- sermon #1: “Blessed By God to Be a Blessing” (July 11)
- sermon #3: “Part of a Team” (July 25)
- sermon #4: “A Life Worthy” (Aug 1)
- sermon #5: “Speaking the Truth and Living Faith-Fully” (Aug 8)
- sermon #6: “Thank You, God!” (Thanksgiving in August) (Aug 15)
- sermon #7: The Armor of God” (Aug 22)
Scripture: Ephesians 2:11-22
You don’t need to raise your hands, but how many of you endorse the idea of fate or destiny? Destiny is defined as the predetermined, usually inevitable, course of events. Fate is that which is inevitably predetermined. For all intents and purposes, they mean the same thing. Both of these definitions include the words “inevitably” and “predetermined.”
If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll know that destiny plays a significant role in the struggle between the dark side of the good side of the Force. One of the ways Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader tried to seduce Luke Skywalker into crossing over to the dark side was by constantly telling him that it’s his destiny to do so. The implication was that he could resist it, but only for so long. That in the end, there’d be nothing he’d be able to do to not come over to the dark side because the course of his life had already been predetermined.
You might recall that last week I mentioned something about God predestining something related to us. I said that before creation was called into being, God predetermined that his holy family, initially comprised of Jews—those who could trace their lineage back to Abraham—would eventually be expanded to include any and everyone who would respond to his gift of grace. This was one of Paul’s main points in Ephesians chapter 1. In the Common English Bible v. 5 reads, “God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love.” So, even though it took until around the year 30-36 AD for this to happen (Jesus died at some point between those dates), from God’s vantage point, from the beginning of time it was as good as done. It had been predetermined.
Returning to Star Wars, as the story unfolds we learn that going over to the dark side was not Luke Skywalker’s destiny. In fact, not only does he not cross over to the dark side, but his immense love for his father—who, it turns out, is Darth Vader—was the impetus for Vader to reject the dark side and return to the good side of the Force, albeit just moments before his own death. Was it Anakin Skywalker’s destiny to ultimately return to the good side? Well, we’ll never know, because there’s no way to know whether or not we humans are subject to likes of fate or destiny when it comes to the details of how our lives unfold. But, from a high-level perspective—God’s perspective—we can trust that no matter how life on planet earth unfolds, God’s ultimate will and purposes will one day be fully realized. Even if it takes another million years for it to happen, we can still say today that it’s as good as done.
My guess is that most of you listening are able to wrap your heads around this existential idea in which we take something which hasn’t yet happened and speak of it has having already happened because we know that it will in fact happen some day. That’s what we mean when we say it’s as good as done. I think you get that.
So, what if we took something that has in fact already happened, but every shred of evidence at-hand would tell us otherwise – that’s it’s not a reality? For example, what if we were standing at the edge of a chasm that’s hundreds of feet deep and we’re told that right in front of us is a bridge that spans that chasm, but when we look, we’re unable to see it. Even though it’s not visible, should we nevertheless believe there’s a bridge there?
Some of you recognize I’m talking about a scene from India Jones and the Last Crusade. Jones has to cross the deep chasm but doing so requires taking a “leap of faith.” When he steps out into what he believes to be air and thinks that in all likelihood he’ll fall to his death, he’s surprised when his foot lands on rock. He can’t see it, but it’s there. Now, at this point in the film, the audience is let in on the secret. When the camera moves ever so slightly to a different angle, we see that the bridge is an optical illusion. From the perspective from where Jones is standing, the bridge blends perfectly into the rock wall on the other side of the chasm, so much so that it’s impossible for him to see it. But in reality, it’s there even though he can’t see it.
There’s an important aspect of the Christian faith which parallels this scene from Indian Jones. But first let me give you some context.
In today’s reading, Paul begins by reminding his Gentile readers about the differences between them and the Jews, differences which previously separated them. The opening verses of this passage are all about us and them, then and now, those on the inside and those on the outside, the strangers and the citizens, the aliens and the members of the household.
In essence, according to Paul, there were two separate groups of people in the world: those a part of God’s family (the Jews) and those outside of God’s family (everyone else, Gentiles). The first part of his message is about division and separation. It may even make one wonder if peace is even possible where there’s so much division. What would it take? Clearly, something monumental.
Well, something monumental did take place and this is what Paul is quick to point out to them in the next part of this passage. In verse 13, his message takes a dramatic change. He writes, “But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God” (vv. 13-14, 16).
Christ is our peace. We love that idea, don’t we? Here’s how one author describes our response to this idea:
“We lean into the comfort and joy that is ours when Jesus is our peace. Jesus is the comforter who pats us on the head in the quiet moments of our lives before sending us out to survive in the moral fray that surrounds us. If we can just hold on, we think, if we can just stay clean and undaunted by the struggles all around us, then we can retreat back into the loving arms of Jesus, who will love us back into health, who will wipe away our tears and bind up our wounds.”
The fact is, that’s a wonderful way to see and understand Jesus, and it’s often what does sustains us. From time to time, we need the Jesus who soothes and comforts us, the Jesus who graciously picks up the pieces after we’ve messed up. But the truth is, there’s more to Jesus than just that. He’s not a one-dimensional Jesus. In this passage, when Paul says that Jesus is our peace, he doesn’t have in mind the quiet, gentle comforting Jesus who just wants to give us time to ourselves. No, he’s got a different Jesus in mind. May I suggest: a wrecking ball Jesus!
You see, a wrecking ball Jesus is about knocking down walls – walls that divide us. Walls that separate people from each other. Walls of hostility. Walls which keep us on our side and them on their side. This is the work of the wrecking ball Jesus.
Which brings us to the parallel between the unseen bridge in India Jones and an important reality proclaimed by our Christian faith. Let me quote again the author I just quoted:
“In love, Jesus hit those walls so hard that all the things that keep us separate, all the measures we use to rise above another, to be better than, to be more important than, have been knocked down – not just knocked down, but reduced to rubble. Destroyed. Eliminated.”
How did Jesus accomplish this monumental task? Through his death on the cross. To be sure, knocking down those walls took blood. You could even say that it killed him. But he did it. He came in like a wrecking ball and got wrecked in the process.
Here’s the thing, the terrible reality that’s difficult to “see”: You and I still tend to think we’re living behind those walls. We still think that we’re defined by those walls. That we’re to keep to ourselves, to keep to our own kind, and keep those on the other side at a safe distance. But the truth is, those walls are down—that’s the reality. And yet, we tend to live as though they’re not down, as though they’re still in place, and it’s up to us to keep them in place. Once more, the author I’ve quoted says,
“We still live as though there are still strangers and aliens, as through there are those in and those out, as through there are those near and those far. And the result of living that way is that sometimes we are the outs; we are far away; we are strangers and aliens. As long as we believe there are such divisions, we will continually find ourselves on the wrong side. We build the walls that Christ destroyed and find ourselves not protected but imprisoned, not released to a better life but cowering behind the very divisions we reestablish.”
So, the TRUTH is, the walls which divide and separate us have been destroyed. Period! Jesus permanently dismantled them. The problem is, we too often live and behave and believe as though it’s otherwise. Just as Indiana Jones couldn’t see the bridge right in front of him, we too can’t see the evidence that Jesus has destroyed that which divides and creates hostility. Why? Because we’re surrounded by division, and hostility, and hate, and walls. We see all this and call IT the reality. But the real truth is that Jesus Christ has broken it all down. Even if we can’t see it.
What’s one wall of division in your own life that you need to join Jesus in wrecking? What’s one barrier that you’re aware of between you and someone else that needs to be lovingly dismantled by you and Jesus? I bet if you gave it some thought, you wouldn’t have any problem identifying at least one wall you’re still living behind. A wall Jesus destroyed but you still think and behave and believe is still firmly in place. I know I can name a few for myself.
The Good News is found right there in v. 19. Again, this is the truth of what IS. “You are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit” (vv. 19, 22).
May this be the reality in which we live each and every day. Let’s pray.