Podcast: Play in new window | Download
The Second Sunday after Trinity
“Christ Alone Is the World’s Reconciliation and Peace”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
21 June 2020
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
The race riots which followed Rodney King’s arrest and beating by police in Los Angeles in 1992 produced burning, looting, and destruction. Mr. King plaintively asked, “Can’t we all get along?” [Wikipedia, Rodney King biography] As we survey the millennia we must confess, “No, we cannot ‘get along.'” Periods of peace are always punctuated by more conflict and violence. What we see today is another refrain in the horrible litany of hostility and hatred between human beings. Ever since Cain murdered his brother Abel there has been hostility leading to violence. It’s roots lie not in racial, socio-economic, class, or gender categories but in sin, the sin perpetrated by Adam and Eve when they rebelled against their Creator. Theologically we call it “original sin.” It brings the inherited and inborn inclination to rebel against God and his Law. We call it “natural concupiscence.” Moses stated it simply in the Genesis account. No one of any race or tribe is excluded:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Ge 6:5).
It will not matter how many new laws are passed, how many commissions are called, how many speeches are made, how many people march in solidarity, how many people take a knee or raise a fist or a digit, even who is elected to public office. Sensitivity training won’t reconcile us, either. These will not bring an end to the hostility between people. Human sinfulness continues. The sickness lies deeper.
All people stand indicted before God. All people stand in rebellion against God as dead sinners unable to help themselves in any manner to life and peace. In the opening verses of this chapter Paul wrote: “Among whom we all once lived . . . as the children of wrath.” Every human being is born as an enemy of God. This enmity with God spills over into enmity with each other.
“Children of wrath” pretty much describes our world’s ongoing situation, doesn’t it? It describes us all. Man shakes his fist at God and against his fellow man. We see the anger boil over in so many ways. Whatever thin veneer of obeying the law may have existed has been ripped away and we see the ugliness of our sin. A state of war with God and with others exists. Repentance is called for, but not very loudly these days, even in the Church. Rather, we present only our lists of grievances.
God condemns our rebellion against him and our hatred of our neighbor. The one who claims to love God and hate his brother is a liar, says the Apostle John [1 John 4.20]. Paul draws on a visual reference to explain the latter part. There had been only the barrier between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple. Solomon had invited Gentiles to pray in the temple, but by Herod’s day Gentiles were excluded by an additional barrier. The historian Josephus spoke of a low wall or a fence about 4.5 feet high that surrounded the temple. It was called the Soreg. At the openings in this wall guards were posted to keep all non-Jews out. The Soreg had signs posted in Greek and Latin. A stone inscription was found in 1871 which read:
Let no foreigner enter within the screen and enclosure surrounding the sanctuary. Whosoever is taken so doing will be the cause that death overtaketh him. [cited in Ephesians Commentary, Thomas M. Winger, CPH 2015, p. 321]
This barrier which had no command of God exacerbated division and hatred between Jews and Gentiles. When Jesus cleansed the temple in Holy Week he specifically mentioned that it was “a house of prayer for all the nations.” [Mark 11.17] The Jews had excluded the Gentiles. The hatred between them was mutual.
The Law brings hostility and wrath because “the Law always accuses,” affirms our Lutheran Confessions. [Apol. IV.38 et al.] Even when the flesh performs outward civil acts it sins. This natural concupiscence is not recognized by sinful human beings because we don’t want to hear the Law accuse our very thoughts and motives. We like to think of ourselves as righteous.
Earlier in this same chapter Paul also wrote these words:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8–9).
“Not your own doing!” There is no “virtue signaling” here because there is no virtue in any one! So much of our actions these days is a grand exercise in hypocrisy. Our Lord likens it to the man who wants to remove the speck in his neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log that is in his own [Matt. 7.1-5]. Hypocritical judging paves the way for even more hostility.
The hostility must be killed, put to death, but you and I are unable to do that. Every earthly plan to re-order society to achieve “justice” —which is usually defined by whoever is using the word, often in opposite ways from others— will fail because it cannot deal with the root cause: sin. All the commissions, study groups, task forces, reforms, sensitivity training, and whatever else you care to list will fail! One gets the idea that brute force could work, but that, too, was tried in the 20th century with even more disastrous results as upwards of 100 million souls died as a result.
Only One brings an end to the hostility and that is Christ. Paul proclaims how it is already begun. The congregation in Ephesus was made up primarily of Gentiles. In what some today would call racist language Paul addresses them as “you Gentiles in the flesh” [2.11]. He reminds them that they were once separated from God by their sins. They had no hope and were completely alienated from God. But in Christ Jesus they were “brought near by the blood of Christ” [2.13].
A bloody death was necessary to bring you reconciliation with God and with each other.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph 2:13–16).
Here is the atoning death, the reconciling death that accomplishes what man cannot. The death of the innocent Son of God and Son of Man who pays the incalculable penalty owed is the answer. When our Lord died he shouted triumphantly from his cross, “It is finished!” [John 19.30]. And so it was and so it is! The reconciliation of the world to God was accomplished. To reconcile means to change the entire sinful equation of hate. Christ turns God’s wrath away from us, bringing it completely upon himself.
Christ has made peace with the Father in heaven by his blood and he has made peace between you and your neighbor through his blood. Paul zeroes in on the fact that these Gentiles, once excluded from the people of God, are now “no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God . . .” [Eph. 2.19].
Unity comes only through Christ as he places us in his household, the Holy Christian Church. Imperfect as she is, she is the only place where there is peace with God and with each other.
Our Lord did not promise an earthy Utopia because his kingdom doesn’t belong to this present earthly order. It is passing away. Indeed, we observe its death throes. And that is also our comfort because the eschatological fulfillment seems very close. How gloriously the Apostle John writes in his Apocalypse:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Re 7:9–10)
Did you catch the unity of heaven? Every tribe, people, and language! There are no divides in the kingdom of God, no Soregs keeping people apart. Only those who reject the blood-bought reconciliation of Christ are kept out, the lawless, immoral, haters of God and of his Christ—these will not be in eternity with us.
In this present world we take comfort in this Holy Christian Church, this place where all barriers cease to exist, where those who have died in Christ by Holy Baptism are also raised with him to new life. And in the Blessed Sacrament Christ gives us the same redemptive body and blood he shed for our reconciliation as proof that God forgives us and empowers us to love our neighbor. At the communion rail all differences are meaningless because each one is there to receive reconciliation with God and with each other. So this hymn from Reformation times reminds us,
Thy holy body into death was given,
Life to win for us in heaven.
No greater love than this to Thee could bind us;
May this feast thereof remind us!
O Lord, have mercy!
Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee
That Thy blood should bless and sustain me.
All our debt Thou hast paid;
Peace with God once more is made: O Lord, have mercy!
May God bestow on us His grace and favor
That we follow Christ our Savior
And live together here in love and union
Nor despise this blest Communion!
O Lord, have mercy!
Let not Thy good Spirit forsake us;
Grant that heav’nly-minded He make us;
Give Thy Church, Lord, to see
Days of peace and unity:
O Lord, have mercy! LSB 617.2-3]
In the Name of the Father and of the ☩ Son and of the Holy Spirit.