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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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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.

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.