Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
When an artist, builder or a craftsman begins a project one of the first steps is to select quality material. For example, renaissance sculptor Michelangelo became involved literally at the ground level when it came to selecting materials. He would spend hours down in marble quarries. He would give precise orders on how and where to take the blocks from. He needed specific coloration, weight, and size. He wouldn’t think about beginning one of his masterpieces on a cracked or discolored block of stone. Neither would any other self-respecting craftsmen – well except for maybe one… Our God. He takes a pile of rubble, cracked and shattered stones and shapes and fashions each one of them into something precious and holy. He chips off the hard edges and fits each one right where it should go. He raises them up so that they rest firmly and straightly next to one another supporting each other – He measures them and straightens them so that they are built up together on the corner stone!
This is the picture language that St. Paul uses in his letter to the Christians living in Ephesus. That church was made up of many gentile believers, that is non-Jewish people, native Greeks. However, there was also group of former Jews who belonged to that congregation as well.
Listen to the gentle but effective language that Paul uses with the gentiles in particular, “In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Paul gently reminds them here of where they came from. They were indeed brought out of a deep dark quarry far away! This must have been a hard subject for many of those former pagans Christians as they were reminded on regular basis by Christians from a Jewish background of their past sins. The former Jews still regarded them as barbarians, outsiders or maybe in some cases not even believers at all! Yet, Paul treats them gently here because he knows that they probably needed very little reminding. He is trying to Build them up together on the Corner Stone.
Because can you imagine the guilt that many of them felt as they remembered their former lives? How many of them participated in the dark rituals of that Ancient Greek pagan religion. How many of them participated in sexual immorality of the Temple of Artemis – one of the wonders of the world in it’s day. Worship of Artemis was so horrible that I actually can’t talk about it from here. How guilt ridden do you think those people were as they thought back on how they had offended the True God with their actions? How they had hurt their spouses or people they loved with the worship of that pagan God, or when they though on the things they indirectly taught their kids.
Memories of those gross sins don’t fade. I think we all know that to be true in our own right. On those nights when you lay in bed and your brain won’t shut off and we think about things that we thought, said or did that were just so foolish. And with tears in our eyes we say, “Lord forgive me for the sins of my youth.” Or maybe it’s “Forgive me Lord for the sins of this morning!” So we too remember that we were brought up from a pile of rubble in a dark quarry far away. We fly to the Lord in sorrow and repentance daily – as the hard edges are chipped off and we are built up on the cornerstone.
So Paul gives the Ephesians comfort! He says that they had now been brought near! They had all been brought to the same building site and they are fashioned by the same craftsmen! He goes on to say this, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Paul is referencing here the Temple in Jerusalem. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of it? How it had those different gates that only certain people could go through. Gentiles were only permitted to enter so far in. There was actually a sign posted at one of those gates that said if a gentile would pass that point the penalty was death! They were considered outsiders people to be looked down upon or at the very best tolerated. But now the Christ has come, and all that ceremonial law is done away with, it had fulfilled its purpose! So Paul says, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross.”
He is reminding them that it is the cross of Jesus that unites believers. No matter where you came from, no matter who you are or who you were, how grave your sin, or even how saintly you think you might be, it’s the cross of Jesus, it’s his blood that unites believers. We are all the work of the same craftsmen. We could never hope to shape and fashion ourselves to the perfect dimensions that God demands!
There was one price paid for all sin, the death of the Son of God – so then all sin is equal! Not even just because all sin is equally evil in the eyes of God or like St. James says if you break one commandment you’ve broken them all, but because there was one price paid for all of it – the perfect life of Jesus, the precious blood of Jesus. Paul reminds the Ephesians of this that they might be built up together on the Cornerstone.
Jesus reconciling all sinners back to God through his death cross unites the individual sinner and Jesus but it also lays the foundation for how treat one another…
I guess let me put it this way. I was talking to a friend of mine once and talking to her about this sort of thing. How all sin is equal in God’s sight because there was one price paid for it. She just didn’t buy it. It was too much for her to wrap her mind around how a murderer could confess his sins, repent, fly to Jesus and be saved. In her mind the sin was too great. I used the example of Jeffery Dahmer. I don’t know if that name is known much any more but basically he was a terrible serial killer and did horrible things to people. However, some reliable sources say that during the end of his time in prison he was brought to faith in Jesus, he confessed his sins. If that’s true, the day his fellow inmates murdered him, he went to heaven!
I guess, as a Christian, I don’t see there a message of despair or an impossibility – but rather a message of the greatest hope! That if a man like him, or a man like the thief on the cross – who obviously did something horrible to get that punishment – can be in paradise!? I know that Jesus blood covers me too! For every vile thought we’ve ever had, for every murderous threat we’ve ever whispered under our breaths for every violent thing we’ve ever done – it’s paid for, our debt is paid in full! This is how Jesus himself shapes and fashions us and builds us together on himself the corner stone.
Do you see how this connects to how we as brothers and sisters in Jesus regard each other? I’m going to teach you all a little Latin right now. I’m hardly a student of the language – but this is my favorite phrase and it’s got a nice ring to it. simul justus et peccator – say it with me? A rough translation is “same time sinner same time saint!” There is not one of us who is not this – same time a sinner the same time a saint.
This is why Paul tells the Ephesians, Through the cross… “he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
We are reminded of that message of peace – peace with God through Jesus, peace and forgiveness for one another because we recognize that we are simul Justus et peccator – same time sinner same time saint. So through forgiving one another, praying for one another, encouraging one another loving one another as one family of believers – we are built up together on the Cornerstone.
In that line of thought then Paul concludes his words of encouragement to the Ephesians by saying, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Do you catch the hopeful, energetic present tense, right now, feel of Paul’s words here? “You ARE not foreigners, you ARE built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the whole building IS joined and rises, you ARE being built together…”
Would it surprise you to learn that Paul wrote this hopeful encouraging message while chained to a wall hundreds of miles away in Rome? How could he be so hopeful or exuberant for the Ephesians? Well, Paul says elsewhere while he might be in chains – the Gospel is never chained – the good news is never chained. It always spreads, it always grows!
While he might be in prison, while believers might face persecution, rejection, or even execution for their faith – through the spread of the Gospel, living stone continues to fashioned fitted and Built up together on the Cornerstone.
It always makes me sad when I hear of church closing it’s doors, being abandon or sold off and demolished. I actually shed a few tears when historic Trinity Lutheran in Milwaukee burned down by accident earlier this year. Ten years and 10 million dollars in restoration work – poof burned up in a few hours. Now they have to start all over and construction and restoration won’t be done for a long time…
That in and of itself is not such a bad picture for the church. A building, a church, or as Paul speaks a temple that is continually under construction. Because when Scripture speaks of “the Church” it NEVER speaks about a physical building of wood and stone. The church is you and me. The living stones. The ones who are taken from being cracked and shattered building material. Construction on that grand temple, the Spiritual house of God, will never be completed on this side of heaven. Daily as the Holy Spirit works through the Word there are new stones being added and each one has its place. Daily we are shaped and fashioned and restored by the peace of God’s Word to fit next to one another, and support each other, set on the firm foundation of the Gospel as The Holy Spirit continually builds us up together on Christ the Corner stone. AMEN