Message for Peace Sunday, September 24, 2017
Glennon Heights Mennonite Church
Betsy Headrick McCrae
Scripture passage: Ephesians 2:11-22
Building bridges
Last Thursday, September 21, was the International Day of Peace. Our sisters and
brothers in Mennonite World Conference have invited us to celebrate our own
International Peace Sunday today, September 24. They chose the theme: Building
bridges. “In a world divided by difference,” they say, “it is not easy to be a peace church
dedicated to the ways of Christ’s peace. As we mark 500 years since the birth of the
Reformation, Mennonite World Conference recommits ourselves and our congregations
to the work of peace by building bridges. Indeed, our desire for Christ’s peace requires us
to embrace those who are different.”
The scripture passage that they chose for today – Ephesians 2:11-22 – is all about
building bridges. It’s about bringing opposites together. It’s about connecting the
disconnected and creating something strong and new.
Many of the words that I will share with you this morning come from theologian
and New Testament scholar, Tom Yoder Neufeld. Tom wrote the book on Ephesians for
the Believers Church Bible Commentary series. He’s an excellent scholar and he’s also a
really nice guy. Bruce and I had the chance to get to know him when we took a
TourMagination trip to Turkey and Greece. Tom guided us along the footsteps of the
Apostle Paul in that area. We came to respect and admire Tom and his deep love for Paul
and Paul’s earthshaking, earth changing vision. That vision is articulated in the letter to
the Ephesians.
Tom suggests that we approach the book of Ephesians, and particularly our
passage from chapter 2, as if it were a painting in an art gallery. So today as you listen,
imagine that you are entering an art museum.
“I love museums and galleries,” Tom writes. “A lot goes into organizing a gallery,
like proper lighting, choosing which paintings get set next to each other, how to direct the
attention of the viewer.” The writers of the Bible frequently did the same thing in a
literary fashion. They used a device called “chiasm.” Chiasm is a kind of framing device
– like for a painting – intended to draw the reader’s or hearer’s attention to the center
around which the rest of the passage is arranged.
In a chiasm one looks for corresponding elements. The first set, which in this case
is verses 11–12 and verses 19–22 of our passage from Ephesians 2, is called the “outer
frame.” This frame draws a sharp contrast between before and after.
The upper section begins with a reminder to Gentiles of who they once were: the
“uncircumcision,” outsiders to the covenants, “atheists,” and thus without hope. This is
very much a picture of how “we Jews” view “you Gentiles” whom “we” have considered
to be beyond the circle of God’s care.
Compare now the corresponding lower part of this “outer frame”: You are no
longer strangers, but members of the family, part of the commonwealth, now not rejected,
but chosen by God. Rather than being “without God, godless,” you now constitute a
home for God.
The inner frame draws attention to Christ’s reconciling and restoring activity
“through his blood” – this is the upper half of the inner frame – and to his being an
evangelist of peace in the lower half of the inner frame. What holds the two parts together
is not a stark contrast as previously, but the phrase “the near and the far.”
This inner frame is itself more than a frame; it is an example of astonishing
creativity. Jesus not only speaks peace, but makes peace by offering his own life. “You
who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This “blood”
certainly refers to Jesus’ death on the cross, but “blood” is also a symbol of life – the
liquid of life. “Blood” thus becomes also a way of speaking of Christ as the giver of life.
Who are these “near and far? The “far” are the Gentiles mentioned in verses 11–12

They – we, in fact – are no longer being cast as the “other,” but as family members in
exile whom God is bringing home. In verse 18 the evangelist and maker of peace – Jesus
Christ – takes both the far – the Gentiles – and near – the Jews – together into the
presence of their common divine parent.
And now we come to the very center of the chiasm, our painting, with the singular
focus on Christ as “our peace.” Listen again to verses 14–16 and imagine what you hear
as a painting: “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. He has abolished the law
with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new
humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God
in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
What do we see in this painting? Probably we fi notice the images of destruction
and violence:
• a shattered wall, once erected to separate the chosen from the rejected
• a torn fence which was intended to keep what is holy, holy,
• a cross, the supreme symbol of state terrorism,
• an act – actually, two acts – of murder: the murder of the Messiah by
crucifixion, and the Messiah’s own act of murder. Precisely at the moment of his own
death at the hands of his enemies, he puts hostility to death!
Christ’s death must never be separated from his life, his teaching, his
proclamation of the gospel of peace. He was both a practitioner and an evangelist of
peace. The cross was a consequence of his breaking down the walls of division, of his
stepping out to the highways and byways with his invitation to the banquet of God, of his
confronting a world of injustice, impoverishment, marginalization and disease with the
promise and threat of the kingdom of God.
But the tenacity of God’s loving embrace of humanity is seen in the fact that the
spurning of that loving initiative – the murder of the peacemaker – became itself the final
assault on fear and hostility. When Jesus died, hostility and enmity were also put to
death.
But look again at that imaginary painting. In the midst of this carnage, right in the
middle of this violence, there are images of peace, birth, transformation:
• the reconciling of enemies, of “you” and “we;”
• the reconciling of both of us together to God;
• and the creation in Christ of a new “us,” of the “new human.”
In Christ, through Jesus, God is starting all over again with humanity, and doing
so not by the elimination of godless enemies, but by the costly process of forging bonds
of unity and peace for those who were once prisoners of enmity, whose hostilities were
forged over centuries, not least on the anvil of piety. It’s all here in this marvelous work
of art! Atonement, new creation, reconciliation with God, reconciliation among enemies,
a bridge built where there was previously no way to cross between. This is the whole
gospel from beginning to end, distilled in one remarkably intense picture.
When Ephesians was written, the division between Jews and Gentiles went so
deep that our text refers to it simply as “the enmity” or “the hostility.” It’s not hard to
come up with a contemporary example of this, is it? Jesus is confessed as “our peace”
because through his ministry, death, and resurrection the division between
accepted/rejected, loved/unloved, insiders/outsiders has been crushed, demolished,
“murdered.”
“In him” a new humanity is being born out of long-time enemies. In this new
humanity “you” and “we,” the far and the near, Jews and Gentiles, old enemies, have
access to “our” divine parent – not by ourselves, not with those just like us, but together
with those we know as the “other.”
In verses 19–22 “you” and “we” together become one family, indeed, one temple,
God’s home. Notice that God’s home is made of stones not only from the covenant
community quarry (the “we” in this passage), but more dramatically from the landfill site
of rejected stones (the “you” in this passage). God’s home is a massive recycling project,
we might say.
This temple – the reconciled and re-created people of God – is a powerful witness
to God’s grace. In its very existence, this temple is a subversive presence of retrieved and
rescued “living stones” in a culture of fear and suspicion; a profound and sociologically
visible witness to the radical hospitality of the One who is “our Peace.” God loves to live
in a home of rescued building materials, in a home permanently under construction.
Tom Yoder Neufeld suggests some ways this text is relevant to us in our time and
place. First, this euphoric hymn, this expressive verbal painting, places peace at the very
center of our confession of Jesus. That resonates loudly with contemporary Anabaptist
emphasis.
That said, we should not be smug. Anabaptist Christians face two dangers, Tom
says. One is to see “Christ is our peace” chiefly in relation to God, failing to see how
Jesus, in living and giving his life, intends to make peace within a divided and hostile
human family.
The other danger is to reduce peace to a political or social goal, too often
loosening it from its holistic tether in the confession of Christ. Too often, we only
connect peace with Jesus as a model of nonviolence. That is not the answer Jesus is
looking for when he asks: “Who do you say that I am?” This passage from Ephesians
challenges us to a more comprehensive understanding of peace that exposes both a
Christ-less peace and a peaceless Christ as falling far short of the confession Jesus is
wishing to hear from us.
To confess Christ as “our” peace is a confession we do not make by ourselves.
Jesus is most faithfully confessed alongside those we would just as soon keep at arm’s
length, who threaten or disturb our “comfort zone,” whether we think of ourselves as
individuals or as congregations. To be “born again” is never a solitary experience. We are
born into the “new human” together with our enemies. So be careful! The chain of peace,
with which we are tied to each other and to Christ, more often than not chafes.
Just as you never know with whom you will confess that Christ is “our” peace, so
you never know before whom you make the confession. What does it mean for us to
confess Christ as our peace and the peace of the other in a world in which followers of
Jesus do not control the levers of power? What does it mean to confess that Christ is
“our” peace in the face of indifference and even ridicule? What does it mean to confess
that before those who have their own faith? In other words, what does it mean to say
Christ is “our” peace, knowing that peace is intended to reach to those who are different,
strangers, enemies?
This is no easy song to sing, no easy confession to make. Because to confess this
Christ is to invite the enemy in, to chase down the stranger with love, to chain ourselves
to the stranger far away and the all-too-familiar one near at hand. It will change us, as it
did the early community of faith as it moved out of Palestine into the Gentile regions of
the Roman empire. But that is what “salvation by grace” looks like.
The church is and has always been a risky enterprise, most especially when it has
been faithful. Risk is at the very core of peace. We rehearse the risk God took in Christ
every time we share Communion. In its very visible existence, in its brokenness and
unfaithfulness, the church testifies to the degree to which Christ took a real risk in
breaking down the protective wall, in building a bridge to bring the “far” and the “near”
together. But precisely in its vulnerability the church can be a forceful witness to the
wondrous grace of the One who is “our Peace.”
Sisters and brothers, may we be faithful to the one who builds bridges by building
bridges in our own lives between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the
unfamiliar, between ourselves and those with whom we disagree. May we come to
believe deep down and unshakably that we are all in this together, and that enmity and
hostility have indeed been put to death. In our lives as individuals and as a community,
may we be a witness to the One who is “our Peace.” Amen.