out to outcast and forgotten among. Indeed, both his ministry AND his death united us in profound ways. Whether in his teaching and healing, rebuked and reaching, Jesus brought about peace. He himself was a source of peace and yet he worked to bring about peace. Paul wrote, “…so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.” Jesus IS our peace and he MAKES our peace.
Peace and unity go hand in hand. We come together when there is peace and we separate when there is discord. The two have a direct relationship with each other. Both Paul and Jesus understood this all too well as they worked to bring about peace AND unity; Paul in his congregation and Jesus in his world. Of course, Jesus had the ulterior motive of getting us to fulfill God’s will to receive forgiveness and praise him. I imagine Paul simply wanted his congregation to stop fighting and live in harmony with each other. And his words were echoed in his letters to his congregations in Rome and Collosae. Recall the words Paul wrote to the Romans, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (12:18) And in his letter to the Colossians, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (3:15)
The peace of Christ, both within him and created by him, is ultimately what unites us. We gather to dwell in that peace which then enables us to fulfill God’s will for us. Peace and unity are great gifts from our Lord. Though our days may be filled with struggle, we can always find peace and unity in him. Our endless prayers for peace find their answer in him. And for that we give thanks…thanks be to God! In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.