The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost July 18, 2010
742 [TLH alt. 38], 388, 644, 465
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
In the name of Jesus, our perfect peace in this sin-filled world of conflict, dear fellow Christians:
What if there were a wall completely encircling your county which prevented people from either entering or leaving? How would it affect your life? For one thing some of you might not be here today. The church is in one county and many of you live in neighboring counties. It might be impossible for you to get to work. Even worse, the wall would separate families.
It’s hard to imagine such a wall, and yet it wasn’t that long ago when there was one. About 50 years ago a wall was built dividing the German city of Berlin and cutting off the Soviet controlled eastern half from the western side administered by the Allies. Over the years the original 96-mile barbed wire fence was fortified until it became a massive concrete wall eleven feet high and four feet wide with 300 watch towers guarding it. It was nearly impossible to escape from the East to the West. Only a handful of people ever succeeded. The wall came to symbolize oppression and hopelessness. Finally, in 1989 travel restrictions were lifted, and the wall was torn down by hundreds of citizens. You can watch video of it on YouTube. The walls came crashing down and millions around the world celebrated.
But there are still other walls even more oppressive. That is what St. Paul speaks of in our text. He writes about the “middle wall of separation.” It was not made of huge concrete slabs and barbed wire. It was a wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles.
The Jews were God’s “chosen people” descended from Abraham. God had led them out of Egypt and settled them in Canaan. He had given them His law, including all the sacrifices and rituals of the tabernacle and temple worship. He promised that the Savior would one day come from their nation. Because of all these blessings the Jews became proud and looked down on everyone else as inferior. They believed that they were more deserving of God’s special attention due to their ancestry and because of how well they observed the outward letter of the commandments. On the other hand, the Gentiles resented the Jews for their haughty attitude and their insistence that the only way to God was through the Old Testament Law which was completely foreign to non-Jews.
And so there was an invisible, but very real wall between the two groups—a wall of sin. The essence of God’s commandments is love for God and for one’s neighbor. Neither side was showing that love and the wall just got higher and higher. Sin builds all kinds of walls like that which crisscross the world: walls between nations, between husbands and wives, between co-workers and friends, and there are even walls in church families. People may live in the same house and yet walls of grudges and unrepented pride keep them apart.
Are there walls of sin in your life right now? How many of them have you built? We have our own problems with pride. Instead of reaching out in love, we can find ourselves looking down on others and keeping our distance because they don’t live up to our expectations. We become impatient because in our minds they don’t know how to budget their money, keep up the yard, raise their children, or manage their lives as we think they should. Without even realizing it sometimes, we build walls by thoughtless comments blurted out or by actions which tell others we don’t want to get too close. It’s not hard to build those walls. They can go up in seconds. Unfortunately, they are much more difficult to tear down. They can stand for a lifetime!
Those walls of sin do not just cut us off from one another. The very first wall went up when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit. Then what happened? Instead of running to God when they heard Him in the garden, they ran the opposite direction and hid from Him in the trees. They were terrified to come near Him because of the barrier of sin which stood in the way.
Even though the Jews had the Law it couldn’t save them because they couldn’t keep it. Even though the Gentiles did not have the Law given to Moses on Sinai they had the Law written on their hearts which accused them of being less than the holy people God expects. We too are condemned by the Law. Sin has erected a wall between us and God which we cannot possibly climb over, go through, or tear down. David says in Psalm 5: “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil…You hate all who do wrong” (vv. 4f NIV).
We could not tear down the wall, but God sent someone who could. “You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation.” [vv. 13-14] The conflict between Jew and Gentile centered on the Law. Jesus made peace by doing away with the Law for both sides. He did not ignore it or say that it wasn’t important. Far from it! He did away with it by fulfilling it in behalf of Jew and Gentile. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). He was obedient to all the commandments in every way, not just outwardly as the Jews were. He was obedient to the Father in every way, even to the point of laying down His life in payment for the world’s sin. His death broke down the wall of separation between God and man and also that between Jew and Gentile.
Now both are one in Christ by faith. The Jew is not saved because of his ethnicity or because he follows certain customs, but through faith in the One who came from the Father to make peace between sinners and God. The Gentile is saved in exactly the same way. Jesus is the only name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Paul states it like this: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13ff NIV). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In Christ the walls between us and God come crashing down. We have free access to Him without fear.
In the same way, when you see walls of sin between you and other people, let Jesus and His forgiving love demolish them. When someone sins against you, instead of seeking revenge or even justice, recall how the Lord has treated you with mercy. Then show that same mercy toward others. When sinful pride sets up a wall between you and someone else, look to Jesus and His welcoming attitude toward all people, regardless of their social standing. Pray for the same love to look past the outward circumstances in order to see a soul just like yours: dead in sin by nature, but loved and redeemed by Jesus Christ.
As Jesus is our peace with God, so He desires that we live in peace with others. Ask yourself, “How can I with the Lord’s Word and blessing be a peacemaker in my home, church family, and community at large?” Trust Jesus to make the walls come crashing down.
When walls are torn down and the rubble cleared, there is space for new things such as parks or buildings where people can gather. With the walls of sin and hostility demolished, the Holy Spirit builds us into the greatest structure ever—the Holy Christian Church. It is not like this small building of wood and brick which one day will be torn down. The Church in its fullest sense is the invisible body of all believers wherever they are. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” [v. 19]
The cornerstone is Christ Himself. In ancient times the cornerstone was crucial. It was cut as perfectly as possible because the foundation and walls would be lined up with it. Likewise in the Church, everything is lined up with Jesus and His saving work. Without Him there can be no Church. The apostles and prophets serve as the foundation. The prophets foretold the Savior’s coming and the apostles confirmed their words. They heard Jesus’ teaching with their own ears. They saw His death and resurrection. They still speak to us in Scripture.
After the cornerstone and foundation comes course after course of stones for the walls of the Church. But these are not ordinary stones. Peter says, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 NIV). We are built into the Church on top of those who went before us. After us will come more living stones in the continually growing Church. Through Word and Sacrament the Spirit keeps us firmly mortared in place.
Within the Church we have a wonderful fellowship with God. We have no reason to fear Him since we are at one with Him through Jesus. We can pray to Him, praising Him for all His blessings and seeking His help for all our needs and concerns. We also enjoy a loving fellowship with each other. We share the strongest family bond there is. We are brothers and sisters united by faith in Jesus. As such we want to encourage one another. We rejoice in one another’s gifts from God. We want to be patient and forgiving with one another, just as Christ is with us, and just as we pray others will be toward us.
We want to remember that currently the Church is still under construction, so we don’t see the finished structure. It is still surrounded by the scaffolding and building materials of the Word working in time. But one day the Lord will return, the scaffolding will be removed, and we will see the Holy Christian Church in all its glory. Better than that, we will be part of it!
The Berlin Wall separated and divided people. It caused heartaches and hardships. But now it is only a distant memory. It has been replaced by freedom and peace. What if that were true for all walls everywhere? It won’t happen here on earth, but we already have that blessing in Jesus’ kingdom of grace, and we look forward to celebrating it even more fully in His kingdom of glory. Let the walls come crashing down in Christ! Let us keep on living in His freedom and peace! Amen.
Christ is our Cornerstone,
On Him alone we build;
With His true saints alone
The courts of heav’n are filled.
On His great love our hopes we place
Of present grace and joys above.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.