Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

Welcoming the Aliens

November 11, 2018
Martin Baker

11 November 2018                                Welcoming the Aliens                                Martin Baker                    

 

Introduction

We continue this morning on our reflection from the letterto the Ephesian.

A couple of weeks ago from the first chapter we heard aboutthe call on our lives to be people of grace and thanksgiving.

This morning, on Armistice Day, we hear about the cross andthe end of division. About God who reaches out to those far off and thosenearby.

We’ve probably all been in situations, even in churches,where small differences become elevated to situations of real conflict.  But here we are called to reset our vision onthe cross and the profound reconciliation that Jesus brings.  

               

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth,called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "thecircumcision"—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from thecommonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having nohope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once werefar off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace;in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividingwall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with itscommandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanityin place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups toGod in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility throughit. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace tothose who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit tothe Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you arecitizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 builtupon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself asthe cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and growsinto a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built togetherspiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Let us pray…

I’ve started to use the train quite a lot.

If you use your Hop Card it is $12.40  round trip into town and back and takes 52minutes each way from the Papakura Train Station. The trip in the car on a goodday is a bit quicker but costs about $15 in fuel plus parking costs. Also thecar will have released around 14 kg of carbon dioxide into the Aucklandenvironment.

But apart from the environmental benefits, and the savings,there are some other benefits from taking the Papakura train.

For instance, when I was on the train a week ago, at theManurewa stop, about a dozen members of a local Samoan church choir got on, andthey practised their wonderful singing all the way to the Middlemore stop. Isuspect they were going to visit someone in hospital there.

The train conductors are often quite colourful people and inthe evening coming back from town we quite often have a Maori warden on board.I’ve overhead these wardens provide some very wise words, all be it quitestrongly, to some of the more disruptive elements that occasionally hop onboard.

So think of the Papakura train for a moment, with thatdiversity and colour,  together on ajourney, enriched by each other’s presence - but now think of yourself in someone’shome or in a small hall 1900 years ago somewhere in Asia minor, somewherearound the Turkish southern coasts  -maybe in Ephesus.

You’ve come together but you know in the background there isthe iron rule of Rome.  Rome's emperors,saw themselves as the semi-divine creators of a new world peace.  

And you hear these words. And though they seem just nice tous, pleasant words, idealistic words, we need to imagine the shock andexcitement felt by those who first heard them.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you arecitizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.

You were once far off but have been bought near.

He has broken down the dividing wall.

You are built together spiritually into a dwelling place forGod.

Everything from branding to identity politics – so manythings that reinforce a sense of difference or separation. Individualism.Hierarchy. We’ve got so use to it.  

This Roman brand of "peace," of course, was anenforced peace established through military dominance. When necessary, terrorwould be used -- specifically, the terror of crucifixion for anyone seen tochallenge peace on the Empire's terms.

Imagine that we, a community of Christians in Asia Minor,are tightly packed into the largest home available for the first reading of anew letter that has arrived -- the one that will later come to be known as theLetter to the Ephesians. We're gathered to hear it read out, of course, becausemost of us cannot read. As the reader gets to the part that says, "You whowere far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ . . . He is ourpeace," there is a quick intake of breath and glances toward the door.

“ Christ is our peace” would be a pronouncement bordering ontreason. What is being claimed, after all, is that despite all the grand claimsof Rome's emperors, true peace has been established by a man the empirecrucified. In our comfort it is hard for us today but here is the chillingrhetoric of the state and the thrilling rhetoric of the Gospel - and that wouldset any listener's blood racing.

I went to a talk on Monday from a person recently returned fromChina. He tells that just two weeks ago a large congregation in the north of China,who refused to allow facial recognition cameras to be installed in theirchurch, has now last week’s seen their church building destroyed.

So maybe, we need to stand with them as we hear these wordstoday.

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizenswith the saints and also members of the household of God.

These words challenge us to lift our eyes to the cross – theprofound claim that all those divisions are overcome by Jesus.

Look at the words that re used in our passage. Key terms ofdistinction familiar to residents in Rome's conquered lands --"strangers," "aliens," "citizens" – when the Romans used thesewords they carried with them the power of law and control.

Citizenship was highly valued across the Empire, so much sothat among the foreign peoples conquered by Rome, some would pay great sums forcitizenship.  You can read in the Book ofActs that Paul is bound and about to be flogged when he confronts his captorswith the fact that he was born a Roman citizen, making flogging him a crime.The tribune is amazed, confessing that he paid a high price for hiscitizenship.

Who is a foreigner? Who is a citizen? Who is one of us? Who aredifferent? For he is our peace; in his flesh he has broken down the dividingwall, that is, the hostility between us.

I remember travelling some years ago and coming into passportcontrol off a flight, I don’t remember which country it was – it might havebeen Thailand, but there was a sign that said citizens line up here and aliensline up over there. A young guy, I think he was probably Australian, happenedto have a latex mask of some strange creature that he put on as he was waitingin the alien line to present his passport. He told me that as an alien, he wasplanning to ask the passport control officer to take me to your leader.

Passport control can be very humourless environment. Butlet’s think for a moment about our own internal passport control. The comfortwe can find in naming the outsiders and keeping them out.

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizenswith the saints and also members of the household of God.

Whether it’s South Americans marching to the US border, orthe bewildering advice I received last Saturday from someone visiting NewZealand who warned of the threat posed by our Pacific communities, the fear ofthe outsider and those that are different, the other it’s a powerful thing. Andalways controversial.

He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off andpeace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit tothe Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with thesaints and also members of the household of God

What’s our witness, what’s our testimony as we embrace God’sword today? This is something we can do as a church.  The followers of Jesus called to be thisradically different kind of household based on the central claims of theGospel.

So what are the things that drive conflict and division?

It’s tough. Surrounded by the Romans, in the midst of ourorder, our words our thinking about others and our world, to pause and to reflecton the greatness to which we are called.

That challenge that came up in our reading from Ephesians aweek or two ago.

How do we break free, how do we overcome the same tired old rhetoricand language and fears and  thinking thatcauses conflict and division? Even in our own homes and communities?

These verses we read today are challenging us to place God’swelcoming grace as central in our lives. Once we were separated, once we were withouthope, once we were divided.

This is what sin does -- it divides us from one another.  Personally, socially, politically. But now wehave been made part of a story which moves from exclusion, hostility, anddeprivation to welcome, reconciliation, and God’s overflowing gift.

Let’s confess that in Christ God draws both those who are“near” and those who are “far away,” (which one as we?)  and we are sent as carriers of thatreconciliation for the sake of the world.

And the language used here makes it clear; God is stillforming us into the humanity that God desires.

In verse 22 is present tense: “you are being built.” This isan ongoing construction project of the Spirit, and in this new community of thecross, everyone is being changed.

Perhaps this is the most important message today to hear aswe think of the terrible cost of that extreme form of conflict and division inWar.

So this morning, on Armistice Day,  whatever we have said and been and done andthought. To confess. To reflect.  The endof  division and barrier. Shocking backthen. So challenging now. We are invited into a new story. A story about aprofound reconciliation, the overcoming of division, the proclamation of God’slove for those who are far off and those who are close by.

AMEN