Karl Barth, the famous Swiss professor of theology, was traveling with a group of students. They visited the monastery in Maria Laach. A monk led the group through the buildings. A monastery has its own atmosphere, it is quiet, and there is no hassle and no noise. “There is peace here,” said the monk.
Such oases of peace and tranquility are beneficial. Some monasteries invite you for a retreat. We need these moments to come back to ourselves. I myself hope that we will find such havens and that our church can be such a place here in Balboa. – “There is peace here,” said the monk. – Suddenly Karl Barth stood up and responded: “No! He is our peace! ”
Church is not a religious place or a beautiful island. We have to talk about fights. Yes, there are fights we have to fight for. But as we are human beings, mostly we fight only for our ego. Maybe we do not want that here in a church, but we do also in the church. Very quickly we see all the differences between us. We come from very different backgrounds and cultures and use different languages. Then we come to church and think at least we should find peace here.
He is our peace. We find peace only here in Jesus below the cross. In our reading for today, The Apostle used strong words: hostility, a wall that separates us; to be far or near. The access is blocked. The apostle also speaks about strangers. They are guests; they have no permission for residence. They are tolerated. If you have no official papers, you are always in trouble. They can deport you from one moment to the other.
What the Apostle wrote, is almost 2000 years back. Since that time to date, we know enmity. We know foreigners and immigrants. We know people who risk their lives to find a better future.
Ephesus, let’s focus now on this Christian community and city. This letter was probably written in the late 80s or early 90s. The author was probably a disciple of the Apostle Paul. Reading this letter we can imagine some problems from that time. At that time the community was formed by the 2nd or even 3rd generation of Christians. To be a Christian became something like a tradition. The original fire of faith has waned. The city of Ephesus was after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt, the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Ephesus was a modern city. They had running water and a functioning sewage system. IDAAN (our national Institute for water) has to improve its service if they want to offer us the same service the citizen of Ephesus had. There were also exquisite shops and a central shopping street, libraries and places of entertainment. There was an amphitheater and a fantastic temple for the goddess of love. And in the midst of this bustling city was a small Christian community. It must have been bilingual. 20 years before this letter was written, Jerusalem was destroyed. Jews and Christians in Israel were forced to flee. Many came to Ephesus. So there were quite different people in the worship services: Christians with a Jewish or a pagan background, slaves and free citizens, rich and poor, young and old. Some spoke Greek, the others still spoke Aramaic as their first language. Between each group was a wall. It is so human to build walls. Walls have so many forms and faces. There are not only walls of stone and iron. “Se reserva el derecho de admisión”.
Walls – why do we build walls? Quite simply, says our text, hostility. In its beginning the Bible tells us 2 great stories. One is from Adam and Eve, telling us how mankind turned its back on God. The 2nd story, the story of Cain and Abel, tells us what happens as the next step after having turned their backs on God. The first story usually is called “the fall” or “The Man and the Woman Sin”. However, in the original text the word “sin” is not used. We find the word “sin” only in the 2nd story. The OT does not think abstractly; it doesn´t like abstract ideas and philosophical thoughts. With those 2 stories the Bible describes “sin” as enmity with all its terrible consequences. Enmity, hostility is something very concrete: Enmity against God, enmity among men, enmity with nature.
Cain killed his brother. God punished the murderer, but also pardoned him. Then Cain went away and built a city. With this verse ends the story. But what does that mean: “He built a city?”
Of course is would be nonsense to think that Cain had built 10,000 houses. Maybe he built 2 houses. But why 2 houses built a city and not just a village? Quite simply: yes, 2 houses are a village, but 2 houses with a wall are a city. Cain built a city, because the war continued.
The stories of Adam and Eve, of Cain and Abel are like a prelude to the Torah. This is God’s teaching and commandments. God gave his law, his commandments to stop the chaos. God´s law is good. But the law does not create “the new man”, “the new nature” (Eph 4:24). The new Adam had to come, our Lord Jesus. In Jesus, the wall of separation between man and God was broken down. Since Jesus’ death on the cross, we are reconciled to God. That is why Jesus proclaimed peace, peace to all and everyone. It applies to the Jews who are very close and also to the Gentiles who were far off. The wall is gone. V18: Through Christ we both Jews and Gentiles, have access to the Father by one Spirit.
I have seen the Wall in the middle of my country. November 1989 the Wall was gone: I could not believe it. – During my studies I passed my 4th year in France, directly on the border with Germany. In that region I could visit a battlefield from the 1st World War. Probably one of my grandfathers had to fight in that region. There was no wall but a trench and barbed wire. You still see after 100 years the German lines and 30 m further the French lines. In between was the death; 60 000 young people have died there.
When I visited this place, all this deadly separation was gone. However, at the border, I always had to show my papers. I had a residence permit for France; today it is no longer requested. The apostle used this image. He mentioned the word politeia = citizenship. Those who were citizen, couldn´t be deported. What citizenship do you have? My kids have two; I have only my German passport. But I am baptized. Therefore my real citizenship (politeia) is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Some years after this letter to the Ephesians was written started a strong persecution of the Christian Church. The center place of that persecution was in Ephesus. The book of Revelation tells us that story. Christians were kicked out, and nobody asked if they were citizen or not. But nobody can kick us out from God’s dwelling. Here on earth we live like guests; we are in transit; we are still on our way to our destination.
Let us summarize the thoughts of this text together:
Church is not a peaceful place for pious souls and people with a high spirituality. Church is where Christ is preached. He is our peace, he alone. We do not create the unit; it is given to us in Christ. As believers we see the cross as a sign of reconciliation. The cross is empty, because God raised Christ to life. God also gives us new life. We are reconciled to God; now we have to practice reconciliation among us. All the differences among us are no more walls. We see our differences as gifts, we use for God’s work. It is the work of God’s Spirit. There is no room for other spirits here. This is our hope and that is our job. Amen.