Thursday, July 19, 2012

Citizens With the Saints

2012 ELCA Youth Gathering
“Practicing Discipleship” Opening Worship
July 19, 2012
Ephesians 2:14-20

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

So what’s all this business about walls in our lives?   Are walls really all that bad?

I want to push back a bit and challenge the notion that walls are always awful—forever a problem.

Sometimes walls are pretty important—some walls are good, even necessary in our lives.

I’m grateful for the walls of my house and all the houses I’ve ever lived in.   Walls keep the roof from falling on our heads.    Walls keep blizzards outside in northern Minnesota.  Walls keep air-conditioned air inside here along the Gulf Coast. 

Walls protect us.  Walls keep us safe.  Walls give us privacy, some space where we can relax and be ourselves.

Same goes for those walls we call boundaries.  Thank God for boundaries in our connections and relationships with one another—boundaries like:  “respect others” and “no bullying allowed” and “keep your hands to yourself!”

Thank God for these kinds of walls….physical, psychological and social.  Some walls are good.  Some walls we can’t live without!

But like every other good thing God has created, walls can be misused, turned into obstacles, transformed into weapons that stifle and even kill. There are walls that diminish us, disrespect persons, divide us from one another.  Some walls rob us of the rich, full, free life God intends for us.

That’s what the writer of Ephesians is talking about in our Gathering theme passage when he speaks of a “dividing wall….(of) hostility.”

You see, running right thru the middle of the Bible’s story of God and God’s people is one huge wall.  It's the wall separating God's chosen people from everyone else.  Over many centuries this wall fostered hostility between God’s chosen people--the Jews--and everyone else--the Gentiles.

Here in Ephesians 2 we’re told that God decided this wall had to come down...along with every other kind of hurtful, death-dealing, life-draining wall in our world.

So to make this happen God sent Someone into our world who could pass right thru dividing walls, who could tear down oppressive walls—Someone who could even be present with folks on either side of the same wall at the same time.

This wall-defier, wall-buster, walk-thru-walls guy is Jesus.  Jesus took the raw materials of our walls, the stuff of our pride, our envy, and hostility...and he broke down all these dividing walls at his there could be one new people, the way God always intended it to be.

Now, you might be thinking: a wall between ancient Jews and first-century Gentiles—who cares about that?

Except that here in Ephesians that wall represents all sorts of other walls in your lives—walls that have made you feel left out, or walls you have put up to distance yourself from others.

Where do we run into our own “dividing walls of hostility?”   Are they visible in the lunchrooms, along the hallways, around the lockers of our schools?

Are these dividing walls visible in the tightknit circles we’re trying to get into (while keeping others out of)?   How about walls that pop up even as we connect online?   (I’ve got 792 Facebook friends--how are YOU doing?)  

 What about all the walls we create when we “line up” over who’s in and who’s out….who’s got the good looks or the personality or the smarts to get ahead?

Whether we build those dividing walls or someone else does…we need to know that such walls don’t have a future with us, in Jesus Christ.

That’s because Jesus would rather die than see such dividing walls continue to generate hostility among us.   Jesus was all about busting through walls of pride and prejudice.   Jesus never saw a dividing wall he couldn’t go over, under around or THROUGH!

My dear friends, you and I belong to this Jesus who, having been raised from the dead, is still knocking down dividing walls…between God and us and between us and others.

This Jesus, who gave up his body and blood so that God could create one new humanity, one new Body in Christ….this Jesus bids us join him in defying, busting, and walking right through the dividing walls of hostility in our world.  

Which is to say:  this wall-defier, Jesus calls and equips us to fall in line with him and continue the work he began in his life, death and resurrection.

MESSAGE #2 (toward the end of the worship service)
So there’s this “dividing wall (of) hostility”….and God has said this wall has to go….and so God sent Jesus to be the wall-defying, wall-busting One.

And this Jesus, at his Cross, made peace permanently between God and God’s one new humanity….peace that is meant to permeate and fill this one new humanity….

And this same Jesus now invites and equips us to join him defying and tearing down dividing walls wherever we find them in our world.

But what might that look like—following, living as disciples of Jesus the wall-buster?

President Abraham Lincoln, once was asked why he was always reaching out to his political enemies.   “Mr. President, why don’t you use your power to destroy your enemies?” Lincoln was asked.

…to which Abraham Lincoln responded:  “Isn’t that what I am doing?   Am I not destroying my enemies, when I make them my friends?”

In this last verse of our reading from Ephesians, we see how God through Jesus the wall-defier, transforms us from being foreigners and strangers….to becoming fellow citizens with the saints, members of one new household, best friends forever in Christ.   

The “Jesus-method” of doing away with enemies is by making them friends, sisters, brothers, neighbors.

And Jesus gets us into the act.  Today, our “Practice Discipleship” day, Jesus will fashion and form and equip us to join him in God’s work of breaking down dividing walls in order to create one new humanity.

Discipleship is about living the forgiven life, forming new habits of being together in Christ, and fanning out across God’s world, starting today here in New Orleans….

·      Substituting service for selfishness

·      Filling resentment with prayer

·      Placing worship at the center of our lives

·      Inviting others to join us, studying God’s word, giving ourselves away, and through it all (because this isn’t an easy path) encouraging one another to grow deeply into God’s one new humanity in Jesus Christ.

So, get ready to go and live the adventure of destroying enemies by making them friends—friends of Jesus, friends who walk with us in our Lord’s footsteps, on the road of discipleship—always, always toward God’s tomorrow.
In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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