8 December 2016
2 Samuel 7:1-14, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34; 53-56
We hear quite a lot about the Ephesian Church in the New Testament. We know that John's disciples had been active there.
"Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God." (Acts 19:8) and then some of the Jews got upset "So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord."
Then the locals had got upset, Ephesus you see was the centre of the fertility Goddess Artemis , the enormous temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was a sophisticated 'in place', where the people were hungry for new things and the reasoned message of Christ and the miracles which Paul brought, quickly made inroads into the local population of Greeks and Jews.
Fine, until the local economy was hit. Employment was affected, livelihoods at risk. There was a recession in the silver statue and shrine business which was big in Ephesus.
"A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, called the craftsmen. along with the workmen in related trades, and tried to get Paul ejected from the city. Of course for the best of motives! because "not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
They almost started a riot.
So this letter to the church at Ephesus is written later to the church in this great city. They have two very different cultural groups who need to be reconciled. They are being told clearly that the church does not belong to them, to either group. They belong to Christ.
First the language of immigration is being used. William Loader points out that The writer reminds the non Jews, the majority group, in very Jewish terms: that they once were the outsiders as far as the citizenship of Israel, the people of God, was concerned. Without Israel's God they were without God. Without Israel they were without the covenants and the promises. Such benefits are not to be denied. They weren't the tangata whenua. But now they have been given a new identity in Christ.
But neither were the Jewish Christians in a favoured place in respect to the others. Jews and Christian are now members of something new, a new people. The living stones of a new movement.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
This is about two groups in the church who cannot get over the barriers between them. They are told - The wall is smashed. The old laws that separate them, have been broken down. Its not just Jewish scruples but the written law of the Torah which were the basis for separating Israel and other peoples by practices such as circumcision, food laws and many other provisions. These have been broken down by the overriding wall- toppling conviction that God must love all peoples so whatever discriminates negatively within the community has to be faced and put aside.
This of course then overflows into the community around them. This is huge, and I don't think we've got it yet Reconciliation of peoples.
"He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two,
This isn't the followers of the new way becoming Jewish, or whatever missionary group is out there putting the pressure on, nor is it Jews staying Jewish with a Christian veneer - don't get confused with surface cultural customs here; this is a new humanity.
"thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
In this city of Ephesus with its great buildings there is a metaphor of Architecture used. A picture of how the church is formed - we miss it because its out of our experience.
They built in stone. We are told the people of the Ephesian church were like two pillars with a diving wall between them. They were going nowhere. They each sat in their own comfortable places.
But the writer says "Christ has already made you one". That wall between you has gone, stop it! Stop doing trying to keep it there.
Your community is founded on the living stones, the saints and apostles who have gone before you, there will be Jewish saints, Paul and Gentiles like Alexander who stood up to the crowds who tried to riot.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
The word is the highest corner stone, the keystone. Look at the windows of the church or the main archway in the sanctuary.
The two pillars have a gap, they gain their strength when they curve around to form an archway and it is the keystone which is the most important part. In the same way Christ himself holds them together.
Look across, Jews and Gentiles, there isn't anything between you, people can go through teh archway or can see through. Archways can hold up a roof which can shelter many and in the very old medieval buildings of Europe several aches can meet in one keystone to form a strong structure. Archways were essential to build those old stone bridges and the huge Roman viaducts which would have been familiar to some of the listeners and the keystone is often decorated differently. This is also a bridgebuilding image of reconciliation. Bridges which are there for everyone to be able to travel across the divide.
Then we move from a picture of a church as a static structure to a dynamic household, the household of God, where everyone belongs to the household. Christ, they are told, has already mode peace in this household, reconciled both groups with God, shattered the walls between them and holds them together.
They need to realise thathas already happened and start interrelating as a dynamic living group of people.
Ed Searcy puts the consequences clearly he says, That's why we don't welcome newcomers to our church in the sense its ours and not theirs, all of us come as strangers and aliens, foreigners and immigrants to the ways of God's kingdom. We are welcomed home.
This is our identity, in Christ, citizens of the one God. Searcy points out that "this letter is written long before anyone has ever imagined the church as a building. It assumes that the church is a social movement, an underground alternative to the status quo. Its foundation is not on bricks and mortar, budgets or programs, these are always secondary. Its foundation is a surprising and daring message, the good news. The church rests on “the apostles and the prophets.” Apostles are sent out, they are messengers. Prophets are truth-tellers. Apostles and prophets dare to open their mouths and risk their status, sometimes their lives on a counter-cultural message called “gospel”.
If the foundation of the community is the daring message of the apostles and prophets then Christ is the key that holds everything together. Without Jesus at the crucial centre of the life of a Christian community the whole thing collapses".
I am quite sure that the word we should use is keystone, because we have two groups of people being reconciled and if Christ is the foundation stone at the bottom in this context each would be fighting, as indeed they were, about which lot holds the cornerstone. the image of keystone [highest corner stone] gives something that is looked up to.
In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord: in whom you’ll also are built together in the Spirit.
The text says that to be a member of the household of God, to be in the church is to be a participant in something that is being joined together and growing into and being built together.
The creation of the new people is a NEW creation. Loader suggests that it is the work of the God whose intention is to fill the world with divine goodness and peace. God's divine good will is at the heart of all this growth and wholeness. It is not the mission of the church to recruit strength and build power. Not is the church being built up to withdraw from the world to another source of power beyond all things. It is a coming home to and a sending out from the source of love within all things which is seeking to bring and hold them together.
Indeed in our Lord Jesus Christ.
PRAYER [Ephesians 2]
14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Reference William Loader - First Thoughts from the Lectionary Year B
Rev Ed Searcy University Hill Church
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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