(Message given June 15, 2014 at Newberg Friends Church. We had great discussion at the end in both of the services.)
Any of you ever spend time doing mazes?
I was obsessed with these things in like fourth and fifth grade. I got to the place where I would doodle my own maze creations while I was sitting in class. Ones like this could be stressful, because there are three ways to start. If you choose one of the wrong ones, it doesn’t matter how many twists and turns you try, you’re never going to make it out. You’ll never get where you’re supposed to be.
Many people experience this in life, too. There are times where no matter what you try, you are excluded from the place you want to be. Growing up as a white male, I didn’t face very many of these big barriers or exclusions. The ones that stand out to me are minor, and most of them have to do with sports.
I remember as a freshman in high school, the first day of practice on the baseball team. I’d had freshman PE, so I had been in our school’s locker room many times. But the first day of practice, there was something revolutionary and new-this whole section of what I thought was just a wall was slid to the side, and there was a special locker room behind it! I couldn’t really see all the way in… and it was clear, as these things always are, that there was no way little freshman me belonged in there. I could see that they had bigger lockers with shelves and cupboards for gloves and cleats. I could see wider and more comfortable benches in front of them.
But alas, it was not for me. I was assigned a smaller locker, no shelves, no cupboards, with a locker partner no less. Now I had a goal. Ten minutes before, I didn’t even know that special room existed. Now, I just had to earn my way in there!
The day didn’t come until more than a year later, when I was pulled up to varsity mid-year. But I remember when Dan Eberhardt told me after I’d played a couple of varsity games that it was time for me to join them in there. Probably my first and last time as an exclusive club member. 🙂
But in many ways I am trivializing a significant issue when I show you a maze and talk about a high school locker room to talk about being excluded.
On the radio yesterday, I happened to catch a story where they played a recording of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous inaugural address. On January 14, 1963–seven months before Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, and only a little more than 5 years before I was born–George Wallace publicly spoke these words and was greeted with cheers:
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
This exclusion happened. In the lifetime of some in this room.
And this deadly exclusion, the holocaust, happened too.
Today, the glass ceiling still exists. Discrimination of minority groups still exists. Despite the American dream of all paths being open to those who work hard, real barriers still exist that close off some avenues to some people. And after being the oppressed people during the holocaust, modern day Israel perpetuates the oppression in their treatment of Palestinians. Discrimination, oppression, and barriers still exist in our world today.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he is reminding the readers of a similar barrier that once existed for them.
As Gentile Christians, Paul is asking them to remember what was, to remember that they were ones “having no hope and without God in the world.” The Jewish faith itself was based on exclusion, on a separation that for thousands of years had kept all Gentiles out.
When you leave here today, you can drive north on College Street if you want and head for the Seventh Day Adventist church. Just yesterday, they set up a replica of the tabernacle Moses and the Israelites had in the wilderness, as it’s described beginning in Exodus chapter 26. Starting at 1 pm today, you can get a tour and see it for yourself.
Here’s a replica of the tabernacle that is set up in Israel. The beauty is the idea that God came and pitched a tent and lived with the people of Israel. God’s presence was physically seen as a cloud by day, and fire by night, and it came to rest on the holy of holies of the tent tabernacle. While God’s presence was with them, people were shown by the tent itself that God was separate. The outer boundary kept most out. Only priests went in the holy place. And only the high priest in the holy of holies.
Solomon’s temple long after took up the same model of separateness. It’s bigger, it’s fancier. You go up stairs to get to the outer court. Up more stairs to the inner court. Doors kept you from the holy place, and the giant veil separated the holy of holies.
Hundreds of years later, in Jesus’ time, Solomon’s temple had been destroyed and replaced. In this diagram, the exclusions are marked clearly: Gentiles can only come to the outer court. Women only to their court. Men could get access that far. Priests only to the holy place, and only the high priest once a year went into the holy of holies.
Remember, Paul says.
Remember the exclusion you had. You could only enter so far! You Gentiles were only allowed in the outer court, there was a barrier that kept you from the religious area, a barrier that kept you from God’s very presence. The language used here is reminding them of the physicality of their separateness before Jesus. You Ephesians…and by extension, us…we non-Jews were aliens, outsiders, strangers without any hope, even without access to God.
This was us. Remember, Paul says. Remember the gift. Remember the sacrifice. Remember the miracle. “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.” That “dividing wall” reference…can you see, physically see what Paul and the Ephesians would have had in mind?
The miracle, the purpose of God that Jesus accomplished, is peace. Jesus destroyed divisions, making people once separate in hostility into one. “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances…” He’s wiped all of this old system away, eliminated it.
God in Christ Jesus has gotten rid of the boundary and exclusion system and replaced it with something radical.
The differences are not insignificant. The old system done away with is not mazes or special locker rooms. Before Christ, the old system created division, hostility, emptiness, a hopeless separation. Listen again to part of what Megan Anna read from Ephesians 2. Listen to the miracle of unity. Last week, we saw the plan in Eph. 1:10 “To bring unity to all things in heaven earth under Christ.” Here again is the radical picture of unity, this hope-filled purpose in what God is doing through Christ:
“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, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
One new humanity! One body through the cross! This is our hope. This is Christ’s purpose, the purpose from which we also take our purpose as a church, the purpose which changes our worship forever…moving it away from one of walls and courts and exclusion and to something brand new:
“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.”
It’s a whole new temple, a whole new dwelling place for God, a whole new system, a whole new way of relating to God and to each other.
Every one of us-we’re all given a place in this new temple, built on Jesus himself as the cornerstone…remember that image which we looked at on Easter Sunday? Instead of walls keeping some out of the presence of God, everyone is built into the new home where God will dwell.
There’s a new building, a new house for the Lord. The old tabernacle/temple of separation is gone. Instead, all are built into a community in which God makes God’s home. This is the beauty of the new purpose of community and worship!
But Paul asks the Ephesians to “remember” for a reason, I think.
Something about us as human beings…once we are given the gift of access to something, we soon begin to think we’ve always belonged. And then we have an all too frequent tendency to not offer others the same gift of access we’ve received ourselves. We need to remember the gift Jesus has given.
How do we exclude others? It could be excluding from church, it could be excluding from God, it could be excluding from a relationship with us. But how do we exclude others, whether unintentionally or intentionally? [ASK]
“Full” relationship plates that make it hard for new people to be included in our circles. Too busy. Communicating that your look or your choices or your clothes or your beliefs don’t measure up.
How do we be a community that makes room for the “other”? The “other” that God is building into the temple, the temple with Christ as the cornerstone?
This seems to be a key. In practical ways, what are things we can do to help other people, new people, feel welcome and find their place in our part of Christ’s community, Newberg Friends Church? What things helped you feel like you belonged? [ASK]
How can we make room for others on Sunday morning? [ASK] Are there ways we can help others feel accepted by God and by us outside these walls and Monday through Saturday? [ASK]
May God help us remember the gift we have, the gift of acceptance in the new community built on Christ.
May God help us act in ways that make room for others.