Mission Statement: The Lutheran Church of Our Saviour desires to be a community of Christians whose faith is active in love.

Unity In Diversity

August 1, 2021

Ephesians 2: 11-22

Huub Oosterhuis is a Jesuit priest in the Netherlands.

In the early 50s, he became inspired by Che Guevara, who said that churches have the potential to transform the social structure of society. From that time on, Oosterhuis combined his priesthood with political activism and became an advocate for co-operation among various denominations.

Oosterhuis became a critic of some of the church’s doctrines and liturgies. Of course, that didn’t sit well with some of those higher up in the church hierarchy and led to him being dismissed from the Jesuit order in the late 60s.

Still, Oosterhuis remained a prolific theologian and poet. A number of his poems have become the basis for hymns that various denominations sing … include here at LCOS.

His work, entitled “What is this Place Where we are Meeting?” provided the basis for composer Marty Haugen’s hymn “Gather us in.”

Oosterhuis wrote:

What is this place, where we are meeting?
Only a house, the earth its floor.
Walls and a roof, sheltering people,
Windows for light, an open door.
Yet it becomes a body that lives
When we are gathered here,
And know our God is near.

Both works are about belonging … having a place where everyone is welcome … a place where there is unity in diversity … where there is love and peace borne out through service to others.

Haugen’s hymn offers a vision of an inclusive community of hope where people can bring their hopes and dreams and share them with others. It is a community that provides a sheltering home for the “lost and forsaken” and for the “blind and the lame.”

To Haugen, we each have an identity in this community as we respond to the call of our baptism. 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written near the end of the First Century … sixty or seventy years after Christ’s death and resurrection … a time when the church was facing division among its members.

At the time, the church in the region was growing … attracting people from diverse backgrounds who were drawn to the promise offered by the gospel.

When the letter was written, most of the people who were attracted to this growing movement were Gentiles.

In fact, so many Gentiles were becoming part of the church that people with a Jewish heritage … like those who were present a few decades earlier … were becoming a minority. So, there were some hard feelings between the groups.

The author of the letter was afraid that the Jewish roots of the movement were at risk of being forgotten … and … to Paul … this also meant that the church community was at risk of forgetting or even losing its radical roots … of not fully realizing the promise that they had … and that we have … received through Christ’s death and resurrection.

In this letter, Paul calls on the Ephesians to simply remember.

To remember where they came from … to remember the foundation of love on which their faith community is based … to remember the grace they have received.

He reminds the Gentiles of the time when they were considered outcasts because they were among the physically uncircumcised. The Jewish members were also reminded that in many ways they too were considered outcasts … people who were segregated through oppression and violence … whose beliefs and practices had set them apart.

Through Christ’s death … and resurrection … Paul reminds the Ephesians … they have received a new life in Jesus. God has gathered them into a community … an assembly … a family.

Paul wrote:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far 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 dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

He is our peace.

Through their shared experiences and histories … Paul hoped that the Ephesians could begin to tear down the walls … the barriers … between the peoples … between parts of the faith community … and work toward creating one humanity … unified in Christ … living in peace.

Paul is speaking about a new humanity formed around and through Christ. The cross has put hostilities to death.

It’s an aspiration that remains relevant centuries after the letter was first heard by the Ephesian assembly.

In discussing today’s passage, Theologian Israel Kamudzandu wrote that:

The theological notion of Jesus as an embodiment of peace should invite Christians to be agents of peace, love, reconciliation and compassion. The entire Gospel message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is given meaning in the letter to the Ephesians.

Kamudzandu says the letter is the fulfillment of the gospel message.

 If we truly live into our identity as children of God … as a faith-filled community … then no barrier can be allowed to exist. Our language can’t be one of privilege, but rather one of inclusion.

Divisions such as intolerance, contempt or even pride are the product of sin … because sin seeks to divide … to isolate us from one another. To keep us from gathering as a community … from sharing the promise of the gospel in the world.

Through grace, we are called to seek out the stranger … the other … to gather them in … provide support … protection … healing … to listen to their histories … to hear their stories … and make those stories part of our story … and become part of their stories.

Through God’s actions, diverse family histories become a shared history … service becomes a shared ministry … Through unity, empathy and compassion become a shared strength … a healing balm … our shared voices become stronger and more compelling … peace and love mark our shared lives together.

Yet it becomes a body that lives
When we are gathered here,
And know our God is near.

Oosterhuis wrote.

In short … reconciliation … a reconciliation that ultimately leads to unity … a holy dwelling place for God that isn’t contained within walls, but that is carried within our hearts to the world.

And through this love … we can find peace … Christ is our peace.

AMEN

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