Pentecost 9 – (August 6th 2006)
“Fighting, Foreigners, Foundation”
Leave it to St. Paul to keep the preacher busy. Today’s reading from Ephesians uses three main word-pictures to describe what Jesus does for us, his people. Each one is something we can relate to. Each one shows a little more how those who were near and those who were far have been brought to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 3 Pictures of Christ our Savior, and his great work for us.
The first word-picture is one frequently used in scripture. It is a contrast between hostility and peace.
We live in a world that knows hostility, but seldom sees lasting peace. Just as Jesus promised, it seems wars and rumors of wars are always somewhere. We read the paper, see the news. “The War on Terror”. “The War in Iraq”. Hezbollah attacks Israel, Israel bombs Hezbollah. Another roadside explosion in Iraq kills soldiers and civilians alike. North Korea and Iran, Kosovo and Rwanda… and this just in recent years. Even at home we are often bitterly divided over the how and why of our own country’s policies and our own president’s actions. We know hostility. It’s a part of life in a sinful world.
But maybe all that fighting seems “over there” to you. Maybe it doesn’t concern you. No matter, for hostility hits close to home when we find ourselves in conflict with others. Even in the family, even with our own parents, children, and spouse – hostility is always lurking. We may not be in the military fighting the latest national war, but we all fight our own little wars on the homefront. We shoot those other kinds of rockets at each other. And it’s just as much because of sin.
Paul speaks of the hostility between Jew and Gentile that is put away in Christ. But we could also speak of the hostility between man and God. For as much as sin puts us at odds with other people, we are more so at odds with our God. Scripture says that in sin we are enemies of God. In other words, we are at war with him. Born into hostility, fighting with our Creator. Challenging his will, opposing his purposes.
Only Christ brings peace. In him the warfare is over. He appeases God’s righteous anger, bearing it at the cross. He turns enemies into friends, sinners into saints. He makes peace between these warring factions a reality.
And peace with God leads to peace with our neighbor. While sin still means war in the world at large, the Christian who carries God’s peace with him, brings that peace into his personal relationships. So that we, who know our sin before God, confess our sins against fellow man. So that we, who have been forgiven, now offer that same forgiveness to each other. So that we, who were once enemies of a God who loved us in Christ, now answer his call and love even our enemies. Whether Jew or Greek, male or female, rich or poor – all that divides sinful humans into enemy factions – is made peaceful in Christ.
The first picture was one of fighting, the second is one of foreigners. Aliens. People from far away. People who maybe were not born here, but are here now somehow.
Again, the Bible’s imagery is not too far from the front page news. Our nation has been debating what to do about the alien and foreigner, especially the illegal immigrant, for some time now. And while everyone seems to admit there is a problem, even faithful Christians are divided about the proper solution. Does the Bible give any guidance on the matter?
It is clear from Scripture that we humans are to obey the laws of the land. Earthly government is given as an agent of God to prevent evil and keep order in our world. Romans 13 makes this very point. So it should concern Christians when laws are being broken. This is not God’s will.
But as I said last week, sermons shouldn’t make us feel smug and righteous, and there is plenty of law-breaking to go around, so that we should also examine ourselves. When have we dishonored, disrespected, or disobeyed the government God has placed over us? An attitude of humility and repentance is needed here for the Christian, even as we address the sins of others.
Again, Paul’s first concern is that in Christ, Gentiles are now incorporated into God’s chosen people Israel. In Christ Jesus, we who did not belong, now do. We who were outside the kingdom are in. We are “in” by our baptism, and his promises given there. We are “in” because his blood was shed for us, we have been paid for. Call it “amnesty” if you will.
Though we don’t have the flawless lineage, though we haven’t earned it either, the gift of citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom is ours in Christ. Though we are not always good citizens on earth, we have been made citizens of heaven, and are now part of his household.
And it is a house he builds. To live together with God and each other, first he stops the fighting. Then he makes foreigners into citizens, even family. Then, he builds the house where we will live together. His holy temple – the church.
I don’t know how many of you remember the building of this church. If you don’t know, or it was before your time, Grace Lutheran Church used to be known as “Grace Chapel”, and the congregation here worshipped in a small white building – a chapel- from 1919 when it was founded, until 1941 when this new building was dedicated.
And maybe it was your grandparents or parents, or maybe some of you still here who helped to build this new building. Many faithful members donated to build these walls, to pay for the decorative windows, and the new organ installed in 1976. I know that some congregation members even built the pulpit and other chancel furniture.
But all along, God has been building his church in this place. Any of the good work to support Grace Lutheran Church has been work God has done through his people, moving them, moving us by His Spirit to Christian service and stewardship. God has been building his church in less conventional ways too – but even more common – as he gathers his people around His word, and sinners have been forgiven here, every Sunday and more, since 1919. God builds his church even today each time a little one is baptized, each time the pastor announces forgiveness, each time we receive Christ in the bread and wine. God builds his church.
This third word-picture, of a household built on Christ, shows us what God’s church is all about. Not the building where we gather, but the . faithful people of God from all times and places., who are the temple of God. What does Paul say about this household of faith?
1) As we’ve already said, we don’t build the house, God does.
2) We have a foundation in the law and prophets. The Old Testament people of God who looked forward in faith to the coming savior – they are part of the household with us. And we who look back and also forward to Christ find our foundation in those men and women of old.
3) Christ is the chief cornerstone. Without him, the whole building comes down like a house of cards. The Church of Christ must always be about Christ, must always rest on him and what he has done – we must never build our own foundation, as if we could.
4) It’s not only Christians that live here in this household, but God himself. That was the great blessing of the Old Testament temple – that God was truly present – dwelling there and accessible to his people. But now that the temple of stone has been destroyed, and now that the temple of Christ’s own body has been torn down and built again – we the church, the body of Christ – become the new temple and dwelling of God. So God lives in and among us. Here, in the church, he is truly present. By his word. In his sacrament. God is here, in the house.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has done, and continues to do marvelous things for us. Paul shows how in Christ the fighting is over, the foreigner is welcomed, and the foundation is laid for our life together with God and each other. Jesus brings peace, makes citizens, and builds his church – and God dwells with us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.