Link to the Reflection Video: –https://youtu.be/la_VJ6bRCDk
Ephesians 2:11-end, Mark 6:30-34, 53-end
We will probably remember the late Member of Parliament – Jo Cox said – “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” We have also probably found this statement to be true also when we have sat down and got to know people who are very different from ourselves. In our extract from the letter to the Ephesians, the thrust of this is all about unity and inclusivity. It is all about everyone belonging to the Christian community, being united in Christ once and for all, irrespective of them being different from each other. Like the Ephesian Christians before us, we will particularly need this unity and sense of inclusive purpose as we negotiate our way forward as stage four of the road map comes upon us.
Ephesus like many places in our world today was a melting pot of cultures, and an important military base and port. The gentiles (those of non-Jewish descent) in the Ephesian Churches were probably more numerous than those of Jewish descent. What the writer initially does is spell out that everyone is united and on an equal footing. Don’t let the language of circumcision or uncircumcision put you off. Let me unpack what was being said:-
Before Jesus came the situation was like this. God started to work with the humans he had made. He picked one group and had a deep relationship with them. God promised them a new land and to be with them in all that they did. The basis of the arrangement God had with his chosen people was that if the people loved God and put their love of God first. If they followed the rules he set them on how to live their lives, all would be well. The people had to love God and keep his rules for the bargain to work!! God also hoped the other people he had not chosen would want to join the ones he had. The people he chose were called the Jews (Hebrews or Israelites) depending on where you are in the story. Their mark of identity was circumcision hence the label of them as ‘the circumcision’ in our passage from Ephesians. The other group therefore being the ‘uncircumcision’.
Now this original deal didn’t work very well and for a number of reasons.
The group who God had not chosen didn’t like or get on well with the ones God hadn’t chosen and vice versa.
Those God had not chosen did not want to join up and a wall built up between them, which developed into a big barrier.
There was another problem, the people God had chosen – didn’t like putting God first and following his rules. They kept putting the rule book down and doing what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it…
In view of the problems God sent messengers to his chosen people, the circumcision, often in the guise of prophets, and they listened sometimes and did what God wanted. However, eventually they always seem to end up doing their own thing and forgetting about God. Putting the rule book down and the situation between the two groups of people was getting more and more out of control. The situation escalated frequently and fighting broke out. Sometimes God’s chosen people won and sometimes the other group won!! It was all getting very nasty, cracked and divided, and God wasn’t remotely happy with this!
God wanted to be there for everybody not just a small group and God didn’t want there to be all this hate – because God was always and is always a God of love. So God decided to bring an end to all of this. He sent messengers to say he was going to do something really different and then he did it – he sent his son to be our Saviour Jesus Christ. Now to make this big change, God had to do something spectacular and something that had never been done before. So what happened as we well know, was that Jesus was killed and then he rose again, he came back to life in a new way after 3 days to change things once and for all and forever. By doing that God brought both groups together, so they and we all now have access to God’s love and peace for us. Another way of putting this is Christ broke down the wall of hate by giving his own body. Christ through dying on the cross wanted to bring the Jews (the circumcision) and the gentiles (everyone else – the uncircumcision) together. Through reaching out his arms on the cross he was the bridge of peace for us all bringing everybody into relationship with God – so everyone knew how much God loved them. Jesus did that for the people then and it still works for us today – So we can all know God now, through the power of his Spirit as a direct result of Jesus dying (and rising again). In doing that we should remember that Jesus died to bring us peace and to bring us together all of us in one body. This ensures that you and me and everyone here could know how much God loves us.
In our own way, we need to live and love through this reconciling peace of God and keep it uppermost in our outlook. We live in times of division and much has been hurt and damaged by our recent pandemic times. I don’t think we initially entered into these days in a particularly unified place as a country either – whichever side of the debate we were on in relation to Brexit too. We have people holding very different views about the pandemic and having lived through very different experiences. At one end of the spectrum are those who are ready to go and get on with it as soon as possible. At the other end is a lot of fearfulness and trepidation, and the impact of a lot of isolation and other difficulties people have had. We have people with all the means they need to live and others well below the breadline. We have people in the full flush of health and those struggling or whose vital treatments have been delayed. We have people who are living with the long-term debilitating impacts of long Covid. We have people who have lost loved ones (often long before what they feel should have been their time). We have people in stressful occupations, or on the front line living with the impact of long-term stress and those without employment and with little prospect of employment. One Sunday supplement magazine article I read several months ago used the analogy that an unprecedented number were living with the impact of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
None of us has been through times like this before, and we will need to do our best to move forward lovingly and kindly in the days ahead of us, keeping at the heart of all our beings and doings the reconciling peace of God. We will need to concentrate on what holds us together (and not to let the things that divide us take over). I do not think this is going to be particularly easy and tensions are bound to surface. For some our pace will be too slow, remembering yet for others our pace will be too fast.
To do this we are going to have to work together and pull together well (and avoid the trap of stone throwing behaviour). For example, some may be more comfortable wearing a mask in the building, others may be happy never to wear one ever again. We will need to respect one another’s choices. In addition – we will be working through all the things that make our churches work. Also we will be doing that with an eye to what will make them grow and grow younger. I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I know God has a flourishing plan for us all! I need us also to remember that I don’t know at any depth how all the bits used to fit or evolved together over many years before March of 2020. So please help me with this (don’t assume I know because I don’t in all likelihood!). It is also likely that some aspects will need to fit together quite differently. Some fundamental things have also changed and it is likely that more will have to change too. Please help and support where we can and particularly pray.
To use the language and style of this reading, Jesus has proclaimed peace to those who are raring to go, and peace to those who are more cautious. We need to be sharers of that reconciling peace through access to the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us. We are just as much all members of this household of God, built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone as the Ephesian churches ever were! Let’s be united, concentrate on growing together as a dwelling place for God. Let God’s peace and reconciliation fill us and overflow from us. Amen
Jo Cox quote came from https://wearethecity.com/inspirational-quotes-jo-cox-member-parliament/ New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995