I am not going out on a limb to suggest we are a highly divided culture. We divide over politics, religion, and even sports. Are you a pro-masker or anti-masker? Pro-vax or anti-vax? Republican or Democrat? Do you support BLM or the local police force? Gay or traditional marriage? Lakers or Clippers? On and on the divisions can go. And, right now in our cultural context, they go deep and are growing more intense by the minute.
Such divisions find their way into our congregations. You will be hard pressed to find a pastor who is not counseling members on how to handle their sister-in-Christ/political opponent three pews over. With such worldly divisions defining even Christians relationships, there could not be a more pertinent text for our cultural moment than Ephesians 2:11-22. Here, Saint Paul will point us to the peace and reconciliation we have with God and one another in Christ’s cross.
There is really nothing new under the American sun. Tensions among the various tribes, nations, languages, and tongues have been around since Genesis. Indeed, one of the biggest problems the early church had to navigate was how baptized Jewish and Gentile Christians ought to relate to each other as one Church. The division between the parties was religious. The Old Covenant called for the separation of the Israelites from Gentiles. Think of those difficult passages at the end of Ezra (9-10) where Jewish husbands were forced to separate from their Gentile wives. The Law had created a distinction that later generations turned into a division. But the Gentile nations were no better. The history of the Jewish people is one of constant persecution from Gentile governments. There was no love lost between these two ethnicities.
The separation demanded by God’s Law was symbolized by the wall built around Herod’s temple known as the Soreg. This wall was built with signs in: “Greek and Latin forbidding Gentiles to enter on pain of death.” Interestingly, this Soreg wall was not part of Solomon’s temple. Laws existed to keep Gentile sinners away from God’s presence. But, as we just learned in the previous section (2:1-10), even if the Law was given to the Israelites as a gift, it only exposed the utter depth of their sin which kept them from God as well. Jews and Gentiles, apart from Christ, are in the same sinful boat. No matter how divided they were, they were united in their sin. Christ alone is the answer to this. In Christ, the wall which separates sinners from God is destroyed, along with any dividing wall between Jew or Gentile (2:14), giving both access to God (2:18).
In Christ, the wall which separates sinners from God is destroyed, along with any dividing wall between Jew or Gentile, giving both access to God.
The only thing that will create peace within the church (and really, for the whole world) is the cross of Jesus. The preacher should spend the majority of the sermon proclaiming how the cross of Christ reconciles us to God and, as a result, creates and gives reconciliation among the saints. Unity is not achieved by our work or the pursuit of common interests. This may create friends or clubs, but not a church. True unity comes as a gift from Jesus. The movement is from greater (being reconciled to God) to less (being reconciled to each other). As Thomas Winger asks, “How can there be any divisions with the Christian Church, the body of Christ, when God has reconciled all things to Himself?”
The sermon structure, then, should contrast places where the world pursues unity (only to build walls of division) with the gift of unity that comes from the cross of Jesus. The preacher could demonstrate how division arises in different areas of our culture and how Christ’s death for sinners is the answer to it all. The structure, based on David Schmitt’s Compare/Contrast structure, could look something like this:
Introduction: The Dangers of Division
Part 1: What Divides? Sin separates us from God.
- A brief introduction to the root problem of sin (2:1-3).
- Proclaim of how Christ is the answer, who reconciles us to God (2:4-10).
Part 2: What Divides? Ethnic/Racial Differences Divide.
- Examples of Ethnic Divisions
- Between Jew and Gentile in the Early Church.
- Examples of racial division in our own culture.
- What Unites? Christ is our peace through His cross (2:14-16)!
Part 3: What Divides? Political/Religious Allegiances Divide.
- Examples of Political/Religious Divisions
- Jews kept the Gentiles out of their gatherings, Gentiles persecuted Jews.
- Examples of political divisions in our own culture.
- What Unites? Christ, our Lord, tears down the dividing wall based on the Law and builds for Himself a temple of baptized believers, both Jew and Gentile where He chooses to dwell (2:19-22).
Conclusion: In Christ, God has reconciled all humanity to Himself as well as to each other. Christ’s cross brings peace, building all the people of God into one Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells (2:19-22).
Christ in the Text
Division and hostility among people arise from sin. Sin is revealed by the Law. The Law exposed the sinfulness of the Gentiles who, “...had no hope and were without God in the world” (2:12). But, in looking to gather the lost sheep of Israel, Christ Jesus has sent His Word forth to gather in the Gentiles as well. All humanity is bound to sin and dead in their trespasses, but Christ’s blood was shed for the lot of us! Thus, the far off and the near are all forgiven and reconciled to God. We tend to focus so much of our talk about the cross as being for our personal salvation. I have heard phrases like, “If you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died for you.” People may say such things with the best of intentions, but Ephesians 2 demonstrates this sentiment is not true. You are not the only person on the earth and, though Jesus died for you, He did not die for you only. He has made peace between you and God AND all the baptized, whether you like them or not, whether you would choose to spend time with them or not. We are, “...fellow citizens with all the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19). You are part of a community, a family, a part of a building. Christ’s work has reconciled US to the Father and, in this way, made peace among US.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Ephesians 2:11-22.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ephesians 2:11-22.