“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.” Ephesians 2:11-22
Today, we heard a reading from chapter two of the letter to the Ephesians. St. Paul was concerned about the relationship between the Jews, who were the chosen people, and the gentile Christians in Ephesus and beyond.
“The calling of Israel to be your people.” Do you recognize that? It’s in the Prayer of Thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharistic prayer.
As you may know, there was a deep division between the Jewish converts to the Way of Jesus, and the gentiles. That word, gentile, was used to describe anyone who was not of the house of Israel, so that meant anyone foreign to the Jews. Sometimes the word “nations” is used in the Bible for these folks. So the feeling was, Us vs Them.
And Israel were the chosen people, so there was a lot of pride in that status. St. Paul refers to them as “the circumcision.” The practice of circumcision was a part of many cultures of the ancient world, so for the Jews it wasn’t just that “feature,” let’s say.
It was about the Covenant with the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob (or Israel, as some of the Old Testament writers used.) The Covenant was established with Abraham as recorded in Genesis, chapter 17, and circumcision was the sign of the covenant.
St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they were “the uncircumcised.” This meant that they were not the descendants of the Covenant between God and Abraham.
And this is true with all of us who are not descendants of Abraham. We, too, were foreigners as regarding the Covenant between Abraham and the LORD.
St. Paul wrote that the Ephesians, and us by extension, at one time had “no hope, and [were] 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.”
Paul is now referring to the new Covenant in the Blood of Christ. You might also recognize those words from the Prayer of Thanksgiving, when Jesus says, “This is my blood of the New Covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The Jewish converts to Christianity had this notion that any male who became a Christian had to receive the physical sign of the Old Covenant to be able to be a part of the New Covenant. This was a stumbling block to the potential converts in places like Ephesus who had not been circumcised. I can understand why!
St. Paul had received his revelation of the New Covenant from Jesus himself, and he knew that this was unnecessary. He called it the circumcision of the heart, meaning that the sign of the Covenant was a spiritual change, not just a physical one.
The blood shed by Jesus is the sign of the New Covenant. St. Paul wrote, “For [Jesus] 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.”
Now we start to hear one of the Marks of the Church. Remember that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. This is the Church into which I was ordained, not the Episcopal, or Anglican, or Roman, or any other name that you might think of.
St. Paul wrote, “We are joined together into 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 into a dwelling place for God.”
So the Church is One. There is One Church. There is One Body of Christ. Some of the early Church Councils wrote about the representatives of the Roman Church, the Antiochian Church, the Alexandrian Church, but these are more about geography, and not about division. Some of our brethren talk about the sad divisions in the Church, and that we need to be reconciled, which in other words usually means, go back to their church, but I don’t believe that.
There may be differences of opinion or practice, but there is One Church, and we are members thereof.
Why? Because we are under the Covenant of the Blood of Christ. He made us One Body through the cross, Paul says.
So let’s live like we are members of the Body of Christ. Let’s remember the words of Jesus that we are to love God with all of our hearts, and minds, and bodies, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Let’s seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit that is within our hearts, and live out our faith together in this world, showing that love to others by giving, and helping, and caring about them.
Our hope is in the Name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Amen.