He has Destroyed the Dividing Wall Ephesians 2:14-22 It takes little time and almost no effort to see divisions in our

world. This week alone witnessed the rise and fall of protesters in Burma trying shed the oppression exercised by the ruling government. Leaders continue to struggle for any possible answer in the conflict between Palestinian and Israeli. September recorded the lowest U.S. casualties in Iraq in over a year though the number still stood at 70 deaths with total climbing closer to the 4000 mark. The total number of casualties in Iraq are at an estimated 80,000. Closer to home this week included protestors descending on Jena Louisiana as an incident that happened one year ago continued to build in media attention. The story follows that a black high school student asked the principal if he was allowed to sit under a certain tree in the school yard which he was of course granted. The tree in question was known to students as the “white tree” as only white students gathered there. The boy sat there and the next day nooses were hung from that tree in response. Later in the year a white student was beaten by a group of black students. This has again triggered the hardly latent racism embedded in American culture. In Caledonia Ontario, just outside of Hamilton, legal and police action continues in the dispute over land claims between an aboriginal community and local land developer. Some of these stories drop off the news headlines but the divisions that they cause in people’s lives continues. Let’s look for a minute at our day to day life. Our youth and children in school can offer a flawless of presentation of what it means to live with divisions. There have been different names over the years but you can be pretty sure that there will be a group of students who are athletic, dress well and have typically good looks. There will be another group that does well in school but feel a little more awkward around people or

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sports. Another group comes off as a little more rough around the edges and don’t seem to care too much about school at all. Others just like to have fun and party a little more. And some just tend to be alone. Even in the younger grades I remember the division between the town kids and the country kids. Most of us when we were in school and most of us that are in school now know more or less if we are in a cool group or at least which group is the cool one. Now it may be that there is little to no explicit conflict around these groups but that does take away the reality and potential of the divisions among us. And as we know we do not shed our sense of division when we leave school. They enter into every level of our lives. What is it that continues to drive division, what gives it its fuel? Division begins and is sustained not primarily from the antagonism of another person (though that too drives division). Division is primarily a matter of how understand ourselves as individuals and also our group or social identities as a community, church or country. To our shame we know that most often how we distinguish ourselves from other churches is by what they are wrong in doing. If we do not actively assess our sense of self as individuals and as groups we will passively receive prejudices and divisions which will define us against other people. One of the essential means through which we understand ourselves is quite simple as we continue to use the basic categories of ‘winner’ and ‘loser’. Here again, it is the school yard and classroom that clarifies this for us. In competing for grades or having students pick teams for sports we instill a framework of distinction between those who can and those who cannot. Then we further accentuate this by giving greater attention and praise to arbitrary things like sports or math while leaving the gifts and skills like

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hospitality, listening and patience unacknowledged. And we define ourselves, we define our identity on the basis of the categories of evaluation that we are given. Are we popular, are we smart, are we athletic? It so happened that I was usually on the side of the winners growing up and now my heart continues to break as I recall more and more scenes of division from my childhood, especially those that I participated in. As we get older we clean up our language a little and refer to the winners as successful and the losers as unsuccessful. We may not call ourselves losers but we may certainly feel like failures. We are compulsive in our pursuit of being winners. But for there to be winners there must be losers. In the book of Ephesians this is essentially what Paul criticizes in the Jewish segment of the church. Their individual and group identity is based on performance. We recognize who are God’s people through their actions. These are the winners. Just prior to this morning’s verse we read that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no can boast.” Paul recognized in this Jewish group the tendency to accept only those that got the most right answers, wore the right clothes or figuratively speaking scored the most goals or were the most popular. Then there were the Gentiles and Paul saw that they too had a way of defining themselves. Rather than trying to form and maintain a “winning team” like the Jews did Paul saw the Gentiles as giving in to whatever their nature desired. If we are not able or not interested in joining a winning team then some of us will drop out entirely from social settings and become isolated. We believe that our identity is a part of our inherent nature and that only our personal experience will be a trusted guide. We absolve ourselves and

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absolve others from responsibility because who we are and what we do is simply a part of our nature. This too is evident at different levels in our society. Advertising and consumerism play on your desire for independence and self-expression. Here there is no accountability but to yourself. It is of course a temptation in a pluralistic society to simply allow everyone’s opinion to be right. On a regular website that I read one university professor stated her frustration in his students when they began expressing what he thought was an unhealthy amount of “tolerance”. One of the students speaking up happened to be blond and so the professor asked her what if she was told that all blonds are stupid. The student said that she would respect their opinion because we are all entitled to opinions. The professor went on to offer a number of other racial or prejudicial comments to which the students had various reasons for excusing them. In this model we are only responsible to ourselves and as a result communities and cultures get splintered into small like-minded sub-cultures and individual isolation. In Christ, neither alternative is viable. For Christ 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. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace. Paul is reminding the church that in Christ any external appeals to written or unwritten laws do not matter. You have no greater status or authority because of how long you have been a part of the church, how much money you contribute, how you look in the worship service, what you know in the Bible or anything else we might use to establish ourselves. Now each community should recognize certain attributes and gifts in

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people but these are not a matter of status in a group they are a matter of mutual differences to aid the group. This is not about abolishing differences. Differences are good and a gift from God. This is about how we understand and treat our differences. Now that Jesus abolished the role that the law had in matters of community life does not mean that Jesus advocated lawlessness. This is what Jesus was calling the Gentiles out of as they simply gave way to their individual desires and instincts. We cannot drop out of conflicts or disagreements and simply live and let live. So if the church is based neither on law or lawlessness then how can we understand ourselves, how can we move towards a community that nurtures connectedness? Rowan Williams points out that the choice between establishing yourself by performance, the law, and establishing yourself by personal experience, lawlessness, are actually two sides of the same coin. He argues that both positions result in divisions because both positions are strategies for control. I maintain control if I stay on the winning team and I maintain control if only my experience counts. Control comes close to heart of division because when control is the top priority then I need to be either vigilant in the defense of what I control or active in the pursuit of what I want control of. Take a moment again and think about the divisions we surveyed at the beginning. The issue of control is of course huge in global conflict, in race relations in the U.S. as well Canadian aboriginal issues. Think about the control in high school or grade school. I remember the control that the coolest kid my group had growing up. We thought we he thought, did what he did. There are perhaps some of us, young or old, who have yet to experience what it means to lose control in our lives. If the church is to be a place of

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inclusion; if it is to be a place of equality then it cannot be a place of human control otherwise it will remain the site of struggle between victory and defeat, winners and losers. In Ephesians 2:16 Paul says that both the law and hostility was put to death in the body of Christ through the cross. This passage tells us that Christ made a breach in the wall that was dividing Jew from Gentile, rich from poor, male from female, slave from free, popular from unpopular. Walls are the fundamental images of control and division. There is of course nothing wrong with walls in themselves. Walls help to define certain healthy personal and physical boundaries. Practically they provide protection from the weather. They provide privacy for intimacy. They provide safety for those under attack. I remember when we learned about block parent signs as a child and knew that you could go into certain homes and be protected by the safety of those walls. Paul, however, is clear about just which wall Jesus has destroyed. The word is used only once in the Bible. It is the “dividing” wall. It is the wall that separates what is supposed to be whole. It is the striking image of walls and fences being erected in Poland during the WWII to divide the Jews from the rest of the population. It is also the intangible but deeply entrenched wall that can run down the middle of a marriage bed or the subtle but pervasive walls of social prejudice that divide people by wealth, race or gender. Though clearly less drastic than WWII Poland Chantal and I sensed quickly when we moved here that there was invisible wall that encircled those renting apartments on Hincks St. It was clear that one side of that wall was perceived as more successful than the other. It was for many people still a way of separating the winners from the losers.

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There is no simple solution. There is no final judgment on which walls are good and healthy and which divide and destroy. We must gain an understanding and awareness of all of our walls. When I lived in Winnipeg there were several instances where I was overwhelmingly thankful for the strength and protection of the walls that we had in our homes. Before I was married I lived with a group of guys in a house downtown. One night we heard some sort of confrontation going on the street and before we knew it a woman was banging on our door with two men attacking her. My first response was to keep the door closed, to keep the wall intact. This wall of safety quickly became a dividing wall separating humanity between the powerful and the weak, the secure and the vulnerable. I desired to remain secure as a winner at the risk of keeping that woman in the position of being a loser. If our desire is to explore how we can nurture connectedness here at church then we must also nurture an awareness of the walls that divide us. What does it mean for us then that the dividing wall was destroyed in the body of Christ through the cross? What would it look like to say to your accusers, “God forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” What would it look like to maintain a relentless pursuit of justice without abandoning the healing power of grace? What would it look like if we got rid of the word ‘earn’ and acknowledged all of life as gift? What would it look like if we realized that we may not be called to be winners? And in certain moments in our life what does it look like when it seems that there simply is no way to win? What would it mean if the building blocks of God community, of true connectedness came in our participation of the broken body of Christ? This is what Paul is offering the Ephesians. This what the Gospel offers to the divisions of the world. The

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Gospel offers participation in the broken and the resurrected body of Christ. This does not turn into some distorted form of masochism where seek brokenness or proclaim our losses to be victory. Here I will step aside for a moment and conclude with Rowan Williams’ insight of this passage. To receive the unity of living in the body of Christ we need find that our own story also belongs in the Gospel. This Gospel includes the experiences of betrayal and judgment on the way to resurrection. This means giving up the fantasy that we can control our life or our identity. This means dismantling the hurtful illusion of winners and losers or our apathetic withdrawal of individual relativity. We run to these fantasies because they can ease the discomfort that the road to the unity calls us to in the Gospel. We cling dearly to the images we have built around the identity of ourselves, our family or of our church. The Gospel calls us out of these islands to join in the shared body of Christ. The Gospel calls us out of the bonds of control into the arms of trust. The body of Christ remains the site where defeats are still suffered but it is also the site that knows that these defeats are not the end. This is the site that understands that sometimes you cannot win. In the words of Peter Selby this is the site where your defeats are put in touch with the defeat of Jesus, in order that, like Christ’s life your life can be part of a new and better future promised to us. On this site we can lift holy hands in praise and thanksgiving for a hope and joy that is offered to all people no matter what state or condition they are in. If we seek to end our hostilities and divisions between one another then we must first end our hostility towards defeat, we must not avoid defeat through the need to win or the desire to withdraw. I will paraphrase Williams here. For God, no defeat is final.

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This is our ground of trust. There is no corner so small and so dark that may not yet open into light. From this it is possible to stop fearing defeat thinking that it could put an end to us. Then it might also be possible to look at other human beings and understand that they too face the same traps of fear, that they too share a vulnerability with us that they are incapable of admitting. There in that place we can join together in a song of praise to the One who is faithful to all. If we can find, in the light of the gospel, a language and a life to communicate this common vulnerability, we will enter into the new community that is in Jesus. We will have accepted the impotence of our fantasies of control; or to put it plainly we will have repented, believed the gospel and entered, with thanksgiving, into the body of Christ and found the place of peace and unity. Amen.

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