Second Sunday after Trinity
One In Christ Means No Contempt for Race or Nationality
You’ve done wrong. You’ve done self-centered things; you’ve thought in a self-centered way. You’ve acted and thought coldly toward the needs of others. You’ve sinned. You’ve loved this world – its joys and its ideas and its approval – more than you’ve loved God and His Word and His approval.
You’ve given in to unclean thoughts and temptations of the flesh. You haven’t been fit to be the temple of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 6:19]. You’ve failed to worship with a sincere heart. You’ve failed to look upon God’s commandments throughout your week and keep them.
You’ve sinned against God, and your conscience knows that God does exist and is judge and does call you to account. So, what can be done between you and God? What can make it right between you and God? Jesus was nailed to the tree.
Jesus Christ, in your place, carried your sin in His flesh – and in Jesus your sins have been nailed to the cross. The guilty verdict against you has been pinned up on the cross in Jesus and is put to death. Jesus became your Savior by becoming the guilty sinner for you – painted a sinner by your sin – and thereby paying the wage of your sin – death – by His death.
Both your sins and the Law of commands and ordinances which condemned you for your sins were nailed up to the cross and put away forever. This removed the division between you and God. It made things right between you and God. The cross of Jesus repaired the Vertical relationship in your life. The cross of Jesus repairs your VERTICAL RELATIONSHIP – your UP-AND-DOWN RELATIONSHIP – between you and God.
The sin-forgiving cross of Jesus repairs your vertical relationship between you and God by taking the curse of the Law out of the way. This same sin-forgiving cross of Jesus repairs your HORIZONTAL RELATIONSHIP – your SIDE-TO-SIDE RELATIONSHIP - between you and all others by taking the curse of the Law out of the way.
If you look at a cross – like the cross in the front of our sanctuary here – you can imagine the vertical and horizontal aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion. The center beam of the cross, the one going up and down, reminds you that Jesus’ cross has repaired your vertical relationship with God.
The horizontal beam, the side-to-side beam where Jesus’ outstretched hands were nailed, reminds you that the cross of Jesus has also repaired your horizontal relationships with one another – the relationship between you and others – the relationship between mankind and the rest of mankind – even the relationship between nation and nation and between race and race and ethnicity and ethnicity – the relationship between man and man and woman and woman is – and has been already – repaired by the death of Jesus on the cross.
Sin is forgiven. Jesus died for your sin, and Jesus died for their sin. Sin is the cause of our division. Therefore, the forgiveness of all sin in Jesus reunites all that was divided. The broken horizontal relationship of the whole human race is repaired in Jesus. This fact affects – ought to affect – how you, brothers and sisters, relate with others – not just with each other here, but also with others out there.
What’s the point? In today’s Epistle lesson, Ephesians 2:11-22, the Apostle Paul speaks about the cross of Jesus in order to address the strained horizontal relationship between two groups – two nationalities – within the Church at Ephesus. What are the two nationalities? The Jews and the Gentiles.
In the biblical world view, the whole world was divided most basically into two groups – Jew and Gentile. The Jews were the people of the nations of Israel and Judah, the circumcised descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Gentiles were everybody else, all the other nations - the Greeks and Romans and everybody else.
In the congregation at Ephesus, as in most of the congregations at that time, there was ethnic tension between the two groups, Jew and Gentile, within the church. Each group had a history of thinking poorly of the other. And there had been, in fact, a true division between Jew and Gentile. The Jews had God’s Word, the Scriptures – the Gentiles did not. The Jews knew God through the covenant of the Law of Moses – the Gentiles were far off from God.
But now, through the cross of Jesus, the horizontal division between these two groups had been mended: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself ONE NEW MAN in place of the two” [Ephesians 2:14-15].
By the forgiving cross of Jesus, there is no longer Jew and Gentile but now One New Man. In Jesus, there are no longer many different peoples and nations, but now One New People, One New Spiritual Race - in Jesus – in His Body, the Church. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” [Ephesians 2:13]. Out of the many nations and races, God has made One New Heavenly Race and Nation - His Church, His Kingdom.
This coming Thursday is the Fourth of July, Independence Day. As we should, we celebrate the birth of our nation. We are and should be grateful for the nation God has given us to live in. And we should be thankful that we’ve lived in a nation that, historically, has been a majority Christian nation. But what we should not do is this: We should not confuse our nationality with our Christianity or our Christianity with our nationality.
For the Jewish people in biblical times, being Jews meant being God’s people and being God’s people meant being Jews. It was hard for the Jewish Christians to come to grips with the fact that Gentiles were now God’s people too. It was hard for them to accept a kingdom of God which was now filled mostly with people who did not look like them. When the true Heavenly Kingdom came, in Jesus – a kingdom that is not of this world [John 18:36] – the Jews had a hard time separating their worldly nationality from their heavenly citizenship, and vise-versa.
Sometimes, as Christian Americans, you have a hard time separating your worldly nationality from your heavenly citizenship, and vice-versa. You sometimes equate being a Christian with being an American and being an American with being a Christian. This isn’t true. Your nationality and good patriotism are of this world. The Church, God’s kingdom, is not of this world.
Sometimes I perceive that some of you even harbor some inward contempt or dislike toward people of other nationalities or other ethnicities. But how can you have contempt toward those for whom Jesus shed His blood to be their Savior? You might have a list of complaints, but as a Christian how can you hold a grudge against others’ sins – since you know that Jesus, your Savior, died to forgive their sins? And how can you dislike others based on their nationality when, in fact, most of God’s beloved, baptized, believing children in this world do not share your nationality.
Sometimes you fail to see the big picture of God’s Church. You live in a country where, ethnically, you are the majority – and as a Christian in this country you are in the religious majority too. But in the Church as a whole – in the whole Church that Jesus shepherds around the globe right now - you and I are, in fact, ethnic and national MINORITIES.
In fact, you may have never thought of this, but when you enter heaven someday you will be entering a place where most residents do not look like you. When you show up, most of your fellow citizens of heaven will be brown or black or have slanted eyes – and few of them will have ever sung in English, and I’m sure they won’t there either. Statistically, heaven will be a sea of Africans and Latinos and Asians, and you and I, according to our race and nationality and language, will be the minority in heaven. And, in fact, the Church on earth is exactly like this today. About 89% of Christians in the world do not live in the United States.
God has put us in the nation where He has put us, and He has made us who He has made us. On July 4th, give thanks to God for this nation where you live. Be patriotic and be truly thankful – you and I have it better than many, many people. And your good life in this world has come at the cost of many lives who have fought and died for it.
But as Christians remember that heaven holds our first and truest citizenship. Be humbled and remember that you and I are minorities in Christ’s great kingdom. And, therefore, ask yourself, “How can I hold contempt in my heart for minorities and foreigners in this world when I myself am a minority and once was a foreigner to God’s kingdom.”
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” [Ephesians 2:13]. Give thanks to God that He has repaired your Up-and-Down, Vertical Relationship with Him by the shed blood of Jesus – your sin is forgiven. Give thanks to God that He has also repaired the Horizontal Relationships of mankind by the same shed blood of Jesus – their sin is forgiven. And, therefore, let Jesus’ shed blood be the source of peace and forgiveness between you and all other people, at home, and far off. Amen.