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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

God’s New Society

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost


Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) - 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 by the blood of Christ.


For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in 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 those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.


Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his 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 are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22


Today’s Epistle lesson has good news for us, namely that all Christians are one in Christ. Before Christ, Gentiles were foreigners to the covenants of God’s promise, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Now we belong, Paul says, in a way we never did before. We used to be refugees; at least now we have a home.


In order to show us our changed position in Christ, and our new privileges in Christ, Paul uses three familiar models of the church. He pictures the new society as God’s kingdom, God’s family, and God’s temple.


God’s Kingdom

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people,” Paul tells us. We have citizenship in God’s Kingdom. Now the Kingdom of God is not an authority over a given territory like the King of Sweden has. Nor is it a spiritual structure like the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. God’s Kingdom is God himself ruling His people, and giving them all the privileges and responsibilities which His rule implies. Its citizens are free and secure. The words, “no longer foreigners and aliens” emphasize the contrast between being wanderers in a life outside of Christ, and the stability of being a part of God’s new society. We don’t need to travel around with a passport. We have birth certificates – new birth certificates! We really belong!


God’s Family

And then Paul’s metaphor changes, and becomes more intimate. “You are… members of God’s household,” he says. A kingdom is one thing; a household or family is another. We are more than citizens under God’s rule. We’re children in His family! Paul says we have access to the Father through Christ, and earlier in his Epistle he tells us that we’ve been “adopted as His children through Jesus Christ.”


But here the emphasis seems to be less on God’s fatherhood than on the brotherhood into which God’s children are brought. Calling fellow Christians brothers and sisters is a way of expressing a close relationship of affection, care, and support. “Philadelphia” – brotherly love, should always be a special characteristic of God’s new society.


God’s Temple

And then Paul comes to his third picture. Essentially the church is a community of people. But it can be compared in some respects to a building, and especially to the temple in Jerusalem. As he develops his image, Paul refers to the foundation and cornerstone of the building, then the structure as a whole and its individual stones, what binds the stones together and the purpose of the building. And he speaks of all this in just 3 verses!


First, the foundation. Nothing is more important to any building than a solid, stable foundation. And Jesus’ well-known parable of the two house builders – one building on sand and the other on rock – taught the need for rock. On what rock is the church built? Paul answers, it is “built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” (vs. 20) This means the church is built on the New Testament scriptures. They are the church’s foundation documents. And just as a foundation can’t be tampered with once it’s been laid and the building is being built on it, so the New Testament foundation of the church can’t be changed by any additions, subtractions, or modifications by teachers or so-called scholars who claim to be Apostles or Prophets today. The church stands or falls by its loyal dependence on the foundational truths which God revealed to His Apostles and Prophets, and which are now preserved in the New Testament scriptures.


The cornerstone is also of crucial importance to a building. It’s part of the foundation, helping to keep the building steady, but it also sets the direction the building is to go.


The cornerstone also helps to hold the whole building together. So Paul tells us that Christ Jesus is the cornerstone of the church, and “in Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”


And then Paul moves on from the whole structure of the temple to its individual stones. That’s what we are: individual stones in God’s building – Paul’s picture of God’s church. And he says to us, “In (Christ Jesus) you too are being built together.” The Apostle Peter also develops the picture of the church as a building, and wrote, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.” (1 Peter 2:5a)


And what is the purpose of this new temple, the church? Actually, it’s the same as the purpose of the old temple – to be a dwelling place for God. But the new temple isn’t a material building – it’s a spiritual building. It’s God’s family wherever God’s people are to be found. This is where God dwells. He’s not tied to holy buildings, but to holy people, to His own new society. He lives in His people, individually and as a community. The church, Paul tells us, is “a holy temple in the Lord,” and “a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (vs. 21,22)


The new society God has brought into being is nothing short of a new creation, a new human race, whose characteristic is no longer alienation but reconciliation, no longer division and hostility but unity and peace. This new society God rules and loves and lives in.


That’s the vision. But when we turn from the ideal portrayed in scripture to the concrete realities experienced in the church today, it’s a very different story. For even in the church there is often alienation, disunity, and discord. And Christians erect new barriers in place of the old ones which Christ has demolished – barriers like personal animosity, pride, prejudice, jealousy, envy, an unforgiving spirit, and a critical spirit that throws cold water on ideas, plans, and people.


These things are doubly offensive. First, they are an offense to Jesus Christ. How dare Christians build walls of partition in the one and only human community in which Jesus has destroyed them?


And what is offensive to Christ is offensive also – though in a different way – to the world. It hinders the world from believing in Jesus. God intends His people to be a visual model of the Gospel, to demonstrate before people’s eyes the Good News of reconciliation.


Is anything more urgent today, for the honor of Christ and the spread of the Gospel, than that the church should be the new society God wants it to be? That the church should be a family of reconciled brothers and sisters who love their Heavenly Father and love each other? That the church should be the obvious dwelling place of God by His Spirit? Because only then will the world believe in Jesus as Savior and Peacemaker. May God help us all to always live as God’s new society.


Amen

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