One New Humanity
Based on 2Samuel 7:1-16, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Walls…how much have you thought about them? If you have ever done a home renovation, it is likely that you have asked the question, “Can I move that wall?” We know that some walls are important (i.e., structural) and some walls are put in as convenient demarcations of different living spaces. Walls have also been built to protect people, like the fortifications around ancient cities. One of the first things that the settlers of Jamestown did was to cut down trees and build a wall around their encampment to protect them from indigenous humans and wild beasts. Walls protect, walls demarcate, walls give us a sense of safety and security. Walls also separate us one from another; those inside the walls from those on the outside seeking a way in. There is an architectural truism that states that all walls serve a purpose, but as the Church of Jesus Christ we must ask, how do walls serve a purpose for God?
Now, I’m not talking as much about physical walls serving a purpose for God, but metaphorical walls. Humans have always selected to whom they were going to be close. Hominids began by living in hunter-gatherer family groups and then multiple families started living in larger groups, ultimately we developed into tribes and bands. Once people settled down, after agriculture began, then unrelated and unaffiliated people began living in close proximity. At this point, sociologists tell us, people began to live together according to their jobs (e.g., merchants, farmers, weavers, carpenters). Some groups became marginalized and societal walls began forming – the beginning of the dualistic mindset of “Us versus Them”. It wasn’t long before whole peoples were deemed to be “lesser than” or even “sub-human”. When kingdoms and empires began to take shape, conquered people were enslaved and became the lowest and most reviled people in that realm. Physical and mental walls were erected and reinforced over time, until we reach mid-2021 and we find ourselves living in a world of walls (physical and societal) that determine who thrives and who dies.
Humans are prone to forget or ignore the teachings of God. It has always been so, even after the printing press was invented and the Bible became the best-selling book of all time. The scriptures from the Bible this week speak to us about how God is always tearing down human-erected walls in order to realize God’s plans. Whether it is Nathan telling King David that God’s plan is for his offspring to rule forever under God’s favor or Jesus breaking down societal walls by healing people and returning them to right relationship or Paul writing to the believers in Ephesus that God has removed for all time the barriers between Jew and Gentile to create “one new humanity”. Before we proceed, let us turn to God in thanksgiving that God continues to create unity out of our sin of division…
King David has settled down and is living in a nice house made of cedar. He decides that God needs a good house too and tells the prophet Nathan his idea. Neither of them consulted with God, however, before they made their plans. God had other ideas about the kind of house that was going to come from David – an eternal house made by God. God tells David through Nathan that David’s family and kingdom shall live forever and that they shall always have God’s blessing upon them. God’s plans are to make one new humanity out of the generations after David.
Jesus had sent out the Disciples and they have returned with tales of healings and teachings and all the people with whom they interacted. Jesus knew that all they had done had cost them dearly and so he took them away from people to rest and recover. However, the people in need continued to find them and even though they tried to wall themselves off in a deserted place at Gennesaret, the crowds still came seeking healing and comfort. Jesus had compassion for them as they were “like sheep without a shepherd”, and he healed and taught them. Jesus united the people and reminded them of the power of God in their lives – they became unified again in their belief in him.
Paul is calling the Gentile believers to remember that it hadn’t been long at all since they were outside the walls of Judaism looking in. Walls that had been built because of their status as persons not under the Abrahamic covenant. They had been left outside the walls of God’s promise and hope until God in Jesus intervened on their behalf and broke down the societal walls of hostility between Jew and Gentile. In this way, Jesus ushered in an understanding of one new humanity in Him for all time.
G. Kevin Baker in an article from the Christian Century in 2006 notes the following, “…An ill-conceived application of the Torah helped ensure that a wall of hostility was solidly in place among those in the growing Christian community. In this case, it was the circumcision insiders pitted against the uncircumcision outsiders. Perspective and power shift depending on what side of the wall a person is standing on. Just ask those called “U.S. citizens by birth” about “noncitizens” in their midst; ask the “legally naturalized immigrant” about the “illegal alien,” the Jewish Israeli “settler” about the gentile Palestinian “squatter” or the white-suburban commuter about the people who live around her [his] downtown church….” Jews who had become followers of Jesus saw themselves as the only legitimate people of God. They carried this through from their demarcation at the eighth day of life. Yet, Jesus did not recognize this as an absolute attribute for knowing God. Jesus ate with, healed and taught non-Jews far more than he did for the “chosen” people.
The Apostle Paul, the pre-eminent Jew and Pharisee, came to understand that his conversion experience with Jesus equipped him not to convert other Jews, but rather to exclusively focus on spreading the gospel according to Jesus to Gentiles. Paul got cross-wise with Peter over this missional work to people other than Jews, and it took an intervention by God with Peter to get him to see the light (pun intended). Paul, however, needed to remind his church plants that they were not elevated above the Jews either – both were considered children of God and heirs to the kingdom. Lest the Gentiles boast about their preferred status and try to build a wall between themselves and the Jews (which Christians would do over time), Paul reminded them that the Christ had destroyed the hostility between the two groups and welcomed all equally.
G. Kevin Baker asks us a question, “…How then can one receive this word from Ephesians 2? The unity referred to here is not manufactured by human hands busy trying to pursue multiculturalism and tolerance in the world’s image. The peace described here is not just a ceasing of conflict or the absence of violence. The hope alluded to is not merely a hankering after international experiences and cross-cultural encounters. Here unity, peace and hope are not things at all; they are a person. Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made all [both] groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall. In Christ’s death on the cross, peace has been achieved and hostility has been crucified. Jesus is the singular, God-human wrecking crew that demolishes division and gifts us with unity, peace and reconciliation….”
Vicar Samuel Wells continues this thought saying, “…Christianity is fundamentally a story about where we are going: into the company of God’s grace, in the harmony of the restored creation, through the mercy of God’s incarnate love. Church means giving up the fantasy that we can find fulfillment and righteousness alone. It means doing things at inconvenient times with eccentric people in sometimes clumsy ways – because life is a team game, and on judgment day God will have nothing to say to us if we think we can come without the others….”
The Church of Jesus Christ has many human-made barriers in and between the various parts of the greater Body of Christ. Many Christians denigrate Jews still to this day – as they marginalize the other various factions who call Jesus Lord and Savior. Jesus expects unity – it is why he sacrificed himself for us, after all. Jesus, “…abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity…” Yet for 2000 years, we sinful Christians have done little but build back those walls, brick by brick, until today we are more divided than ever. It is time to drop our bricks and tear down our walls in the name of Jesus the Christ, so that we might become one with Jesus and with all of Creation. May God forgive us and help us become the people for whom Jesus died. Amen and amen!