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The Good News of Peace (sermon)

July 28, 2012

Ephesians 2: 1-22

Last week I wasn’t at Caversham. At St Clair and Green Island I started to look at Ephesians Chapter 1… and now today we are on to chapter 2… which is one of the most important passages of the New Testament. It’s a very exciting passage to preach from because it gets to the heart of the big picture… sometimes it feels like the church has lost sight of the big picture… What are we here for? What is the mission of God in the world? … what is God doing in the world?… the reason we wake up in the morning, the reason we put our money in the offering and so on.

In order to put chapter 2 on context I’ll backtrack for a few minutes to summarise Chapter 1. The key point in Chapter 1 is this: Before the foundation of the world, you were intended for something different than the situation you find yourself in right now. Not ‘before the creation of the universe’. That’s not a good translation… its more like what the apostle Paul calls the world… conflicted human society in its destructive struggles. Before the foundation of (so called) civilisation, before the struggle of empire against empire, before the battle for dominance and the lies of politics, before this world… Interestingly in Greek philosophical thought the word ‘cosmos’ or world has this same idea in it, for much of Greek philosophy the world, not just the human world but the natural world too is a struggle of conflicting forces. The universe is a battleground you might say. The New Testament says NO. Creation as a whole is good. The human world is conflicted, but before the foundation of this world, you were intended for something else… and with the coming of Jesus we were adopted into the REAL real world, the one we were intended for, and like children adopted into a new family new possibilities open up for us.

And so in Ephesians 2:2 (we didn’t read)… it talks of the world as a world system which ‘follows its course’ and is controlled by the ‘desires of the flesh’…selfish desires… that lead to conflict and thus says the writer, we are born into something problematic, we are ‘children of wrath’ (animosity). There is a struggle going on in the community we are born into, a struggle for identity, a struggle against other groups.

In V4 the writer says God is different. (v4) God who is rich in mercy (the opposite of someone generated by wrath), God who is rich in mercy, who gives good to those who don’t deserve it, God has made us alive in Christ.

That’s the background… So in today’s reading he is going to spell out what this adoption by Christ actually does … What’s it about? What’s it for? What’s so good about the gospel? What’s the point of the mission of God in the world?

I think many of us grew up learning that the good news of the gospel was that, if we did certain things, like believing in Jesus, asking Jesus to be your saviour, or living a good life, or getting baptised… whatever it is… if we did it, we would go to heaven when we died rather than hell. rather than suffering the anger of God through eternal torment, or being forever separate from God… again it doesn’t matter which option you choose, the point is, the good news that so many Christians in the western world take for granted is the idea that they will live forever when they die. It’s an individual good news. Eternal happiness for individuals, some individuals, who do certain things. And for those who felt uncomfortable with this view and stopped believing in hell, then the good news becomes eternal bliss for everyone… with possible exception of Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler. Notice it’s still an individual thing and it’s still focused on the afterlife.

This is very different from what Letter to the tells us about what God is doing in Jesus. Here the Good News is, not that we will go to heaven when we die (although that may be true), but that we can participate in the new community of God. That’s what gets the writer to the Ephesians up in the morning. The Good News is about inclusion in a particular kind of community. It is that there is a new ‘body’, a new community being formed in which the possibility of peace on non-rivalry is happening, because it is based in peace and reconciliation created by Christ’s death and resurrection.

In the world where Ephesian was written there was one big faultline… There were Jews and there was everyone else. Ephesians says this great division is overcome, this epitome of what it means to be ‘children of wrath’ has been broken down. It doesn’t say that Gentiles as well as Jews are now going to heaven… (although that may be true), but that they are both part of the new Community of God together. The good news is that peace has come, where once there was hostility.

The good news is not primarily that something will happen at the end of life but that something has changed in the very structure of our way of thinking and living and being human with the coming of Jesus… which means that those divisions are being broken down.

This is important. Jesus didn’t come along and say look everybody, you’re actually all the same, lets be reasonable and stop fighting and get into one big melting pot together. Both Jesus and the writer to the Ephesians were much deeper thinkers than that. They knew that that’s not how humans operate. Violence and rivalry are not something humans believe in and can just change their minds about… it is something deep in the way we are formed from birth (this tendency to group with some people against others, to enter into rivalry with others). Jesus knew, in the end, he had to die to bring peace and not just talk about peace.

The Good News is that the God who suffered the wrath of the children of wrath, who suffered in the body of Jesus the wrath of the political community and the wrath of the religious community is now teaching and demonstrating forgiveness in his own risen body. People who have seen their own systems of wrath meted out on the very body of God in the world are suddenly finding themselves forgiven – embraced by God, rather than punished by God. Peace between conflicting and rival groups is not just a nice idea, it’s the very essence of Christianity, it’s the very essence of the gospel. It is what God is doing in the world.

Let me read again from Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once 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, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.

v16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

What is at stake here is the processes in human nature, the processes of the ‘cosmos’ (world) which make for rivalry and division… the processes that mean that there are some people in this service today that you are less likely to talk to than others even though you wouldn’t admit to yourself that they are the ‘other’, the processes that mean that you tend to talk to some people and about others… and when something goes wrong you are more likely to blame those others. And if enough blame accumulates we might divide and start a war.

So according to Ephesians the gospel is that God is building a ‘household’… another metaphor for a human community. God is building a community of peace in which Jesus is the ‘cornerstone’, in whom, ‘the whole structure holds together’… Not that we all happen to believe in Jesus… (a sort of intellectual common denominator) but that his death and resurrection holds us together, it makes peace, it is the glue in the community which is growing into a dwelling place for God.

What do you see, today, more than we used to see in Caversham church?

We see others…. and we see the cross. If we are looking across the church we see others through the cross (we don’t see them apart from the cross, the glue that holds us together). And when we see the cross, we can’t help but see other people. It creates community.

The gospel is peace… now and in the resurrection. Amen

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