Today, we look at our third message in our series, “Who Are We: Discovering our Identity in Christ.” If we are a people that is made up of a wide range of different “peoples” or groupings or ethnicities; if we measure our beliefs, behaviors and success or failure against the Bible, then it stands to reason that we are called, through the Bible, to be a Unified People.
Let’s take a look at Ephesians 2:11-22, which talks about being a Unified People.
The Starting Point: Hostility and Distance
Paul tells us that we all start off hostile to God and far away from him. Moreover, we start off hostile to one another – divided by anything we human beings choose to have divide us – whether ethnicity, language, material or monetary resources, family, generation, location, personality type, disagreement, or fear.
Human beings, apart from God, are widely self-isolating, while seeking the community of others. People desire to be known by others, and respected by others, but more often than not, we withdraw and cover over our real selves, remaining unknown not only to others but to ourselves. This is our post-Eden tension.
This kind of need for community while isolating ourselves serves to disrupt and diminish all human relationships and causes many of them not just to be diminished but also to be dysfunctional. Attempts at intimacy sound false notes when muted by self-isolation.
Anger is an isolating emotion, and justifiably so: it is designed to call us up short when something is wrong and cause us to change our behavior. But many of us carry anger from long ago that then gets expressed not against the object of our anger but against those with whom we are in relationship now.
Compounding our own anger is the culture of anger in which we all exist: we are born into a society of protest, of sarcasm and even cynicism. These are all forms of anger. Even apathy is often a mask for anger. It is a form of withdrawal. We are accustomed to people defending their rights, or standing up for a cause – most often driven by anger. We expect angry outbursts or the “silent treatment,” and this all compounds society-wide.
This leads us to fear. We all fear others’ reactions to us. That is something we learn very early in life. We may say that we don’t let others bother us, but we all know they still do, more or less, if they hit the right button. We fear the angry outburst or the withdrawal. We fear the manipulation and the game-playing people do. We fear that at any moment someone might just decide to walk out on us and not return. We don’t know how to handle these fears, and so we create defenses.
We all desire to be known, and to know others – this is built in to God’s design for humanity. God’s promise is that we will be fully known and know fully in his Kingdom, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12. And yet that is scary. Because we are mortal, we are vulnerable, and when we expose our vulnerability, we often get hurt. So we remain cocooned in our own pain and isolation. In marriage, in family, in friendship, in collegiality in the workplace, even (or maybe more so) in congregational life, we walk that line between our desire to know and be known and the fear of exposing our vulnerability.
This fear produces hostility and distance, expressed in self-protection actions, words and mindsets across the board. This fear is justifiable, given what we see of humanity as a whole.
As a congregation, we fear the unknown future. We fear one another’s reactions – fearing angry outbursts, inability to communicate and come to consensus, and, most of all, that one or another of us will just up and leave, causing harm to the rest of us and bringing our viability into further question.
This creates distance – or rather, more explicitly, prevents closeness: closeness of the type that allows us to work together for a common cause. Add to that a general healthy dose of apprehension as to what life sharing our building with others will look like, and fear of what actually inviting new people in to our life together will do to the current sense of intimacy we have, and we have all sorts of things going on that keep us fragmented, were we left to ourselves.
In order to work as a team together, in order to grow a congregation, something must break through this toxic slurry of fear, anger, hostility and distance. At all the levels – personal, congregational, societal, collaborative (with the Hope Center potentially) and with outreach itself – something must begin to write a new script for life in community.
The Unifying Blood of Christ
We are drawn in to the work of Jesus on the cross: his blood not only has rescued us from sin, evil and death personally, giving us the reality and prospect of eternal life. His blood has covered the distance between us and brought us together – really together. He has made peace, thus supplanting fear and anger. He has taken us from our isolation and our divisions based in family, age, culture, gender, and all of those other things we try to avoid discriminating on, and broken down the mutual fear, anger and hostility. He abolished the law that kept us apart, and now has made one new human being in place of the two – akin to Genesis 2, the two (or in our analogy, the many), have in the physical body of Jesus on the Cross, become one flesh.
Yes, one flesh. Like marriage. Analogously, not some weird polygamous cult. But yes, like marriage. That is how the commitment to one another in the Body of Christ is supposed to work.
This makes peace between us – true peace – where we don’t easily get offended and stump off to our corners to sulk. Where we value one another enough to really work issues through, staying in the conversation long enough to find resolution. Where we aren’t on the sidelines until something happens – instead, we engage actively in the life of the body that grows the congregation.
We are citizens with the City of God – so our loyalty isn’t merely local on what side of town we live, where we went to school, who our family is or whom they know. Our history doesn’t mean a whit compared to God’s future.
When he uses the analogy of the family, he reminds us that whether we are together or apart, we are blood related – related by the Blood of Christ. We can’t just shake off brother Leon or cousin John. We can’t disown them. They’re part of us.
When he uses the analogy of the Body – which he touches on further in to Ephesians – he reminds us that if our leg starts acting of its own will without the consent of the body – particularly the head – we have a problem. And if we see our right arm only on Easter and Christmas, is it really a part of our body? At best it is a prosthesis which proves that it’s been disconnected this whole time and only makes a show of connection.
Built upon the Foundation for Growth
Nevertheless, the blood of Jesus gives us the foundation for growth – founded upon the Apostles and Prophets with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. When we address, through Jesus, our fear of one another, fear of what bringing new people in will do to us, fear of what sharing our building will mean, fear of what people might say if we invited them to join us; when we address the anger and fear that keeps us in withdrawal and apathy mode toward most of life or so consumed by the complexity of the rest of our relationships and responsibilities we don’t have time to do anything new, then we will grow.
We have been drawn into this married, embodied life together. We didn’t choose this for ourselves; we were drawn in by God wooing us to himself. To the extent we have made a choice, we didn’t know what we were getting in to. Now we’re in it. And we have no small opportunity to be a profound transforming force on this community for God if we engage the opportunities that are before us.
Where does the blood of Jesus need to make up distance in your life? Where does he need to address your fears and anger (often expressed through sarcasm, cynicism, apathy and helplessness)?