When the Spanish arrived, then the French, and later the English, conflicts just increased as each new group tried to turn the other groups against one another. Alliances were created and dissolved in an effort to keep the other groups weak and vulnerable. In an effort to gain power and control.
In the book of Ephesians, the young church faced a similar problem. Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles were in conflict. So Paul wrote Ephesians to address this division of people in his time and place, and to appeal to them to see their oneness in Christ Jesus. Today I ask you to consider what this same letter has to say to us, in our time and place, in 2015, in Memphis TN.
14For 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. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
I believe this teaching in Ephesians is very important for us, whether we look at the issue from a global, national, or citywide perspective. Can different people groups, with different cultures, come together in Christ? Can walls of suspicion and hostility between people groups come down? Can one new humanity replace two? The Bible says yes! Paul writes that Jews and Gentiles can be one in Christ.
Galatians 3:28-29 tells us that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (NRSV).
The question then becomes, do you want to be a part of this new body in Christ? Do you want to join with others who are different from you, and yet one with you in Christ Jesus? God wants it to happen. St. Paul taught the churches of his day to seek this unity. But do we want to welcome such a change here in Memphis, TN?
Can we transcend divisions and dualistic thinking? Dualism, the black and white thinking of childhood, says it is us vs. them, and ours vs. yours. Winners vs. losers. Many of us think dualistically without realizing we are doing so. It’s a habit, and it’s so much easier to reduce things to pairs or symbols instead of seeing people as individuals. So we divide the world into,
Mine vs. yours,
One vs. the other,
Black vs. white,
Rich vs. poor.
Here in Memphis, we know that this way of thinking keeps blacks and whites divided. Dualistic thinking in politics keeps Republicans and Democrats divided instead of working together to solve our nation’s problems. Dualism in economics keeps the rich and poor divided, and the gap ever widening. But in Ephesians, Paul implores us to remember that two can become one. It is not only possible to come together in Christ, it is necessary that we do so, in order that Christ, and his transforming love, may shine through us.
In Seminary, I took a class on evangelism. One popular idea in the church growth movement was the homogeneous principle, which says if you want your congregation to grow, consider this: like people attract like people. This principle works because it is based on human nature and our tendency to want to stay in our comfort zones. But as a church growth policy? It is unbiblical to its core.
It says in a crowd of people, you gravitate toward people who are the most like you. Young people hang out with young people, women with women, rich with the rich. So if this is true, and I believe it is true, then we must work extra hard and make an extra effort to get out of our comfort zones and talk to someone different from us. When we ask questions then truly listen to each other’s stories, we begin to make connections far deeper than the superficial differences that divided us, and God brings us together.
Just last week a new study on wealth disparity was released, which showed Memphis as the second most divided city in wealth disparity in the entire country. The rich in our city live with the rich, and poor live with the poor. The only city worse off than Memphis was Detroit. Does it take real effort for rich people and poor people to come together and to learn from each other? Yes! But a church community is the place for this to happen! This in fact, is what Christian communities are all about. Different people groups becoming one in Christ, brothers and sisters in Christ, stronger together because of our differences. We are made better and deeper by learning from each another, and learning to see beyond dualistic thinking.
This week, should you choose to accept it, you have an assignment. I encourage you to talk to someone new, someone who has been far off to you. Start a conversation with someone you wouldn’t normally talk to, someone who is not like you. Pray about it first. Be open to learn. Don’t be pushy or have an agenda, just be open to how God’s Spirit may lead you. God is a God of reconciliation and love. We are reconciled to God through Christ, and through Christ, we are called to be reconciled to one another.
Your brother In Christ,