Our text today comes
from the letter to the Ephesians, a letter likely written by a disciple
of Paul (in Paul's name), a very common practice in those days. It
was most likely a circular letter intended for many churches in that
ancient world of Asia Minor, not only for the church in Ephesus.
And so reading, then,
in chapter two, verses 11 through 22:
So then, remember
that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the
uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the
circumcision’—a physical circumcision made in the
flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at
that time without Christ, being aliens from the
commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the
covenants of promise, having no hope and without God
in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once
were far off have been brought near by the blood of
Christ. 14For he 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.
15He has abolished the law with its commandments and
ordinances, so that he might create in himself one
new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,
16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body
through the cross, thus putting to death that
hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed
peace to you who were far off and peace to those who
were near; 18for through him both of us have access
in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no
longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens
with the saints and also members of the household of
God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and
prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the
cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined
together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
22in whom you also are built together spiritually
into a dwelling-place for God.
Since this letter was
written for Christians throughout Asia Minor in the second half of the
first century, and since that happens to have been the focus of my
sabbatical last summer, and since I just happen to have a few pictures
from that experience J,
I thought I would share a few to help us get the context of this
particular text. And kind of get us in touch with that era.
Kind of looks
like I come from that era, I know
Who would have known
that there were Duck fans in Rome
But since this text focuses on, or highlights a new way of being a
temple of the Lord, I want to show you some pictures of temples from
that ancient world.
east in Turkey, and then moving our way west toward Rome.
This is in Ankara:
The Temple of the
Divine Augustus, built to commemorate his death, shortly after the birth
of Jesus. It was under repair when I was there in 2003.
Heading our way east
to Aphrodisius, this is the Tetra Pylon, which was the gateway to the
Temple of Aphrodite in that city that bears her name in Turkey:
And then Didyma,
Temple of Apollo - a massive temple built over 2,600 years ago:
Moving across the
Aegean Sea to Corinth, a very familiar site for many people, again a
temple to Apollo in that ancient city:
In central Greece,
another temple of Apollo, this time in Delphi, on a hillside:
Down below that
temple is the Thodos, a temple of unknown origin built for an unknown
purpose -- I'm sure they knew, but we don't:
On the island of
Delos, a very small island, but nearly a dozen different temples on this
one island, here the temple to Isis, an Egyptian Goddess:
A temple to Zeus, in
And of course,
dominating the skyline of Athens is the Parthenon, on top of the
And then heading west
to Olympus, where the Olympics were founded, at the center of that
ancient site, another temple to Zeus:
One thing I didn't
know is the Olympic games were all dedicated to various Gods. The
games were a very religious experience, done for religious purposes.
Here's what the
Temple of Zeus would have looked like in those days:
Moving now to Italy,
Pompeii, another temple of Zeus, with Vesuvius looming in the
Not sure if it looks
threatening now, but it certainly was back in those days.
Another temple of
Isis, also in Pompeii:
And then finally in
Rome, the temple of Mars, built by Caesar Augustus, probably around the
time of the birth of Jesus, maybe a little before:
The Temple of Saturn
in the Roman Forum:
And finally the
Pantheon, not to be confused with the Parthenon:
The Pantheon in Rome,
it was the home of the 12 major Roman Gods. Still standing in
beautiful shape today, 1,900 years later, this was built in the
mid-second century. It was converted to a church, and therefore
Now, my point in
giving you this very brief tour of these ancient temples is not just a
promo for the tour I'm hoping to lead in the summer of 2011, but to show
what we can see of the ancient religious establishment of that Roman
world. These were the temples, or ones very similar to them, that
were very familiar to the recipients of this letter. These are the
kinds of sights they would call to mind when they think of temples.
As Marcus Borg noted
on that pilgrimage I took in 2003, you do not build massive edifices of
this type based on superstition, on a hunch, on childish myths.
These were huge undertakings, requiring enormous dedication, built by
people who took their beliefs very, very seriously. And I think we
They certainly would
not agree with the premise of this text -- that as Gentiles they
were far removed from God. I can just hear some Roman citizen,
upon reading this letter, or hearing it, protesting -- "how can you
people claim to be any closer to God when the temple to the God of the
Israelites is in Jerusalem, far away? We have all these temples
all around us!".
And furthermore, that
temple built to the God of Israel has now been destroyed (if this letter
was written any time after that destruction in the year 70).
The claim, therefore,
of this letter to the Ephesians is quite stunning because first of all,
it refutes that whole religious establishment of the Roman Empire.
And in essence calls it a fraud by not even acknowledging its existence.
Secondly, it makes
the incredible claim of an alternative route for those Gentile followers
of the many Greek and Roman Gods to be included in the heretofore
exclusive Jewish household of God.
So, stop and think
how absurd this claim would sound to a Roman citizen of that era.
To suggest that they could now be included in the commonwealth of
Israel, in the household of God. It would be like a citizen of
modern-day Cuba saying to us U.S. citizens, proclaiming jubilantly, "Now
you have the opportunity to become citizens in our great nation of
Cuba!". Who would take that seriously? Surely that's the way
it sounded in that day.
Third, and most
remarkable of all, our author announces that one Jesus Christ, crucified
by the Romans, has by his death, rather than by Roman killing, brought
an end to hostility. And abolished all the barriers between Jews
and Gentiles. To which our Roman protagonist would undoubtedly
protest: "Really? So you're saying the blood of dedicated, valiant
Roman soldiers, who died for our country, bringing peace to that
troubled, rebellious, Jewish homeland, that their blood was shed in
vain? And only the blood of your Jesus matters?".
How is it that He,
and not the might of the Romans, makes peace?
And you see, it's a
fair question. Given now 2,000 years of war and increasing amounts
of bloodshed (much of it at the hands of Christians), it is a question
that still begs an answer even more so today.
So just how does
Jesus, or more specifically, the cross of Jesus, the death of Christ,
make peace for anyone?
Too often, I fear, we
have little to offer beyond cliché's. Jesus is the answer.
God is love. Christ is our peace. But clichés do not an
explanation make. So we lead the serious quest, longing for that
water which truly quenches while we appeal to ancient authorities.
Well, the Bible says.
But in our modern
world, it is not a question of what the Bible says, it is a
question of what the Bible means to us today. How is God
still speaking, now (not just in some ancient time) to us?
I found a response to
that query just recently when several of us went to hear Archbishop Tutu
speaking in Portland for the 40th annual Collins Lectures of Ecumenical
Ministries of Oregon. A little background before we hear from Tutu
Monte Campbell shared with us her trip to South Africa just last year.
She visited the prison where Nelson Mandela spent his last 7 years.
And she described the scene, in a story that was relayed to her, of how
he was released from prison after 27 years (20 years in a previous
site). 27 years in prison. And thousands and thousands and
thousands of people, mostly black Africans of course, lined the
hillsides of that road leading out of that country prison. And
when the time came for Mandela to be released, a government limo came to
pick him up and take him home. Nelson Mandela said: "I think
So imagine that sight
as he walked down that road with tens of thousands of jubilant, cheering
people filling the hillsides cheering his walk into freedom.
That was February
11th, 1990. Mandela was then elected as the first democratically
elected President of South Africa in a truly free South Africa where
everyone was given the right to vote, four years later. But those
intervening 4 years were not peaceful years. The gradual
dismantling of apartheid did not come without a price. Unrest and
riots, violence initiated by both sides as the power began to shift,
threatened to tear the country apart.
one young American, Amy Beal, left the safety and comfort of her home in
California to join the effort to register black voters in preparation
for that historic vote, believing that in doing so she could make a
difference in the lives of people and the history of a nation.
Sharing a message of hope and equality.
Well, Bishop Tutu
shares the story of what happened to Amy as he tells that larger story
of that unrest in South Africa, and the remarkable change that came
about in the country.
[An audio file of
Tutu's speech is available at the following link:
The text that Dan
references here occurs at the 29:10 mark of this speech, and runs
through the 34:25 mark -- you can use the slider control to jump to that
part of the speech]
The Amy Beal
Foundation in that township has a school, for those disadvantaged youth.
Amy Beal is dead, killed by the very people she came to help. And
yet her work and her spirit continues on, touching the lives of many,
many more people than she ever touched in her lifetime. She lives
on not in a building, not in a temple, not in a shrine built to honor
her, but in those people's lives she has touched and changed, including
And this precisely
the message of this letter to the Ephesians.
For he 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.
So then you are
no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints
and also members of the household of God.
In Christ the
whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in
the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a
dwelling-place for God.
You are built into
that dwelling place for God.
In Christ there is a
new humanity where there are no divisions, no apartheid, no illegal
immigrants, no us vs them, but truly one people under God. How can
It is so because we,
inspired by the life and sacrifice of Christ, like those family and
friends of Amy Beal, make it so. Our peace comes not through some
divine slight of hand, the substitution of Christ for us, dying in our
place. It comes through the divine light of God -- Christ in us,
moving us, leading us, to do away with those false divisions.
When you choose peace
over hostility, you are that holy temple of God.
When you choose
forgiveness over retribution, you are that shrine of Christ.
When you choose
reconciliation (which is the way of Jesus) over the way of revenge (the
way of our world), you bring the light of Christ into that world.
When you work to
bring out that generosity of spirit, present in all people, then you are
that body of Christ.
When we break down
the dividing walls of hostility, racism, homophobia, sexism, fear,
hatred, and intolerance, we become that holy place where God dwells.
We do have an
incredible capacity for good, given to each of us, created in the image
To be the church of
Christ is to use that capacity, making peace, reconciling all under God
as one people.
May it be.