It’s almost impossible to hear this lesson from Ephesians without thinking of where we and our conflicted nation are today. We hear that Christ “has broken down the dividing wall,” and I’m very tempted to turn this sermon into a political tract.
After all, it’s pretty clear that St. Paul, or whoever wrote Ephesians in Paul’s name, doesn’t think much of building walls. But WE’VE been hearing repeatedly about building walls ever since our former President launched his candidacy. But Ephesians is emphatic here: building walls to divide “us” from “them” is contrary to God’s dream made flesh in Jesus.
Let’s face it: The gospel of God’s all-embracing love in Jesus Christ DOES have political implications. There’s nothing apolitical about our Baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. And that ought to make us turn a critical eye, not just on our current immigration laws, but on the whole history of our immigration laws and the motives behind them. Do you know the title of the very first federal law to limit immigration? It was “The Chinese Exclusion Act” passed in 1882. Do I even need to argue that this was NOT an example of respecting the dignity of every human being? The gospel does have political implications.
So yes, I’m very tempted to turn this reflection into a political tract, a left-leaning political tract that would leave me, at least, utterly satisfied with my knee-jerk, left-leaning ways.
But I can’t do that with this lesson, because Paul—we’ll still call him Paul even though we’re not sure who wrote this letter—Paul is not writing about a physical wall that may or may not get built some day. He’s not writing about immigration laws, because there weren’t any immigration laws in his day. He’s writing about the dividing wall that was around long before any immigration laws existed, the wall that still plagues us today, the wall of hostility.
Dividing walls and excluding laws are a SYMPTOM of that wall, “the hostility between us.” We know how to break down a physical wall. It may not be easy, but we do know how to it can be done. And we know how to overturn an unjust immigration law. That’s definitely not easy, especially these days, but we do know how it can be done. But what if that wall is “the hostility between us”? What if it’s the hostility that I create if I issue a self-righteous political tract and treat anybody who doesn’t agree with me as not quite a full member of the Christ’s body? How do we break down that wall? Do we even know how it can be done?
We might think we know how. But don’t be so sure. Here’s how groups divided by hostility typically manage to come together: they come to decide they’re not each other’s enemies by focusing another enemy. They tear down one dividing wall by keeping another one in place. It’s still “us” versus “them.” The only thing that’s changed is that some of the “them” are now inside the wall with “us.” There are still plenty of “thems” left over.
You might join hundreds of other Episcopalians in my Diocese carrying the Episcopal Church flag in the Pride parade, but then “unfriend” somebody on Facebook for making a less-than-supportive comment about it. One dividing wall torn down, another built up. Who knows how to break that cycle?
Paul’s message is that, even when we don’t know how to break down our own walls, God is breaking them down anyway through Christ’s body, that is, through the likes of us, trying to put up with one another even when we disagree. The whole message of this letter to the Ephesians is that in Christ God is moving all of us, yes, ALL of us, and all of “THEM”—Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Libertarians, QAnon, people who are sick of political debates—all of us and all of them toward a reconciliation we don’t even know how to imagine. Paul calls it a mystery, which is his way of letting us know that he doesn’t know how to imagine it either. But just because we can’t imagine it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening anyway.
Paul knows it involves a cross. It involves Christ sharing the pain our hostility causes, absorbing it, and moving us beyond it. And since we are Christ’s body, it involves us sharing that pain, absorbing it, and moving beyond it. We may not know how it works, but Paul says it’s working anyway, right here, right now, because God is at work in all of us—and all of them.
During my Church’s General Convention a few years ago, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry showed up at a protest of our immigration policies. What he said there goes beyond simply protesting. “We do not come to put anybody down,” he said. “We come to lift everybody up. We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus. And Jesus taught us love. Love the Lord your (God). And love your (neighbor). Love your liberal neighbor. Love your conservative neighbor. Love your Democratic neighbor. Love your Republican neighbor. Love your Independent neighbor. Love your neighbor who you don’t like. Love the neighbor you disagree with. Love your Christian neighbor. Love your Muslim neighbor. Love your Jewish neighbor. Love your Palestinian neighbor. Love your Israeli neighbor. Love your refugee neighbor. Love your immigrant neighbor. Love the prison guard neighbor. Love your neighbor!” https://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/presiding-bishop-michael-curry-preaches-hutto-detention-center
True words. Words to remember. Did they break down the wall of hostility in our country? Hardly. But they point us to the God who in Christ is breaking down that wall anyway, even when we can’t imagine how it’s done. And they point us to ourselves as Christ’s body, who are somehow being made into “a holy temple,” “a dwelling place for God.”
Christ “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” That’s why we’re here, trying to put up with one another, not always succeeding, but opening ourselves to what God can do through us when we receive Christ broken body into our conflicted hands