Two weeks ago, a long-running cold war, the result of years of civil war and then international war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, thawed. After 20 years, communications were opened between the two nations. The first flight between the two countries in 20 years happened last Wednesday. Family who were separated by the split can now call each other for the first time. And citizens of the two countries, who have been estranged for 20 years, have reacted in the most adorable way. Ethiopians have been dialing random numbers in Eritrea to tell them how happy they are that their countries are at peace.
Moments like this are rare in history. I remember in elementary school a teacher showing our class a piece of the Berlin wall that she had taken following its destruction. Most of the time nations who are in conflict remain in conflict. The US is technically still at war with North Korea, no peace was ever concluded, just a cease-fire. And when relationships do thaw, they often do so slowly, and cautiously, steps forward matched with steps back, taking decades if not longer, to build trust.
Moments like this in our lives might be just as rare. You might not be able to think of a time in your life when you made peace with someone. But I’m sure you can think of some relationship that is broken. Maybe there are words you wish you could take back, things you wish you had done, or left undone. Some of us are, and will probably forever, be strangers to our own family. Maybe those wounds are old enough that you’ve learned to live with them. Maybe they are fresh and you can barely tolerate the loss. I’m sure all of us have known that pain; the bitterness of a broken relationship, the constant throb of a wound that won’t heal.
And of course to protect ourselves from that pain we set up walls. We find ways to fill our time so that we don’t have to think about it so much. We rehash old arguments—not to find common ground, but to strengthen our defenses. We spend time justifying our own actions, dramatizing our wounds, preparing for the next argument. At Boundaries Training for the Presbytery the speaker talked about cognitive rehearsing. We pre-emptively justify our behavior, we feed our anger by reminding ourselves of the hurts we’ve received (while conveniently ignoring or minimizing the hurts we’ve caused). It is much easier to set up walls to maintain our division than it is to humble ourselves and seek peace with each other.
Given how much easier it is for us to separate ourselves from each other than to humbly live with one another, it is no surprise that we live in a deeply divided society. Our nation is intensely divided along class lines, along race lines, along religious lines, and between rural, suburban, and urban areas. Division is something that we know in every aspect of human life.
Which makes what Paul or one of Paul’s associates tells us in Ephesians hard to believe. The author of Ephesians is talking about the divisions that challenged that community—between Jews and Gentiles, between citizens and non-citizens, between those who are near and those who are far away. When it comes down to it the divisions that Paul is talking about boil down to the same thing every single one of our dividing walls breaks down into. Us. Them.
And what Pauls tells them is not what we expect to hear. It is not Go Christians, tear down these walls. It is not, if you are a Christian you will reach across the aisle and overcome the divisions in your life and in your nation. It is not go be nice to a “Them” every once in a while. What Paul tells the Ephesians is that the divisions between them have already been overcome.
“in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” He has already broken down the dividing wall. The divisions have already been overcome, they have been laid at the foot of the cross.
There is no “Them.” There are no citizens and there are no aliens. There are no friends and there are no strangers. There are no Steelers Fans and Eagles Fans, there is no Yanny vs. Laurel. As Paul tells us in Galatians there is no male nor female, no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free. Because all of it has been laid at the foot of the cross.
And what Christ did on the cross was to reconcile the world to himself. He put to death the hostility that is between us and them. And made all of us into one body, so that all are citizens and saints of the household of God. The great work of Christ on the cross was that he alone could unite our hurt with God’s holiness.
I will tell you the truth, it is hard for me to look out into the world and believe that. Because if Christ has overcome all of these divisions, what are they still doing here 2,000 years later? It is hard for me to believe that they have been overcome when they are so visibly present in our lives.
But one of the great things about being a pastor is that people tell you about the incredible things that God has done. Visiting with people is the best part of the job because I have a unique view of how God is living and dwelling in this place and in this community. And one time I was visiting with a lady, I’ll call her Janice. I generally change names when I tell a story, to protect the innocent. And she said, there’s been two times, two times that she’d felt covered, covered, by Jesus presence. One of those times was when they’d just moved to Junction. Her husband wasn’t working at the time, and they were having an awful time getting along. She was used to him being out of the house most of the day, and now they were together all the time and at each other’s throats a lot more often. She remembers one time, he was watching TV and she stormed off into the bedroom and she just didn’t know what to do about her marriage. She told me, “I didn’t want to stay there, but I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
And she prayed. She prayed harder than she’d ever prayed before, kneeling by the side of her bed. And as she was praying she felt Jesus come down and fill her up. She felt his presence, starting at her head and going all the way down to her toes. And from that moment forward, it was okay.
I believe that. If we seek Jesus, we will find peace. If we seek peace, I suspect we will find him that way too. “For he is our peace”