A Church in Community

Fourth in the Series “A Church Without Walls”
Delivered June 6, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

See also CPC Distinctives – Our Vision – A Church Without Walls.

Theme: When God calls us in Christ, he calls us into a community.
What does it mean to live as this sort of community?

Sermon Text:
Ephesians 2:11-22

Sermon Notes are at the end.

People were created for relationships and when we don’t have close, meaningful relationships things happen to us. And that need that is inside of us just won’t go away. The movie “Cast Away” deals well with this whole dilemma of being someone that is created to be relational and yet being cut off by a barrier, by a wall, by the ocean, being cut off from any other human contact. And so Tom Hanks in that role develops a relationship with volleyball or a soccer ball. We are going to see a clip right now, it’s right after a moment where he has made the decision that no matter how dangerous that wall is, no matter how dangerous the barrier is (the ocean) he has go to try to cross it and reconnect with people. So he has done that and this is what happens.

(Shows clip from the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks having lost his volleyball as he’s escaping the island on a raft.)

I have a memory, a very fond memory from a time a time we were visiting in England and we were riding on a bus. It was 10:00 o’clock or so at night, but it was still light because it was summer and you could see all of these empty fields and around the fields there were stone walls and they were beautiful. Some of those stone walls might have been up for centuries. And I can just remember looking out the window and watching those walls pass by. It was a beautiful, beautiful sight. But most walls aren’t that beautiful. Think about another kind of wall that we see a lot in movies and it’s the three walls of a dead end alley. And usually when you think of those sorts of walls it is usually covered with graffiti and there is trash in the alley and you are always worried that something violent is going to happen there. Those sorts of walls aren’t pretty. Years back there was the Berlin Wall and that was a wall that signified oppression. There’s the walls of prisons that signify isolation and punishment. Not all walls are pretty.

And some beautiful walls, like the ocean, can still be a terrible barrier and so for the character that Tom Hanks was playing it was such a bad barrier that when he lost the ball, he lost a friend and risks his life trying to get it back because he had built an attachment. The isolation was so acute that he had built a friendship with something that couldn’t even be a friend back. His barrier there was the distance, physical distance, but there were a lot of barriers that aren’t physical at all. There are barriers that we put up in relationship with one another. All kinds of barriers that just grow up in our relationships. There’s the wall of racial prejudice. There’s the wall of nationalism, even our words that we use to talk about people from other countries. Many of those words end up carrying a connotation that’s somewhat negative at times. The word “alien” in English just covers all this meaning that you don’t belong, and I remember living in other countries and going through the aliens line. You know, you just sense that. People who come to our country sense the same thing, racism, nationalism. There is a lot of smaller barriers too. There’s the barrier that I think just about everybody has experienced in high school of the high school cliques. You work hard. You try to get connected to some group of people and inevitably if you are successful at it there is always five or ten groups that don’t accept you. And think about how much suffering and violence has come out in our culture in part because individuals were excluded and they were bullied and then they responded in despair and anger and hatred. Relationships are incredibly important to us and these barriers are real.

There’s the economic barriers in life. Our kids went to a school for years where one of the people who went to the school came every day, one of the children came every day in a chauffeured limousine, and the chauffeur stayed there with the car all day, polishing the car and waiting just in case the child might have some kind of problem so that he could drive him and take care of him. Now, needless to say, our children didn’t have that experience, but if you are in an environment like that you sense the distance of that barrier. I have a friend that was a janitor and went to the last church that I was part of which was a rich, downtown church and he always felt, even though he was accepted by people, he always felt this distance because everybody had very nice clothes and when they had some type of church event it was always a ski trip halfway across the country that he couldn’t afford and when they had parties it was in the old Governor’s mansion and he sensed that distance. There is all kinds of ways, natural ways and ways that are tied in with problems in our life. There are all kinds of ways that barriers come up in our relationships. Walls exist in our relationships together.

But Ephesians deals with walls. In the Book of Ephesians, Paul talks about this universe embracing plan that God has to bring all things unto Christ. That’s everything. That’s grass, cicada’s, spirits, humans. All things are being brought together under one head, Christ. And in Chapter two where we pick up, we are in the middle of a discussion and in chapter two Paul begins by saying, as for you, the people I am writing to, he’s talking about the church now. He was first talking about this big universe-embracing plan and now says, but how does this apply to you? What is God doing with you? And that’s how chapter two begins. The passage that we are looking at is a little farther into chapter two and Paul says some things that I think we need to remember as we think about this issue of community. And it centers on a few words. The first word is remember. The second are the words, but now. And the third word is consequently. So I would like you to listen for those three words as I read today’s passage. It’s from the Book of Ephesians, chapter two, and I am going to begin at the 11th verse.

“Therefore, remember that formally you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision (that done in the body by the hands of men)–remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to you who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him, you too were being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

In verse 11 Paul starts talking about the fact that we, God’s people have to remember something. He says it twice. He says it again in verse 12. Remember. And what are we supposed to remember? We are supposed to remember that we were separate from Christ. That we were excluded from citizenship in Israel, that we were foreigners to the covenant, that we were without hope, that we were without God. It’s easy to think when we are in a gathering like this that it’s a natural thing to be an insider with God and to have a relationship with Him, but that is not the case. Even though there is so much for what passes for religion today, that acts as if it is a natural thing, Paul reminds us that this is not the normal state for us. That there is a hostility, there is a breech, there is a distance, there is a problem of uncleanness and sin and selfishness that separates us from God. And that this is our normal state apart from the grace of God. Now Paul is talking to a group that has all kinds of Gods. Gentiles had dozens, hundreds of God’s. They had all kinds of hopes. And yet, Paul looks at them and says you are atheists, people who have no God. Why? Because all of those God’s weren’t real and so no matter what names you have for them, no matter how well you serve them, it’s ultimately empty. It means nothing. And Paul doesn’t say this in some sort of superior tone. There is compassion here. This is your state. You were without God and you were without hope. You had all kinds of hopes, but had no power to make the important ones work and happen. And so looking at society apart from God he says, you are without hope, without God and there is nothing in your power to change that situation. And that is what we were like. That’s where we all began in this room. On the same footing, apart from Christ, we are without hope. We are without God and there is nothing we can do about it.

But Paul goes on. And then there is a second set of words we were supposed to listen to, but God. But God has done something about this situation. What’s changed is that God has done something. Something that we can’t do for ourselves. But in his love, in his grace, God has done something and Paul talks about several things that He has done. He has brought us near. He’s made peace between us and God. And he’s made peace between us as people and He has drawn us into one body.

In the same act where God dealt with the huge breech between a holy God that is totally apart from anything evil in us, in dealing with that and providing forgiveness for that, God has also dealt with the much smaller barriers that exists between us as people. In the same act of pulling down the wall between God and humanity, he pulls down the walls between people.

And so Paul takes the deepest divide he could to talk about this. And that was the divide, the breech between Jewish and non-Jewish people. That was a huge breech in Paul’s mind because the Jews were the chosen people. The Jews had some kind of history of experience with God. They had the law and the Gentiles are non-Jews, did not have any of that experience. And so this was an enormous gap. So much so that in the Jewish teaching of the time, in the Mishnah, there were words that in essence said that if you saw a Gentile pregnant woman or infant in trouble, you should stay away from them for fear of continuing a line of idolatry. So your responsibility was to ignore a sick, Gentile woman. Your responsibility was to ignore an infant, a Gentile infant that was suffering. The breech was that deep.

And so Paul talks about what God has done in tearing that wall down by using an image that might be related to the temple in Jerusalem. Paul talks about this. He says in verse 14, “he has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”

Let’s think about the temple for a moment. The temple had the holiest place and there was a huge curtain in front of that, that blocked the holiest place from the experience of the Jewish people. Only the high priest could go into the holiest place and then only at certain times. Outside of that, there was an area that Jews could go to. And then there was a wall around that and that was the end of the temple itself and there was a courtyard outside of that and that was called the court of the Gentiles. Gentiles could go on to the temple grounds, but they couldn’t enter the temple itself. And on the wall between the court of the Gentiles and the temple itself, there was a sign. And the sign said that if a non-Jew entered the temple itself, he would be responsible for his own death. Now what Paul says happened when Jesus died and was resurrected, what happened was the first thing that God did was he tore the curtain of the holiest place so that now his people could see in and God could move out.

And this physically happened in Matthew, Chapter 27, verse 51. The curtain is torn and now the holiest place is connected with God’s people. But at the same time, God did something else. He tore down the wall between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul is using that image. So as God moves out to be dwelling in his people, he tears down the wall between Jews and Gentile and lets himself loose on the world, so that anyone who believes from any background can be the dwelling place of God, the temple of God. That’s the image that Paul is using here. Is that God is now out in the world making himself known and there is no distinctions, there are no favorites, God will embrace anyone who believes in Jesus Christ and asks him in to their hearts.

Now if this is true, let’s think about this for a moment. If we, indeed, all were in a state where we were without hope and without God, with absolutely no way of dealing with that apart from the grace of God, if we all begin there and if God in drawing us to himself has torn down all the barriers so he can embrace all humanity at once with no distinctions, then how can we look down on other people? What right do we have to look down on somebody? How can we look down on somebody because their race is different? Or exclude somebody because their language sounds like it has an accent because they are from another country? How can we make distinctions over much smaller things? How can we look down on people who are still without God? That’s where we were apart from the grace of God. So how can we say “oh man, those people they are not Christian, they are worth less somehow.” How can we have an old church, new church distinction, where somehow because people are different than us in the body, we find that to be a problem? By grace we have all been saved through faith and that didn’t come from ourselves, it’s the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that none of us can boast. That’s also from Ephesians.

God has done this incredible thing. And Paul goes on to talk about what that means for us by saying in verse 19, “Consequently, we are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people.” So the first thing he says is consequently we are citizens. This is a community word. And there is no first class and second class citizens in this kingdom. Pastors aren’t a different kind of citizen than other people. Elders don’t get a special voting privilege in this kingdom. They do in this church maybe, but not in this kingdom. (laugh) There is one class. God has made us all first class by making us a dwelling place of his spirit. So we are citizens, a community word.

We are also family members. Another community word. We are family members, we are children of God now because of what God has done in Jesus Christ. And if we are children that means we also have brothers and sisters and just like in real family, we didn’t choose them. And we are with them for eternity, so we better get used to them. God has made us a family.

And then it says we are a holy temple. The temple imagery was used early to talk about a dividing wall and here the temple is used to show us that God has now made us his dwelling place. He’s no longer in a separate temple, he dwells in us, we are the temple. Can you imagine the depth of cleansing God had to do in our lives through the cross of Jesus Christ to make us ready for his Holy Spirit? And this is all of us who believe in Jesus Christ. The Holiest of Holy’s couldn’t be entered except by a high priest and now we are all in dwelt by the presence of God.

If that’s true, then how careful do we need to be to live in a way worthy of that? In fact, Paul talks about that in the fourth chapter. He says, “As a prisoner for the Lord then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Live a life worthy of this.

And that’s what we are trying to capture in our vision statement as a church. What does it mean as a community to live a life worthy of what God has done? And I would like to read to you from our vision statement, just the part on community, because it expresses one picture of what it could be like to live in a way worthy of what God has done in us.

We are a church that ministers in community:
God has called us into one body, one family. We believe effectiveness in engaging our world is directly related to the degree we are able to live in authentic biblical community with one another. Compassion and accountability characterize this kind of community. We recognize that we are a broken, yet redeemed people. We are a church that is learning how to love.

Now I would like us all to say the next section together as it comes up on the screen.

When we get together to worship, we reflect the diversity of the communities God has placed around us. What brings us together is Christ; we don’t get hung up with how much money a person makes, the color of their skin, the sin they struggle with, their age or their background. In fact, we do everything we can to tear down the walls these things have created.

We believe people matter to God-we need to be a church where the broken have found a true home.

Can we be that kind of church? I believe that by God’s grace we can.

Let’s pray. God, you know the brokenness that you are dealing with in us your people, but we pray that through your grace and the power of your spirit, we might live in a way worthy of the calling we have received. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Remember we were
Separate from Christ
Excluded from citizenship
Foreigners to the covenant
Without hope
Without God
But now God has
Brought us near
Made peace
Drawn into One Body
Consequently we are
Citizens
Family members
A Holy Temple
So how should we live?
We are a church that ministers in community:
God has called us into one body, one family. We believe effectiveness in engaging our world is directly related to the degree we are able to live in authentic biblical community with one another. Compassion and accountability characterize this kind of community. We recognize that we are a broken, yet redeemed people. We are a church that is learning how to love.
When we get together to worship, we reflect the diversity of the communities God has placed around us. What brings us together is Christ; we don’t get hung up with how much money a person makes, the color of their skin, the sin they struggle with, their age or their background. In fact, we do everything we can to tear down the walls these things have created.
We believe people matter to God-we need to be a church where the broken have found a true home.