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Building a Mystery

Sermon - 7/08/12
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon


Ephesians 2: 14-22

Let me start today with a cartoon:


Which one is First Christian Church?  I don’t know that it matters, for don’t they balance one another out?

I have to thank the “naked pastor” – real name David Hayward – for helping inspire the message this morning.  It actually all started with the work the Vision Action Team has been doing – books and articles we’ve been reading, the worship discernment surveys many of us completed in the early part of 2012.    

Recall you were asked questions like, what is the reason we gather for worship? Rank the top 5 most important parts of worship for you.  And the like.  Guess what I learned?  That some items come to the top as maybe top three favorite parts of worship, but otherwise everyone picks something a little bit different.  Music is the most important.  Preaching is the most important.  Come!  Join us, we are the ones who think Communion is the most important.  No!  We are the ones who think the Coffee Hour is the best!  We are a community.  The larger we become the more like a community of communities we become.  One size will not fit all.  One song will not represent all.  One style of worship will not feed all. 

From the Tao te Ching: 

Tao Verse 2: (as translated by Brian Browne Walker)

When people find one thing beautiful, another consequently becomes ugly.  When one man is held up as good, another is judged deficient.  Similarly, being and non being balance each other; difficult and easy define each other; long and short illustrate each other; high and low rest upon one another; voice and song meld into harmony; what is to come follows upon what has been. 

The teachings of the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu were developed over a period of two-three hundred years by not just 1 sage, but at least 5 – men, women…back in the 4th-6th centuries BCE. 

It is another sacred text that many find meaning and insight in – who else reads the Tao?  Who can say they understand it all? 


Seeking wisdom and truth out of the Biblical text is no different than reading the Tao - both rely upon the hard work of many commentators, many linguists, historians to bring us as close to the real translation as we can.  I’m bringing for reflection verses 14-22 of Chapter 2 of Ephesians.  And there’s plenty disputed in Ephesians:  it’s authorship, is it Paul?  Is it not?  It’s theology, it’s audience.  The most conclusive answers to these questions come from comparing this letter to the others – Colossians, Galatians, Romans  1 Corinthians– and in the comparison some beautiful and unique images are offered for our consideration. 

And as an aside, If you are interested in learning more about the Authentic voice of Paul, why Ephesians is a disputed letter, etc.  Go back and read Dan’s sermons from Summer 2010 and even Spring 2011 - and also pick up a copy of The First Paul, a great little book written by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.  For this area is not my focus today; my focus is on the vision that is put forth in Ephesians and the one we express today.


Ephesians 2: 14-22

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.


Here it is, another cartoon from @nakedpastor.  Sort of an anti-cartoon:


There is no wall.  There is no barrier.  There is no divide across tradition or tribe or nation that God cannot reconcile and unify. 

How I understand the text: 

The Spirit of God, also known as Christ, made alive in Jesus, reflected in the teachings of the disciples and apostles that followed, is the way toward peace.  When we find ourselves again wrestling with “who’s in? who’s out? Who is right and wrong?” we are reminded that all the divisions we experience in this life are illusions. 

The reader is to come to know himself in relationship to God – to yourself and with one another and to find peace in the space between.  In its original context – this peace is for Jews, Gentiles, to see themselves as members of one household.  They are no longer one group that’s in and another that’s out. 

There are no Christians without Jews, we understand this –  That wasn’t the only wall dividing the people in Ephesus but it was a significant one.  But apply it to yourself today – who is it you are keeping out?  Purposely denying, judging as less than, certainly not your problem? 

Today we have so many walls – our creeds and the words we choose to speak in those creeds are walls to help us to know ourselves as believers but they still divide.   Church polity –continues to divide persons of the SAME tribe – just ask our Presbyterian friends.  There are emotional walls around our hearts for somewhere, someone taught us that showing ourselves, vulnerable and transparent is a weakness.  Physical walls are built as solutions to immigration and political turmoil.  That, or a wall of missiles, the invisible threat of nuclear war all to keep someone else out, keep us safe, protect us from the other. 

WE come to know ourselves by hearing about others, learning who others are – and as frustrating it as it is to grasp, I still need to be reminded  that God loves that person, that theology, that political nitwit as much as he loves me,  another nitwit. 

So Ephesians gives us a image of God – one we may or may not agree with:

            God intends salvation for all.  God is loving towards all.

            God has a will – a plan - from the beginning.   

And the plan is for peace. Started with the prophets.  Then through Jesus.  Now the apostles.  And now you, reader, listener.  Good luck and remember, God is with you. 

Is that the only way to view God?  Certainly not – every book in this Bible has a unique vision of God – some are closely linked in vision but not all the same – not even when we compare multiple letters of Paul! 

So it’s in our hands now.  This text, the teachings of Christ.  What is your image of God?  What do you think God is like? 

Take out the bulletin insert and grab a pen or pew pencil.  This survey was born from some research done at Baylor University, in Texas.  In identifying people’s perceptions of God, this team from Baylor found they could predict much more about a person’s moral and political beliefs than by just asking “what is your faith background.”  God knows this must be true because if you ask 5 disciples what they believe you’ll get 5 different answers. 

This survey is not comprehensive, but it is fun.  It creates conversation.  And that is exactly my purpose, so fill it out, What we are evaluating here is a) how engaged you think God is in the world and b) how angry you think God is with this world.  But it is merely a stepping off point – the journey is still before us – we aren’t here to solve anything. 

Click here to view the God Image Survey (Microsoft Word document)


Agree or Disagree – it certainly forces the issue. 

Ok, so play along, please.  Stand up if you scored…A, B, C, D.

I need 5-6 volunteers to come forward and talk more about this with me.   

Thank you for coming up here with me.  I know it is a vulnerable act to tell us what you believe – did you know that in Greek to believe means “To give one’s heart to.”  I think we are accustomed to asking “What do you think?” when we ask what another believes – but this is a heart issue –(the heart part of the brain?)  which involves trust, it is subjective, based on who you are, where you have been, what life is like for you.  So thank you for sharing in that Spirit – that is where God does the best work -  in our hearts. 

Remind us – what are your 2 highest scoring categories?

Are you surprised or not?

Are there any questions where you simply could not decide? 

Or circled both as your answer? 

What was the hardest question to answer?

Where do these images come from for you?   

The Staff thought these were the hardest questions to answer:

13.  Has no human characteristics or emotions

18.  Disappointed by humanity’s treatment of one another.

And from our conversation – especially the ideas of sin and God’s disappointment…some of us changed our answers right then and there! 

What does it mean that we change our minds and hearts daily or mid conversation?  What significance does that have for you?

For me it shows great potential – for there are many things we need to be willing to change in ourselves that feel nearly impossible to do – but look how easy it is when we are honestly engaging with one another?  Gives me hope!

Has this experience informed your faith today?

Thank you again.  You are a brilliant illustration of the Tao & Ephesians.  Now just to illustrate the second half of Ephesians passage, it’s time for you to build the human pyramid.  Kidding!  You can go back to your seats.

Whether we are the herd or those who refuse to follow the herd – we are really one in the same – we only know “who we are” today by what we were yesterday.  And only by comparing ourselves to others can we see how these Scriptures come alive – Following and not following are complements of one another.    Questions and answers complement each other.  We cannot know beautiful and not know ugly. Good/bad.  Up/Down.  Yin & Yang.  Belief/Non belief.  Can you see the circle in all this? 

There is deep insight here in the experience of resting in differences – not finding one answer but living in the multitude, living in the puzzlement. And as a Christian I would say that the Spirit is alive and present with us all in this moment.  You are inspired, right to keep talking, learning more, questioning?  A Taoist might say the light of Consciousness is on, that we are awake, centered.

No one who has shared here today is straight up right or wrong.  No one’s responses replace or one-up the other.  All come together, whatever the differences for all reflect the truth.  How?!!?

From the message, another expression of Ephesians v. 20-22:

God is using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. he used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

How about that as an image for God?  God is building the place God feels at home – and it doesn’t involve just one side or another.  And it’s no church building, people.  It’s the world.  It’s all of our mess and thoughts and beliefs and histories, our drama, our faith, our doubt, our devout disbelief.  And that it is still in process, still happening, it’s a beautiful mystery.  I cannot say I fully understand how believers and non-believers can both live in Christ – I mean today that is a completely loaded statement in our world today.  It’s likely that it turns off quite a few in the room.  Don’t let Christ be the wall that divides you.  Find the things that unite us – things we can all believe in – loving concern for our fellow humans, equal rights for everyone, belief in our ability to make this world a better place and belief it takes mutual respect for everyone. 

That is the world that God feels at home, that is the vision of Jesus, it is the place God wants us to feel at home –

That is what we can call the body of Christ, the kingdom of heaven, the way the universe works, the path of peace.  Today I give thanks to the Spirit for working me into this mystery and for the wonder and hope I gain from it.  May we live into our inheritance as Disciples.


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