Sunday, July 25th, 2021
(Revd Canon Malcolm Convery - Associate Minister)
Breaking Down Walls
(Related Bible readings from can be found here)
A few months ago our Church doors were locked because of covid and at one point even our graveyards were closed. We missed not being able to worship in church and others missed coming into church in the week to enjoy the silence and to pray.
Those who wanted to visit the graves of loved ones were also upset.
Being shut out/excluded was very painful.
Perhaps you have experienced times in life when you felt excluded. I remember as a child leading a chalk chase in a friend’s garden. I made the mistake of going through the house and drawing arrows on the inside of the house . My friend’s mother was naturally furious and I wasn’t allowed in to enjoy the refreshments.
Being excluded can be a very hurtful experience. We only have to look at today’s epistle where Paul is writing to the Christians in Ephesus and in particular addressing the Gentiles who find themselves excluded from the people of God. the Jews.
The Jews called them the uncircumcised therefore excluded from being citizens of Israel and separated from God. Indeed in the words of the Jews they were regarded as fuel fit for the fires of hell. They were also regarded as being unclean and so Jews would not enter the home of a Gentile.
In the Temple Gentiles were confined to the margins. Indeed there were other barriers within – an area for women, another for men, then priests and only the High priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies and only on one day in the year.
To this day the Jews and non Jews are divided by a wall because of the hostility between the Jews and the Palestinians.
The world is criss -crossed by barriers of separation.
Some of these barriers are physical walls - the Berlin wall for example which divided East and West Germany- thankfully now demolished.
The wall separating Catholics from Protestants in Belfast- still there as a reminder of the division. And the wall President Trump planned to build between the USA and Mexico to keep out immigrants.
As sinful human beings we are all capable of building walls of separation.
Most of these walls are invisible and are the result of our actions, our attitudes, our words, our insecurities, our differences. Brick by brick we build a wall.
Sadly we can be responsible for building walls within the Church and we can build a wall around the Church that excludes others.
This is what happened among God’s people in the days of the early Church and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is written to address this problem.
Let’s look at what Paul has to say : Firstly he addresses the Gentile Christians reminding them that their period of separation and exclusion is now over .
Paul writes :
‘In union with Christ Jesus you who used to be far away
have been brought near by the death of Christ.
For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jew and Gentiles one people.
With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.’ (Eph. 2 v 13,14.)
The dividing wall has been smashed. No longer are they outcasts but now very much members of God’s family. Think what it must have felt to hear these words.
Paul knew the truth of these words from his own experience. He set out on the Damascus road as a devout Jew thinking he was doing God’ s will in persecuting Christians.
He came face to face with the risen ascended Lord and instead of persecuting Gentile Christians he became an apostle to them introducing many of them to Jesus.
Paul was now in prison because of this work. He is also addressing the Jews in Ephesus some of whom would have been shocked to hear what he said next :
‘He(Jesus) has abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules,
in order to create out of two races one new people in union with himself
in this way making peace.’
Does this mean that the ten commandments are no longer applicable ?
No it doesn’t.
It means that we are reconciled to God and each other
not through keeping the Law but through the blood of Jesus.
Indeed, Jesus has given us a new commandment - to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as yourself. Love builds bridges and breaks down barriers.
Both Jewish and Gentile Christians needed to hear this.
The one because they thoughtthey were on the right track
and the other because they were regarded as outcasts.
So what is the Lord saying to us today through this letter of Paul ?
That no one who comes to faith in Jesus should be excluded from God’s family.
All our welcome . There should be no dividing walls in the fellowship.
Sadly, being human, we may find ourselves building barriers.
Do gays, divorcees, unmarried mothers, ex-prisoners, people of colour find a welcome ?
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that
‘We were all baptized by the one Spirit into one body –
whether Jew or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given one Spirit to drink’
(1 Cor. 12 v 13.)
Through his death on the cross Jesus has brought all who are in union with him into one body and like the parts of the human body we all have diverse gifts
which God calls us to use in building up the body.
In a healthy body all the parts work together.
This involves accepting our differences and agreeing to disagree.
Further on in his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes
‘Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives
by means of the peace that binds you together’(
Eph.4 v 3)
The importance of unity in the Church is emphasized by the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that is held every January.
In the last few verses of our reading Paul turns from the analogy of a body to that of a building. He writes
‘You are being built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets,
the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself.
He is the one who holds the whole building together
and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord.’
And Paul goes on to remind us that God’s Spirit dwells in this sacred building
As he dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem.
We, both corporately and individually, are the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit.
We are reminded of this every time we hear the words :
'The Lord is here' and we respond 'His Spirit is with us.'
How can we be sure of this?
We have Peter’s words to the crowd on the day of Pentecost :
‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ
for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
( Acts 2 v38)
In Luke’s gospel Jesus says
‘If you ask in my name, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him.’ (Lk. 11 .v9).
It is the Holy Spirit who prompts us to believe and respond to the gospel message and when we have done so then these words of Paul in Ephesians strike a chord with us and leads us to praise God for welcoming us into his family. We are his children and he is our Father.
We are the body of Christ with Jesus as the head and we as functioning body parts.
We our living stones being built into a holy temple in which God resides through his Spirit. Not a temple of stones but of people – people who work together in harmony.
As we work together to build God’s glorious kingdom and we look towards the day it will be complete in all its fullness and our hope of eternal life will be fulfilled.
Remembering we are building on the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone – the crucial stone that supports the whole edifice.
May we praise God for the depth of his love and his wonderful plan of salvation
and for the part he has called us to play in this plan.