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The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 22, 2012
The Gospel: Ephesians 2:11-22
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
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Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision" -- a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands-- remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
You just might be asking exactly what I had in mind with this morningís sermon title. Triple X! Relax! Just think Roman numerals and this coming Friday and youíll get it. The 30th Olympiad, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, will start this week with the opening ceremonies this Friday. Once-every-four-years the Olympics bring together athletes from around the world. This will be the 30th set of summer games held since the modern era began in 1896. London now holds the distinction of being the first city to host the modern games three times, having previously held them in 1908 and 1948.
So, are you ready for the start of competition? See if you can answer these important Olympic questions:
Q: Why isn't sun-tanning an Olympic sport?
A: Because the best you can ever get is bronze.
Q: Why does the Olympic torch always start in Olympia?
A: Because it's hard to put out a "Greece fire."
OK, sorry! Iíll stop. The thing is, these games are a lot more than just another athletic event. They are a serious attempt to show the possibility of peace between races, cultures and nations. At the very least, they're an important demonstration of how diverse people can work and play together harmoniously.
From aquatics and archery to weightlifting and wrestling, the goal is to compete fiercely ... but not kill each other. Whether athletes are playing men's basketball or women's water polo, they're to conduct themselves with "Olympic spirit," which elevates participation over winning, peace over conflict.
Peace has been a goal of the Olympics from the very beginning. The very first Olympic Games in 776 B.C. E. brought athletes together from across the Greek city-states. Essential to the Games was a sacred truce. The city-states, often at odds with each other, mutually agreed to allow each other's athletes safe passage to the Games. The olive wreath, the ancient prize awarded to victors in the games, became a universally-recognized symbol of peace.
Beginning in 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations has passed successive resolutions urging nations to support this ideal of truce during the weeks when the Games are being played. This year, for the very first time in history, all 193 member states of the United Nations have signed on to the resolution calling for the Olympic Truce. Will it really happen? Could we really see a world-wide Olympic truce? Just the thought of the possibility is wondrous.
But the reality of our current world political climate makes it clear that peace is an elusive prize. Perhaps peace cannot be found at the Triple X Olympiad; because peace, real peace, requires a single X: the monogram of Jesus the Christ.
In our Epistle lesson from Paulís letter to the Ephesians this morning, we hear of a peace that is real, that lasts, that breaks the barriers that divide us. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he was addressing a group of Greeks who knew a thing or two about Olympic spirit; the spirit of the ancient games. Located on the west coast of what is now Turkey, Ephesus was a Greek city that had existed for hundreds of years before being swallowed up by the Roman Empire. Under the rule of the Emperor Augustus, it became the capital of a Roman province in Asia. It grew into a prominent, prosperous and powerful city, second only to the city of Rome, and expanded over the course of the first century until it reached a population of nearly one-half million people. Don't think of Ephesus as a tiny coastal town. It was the London of Roman Asia. When you watch the opening ceremonies of the modern Olympics on July 27, imagine Ephesus in all its splendor and athletic glory.
But, in this letter, we discover that the people of Ephesus have a problem. They are rich and proud residents of a major capital city. They have money and power and influence, like many of the people who will be gathering in London this week for this Olympics. But Paul reminds the Christians, often poor and beleaguered, that worldly success frequently leaves one feeling empty, without inner peace. He writes, "Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,Ö remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (2:11-12).
What heís saying is this: only if we know who we are in the eyes of God; only if we know that we belong to God, and that through Christ we can know God and know ourselves, only then can we have hope and life and lasting peace. Nothing of a material nature can bring lasting peace and joy to the soul; we arenít put together that way. We need the single X; Jesus the Christ.
This is the solution Paul offers the Ephesians: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ," he writes. "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" (vv. 13-14).
When people come together in London from different races, cultures and nationalities, lasting peace is not going to be found in the spectacular opening ceremonies, nor through the heroic competitions. Real peace requires Jesus. In his flesh he makes different groups into one, and breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between them. Like the X that forms his monogram, the Greek letter for Christ, he brings two lines together and unites them.
So, how can you and I have this lasting peace, this peace in our very souls? Simply put, by accepting it, trusting in it, and acting on it. Gaining the peace of Christ isnít like making it into the Olympics. We donít earn it or deserve it, like a cherished gold medal. Christ has already achieved it. Our part is to receive it as a gift from God.
One thing that set the early churchís worship and hospitality apart was the full inclusion of people from different political, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. In a fractured first-century society, these followers of Christ were trying to create uncommon Christian communities that embraced everyone with God's love and grace. Since members of the church believed that God had "broken down the dividing wall," of cultural and economic hostility that had long stood between themselves and all others, they expressed that belief in their worship, welcoming those of different backgrounds. And they expressed that belief through their practice of hospitality in shared meals that helped everyone see themselves as brothers and sisters at the table of God.
What that means for you and me now is this: when people of differing ages, sexes, educational levels, professions and political orientations gather in this sanctuary, each one of us is a building block in this sacred temple, a structure made out of people of every race, culture and nationality. With Christ as our cornerstone, we stand strong as "a dwelling place for God" (v. 22).
So, how do we make this peace real for everyone? Christ has already achieved it; we accept it by asking for and receiving his presence into our lives. Itís really that simple; Christ freely gives it. So we trust in it, by practicing his barrier-breaking peace here and everywhere he leads us. This Friday, enjoy the peace of the Triple-X Games. But if you want lasting peace today, ask for the Single-X of Christ to fill your soul.