July 13, 2014 Can We Talk about Healing Divisions? Ephesians 2:13-16
There was one summer when I was, I don’t know…maybe 7 or 8 years old…when my family took a trip out east from Iowa to Pennsylvania to visit my relatives; my mom’s twin sister and her family.
My aunt and uncle have two kids who are roughly the same age as me and my middle brother, so we always looked forward to being with them.
Well, on this particular trip, we ended up going to the beach or something, and on the boardwalk, there was something like a ride that you could take through a haunted house or something.
I don’t remember the location, or the specific attraction that this ride had…but I remember me and my cousin really wanted to go on this ride. We badgered our dads (I don’t think our moms were around at that point) until they gave us the money…I’m not even sure they knew what it was for….and we bought our tickets and got into the little car that would take us on tracks, through this house of terror or something like that.
I can’t speak for my cousin, but I can tell you, the rest of what I remember consists of sheer terror.
After the first few minutes, I wanted nothing more than for the ride to be over. I thought I was going to die!
The problem was, I was with my cousin and I didn’t want him to know I was scared.
So I tried to put on a brave face…and eventually I just closed my eyes.
He wasn’t looking at me, he was busy taking it all in himself. So I figured if I just closed my eyes and stayed quiet, he wouldn’t think I was a chicken. 🙂
My strategy worked.
Once I closed my eyes, the ride wasn’t nearly as scary…it was just a series of bumps and jerks and noises and puffs of air.
But you know what I remember even more clearly than the terror that I felt?
I remember the one portion of the ride where my cousin kept saying “look!” “Look!”
I was torn…I wanted to open my eyes and look at what he was pointing out…but I was also so frightened, that it was all I could do to stay in the car!
I’d like to suggest this morning that we’re all taking a similar ride.
Our lives are full of similar ghosts and terrors that haunt us as we bump and jerk our way along in the company of other people who’s opinions we care about.
When we’re young, it’s easier to cry out in fear or disbelief.
It doesn’t take us long to learn how to simply close our eyes to get through the rough spots.
But the ride we’re on stretches into a lifetime, and the monstrosities that surround us, they exist within us as well, don’t they?
And as we as we grow older, we begin learn an even more insidious trick: we learn to close our eyes to the horrors that lie within, don’t we?
We learn to give our ghosts their space within us. We learn to tip-toe past the rooms they inhabit within our souls, and we come to act like they’re not even there.
It’s a coping mechanism we develop…after all, if we are to ignore our ghosts, they must be given space of their own.
Wounds we’ve suffered, abusive personalities we’ve endured, overbearing parents, over distant parents, betrayals, greed, misguided sexual appetites, addictions…all these and more wander the hallways of these temples we inhabit…and the less willing we are to acknowledge them, the more they grow in their power over us.
As time goes on, we might not even realize how often we shrink away from certain dark corners within our souls where these ghosts reside.
We lock our fears, our ghosts, our demons inside certain rooms and we try to forget they exist.
So we become accustomed to living partial lives, all the while professing that it is whole and it is good.
And here’s the thing…the truest perversion of Christianity is the one that allows us to continue this charade as if our partial lives were really whole.
Look, this morning we’re talking about Healing Divisions.
Of course I know that in the back of all of our minds, when we talk about divisions in the church, most of us are thinking about the unfolding drama concerning Mountain States Mennonite Conference and the divisions within the denomination that are coming to a head surrounding the issue of same-sex attraction and sexual behavior within the church.
But would you believe I really don’t think that’s the issue?
Would you believe I think the true source of our division goes much deeper than that?
We prefer division to true unity, because our willingness to cut-off from unseemly people, scary ideas, and different thoughts somehow supports our own false narrative that our partial lives are actually whole.
See, it’s like we’re on this scary ride together, right?
All along the way, there are terrible things that happen, things we’d like to avoid, things that make us close our eyes tight.
But then someone says “Look! Look!”.
And after years of avoiding the sight of these ghastly terrors, we cannot find the courage to open our eyes.
Instead, we demonize the one telling us to look…or at the very least, we ignore them and pretend like the terrors really aren’t that terrifying.
We cut them off, not because our differences are so large or they make us so angry…we cut them off because we need the divisions within us to be reflected back to us in order to maintain the sense of peace that comes from a partial life.
*It’s easier to avoid other people than it is to look at what they’re pointing out and confront ourselves.
It’s easier to continue pretending that we’re whole than it is to face our own darkness and name our fears.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, and here in chapter two, he makes this elegant argument about Christ making the two groups one, destroying the dividing wall of hostility, creating in himself one new humanity out of the two.
It’s tempting to think of these two groups that we’re reading about in light of the distinction between those who are open and affirming of homosexual behavior in the church, and those who are not.
That’s one temptation that I think we always have to be aware of as we read the Bible…the temptation to read into the text things that really, rightfully have no place there simply because they’re part and parcel of our contemporary situation.
Paul wasn’t talking about homosexuality when he wrote this passage.
He was talking about circumcision.
Or, more to the point, the ‘two groups’ he was talking about were “the circumcision”, and “the uncircumcision”. You can look back and read starting in verse 11 if you don’t believe me.
He’s writing to the Gentiles…Ephesians is a letter written to a Gentile church.
And here in chapter 2, Paul is addressing these “Gentiles” directly, and explaining to them how Christ has reconciled them in his body, into one new humanity rather than the two former groups of humanity.
Gentile is an interesting word.
The Greek behind it is Ethein, and when translated into Latin we get the word “Gentes”, which the Spanish speakers among us will recognize as the word for “people” “Gente” right?
It’s a word that’s translated various ways in the New Testament…mostly as “Gentiles”, about half as often it’s translated “Nations”, and a handful of times it’s translated as “heathen” or “pagans”.
My point is this…in the Biblical story, the overarching flow of the story, speaking as broadly as possible, there are three main characters.
First, “God”, Second, “the Nations (or the Gentiles)”, and third, “Israel”.
And what God strives to do throughout this story, is reconcile his creation, or all nations (including Israel), to Himself.
To do this reconciling work, he chose a people, he formed one nation to be separate, to be sacred…’sacred’ is a word that means “set apart”, did you know that?
He formed one nation, calling them to be separate from the many nations, and the aim of their existence was to be a blessing to the others, to show the other nations the face of the One God who created all things.
But you know, you can’t be reconciled to God until you’re aware that the division exists.
Now, I don’t want to get too philosophical this morning…but I’m a pretty firm believer that we organize our outward lives in ways that reflect back and support our inner realities.
Hence, when we shut our eyes to the monsters we see outside, we’re simply responding to the locked doors we have within our own souls.
And one reason sexuality is such a passionate subject today, is because sexuality has to do, intimately, with that inner region.
We can talk about things like divorce and remarriage, because they are easier to talk about objectively…they has to do with people’s actions, commitments they’ve made and commitments they may need to break.
We can talk about things like divorce and remarriage, because those are things we can keep on the outside, even if and when we participate.
But sexuality resides within, and it permeates how we relate to everyone we encounter.
Add to that reality, that each of us inherits a broken understanding of sexuality from our earliest breath, that we’re reared in brokenness throughout our childhood, and that we persist in brokenness for most if not all of our lives…it creates a fairly volatile situation.
Especially when we claim only part of our interior house and leave the rest to the ghosts.
See, Shalom…that’s the Hebrew word for Peace, you know?
Shalom…it’s a word that means something more like wholeness, or Complete-ness.
And the way you make something whole, or complete, when it’s broken or wounded…it needs to heal.
Shalom begins at home. Healing divisions begins by confronting the ghosts or the demons that haunt your own soul…allowing the blood of Christ, that is, allowing the scandal of the cross, to fill the gap between who you are and who you were meant to be, relying on God’s grace to continue to draw you nearer and nearer.
Do you want a whole life? It begins by gathering enough courage to open your eyes.
You who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 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, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.